One Day, and One Day Only

It was that eerie hour after midnight when Sam Reshevsky, who was tired of having worried over the composition of a poem all day, and just about to give up on it, saw a magical portal appear in the center of his room to another world. In he went through the radiant neon frame, and what he saw on the other side was a vast jungle that stretched endlessly in every direction.

More and more, Sam spent his free time each night exploring this world. An undisturbed and beautiful place, it had a calming atmosphere—perfect for writing poetry—and it smelled fresh always, as the vegetation created the most soothing atmosphere he ever knew. Then there were the creatures, which had almost dreamlike appearances: birds that changed colors and flew without resting, insects that grew larger than an encyclopedic tome, and, most of all, wisps of light that emanated a brilliant white shine.

When he returned to his room each night, Sam felt always more energetic and never tired; and, however much time he spent in the portal, the sun would be just rising in his original world, so he would go from writing poetry in the jungle to writing it in his room. When was the last time he had slept? Or talked to anyone?

Soon the portal began to appear at day as well as at night, and Sam would enter it every chance he had, for nothing in his room could be more interesting than the mythic jungle that was a portal entrance away. And the jungle would change every time he entered—every time he started in a different place, where he saw different trees, different creatures, but always, though, with the same wisps.

The noble wisps were ancient, and they held unbounded wisdom. Sam began to communicate with them, for they were much able to improve his poetry and knowledge about the world. One after another, his notebooks began to fill up with genuine poetry, and this led him to visit the jungle even more.

In the middle of the jungle was a temple, and, though it was in ruins, it was clearly not as ancient as the wisps that always hovered around it. When Sam happened to enter the temple, he saw a set of stone stairs descending well below the earth. But he did not go down them—the jungle was so plentiful a world that any world beyond it was unnecessary.

On one afternoon a knock on the door startled Sam into the real world, and he was reluctant at first to answer it. Trudging out of his room, and across the living room to where the main hall was, he thought, Why should I have to walk so far to open the door? After what seemed like half an hour, he peeked through the door hole and saw that it was Adela, his sister, who was reminding him about a family dinner planned for that night. He said he couldn’t go. She asked why. He said it would take too long to explain. She left disappointedly.

But he was right. There was no way he could waste an hour, let alone three, on a matter as trivial as dinner. The jungle was where he needed to be, and every second in there was worth a minute outside.

That’s what it had seemed at first.

As months passed by, Sam saw that the jungle grew less exotic, the creatures less energetic, and the wisps less bright. Just now, he was not writing a poem—he was conversing with a wisp on the philosophy of dreams, but he was not quite sure whether the wisp was real, for when he reached to grab it, his hand passed through without being affected the slightest.

It was then that the poet grew tired of the wisps and marched to the temple, which he had for so long avoided. The structure was not eroded any more than it was when Sam first entered the jungle—in fact, it seemed more complex, and there were now hieroglyphs and inscriptions upon the walls that were not there before. At the center of the temple were the stone stairs, which led to an abyss that he could not see all the way down. What could be down there—could it be as horrid as the wisps say? Sam took a full, deep breath, and descended into the darkness.

The world slowly changed from the green leaves into the gray walls, and then into the black shadows. Sam descended for a long time, until the steps abruptly stopped—causing him to trip, falling sprawled upon the stone floor. This created a thud that echoed no less than eight or nine times around his confines.

When, after a long moment, the noise receded, there appeared in front of him a maze: the entrance was arch that shined with a ghastly blue glow. This was enough so that Sam could see the dark blood running from his nose, and yet, he felt no pain—and, as soon as he looked again, the blood was gone! Perhaps it had been an illusion, he thought.

He lifted his hand to feel whether his nose was wet, but there was nothing to be felt. Neither could he smell nor taste it.

“What use is this?” he thought. “This is a world that does trick the senses. The wisps have warned me about such a place: ‘A maze you cannot escape!’ O, how I wish to return to the world above!”

And, as if the environment could read his mind, the Sun passed vertically overhead, and beamed straight down through the staircase, so that Sam could easily find his way back up. He formulated a plan: first, he would climb to the surface and ask the wisps what exactly this place was and why it was here, and then, he would do whatever it would take to make sure nobody who passed through would enter it.

Suddenly, a loud but soothing voice propagated from beyond the arch.

“Poet! If it is knowledge that you desire and success that you seek, go not to the jungle spirits. They know only so much, for they are a puddle, and we are the sea!”

