Queuing theory and the Traffic-Jam Oratorio

I have in my time got very annoyed with Post-Modernists the main reason being that I’ve found them to be slippery, self-indulgent, intellectually-dishonest solipsists.  Oh, and lazy.  Add “intellectually lazy” to that list.  And while I’m tacking ideas on to the end of this paragraph, I should admit I had to ask and be told that solipsism means narcisitic or self-centred.  So narcisstic and self-centered while we’re at it.

What has brought this on is the two day course on Research Methods I’ve just come back from which is preparation for writing my dissertation.  And of course Management Studies is particularly prone to wars between the quants on one end of the scale and the slippery, self-indulgent, yadda-de-yah post-modernists on the other end of the scale.  Which is a human construct anyway.  

And enormous fun the whole weekend was too.  

Since there’s almost nothing quotable from Wikipedia’s article on post-modernism let me give you my own definition by summarising it as the idea that there is no reality, everything is a human construct, we are independent actors with free-will and, since all research is subject to researcher-bias, writing a tone poem about the credit crunch has as much meaning and more honesty than tracking the FTSE 100.  I had the following limerick rattling about my head the whole weekend:

There was a faith-healer from Deal
Who said: “Although pain isn’t real
If I sit on a pin
And if punctures my skin
I dislike what I fancy I feel”. 

I’ve come back with my head fizzing with ideas but I’ll leave you with this one for the time being.

It comes down to intent.

 Why are you doing the research you are doing?  What do you want it to achieve?  (A post-modernist would say “but why do you want it to achieve anything?” at which point their cleverness runs up against my premises and the whole thing falls apart in hyperventilation and swearing).

If you want to examine the phonomenon of rush hour traffic jams you can do it in a variety of ways.  

If you take the view that the only reality is subjective experience and we are all free agents whose opinions have equal validity you can interview people to find out how they feel about traffic jams.  Or get them to draw pictures or sing songs about it.  You can create a traffic-jam oratorio of “found sounds”, or a traffic-jam sculpture out of traffic and – er – jam.  (It seems to me that the line between post-modernist “research” and conceptual art is non-existant).  You can make a film of what people do in their cars in a traffic jam or get them to film and record their own experiences.  Whatever.  It’s all valid and all research.   Etc, etc, etc.  And it is.  It IS all valid research.  It’s interesting and thought provoking and rich and informative.  But it doesn’t solve the problem.

The thing is, it’s not a particularly difficult problem to solve: you model the traffic-jam mathematically using queueing theory and then adjust the cycle on the traffic lights or alter the speed limit and get rid of the traffic jam.

Vodpod videos no longer available. 

The thing is, while I’d love to be sitting in a car listening to a traffic-jam oratorio of “found sounds” on Radio 3, I also want my town planners to be doing the maths so I don’t have to.

3 responses to “Queuing theory and the Traffic-Jam Oratorio

  1. The traffic jam oratorio, wouldn’t that be a bit modern and experimental for R3, so most likely stuck somewhere at at time there is less likely to be traffic jams (ie middle of the night or middle of a saturday afternoon).

  2. It’s just struck me that one possible definition of my job is “doing the maths so other people don’t have to”.

  3. You are right of course Phil – though I do like R3 in the mornings. And of course the music would be modern jazz and just called “Traffic Jam” – geddit?

    SoRB, good point well made, and thank you for mathing for the rest of us. Though I want the planners to do the maths so I don’t have to sit in the traffic jams. I’m not scared of maths, just untrained in it. I suspect I could manage maths up to 1st year Uni level before losing my control of the abstract.


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