Wednesday, August 23, 2006


So let's start with a rant and go from there to something more broad.

Lately, someone around my office, probably one of the janitorial staff, has taken to doing something I find not only dumb but infuriatingly so. If the toilet paper is down to a quarter of the roll, she'll take it off, set it on top of the toilet tank, and put a fresh roll onto the spool. (Facing the wrong way, of course, but that's a whole different rant.)

What is the sense in this? Saving me the effort of taking the wrapper off, in exchange for the effort of having to use toilet paper in an inconvenient place, not on a roll? All factors in this equation are so trivial that it doesn't even make sense to make the comparison.

But what it really leads to is this: if I'm away for a few days (since I'm the only one in the office with enough sense, and/or pathetic obsessiveness, to reverse this) we end up with three or four quarter-full rolls piled up on the top of the toilet tank, which no one is bothering to use.

Of course, it all eventually gets used, because I make sure of that, so nothing goes to waste. But I just can't see what would motivate someone to do this in the first place. In a tangential way, it seems like a broader kind of stupidity: not understanding throughput.

Most people don't buy a new can of antiperspirant until the first one is nearly empty, and thus, run the risk of running out. Suppose instead you bought two, then always bought one right after one ran out, so you always had two, and never were at risk of running out. How much more would that cost you, over the years? Amazingly enough many people would say it costs twice as much. But ultimately it costs you essentially nothing more. At most, over the whole period during which you're using this antiperspirant, it costs you the cost of one can, and that's assuming when you stop one day, you can't use up your stock first.

It's like the difference between your monthly income and your current bank balance. In fact, there's really no difference between the concepts of "cash flow" and "throughput". The same concept occurs in lots of situations where there's some resource moving through a system, and has many names. For instance, your CD player's skip protection buffer is the same thing exactly, and the reason a CD-audio player should be 2x is to be able to fill the buffer faster than it empties. And of course, if you don't understand the relationship between throughput and latency, you won't be able to understand how a computer network works.

Yet so many people don't seem to understand it, and I don't know how they can function. How do they budget their money? (It amazes me to think most people don't.) How do they keep from running out of everything? (It amazes me that most people go to the grocery store a couple of times a week or more -- the perfect instance of being penny-wise-pound-foolish.)


Siobhan Perricone said...

Yeah, I think most people would be astounded at how much those frequent trips to the store cost them overall in time and money.

Though some people don't have a lot of storage space, so they HAVE to buy more frequently...

litlfrog said...

The toilet paper thing is a VERY weird behavior. Makes no sense at all.

Groceries are a very different case from most of the other things we use. Fresh fruit, vegetables, and bread offer an improvement in quality over their alternatives. Whether that improvement is worth the added time and expense varies by individual, of course.