Archive for the ‘optimizing’ Category

During our weekly lab meetings, each week we rotate on who brings the lab lunch. Essentially, you bring lunch 1 time per quarter, and get to enjoy the benefits of a free lunch every week thereafter. (free lunch, woohoo!)

This past week, I found myself in a lively email exchange about where we should purchase burritos.
Thinking like an economist, I voted for the cheapest option (by unit).
Thinking like a better economist, my colleague Peter responded with this email, at which point, I could do nothing but acquiesce to his analysis (reprinted with his permission):
“Hang on. If we get 30 half burritos, with chips and guac thrown in, plus fruits, a salad or something else and drinks(which I can pick up), y’all don;t think that will feed about 20 people? Keep in mind that this is an intra-lab meeting too (Carina and Matt), so we don’t have anyone from other labs to feed either…

Assuming the average burrito length at Chipotle is roughly 6 inches (a fairly educated guess, given my extensive experience with this fine establishment), this would provide us with 15 x (0.5) = 7.5 feet of burritos.
Now, assume attendance of 20. Using the Chipotle option, we can expect each person to have, on average, [7.5 x 12 / 20] = 4.5 inches of burrito. With Treehouse, people can expect, on average, to enjoy [8 x 12 / 20] 4.8 inches of burrito each. With Treehouse, we would be increasing supply by an average of roughly .3 inches of burrito per person, while increasing financial burden on our end by roughly [$7.50/4] = $1.75 per person.
Other factors that we should consider:
(1) While the cost/burrito length ratio between TreeHouse and Chipotle appears to be, for all practical purposes, negligible, the associatedsubjective value lab members assign to Chipotle (given its novelty as a lab meeting lunch) may serve to increase Chipotle’s relative utility to a level above that of TreeHouse’s. Given the well-established literature on affective conditioning, the positive reward prediction error each lab member would experience from receiving Chipotle instead of TreeHouse would, most likely, be ascribed to us, the lab lunch suppliers (given the temporal contingency between our delivering the Chipotle and the lab subsequently experiencing the associated reward). Thus, we’d be the most popular people in lab, probably until everyone gets hungry again.
(2) If TreeHouse also promises free chips and guac with their burritos, this increases their appeal as an option. We’d have to walk 8 feet of burritos over from Tresidder, but that’s no biggie.
Given my calculations, and given number (1) above, I vote for Chipotle.
I note, though, a significant limitation of my argument: the above analyses use only burrito length as a between-burrito variable. Another crucial consideration would be burrito diameter, which–if substantially different across burrito establishments–would seriously call into question the validity of my conclusions. Anecdotally, however, I can attest that Chipotle’s burritos tend to maintain a highly favorable diameter/length ratio. If anyone can offer evidence to the contrary, please send it my way.
Too much time on my hands today,
That my friends, is yet another reason why academia is magical.


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Outsourcing self-control

Information dieting.

Facebook dieting.
Cutting back on useless web browsing?
I found a genius program, for those of you who find yourself wasting lots of time. It’s a google chrome plugin called “StayFocused”. You set it up to limit the amount of time you typically waste on various websites (probably good for those of you have noticed Facebook’s cracklike abilities to steal your time).
Give it a shot.
Now I just gotta find a way to set up environmental constraints on my desire for cookies & donuts, and everything else delicious.

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