Too Busy For Words - the PaulWay Blog

Mon 6th Nov, 2006

Co-operation reworked

We have an espresso machine at work, which has greatly improved the quality of the coffee I drink (up from plunger coffee). However, occasionally I come to the machine and find the filter-thingy still attached and full of spent grounds. Even worse has been the occasions when someone has frothed their milk and forgotten to wipe it off. These people work in botany and zoology labs where controlling rogue infections can be vitally important to not only the validity of their experiment but their health. So leaving dry, not-sterilised milk to rot on the frother has been a source of irritation. And I always like to leave the thing cleaner than I found it - why is someone leaving their work for other people to do?

I found out the other day. I'd just made coffee and was gently manoeuvering my cup out of the machine when Ian stepped up and grabbed the filter handle and said "I'll take care of that". He then explained that his idea was to leave the filter on the machine. The next person completes exactly the same steps when making a cup of coffee - empty out the filter, add new coffee, make the coffee - just in a slightly different order (his first step is my last step). And it means that cheaters - people who receive the machine in a clean state and leave it filled with coffee - now have to do exactly the same amount of work as everyone else.

It's left me feeling rather odd. It's going to take a while to retrain myself to his ways, and through that time I'll be thinking 'but, but, but this is leaving it dirty!'. But I can't find a flaw in his logic, the grounds are already steam-sterilised and will probably only be left in the machine for a day or two before the next person uses it, and it does mean that the people who really do irritate me - the ones who do less work than everyone else - are now doing their share. It just still feels ... wrong somehow... :-)

I can't think of any other real examples where you can make the use of a shared resource fairer by redesigning the workflow. But there's got to be similar systems.

And, though this might be considered stretching the point, the GPL and the Free Software movement has been making the point that, by stepping outside the bounds of 'paying for' and 'owning' software, we avoid a whole raft of 'fair use' and 'copying' issues. There are so many things that proprietary applications have to restrict its users from not doing - reverse engineering, selling or giving away, leasing, using to create another product - that are null issues in Open Source software. We should keep looking for these 'alternative' ways of solving problems, stepping outside the box and saying 'what scenarios can we envisage that would mean that you never had this problem?'.

It's the way of the future, man!

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