“A sea?”

“Of infinite curiosity!”

But as Sam peered beyond the arch—an immense plane of darkness—he saw and heard nothing resembling the sea.

“I shall not enter.”

“To enter is the only way out,” the Voice said, and as it said this, the Sun had finished passing over; it had completely disappeared from view, and down where Sam was at the bottom of the staircase, it was once again a void of utter darkness.

Sam tried anyways to climb up the stairs. But the higher he climbed, the more difficult it was. Each step took a supreme effort; he rested for several seconds between each one, and halfway up, he simply stopped, short on breath, too exhausted to rise any further.

“All right, I will enter the maze for one day, and one day only!” said Sam reluctantly.

Almost effortlessly, he descended to the bottom of the staircase, and stood in front of the arch once again.


Sam pondered for a long time. On his mind was the most important goal: to never be lost. He would use his poetry book to keep track of all his movements, turns, and reverses in the maze. He would document every step with perfection. He would create a map of everything in it. He would always have a way out.

With this in mind, he took a deep breath and stepped forward into the maze.

As soon as he entered, the cold, gray walls around him began to change—they were stationary, but carved patterns began to appear on them, hieroglyphs of an earlier time, all illuminated by a background whose gray was turning blue. Surprisingly, he could read the hieroglyphs. They were written in all languages, ancient and new, classical and exotic, but nonetheless, he could read them.

On the wall next to him was the text of all the Greek myths. It had Zeus and Achilles and Aphrodite and Perseus. And not only was there text—images of Greek heroes and villains flashed across the wall, sometimes in battle, sometimes in idle. Sometimes, the images themselves would appear to be moving. But Sam did not think so, for this world tricked the senses far too much already.

After wandering in the maze for ages, Sam was still swimming in the sea of ancient Greece. Fascinating, he thought. But as the day passed on, his mind grew weary of Greece and desired to know more about everything else. And so, saying goodbye to Homer and Theseus (after all, they both looked the same in the wall), and their retinue, Sam studied his map and started to backtrack to the entrance.

He took not two turns before he reached a dead end. Yet here was clearly an open path on his illustration! He made sure he had made the right turns, and checked his entire path twice, coming to the same dead end every time. I am no cartographer, thought Sam. But something is obviously not right.

“Let me out at once!” said Sam defiantly, towards no particular direction. “I have explored your maze, and though I see infinite curiosity, I wish to return to my world.”

The reverberating Voice responded: “Did you not say you would enter for one day?”

“Yes, but I have changed my mind! I no longer wish to stay.” But as Sam said this, he was almost trembling.

“One day. At the end of this day I will let you free,” the Voice reasoned sincerely. “You must explore further before you decide.”

“Fine,” replied Sam. “One day, and one day only.”

Against his conscience, Sam turned again, continuing deeper into the maze.

As he walked through the maze, the walls changed again and again. The Greek myths had transformed into modern politics, and then into a map of the world. He moved on, navigating through the structure with utmost care.

The walls were so captivating that he read each one completely, and he was not quite sure how this was possible, but somehow, he did. Even more absorbing were the images, when the carvings depicted not words, but pictures, and even more than that were the moving ones. The blue, stone walls changed before his very eyes. And in these pictures he would hear different things, not quite real, but as if somebody were whispering in his head. It was not the Voice. The Voice spoke very loudly and directly at him, but these sounds were different. They had no voice behind them, just meanings.

Eventually he reached a wall upon which a list of recent poems was inscribed. At once, Sam recognized his own name, next to several poems he had written while in the jungle world. One of them was “Jungle on a Green Day.” It had been one of the poems of which he was most proud. After reading it several times, though, and seeing the work of other poets, he began to wonder whether the jungle world really helped him write poetry at all.

“Jungle on a Green Day” wasn’t bad, he thought. But it wasn’t good either. It was something that anyone, given enough patience and interest in poetry, could write. Its rhythm worked, it painted enough scenery, and it had a sufficient effect, though not quite enough. There was no strict measurement, only that it wasn’t good enough.

He continued to navigate the maze. Suddenly, it struck him that he had stopped drawing! The map went to only places that he had explored in the first hours, but after that, it was an absolute blank.

It didn’t matter though. Sam seemed to know the maze by intuition, and he could go from any wall to any other without needing a map to follow.

