Monday, November 26, 2007

The Unmeasured Medium of Meetings

If you’ve ever found yourself in a meeting where the most interesting thing to do is silently calculate the cost of the meeting to your company, this is for you: Payscale’s Meeting Miser allows you to enter your company’s city, then the job titles of those people present. Click the start button and watch the dollars add up in real time.

It’s a free tool, provided somewhat tongue-in-cheek. Yet Meeting Miser strikes a chord because the internal business meeting is a largely unmeasured and unaccountable medium. Whereas you need to complete an expense report to buy a $35 toner cartridge for the office laser printer, you can blow $500 of people’s time in a meeting at will. Of course, it’s harder to measure the return on investment of a particular meeting than it is to justify the toner cartridge, but does that make it not worth trying?

In a world where you rarely hear the complaint “I was in too few meetings today,” perhaps a more serious version of Meeting Miser—integrated into a company’s scheduling and human-resources systems—would be an interesting experiment.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Vampires versus Math

In an act of monster-slaying unlikely to make the movies or TV, physicists Costas J. Efthimiou and Sohang Ghandi show mathematically why vampires do not exist.

Their thesis:

Anyone who has seen John Carpenter’s Vampires, Dracula, Blade, or any other vampire film is already quite familiar with the vampire legend. The vampire needs to feed on human blood. After one has stuck his fangs into your neck and sucked you dry, you turn into a vampire yourself and carry on the blood-sucking legacy. The fact of the matter is, if vampires truly feed with even a tiny fraction of the frequency that they are depicted as doing in the movies and folklore, then humanity would have been wiped out quite quickly after the first vampire appeared.

The math is simple. Every time a vampire bites a human, the human becomes a vampire, reducing the human population by one and increasing the vampire population by one.

Let’s say there are 99 humans and 1 vampire. The vampire claims its first victim. Now there are 2 vampires and 98 humans.

The two vampires each claim a new victim. That would make 4 vampires and 96 humans. The four vampires each claim a new victim, leaving 8 vampires and 92 humans.

Because the number of vampires doubles at each step, the vampires eliminate all the original 99 humans three steps later.

What if we started with 1 vampire and 99,999 humans? It would take 18 steps to eliminate all the humans. What about 999,999 humans? Only 21 steps.

The authors provide a scenario in which the first vampire appeared in 1600, and each vampire claimed one victim a month. The world population at the time would have been vampirized in less than three years.

A few comments:

  • The authors conveniently assert the year 1600’s total population (humans plus one vampire) to be a number exactly in the 2^n series (536,870,912, which is 2^29). This enables a tidy last step where 268,435,456 vampires have 268,435,456 victims.
  • The authors define vampires by way of the movies. However, the authors do not model the fact that, in the movies, the humans usually fight back and vanquish the vampires. If we’re using movies as the guide, perhaps this better explains why vampires do not exist. ;)
  • Where did that first vampire come from?

If you read the full article, the vampire section is half-way down the page, under the subheading “Vampires.”