Thursday, August 31, 2006

Cubes suck

Until recently I had been stationed in a cube at my office. The only good thing about this was that I could peer over and chat with my neighbors if I had something to say. The bad thing (as Joel Spolsky talks about) is that thinking for long period of time is difficult. Rands talks about his den and how he can lock himself in there and either work or play. I posit that sometimes both happen at once.

Just before I left on vacation, I moved into an office. I have never worked in an office alone before, always either being in a cube or sharing an office with a coworker. My primary concern about moving into an office alone was that I would get sucked into a whole lot of nothing, involving refreshing bloglines, reading news and twiddling thumbs.

Over the past two days, to the casual observer, this is exactly what I was doing.

In the back of my mind I knew I should be working on finding an efficient way to find the distance between a point and the surface of a cube in non-Euclidean N-space. But that sounded scary. I'd come into work, clear out my emails, catch up with the news, then draw a cube on my glass wall and stare for a bit. Staring wouldn't last longer than a few minutes. If I was feeling particularly enthusiastic I'd erase my cube and draw a new one, from a different angle - hoping to grok the mysteries of 5 dimensional cubes. Then, back to slashdot. Or YouTube. Or some partially functioning Java applet written in 98 that enumerates measure polytopes while crashing Firefox.

Every now and then, out of no where, would come some piece of insight. I'd scurry across to my old cube neighbor and lay him with my new knowledge. He'd point out why I was wrong, and then I'd head back to the office for more YouTube.

But then today, for no particular reason, it all made sense and was blindingly simple. By doing nothing I managed to get what I estimated would have been a few weeks of work done in about an hour. It turns out (as usual) I was making the problem far more complex than it really was. The sad thing is, if I were still in a cube, with the constant self-applied pressure to not look like a slacker, it probably would have taken me 3 weeks to see the light and the solution would have been far more complex than it needed to be.

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