Finally, it had been one day, and Sam walked back to the staircase (without using his map), and went through the portal, which was not in the jungle as before. It rested instead at the bottom of the staircase, so that in entering or exiting the maze, there would be no effort wasted in stair-climbing.


So this was how Sam spent his time. He explored the maze by day and wrote his poetry by night. The more he spent in the maze, the more he learned, and his poetry received ever greater acclaim and grew ever more popular. He was invited to readings and to speeches, and soon, readers of his poems began to send him mail that he did not have time to read. He didn’t have enough time to give speeches either; his life of solitude inside the maze dominated his character outside it.

In a year after first stepping into the maze, Sam was the most famous poet in the nation. But he disliked this, and ever more, he wanted to stay in the maze and not return.

One day there was a knock on the door.

Just another follower, he thought. Dragging himself to the door, Sam thought about the time he could be spending in the maze instead. But when he peeked outside, he saw it was Adela again. The door was promptly opened. He told her he didn’t have any time, but his sister replied that something had happened. Had someone found out about the portal? No, it was the president—he wanted to speak with Sam, inviting him to dinner. I’m too busy, Sam said. Then at least write him a poem. Alright, I shall. Adela left.

But even as Sam said that, he knew he was not in the mood to write a poem for the president. So he entered the maze, and asked the maze to write a poem for him. Immediately there formed along the walls of the maze a poem—quite an eloquent one—and Sam copied it down into his notebook. Then he returned outside and published it, hoping that would satisfy public relations for the next week.

He could not believe what happened next. Another poet claimed that she wrote the poem first. Sam told everyone he had not copied from anyone, and yet, the other poet was insistent that it was hers. And the press agreed with her. Soon, he was exposed to be a fraud, a plagiarist of poetry.

Angrily, he went through the portal, entered the maze, and spoke to the Voice:

“Why is this? My life’s work is ruined because everyone thinks I’m a thief.”

“But in a way, you are. Though you are in this sea of curiosity, you are not alone. Others, like you, have come here before. Many of them are in here with you right now.”

The walls turned into glass, and Sam could see, as far as he could in the dim, blue light, dozens of people wandering around the maze. And yet he had never encountered another person in the maze in the last year.

“If you are wondering why you haven’t seen them, it is because of the maze’s design. Each person has a section of the maze to oneself. The walls shift enough times so that anyone will be able to view any wall, but everyone still has a personal section.

“But my life is destroyed! O poor souls in this maze, if only they knew it was an illusion, if only they knew. You are nothing but a demon. The maze is a temptation, and nothing more. No, I will leave this place and never return.”

“Where will you go?”

“Above this maze, demon, is a different world, a jungle of noble spirits. That world is free and uncorrupted. It is a world you shall not enter.”

The Voice laughed heartily.

“Many have said that before you. They all mention a civilized jungle world. But they have all returned. I warn you: you find that your perceptions will change.”

“Perceptions changing or not, I shall leave and never return!”

With that, Sam dashed for the staircase. He began to climb, and like before, as his altitude increased, so did the effort required to climb any higher. His eyes were unused to the light that was becoming brighter as he ascended. He was approaching the top, and now, each step required all the energy he had. When, finally, he reached the surface of the temple, he fell upon the ground, feeling more victorious than he had ever felt before—for a moment. When he glanced around himself, he did not see any wisps or mystical creatures or trees. Instead, he was on a barren beach, with the ocean on one side and a brown and even more endless desert on the other. There was nothing else. The only thing that separated the ocean from the desert was a narrow strip of golden shore. Sam clawed up a handful of it, but realized they were not of his world. In his mind appeared a poem that he had read many years ago:

I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand—
How few! Yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep—while I weep!
O God! Can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! Can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?

Sam could not remember the remaining lines. Did they matter, or was the poem even relevant? No, despite the goldenness of the sand, it would carry no significance—it was just sand.

Reluctantly, he took one last look at the portal world and returned home.


Life, so to speak, returned to normal. The plagiarism case was mostly forgotten, as the poet who had accused him of plagiarizing was herself caught plagiarizing, and the press focused on her instead. Sam’s poetry focused more and more on meaning of reality, and he grew revered once again.

Fifty years after he left the maze, after having gone through as many of life’s experiences as he could, he had run out of ideas and interest in writing poetry. One day, as he was reflecting over some events of his life, a shimmer of the past appeared before him, in the form of a neon portal. Smiling, he entered the portal into the golden beach, descended the staircase—very slowly at that—and gazed once more at the maze which had once destroyed him.

