Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Choose your own adventure

So we had an interesting group exercise in class today. It was for one of our "Physician as a Manager" lectures, so we were ready for it to be pretty chill. The groups were assigned, but they were the same as our dissection groups, so we were all relatively comfortable with one another. The professor started out by laying down the rules.

"The activity will take place between 3 and 5 PM. If you do not complete the activities in time, you will fail this component of the course and will have to complete remedial action."

There were some nervous and not-so-nervous chuckles from the audience.

"I'm serious. This is not a joke."

Nervous glances...

"Here are your tasks:

#1 - Find your group

#2 - Take the folder with your group's number on the front

#3 - Read scenarios A and B and put together a 4 slide PowerPoint answering the question. This PowerPoint must be e-mailed to me by 4:15 (~45 minutes) from the account of the person whose name is highlighted on the cover of the folder. If it arrives at 4:16 by my clock, you will fail and will have to do remedial action.

#4 - Read scenario C and put together a 2 slide PowerPoint answering the question. This must be e-mailed by me with a timestamp no later than 4:45.

#5 - Every member must fill out an evaluation of their group, choosing the strongest and the weakest member of their team."

Someone stuck up their hand: "What if we choose not to pick the weakest member of our team."

"You can do whatever you want, but it may not work in your favour.

#6 - Next time we convene, one person from your group will have to present your PowerPoint presentations. They will be chosen at random. You will not choose.

You may not use any outside sources. You may not consult the internet.

Computers are reserved for you, but you may send no more than two people to use the computers at one time. You may begin."

And with that, we were off. Our group parked ourselves on the floor somewhere outside our classroom. I kept expecting to find the line at the end of the assignment that said, "Haha, this is a joke, come back to the classroom."

As it turned out, the scenarios were about a racing team by the name of Carter. Apparently, they were up-and-coming stars but were having some problems with their engines blowing up. They were on the cusp of making it big and were trying to decide whether or not to enter a particular race.
  1. If they entered the race and won, it was their shot to the top. They had a $2,000,000 sponsorship lined up with a tire company and would get a huge boost to their fame.
  2. If they entered the race and their engine exploded, they would be back to zero. Plus, their current oil sponsorship of $800,000 would evaporate.
  3. If they opted to not enter the race, they would lose their chance at the tire sponsorship, plus they would be down $80,000 from forfeiting their entrance fee and going back on their word with their future sponsor.
One mechanic pointedly said that they felt that the problem with the engine was that it did not perform well in cold temperatures. The race day was going to be particularly cold. The other mechanic felt that temperature had nothing to do with it and presented a graph of "Engine failure vs. Temperature" which showed no significant difference.

There was obviously no clear answer, so we fuddled with it for a bit but the clock was ticking. One of the more mathematically gifted among us, who was trying to calculate an expected value for engine failure eventually informed us that the graph was useless because while it told us how many failures occurred at each temperature, it did not tell us how many races were run at each temperature. Thus, higher failure rates could reflect more races run at that temperature.

We opted to run the race. We scrambled to decide what to put on our slides and ran people back and forth down the hall to fill in our PowerPoint (since we could only have two people in the computer room at once). We submitted our first (ugly and plain looking) PowerPoint at 4:13 PM and wiped the sweat from our foreheads.

Scenario C involved more data that basically proved to us that at all low temperatures, engine failure occurred. Engine failure also occurred at higher temperatures, but rarely. This forced us to re-evaluate our suggestion for the second half. PowerPoint part 2 completed with time to spare.

Our final task was to choose the strongest and weakest members of our team. To be honest, we were all putting in effort so we thought this was rather unfair. We considered abstaining from the "weakest member" part, but were a bit worried that we would collectively fail as a result ("all for one, one for all" seemed to be the principle behind the marking scheme). One of our team members actually asked the professor what would happen if we left this field blank and received the answer, "If you can't evaluate who is the weakest member of your team, then that is a weakness."

Seriously though, the question was not asking, "What are the strengths and weaknesses of your team members?" That kind of candid evaluation is amicable. The evaluation it was asking for was entirely negative. I suggested that we plot together and put down the person to our left as the strongest and the person to our right as the weakest. This way, none of us would be singled out. Team spirit! We did this, except for one of us who decided that they indeed did want to formulate their own opinion of who was strongest and who was weakest. We respected his choice.

In the end, it was an entirely frenetic exercise made stressful by the arbitrary restrictions placed on it and by the looming threat of failure. And to be honest, I'm still not entirely sure what the point was or whether I learned anything. I mean... the scenarios were about car racing for goodness sake. But I'm sure the professor will tell us next session what the activity was "supposed" to mean, and I will have to evaluate at that time whether I agree with him.

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The Norton fairy

Yesterday, I blogged about my disappointment with Norton SafeWeb blocking websites that I use and think are safe (though SafeWeb does make me feel very... well... safe). Today, I received a comment on that entry from a blogger whose user profile has the description, "I'm in Austin working at Symantec." He said that he had contacted SafeWeb's analysis team and they would re-evaluate Snapdrive.net. To be honest, I was completely boggled as to how Mr. Andy Payne from Symantec stumbled onto my entry (secret Symantec spybots surfing Google 24-7 looking for people complaining about Norton?) but I certainly appreciate his efforts in response to my issue.

It was also a reminder to me that my blog is public. I mean I know my blog is public. But up until now, I have had little reason to actually perceive of my blog as public. It's neat, but also a little bit eerie.

In my curiosity, I followed the Norton fairy's profile back to his own blog on which I found some genuinely amusing videos that he himself had stumbled into on the web. For instance, this one featuring Japanese "Human Art" (featuring shadow people moving objects but acting as part of the background)...


...or the exceptional short film above. So thank you Andy Payne, both for petitioning your buddies at Symantec on my account and for guiding me to 15 more minutes of amusement in my life.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

if i leave a bunch of key words on your blog, like, taiwan indepedence dala lama, falun gong, human rights, democracy, melanine milk, i wonder if the chinese cyber-cops will block your blog from being accessed from China hmmmm

Andy Payne said...

Sorry for the eery feelings! I know how it is. Since Norton Safe Web is still pretty new, I'm trying to keep my ears open for problems out there, and I like to try to help people when I can. So I use Google Alerts, Technorati, and various other means to keep track of what's going on out there. I think your blog came up in a Google Alert.

And I'm glad you found something amusing on my blog - those vids are crazy. My latest posts are at andy-payne.com, by the way.