Critical Section

Archive: September 17, 2003

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Adding Value

Wednesday,  09/17/03  08:42 AM

I saw my good friend Paul last night, and he reinforced something I've been thinking recently.  The most important thing you can do every day is add value.

There's a spectrum of activities you can perform every day.  Some of them are value-neutral - you just do something, and in the grand scheme of things it doesn't matter.  And some of them are value-positive, they actually add value to the world.  These are the things you should do.  And of course, some of them are value-negative, they subtract value from the world.  These are the things you should avoid.

Adding value can be direct - you can create something useful, or fix something which is broken, or find a solution to a problem.  It can also be indirect - you can inspire someone else to do something which creates value

The things you yourself can do to add value are often time-consuming.  Creating something useful is hard; it requires thought, planning, work, iteration, problem-solving, etc.  This takes time.  Fixing something which is broken is hard; it requires the same thought, planning, work, iteration, problem-solving, etc. as creating something useful, and it can be less rewarding.  And time consuming.  ("No good deed goes unpunished.")  Finding solutions can be hard or easy, depending on the problem and your approach.  (W=UH!)  Often solving problems is very time consuming.

You could imagine a unit which measures value creation efficiency:

(value created) ÷ (time spent)

This is analogous to "power", the physicist's term for work over time.  I haven't thought of a good word for this, but we need one <your word here>[ Later: "productivity"! ]

The things you do indirectly to inspire others are not necessarily time consuming, and they can have a huge leverage.  So motivating others to create value is a really efficient way to add value yourself.

So back to Paul.  He is a smart guy, successful, friendly, and fun to be around.  Paul is full of energy.  People like being around him, and I think one reason is because he readily inspires value creation.  How does he do this?  How do people in general motivate others to create value?

  • Ask good questions.
  • Focus on things which matter.  This means filter things which don't matter.  Don't get distracted by details.
  • Be honest.  Not as in "don't steal", but as in "don't delude yourself".
  • Related to the previous point, accept empirical evidence over theory.  If something is happening, it is what it is, whether you can explain it or not.
  • Understand that different people are good at different things.
  • Be self-aware.  Know what you're good at (and by implication, what you're not good at).

These are all things I'd like to do myself, and being around people like Paul who are good at them is good for me.  I want to create value, and I want to inspire value creation in the people around me.

Of course there is something even more efficient, which is inspiring others to inspire others.  That's why I wrote this :)


Wednesday,  09/17/03  10:51 PM

Today I had to find a bunch of historical dates; product releases, customer installs, stuff like that.  It gave me a great chance to put X1 through its paces.  It worked great!  X1 searches your Outlook archive and your local files fast.  As in by the time you finish typing the query, you have the result.  It took a bit to "tame" the program - it tries to do too much when first installed - but overall it is a great tool.

Beluga caviarOkay, this is serious.  New Scientist reports 'Miscalculation' could mean the end of caviar.  "One of the world's most valuable fish could be driven to extinction because an international conservation body has miscalculated how many are left in the wild.  So claim fisheries scientists who are warning that flawed science is behind a decision this month to allow continued fishing of beluga sturgeon."  This is probably not as bad as reported, but I sure hope it doesn't drive up the price of Beluga.  [ via Cory Doctorow ]

This is wonderful: the Fellowship Baptist Creation Science Fair.  "1st Place: Using Prayer To Microevolve Latent Antibiotic Resistance In Bacteria."  Amazingly, from the comments in the guestbook it appears less than half the visitors realize this site is a parody!  [ via Bigwig ]

David Burbridge links an Observer story about the "meteor killed the dinosaurs" theory.  Interesting discussion and good comments in the GNXP thread, too.  My unscholarly opinion is that the meteor theory is not wrong, but not the whole story, either.  But please read and decide for yourself...Handspring treo 600

The Treo 600 is out!  Orange has launched it in Europe.  I want mine NOW.

Handspring keeps sending me emails telling me how great the Treo 600 is going to be.  It pisses me off.  I'm sold already, now let me buy one!

Have you called 1-800-555-TELL yet?  Try it!  [ via Scoble ]

Hey, my Vonage VoIP adapter arrived today!  Just a little Cisco ATA-186.  So I just plug it in and poof, I have a phone!  We'll see - stay tuned.

I'm going to the Microsoft PDC (the bi-annual professional developer's conference), and there is a PDC meta-blog (of course).  All the pre-conference buzz seems to be about "Indigo", which nobody understands but everyone talks about anyway. regards the way of the Indigo...

I hesitate to report this because it is still vaporware, but today Samsung announced it will bring out a line of digital music players which will interface with the "new Napster".  It is being positioned as Apple-like in the pairing of a hardware player with an online service (iPod and iTMS).  I must tell you I am so from Missouri on this - show me the new Napster, and then I'll believe it.


Really Moving Mount Fuj

Wednesday,  09/17/03  11:27 PM

So, how would you move Mount Fuji?

