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Meta-Efficiency

On Friday while riding with a colleague to a meeting I talked about my irrational obsession with optimization: finding the shortest path to walk between buildings, pinching pennies when shopping, modeling something using the fewest possible parameters, accomplishing multiple errands whenever I drive the car, etc.

For instance, I explained, if I leave home between 5:18 and 5:20am in the morning then I can walk leisurely to the Forest Glen Metro station and catch the Red Line train with 2-4 minutes to spare ~90% of the time. That train gives me a 2-4 minute window to get an Orange Line train (~90% probability) at Metro Center, which gets me to West Falls Church station with ~10 minutes margin of safety to get on the 6:40am shuttle bus to my new job site. Leaving home after 5:22am often puts me on the next Red Line train, which doesn't make as good a connection downtown and which ends up with a frantic sprint to get on the shuttle bus, if I'm lucky and there are no small fluctuations in train schedules.

When my colleague said that my fanaticism with economy didn't sound bad to him, I replied that it really was foolishness on my part, and that I didn't properly take into account the costs of gathering information and of mental computation in figuring out the best strategy.

But later I realized that what I was joking about, self-deprecatingly, is in fact meta-optimization — making the process of being-efficient be more efficient itself. And of course, when doing that one must take into account the enjoyment that some people, like me, get out of skillful hyper-efficient courses of action. In my case, thats's so much fun that it's more than worth the cost!

(cf. Mr. Optimization, ...) - ^z - 2011-12-23