An overwhelming sense of nostalgia struck Sam. He felt compelled to go in once again. This time, there was nothing holding him back. Plus, had the maze not offered him immense knowledge and satisfied his curiosity before? He gazed forward.

“I will enter this maze,” said Sam, “for one day, and one day only.”

One Year Ago…

On October 28, 2009, I had a UChicago alumni interview with Alice Mark ’09. It was a nice, open interview and also my second college interview ever. (For details of the interview, see this post.)

University of Chicago LogoIt happens that of the colleges I applied to, UChicago is the only one I actually visited (excepting UT, but that’s literally like 15 minutes away, so it doesn’t count). It is really strong on the concept of a liberal education, and that’s what really drew me in. I’d say UChicago also affected my application to Cornell, as I chose in the primary slot the College of Arts of Sciences instead of the College of Engineering.

For me, UChicago vs. Cornell was a tough choice, until we had financial aid to compare. (Cornell gave way more aid.)

Anyway, I think I went way off topic from the interview. And since I already talked about the interview in a previous post (in the first link), I don’t really know why I’m making this post. Hmm…

A shoutout to some UChicago people:

  • Alice Mark ’09, for being my interviewer.
  • Sam Scarrow ’13, for hosting me during my visit.
  • Mark He ’14, Bella Wu ’14, and Ritodhi Chatterjee ’14 for being from Texas and actually attending UChicago.

Good luck to all of you!

Does More Time Mean More Productivity?

Six days have passed since I quit playing WoW (for an average of 7.65 hours a day for 20 days). But in these last few days, I feel that I haven’t been any more productive than while playing WoW. You’d think that having even 1 extra hour every day would be a huge bonus to productivity. Having 7.65 extra hours per day would be the best thing ever, right?

Short answer: No.

Paradoxically, it seems that having all these extra hours does not increase productivity one bit. When I was playing WoW, I used my spare time very, very efficiently. I was either sleeping, doing homework, or attending class. This is on top of band rehearsals and other social activities. So, I would play a ton of WoW, but everything else was done efficiently. I wouldn’t say these things were rushed. Analyzing my grades during these 20 days (both prelims and essays), I find no significant drop. In fact, I think my grades overall improved during the experiment.

In the last 6 days, I don’t quite think my grades are slipping, but I am not doing much more. So the question is, where are these 7.65 hours a day going? Here is my estimate:

  • 2 hours: Sleep. I’m definitely doing much better on sleep. I went from averaging 5 hours a day to averaging 7.
  • 2 hours: Random Internet Surfing. Okay, I know I used to do a little of this each day (like 15 minutes a day), but this has become much more significant. This may be the residual impact of WoW addiction, as I’m still looking a lot at the Internet.
  • 1.5 hours: Blogging. Yay! During the 20-day experiment I made only 1 post. In the 6 days afterwards, if I include this post, I made 5, and some of them were quite lengthy.
  • 1 hour: Reading. This, I feel, is my only real increase in productivity. For example, I read Taylor’s Principles of Scientific Management, and I’m catching up a bit on math textbook reading. Yet, it doesn’t have a direct impact on grades, so this is perhaps why I feel I’m not more productive.
  • The remaining 1.15 hours: Other. I can’t account for this time.

This is still very interesting. Overall my productivity stayed nearly the same. It’s as if I have a max limit on productive hours a day (which would be horrible!).

Note: I am NOT making a case to go back to WoW. In fact, I have already uninstalled WoW, and since my computer has an SSD instead of a hard drive, the uninstallation was instant. I.e., 18 Gb of space freed in a split second. I don’t plan on returning to WoW in the near future. Later, perhaps next year, I might run a phase 2 of the experiment, going through the content from Wrath of the Lich King and Cataclysm (leveling from 70 to 85). I am mostly, however, unwilling to spend the money to buy these expansions.

Finally, I would like to explain my answers to a couple of real questions that have been posed to me regarding the WoW experiment.

Where did you get the time to play WoW?

As this post illustrates, playing WoW did NOT cut into any of my important time. In fact, in terms of productivity, it was just as high while playing WoW as before. I managed the rest of my time much more efficiently while playing WoW.

You managed to quit easily after 20 days. That’s not an addiction!