That seems to be the question everyone is asking.  A couple of months ago I wrote a little review of "How Would You Move Mount Fuji", a book about technical interview questions written by William Poundstone.  In this review I "solved" several of the puzzles.  Subsequently I posted a discussion about The 21$ Question, and also Revisited the Bridge of the Programmers, then later did More Bridgework, and Even More Bridgework.  Not to mention solving The Two Switches.

So - I periodically monitor the searches people do which lead them to this site, and "Moving Mount Fuji" is one of the most popular.  It would seem that people are looking for the answer, rather than looking for a review of the book.  So I decided to answer the question!  This is one of those questions which doesn't have a "right" answer; basically the interviewer asks the question to see how you think.  Any semi-logical series of assumptions and deductions which leads to a reasonable answer would be good.  Failing to attack the problem at all or giving up would be bad.

In this, it resembles a question I quoted from the book in my review,How many piano tuners are there in the world?  (Here's the answer I gave for that one.)

Mount Fuji

Okay, we want to move Mount Fuji...  So we have to make some assumptions.  First, we have to define what "moving" means.  So let's say we are going to move the entire mountain to Mojave, California.  Hey, it's desert, there's a lot of room out there.

First let's consider the overall technique.  We need a bunch of dynamite to blow up the rock.  Then we need bulldozers to pick up the rock and put it into trucks.  We use the trucks to carry all the rock to the nearest airport, where we have a fleet of 747 cargo jets waiting (and loading equipment).  From there we fly the rock to Mojave, unload it from the planes, transfer it back into trucks, move it into the desert, and dump it.  And we'll need bulldozers to push the rock back into shape.

There is a philosophical question as to whether, having moved all the rock and reshaped it, we still have Mount Fuji.  We certainly have the parts to Mount Fuji, but is the mountain still the mountain after it has been moved in this way?  I'll leave the philosophy alone (for once!) and just say we stipulate up front that moving the parts is equivalent to moving the mountain.

Next we have to figure out how big the mountain is...  Well, I Googled and figured out it is 3,776 meters high (about 13,000 ft.).  I might have guessed about 12,000 ft. without Google because that's about the height of Mt. Whitney (the tallest peak in the California Sierra Nevada range).  The shape of this mountain is nearly a perfect cone, with the width of the base about three times the height.  As you know, the volume of a cone is given by:

(base area * height) / 3 = (πr2 * height) / 3

So this means the volume of Mount Fuji is approximately:

(π * 18,000 * 18,000 * 12,000) / 3 ≈ 4 x 1012 ft3       [ 1/8/14 - thanks for fixing my arithmetic, Jay ]

That's a lot of rock.  Next let's figure out how much this might weigh.  Imagine a rock the size of a cubic foot.  Could you pick it up?  I'd say barely.  It probably would weigh about 100 lbs.  So that means we have a lot of heavy rock to move:

4 x 1012 x 100 lbs = 4 x 1014 lbs = 2 x 109 tons

Cool.  Okay, so how many 747s would we need?  A 747 can carry about 500 people with all their luggage.  The people weigh about 150 lbs on average, and their luggage probably weighs about the same, so we're talking 500 x 300  = 150,000 lbs, or about 75 tons.  Let's say for cargo purposes we could carry 100 tons.  Would that be the limiting factor, or would volume?  Well, if each ton is about 20 cubic feet, then we're talking about 2,000 cubic feet.  That's 10 ft x 10 ft x 20 ft, so clearly the size of the rock would not matter.  (Actually since the rock would be broken up it would take more space, but not that much more.)  We would therefore need 2 x 107 = 20M plane flights.  If we had a fleet of 1,000 planes flying in parallel, and each plane made two flights per day, it would take 10,000 days or around 33 years.

That's a long time, but this is a big project.  Many of the great European cathedrals took over 100 years to build, as did the Great Wall in China and the Great Pyramid in Egypt...

What about trucks?  Well, I'd guess a really big dump truck could haul 25 tons.  (That would be about 5,000 cubic feet, or 10 ft x 10 ft x 50 ft, roughly speaking.)  So we'd need four times as many trucks as planes.  I don't know how close the nearest airport is to Mount Fuji, but let's assume we could make two trips from the mountain to the airport each day (same as plane flights), so we'd need 4,000 trucks.  No problem.  Oh yeah and we'd need about the same number of trucks on the other end, too.

Now, about those bulldozers.  Well, let's say it takes one bulldozer to load one truck.  We assumed the trucks make two trips per day, so now let's assume a trip is really four hours of loading, four hours of driving, and four hours of unloading.  That would give a bulldozer four hours to do the loading, and that seems reasonable.  So pencil in 4,000 bulldozers.  I'm sure there would be some traffic problems with that many bulldozers roaming around the mountain, but we could deal with that.  No worse than the Ventura Freeway at rush hour :)  And as with the trucks we'd need the same number of bulldozers to rebuild the mountain in Mojave.

So, that's how I'd move Mount Fuji into the Mojave desert.  Give me 8,000 bulldozers, 8,000 dump trucks, 1,000 cargo jets, and (of course) the people to man them, and it would take me about 33 years.  No problem.


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Correlation vs. Causality
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Unnatural Selection
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