MindYourBusyNess: Calculations


The other day I had gone to station to catch a train with one of my friends. As usual, I landed up on the station about half an hour before the scheduled departure time of the train. For doing so I had to literally push my friend. (I made him to leave the bed early, finish the breakfast and dress up quickly) My friend asked me, ‘What is the point in hurrying up so much?’ I always reach station just in time. It is not a place to spend time. I replied, ‘One needs to keep a cushion (of time) for any problem which may come up on the way to station.’ My friend asked, ‘How many times you faced problem in your lifetime while going to station?’ I tried to remember and said, ‘may be 4 to 5 times.’ He asked further, ‘And how many times you must have gone to station in your life? I made some rough calculations (assuming 50 trips every year for last 30 years) and told, ‘about 1500 times.’ On that my friend said, ‘you have wasted 750 hours (=31.25 days which is more than one month) by unnecessarily coming half an hour early each time for station, for the problems which you faced just 4/5 times. Is it worth it? I couldn’t answer immediately but afterwards I gave it a serious thought. Is it pure mathematics? I found much more in it. Firstly taking cushion is a good practice (habit). In most of the engineering problems and planning calculations cushion is kept. But the main question is, ‘how much cushion is enough’? To my mind it depends on the consequences of the event. (In present context, the consequences of missing the train) And since each event is different, the amount of cushion to be taken will vary. (You would take more cushions while catching a train for appearing in an exam rather than going for casual meeting with someone.) But relating the usage of cushion mathematically (like my friend ) with its utility will not be fair .All this statistics is only available after the event(s) have passed and you have no knowledge in the beginning (while you kept the cushion) that the problem will come this time or not. Moreover if the consequences or the stakes are high, it will be worth investing some of the time (or any other resource) as cushion. Does that mean my friend is wrong? No, I don’t thick so. It is because in his perception the consequences of the event (missing the train) are so trivial that he works on almost zero cushion calculations. (I know that he is very rich and can take a flight or taxi even if he misses the train. But this is not the case with me as I may not be able to afford the expanses of flight or taxi.) Image -courtesy www.freedigitalphotos.net

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