You have a good point here. But I would still say I was addicted to WoW. It is a hooking game in that, every free moment I had, WoW would creep my mind, and I would be compelled to launch the game. I quit because (1) I was running an experiment, so I had already planned an exit strategy, so to speak, and (2) I was at level 70, and to advance any further, I would have needed to purchase the Wrath of the Lich King expansion for $40. I figured I had already some good results, and didn’t need to pursue the game further.

(Note to Richard: The argument I make in this post is another reason I do not wish to experiment with polyphasic sleep. Having more hours a day does not translate fully into having more productivity.)

Experiment #2: NaNoWriMo

If playing WoW for 20 days was Experiment #1, then writing a novel in 30 days will be Experiment #2. EDIT: And I actually finished early!

First off, I list some runner-up experiment/project ideas suggested by people in the audience like you:

  • Knitting (Larry)
  • Polyphasic Sleep (Richard)
  • Quant Fund (Yingnan)

Knitting doesn’t seem quite as jolly an idea, so that was stricken off the list. My sleep schedule is already messed up as it is, and I am trying to fix it, not make it worse, so that went off as well. Finally, I don’t understand nearly enough about math, economics, and finance to be be able to set up a quant fund, so that’s gone. Thanks for the ideas though!

The suggestion I chose was actually made a few months ago.


NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. The goal is to write a novel of at least 50,000 words in 30 days. For mathematically-inclined persons, that is an average of 1667 words a day. For everyone else, well, just write and check your word count every once in a while. And since this project is open to anyone, I’m inviting all of you to give this novel idea a try as well. (Haha, get it?)

Right now, I still have no idea what I’ll be writing. The rules allow you to plan out as much of the novel as possible, as long as you don’t start writing the novel! You can write down the plot, the theme, the characters, just not the actual book. And it begins on November 1, lasting through November 30. So, we have one week left before it starts.

My only prior experience in novel-writing is an attempt I made this summer to write a science-fiction novel. I stopped at around 25% through the first draft, at just over 15,000 words. NaNoWriMo requires a totally new novel, so I am not going to be continuing this story.

One week left.

Happy novel planning!

Life at Cornell

Because of the experiment I mentioned last post, I haven’t been posting much, so with this post I’d like to return to my normal posting schedule. Well, a “schedule” never really existed, so what I mean, then, is a more frequent schedule. Until my next experiment…

Question Mark
Still looking for ideas for my next experiment...

Anyway, on to life outside of WoW in the last 20 days. I’ve been doing okay in my classes overall. Here are my courses my order of easiest to most difficult:

  • CS 1610 (Computing in the Arts): We still have not had a prelim or received any grades yet. The content is pretty straightforward.
  • SOC 1101 (Intro to Sociology): I’m at an A- right now, but we just had the second prelim yesterday. I felt I didn’t do as well on it as on the first prelim, but that seems to be the general consensus, so with the curve, it may be similar.
  • HIST 2500 (Technology in Society): We don’t have prelims, but instead, essays. We have three such essays that each count for 25%, and the other 25% is participation. I received an A on the first essay, but admittedly, I pulled an all-nighter for it, and the grade was very hard earned. In contrast, I do barely any work or studying for Sociology.
  • ENGL 1170 (Short Stories): This class has a lot of reading and a lot of writing. By the end of this semester I’ll probably have written more in this class than in all my other classes combined, then doubled. Plus, all the writing is in the form of literary analysis, which is not exactly my favorite style. I think I have a B in it right now, and I doubt I will be able to raise it by very much.
  • MATH 2230 (Theoretical Linear Algebra and Multivariable Calculus): This is by far my hardest class. The class median score on the first prelim was a 47, which I happened to get. It curved up to a B. Not bad, but it is so different from high school, where I was used to A+’s in math without doing any work. Plus, I used to be able to understand the concepts without doing the homework, and now, in college, I am starting to not understand the concepts even though I am doing the homework. My old theory: Math is easy. New theory: Math is tough.

I should probably mention some other aspects of Cornell as well. The weather has recently turned cold. For example, it is, at the time of this post, 40° F, and according to the Weather Channel, this will drop to 33° F later tonight.

Just one degree lower...

I hear that in Austin, the daytime temperatures are still reaching the 80s. Lucky! 😛

Moving on… One thing I love about Cornell are the libraries. My favorite ones so far are the Uris Library and the music library (in Lincoln Hall). Uris has the appearance of being old-fashioned, and for some reason, that makes my productivity increase dramatically (though the most important aspect is likely the quietness). On the other hand, the PCL at the University of Texas looks new and modern, and for some reason, I never had much productivity in it.

The music library at Cornell is quite modern as well (and despite the name, it is actually more quiet than say the Olin library). What makes it modern is, well, one day, I heard this mechanical sound, and saw, with my own eyes, one of the bookshelves moving! It was like a scene from a Harry Potter movie…

Andrew Dickson White Library
The Andrew Dickson White Library within Uris Library. It's not the one with moving bookshelves, but still...

I’ve probably spent more time in libraries in this semester so far at Cornell than during all of high school combined. I also find them very good for creative work.

Moving on again… Band! I will just have to say here once again that the BRMB (Big Red Marching Band) is amazing! It’s so much better than high school marching band. On October 8/9 (which was during the middle of my experiment), we traveled to Boston for the Cornell–Harvard game! Neither team was that great (I’m from Austin, so I am qualified to judge football competency), and we somehow managed to let Harvard catch two of their own punts. Seriously? (Harvard won 31–17.)

There are many things I would say about the trip, which was very interesting and eventful, but I am forbidden from saying anything about the bus ride. (What happens on Bus 5 stays on Bus 5.) I stayed, as did the majority of the trumpet section, with a couple (both in number and in marital relation) of Cornell band alumni on Friday night before the game. It was a fun night.

Wow, I’ve written nearly 800 words so far. It’s about time I get to the second, and what I originally intended as the main, subject of this post:

The Principles of Scientific Management

The what of what? Actually, most people whom I know in my audience have heard of this work before, as they have likely taken AP US History or a related history course at some point. When the course gets to economic progress the early twentieth century, the textbook mentions: Henry Ford and Frederick Winslow Taylor, the latter for whom the concept of “Taylorism” is named.

A refresher: Taylorism, or scientific management, is an economic theory that focuses above all on efficiency. It is concerned with maximizing productivity. That’s about all that’s mentioned in APUSH. (Here are Wiki links for Frederick Taylor and scientific management if you are interested.)

Frederick Taylor
Frederick Taylor (1856-1915)

In our HIST 2500 class, “Technology in Society,” we just read Taylor’s work that founded this theory: a treatise called The Principles of Scientific Management (1911). Near that period of time, labor and employers were generally not on friendly terms with each other. Remember all those labor strikes and unions you had to memorize for APUSH? Yeah…

Taylor was an engineer who proposed a solution, scientific management, to deal with this social issue. His goal was to resolve the management–labor conflict with a system that would be beneficial to both employers and workers. Scientific management, he argued, would enable workers to be much more efficient, and thereby more productive. This would allow a smaller number of specialized workers to produce much more than a larger number of normal workers, which would in turn allow the employer to raise wages and still increase profit.

We are not talking about minor improvements here. Taylor didn’t argue that 10-20% increases in productivity would solve the labor issue. His analysis in the book shows that in many industries the daily productivity of one worker could be doubled, and in some cases, tripled or even more. It means that not only were the employers gaining more revenue, but the workers were also earning higher wages. And, as Taylor implies, this increase in production would also lower the prices of manufactured goods, which helps the common people: they have more money and can buy cheaper goods. It’s a win-win-win situation.

So how exactly does this increase in productivity occur? The idea is to make every part of every task as efficient as possible. For a shoveler, a group of scientists carefully analyzed which type of person was most suited for shoveling. They also figured out the optimum load on the shovel (21 pounds—any more or less in one scoop would reduce the overall efficiency), which type of shovel should be used for different materials, and even what material the bottom of the container that is being shoveled from should be. They figured out how many rest breaks the workers should have, and for how long they should last, and when they are scheduled. And they analyzed each motion in shoveling as to figure out which ones are necessary and which ones are useless, which movements are faster and which are slower, and how to shovel as to move the greatest amount of material in the least amount of time.

The single most important tool in scientific management.

My crazy idea is to apply the theory of scientific management to other things. Oh wait, that’s already been done. Often with unremarkable consequences.

What I really should do is to have some degree of scientific management in my life, that is, have a schedule. At college I am going pretty much without a schedule. Then again, NOT playing WoW is probably much more significant in productivity-increasing than whatever I could I apply from scientific management. Plus, the application of scientific management requires at least two people, so if I were to try to apply this, someone would need to be my “manager.” Interesting, but no thanks.

The End of an Experiment

I played World of Warcraft for 20 days.

WoW Screenshot

During this time, I spent logged into the game a total of 6 days and 9 hours (plus 1 minute and 7 seconds, if you look closely at the yellow text on the screenshot), which averages to 7.65 hours per day. This is 27.5% higher than my estimate of 6 hours per day that I made on the previous post! Percentage-wise, I spent 31.9% of my real time logged into WoW. In other words, I spent significantly more time on WoW than on sleep.

In these 20 days I leveled from 1 to 70, for an average of 3.5 levels per day. I was a human mage, for those of you interested.

I completed 538 quests, earned 3097 gold (plus 17 silver and 9 copper), landed 17,352 kills, and dealt 30,163,105 damage.

Wow Time Graph Revised

In this time I averaged approximately 5 hours of sleep a night (estimated), pulled two all-nighters (I had never done even one all-nighter before), and took way more naps than I normally do. While I didn’t miss any classes or homework, I did wake up past noon twice (on weekends). But let me emphasize this point: I kept up with school.

Not only was my sleeping schedule messed up, but so was my dining schedule. In these 20 days, I changed from a person who eats breakfast, lunch, and dinner quite regularly to someone who eats almost randomly one to three times a day, and not at set times. For example, as I mentioned last post, I ate only two meals total in three consecutive days. (While last post I considered this to be an experiment on its own, I now consider it a result of the WoW experiment.)

Being in a somewhat scientific mood, I asked myself the following question and came up with four answers:

So Why is WoW So Addicting?

  • Customization
  • Progress
  • Optimization
  • Nature


Customization is pretty self-explanatory—you have so many options, not just in the beginning, but at any point of the game. Even before you start, you have the objective of selecting two important features of your character: race and class. At the moment there are 10 races, with five on the Alliance (Humans, Dwarfs, Gnomes, Night Elves, Draenei) and five on the Horde (Orcs, Trolls, Tauren, Undead, Blood Elves). There are also 10 classes, and this choice will have a huge impact on your gameplay. Now, not each race and class combination is available, but there are still a great number of options available even before you start the game. Oh, and within each race, you can customize your appearance.

Once you’re in the game, you can basically choose whatever you want to do. You can complete quests (they’re entirely optional), kill monsters, train professions, explore, or just chat. World of Warcraft is the start of super-interactive virtual reality.

As you gain levels, you choose different items to use. You’ll decide what stat to focus on. At level 10 you specialize into one of three talent trees (there are three unique trees for each class), giving you even more flexibility. Within each talent tree, you’ll make decisions on which talents to learn. And later on, you’ll be able to switch between two different talent trees.

You can choose two primary professions out of a total of 11. They range from Mining to Enchanting, Jewelcrafting to Tailoring, and more.

As you discover the world, you decide which quests you do, which monsters to kill, which areas to explore. You decide what you set as your home. You can visit different capital cities. You can choose to clear dungeons, or fight other players in battlegrounds.

You can trade items, put items up at the Auction House and bid on items there, and how much gold you want from (or for) them.

You start out walking and running, but at higher levels, you can ride a mount, which makes your travels much shorter. In some places, given the right requirements, you can explore the world from the air and travel even more rapidly with a flying mount.

You can fight solo or with a party. Within a fight, you have a wide selection of abilities and spells to choose from. You can play offensively or defensively, or choose not to directly fight at all.

All these customization options give you a vast amount of things to choose from. Because of this, the game really never becomes boring. There is so much content that to explore every secret of the world, every combination of races, classes, and professions, and every style of play, would require infinite time.


When you play this game, almost no matter what you do, you feel as if you are advancing in something. The basic form of progress is leveling, in which you become stronger by having your stats increased, and by which you unlock different gameplay mechanics. In the beginning, your options are relatively limited (though still huge). As you level, you gain new skills, spells, gold, and other abilities. Your ability to kill monsters, complete quests, and even travel around the world increases.

Exploring the world really feels like progress. At first, the map is mostly blank, giving you only an outline of the world. As you travel around, landmarks and regions start appearing on your map.

WoW Screenshot 4

Completing quests for different factions increases your Reputation with that faction. As your reputation increases, you gain ranks and receive bonuses when dealing with that faction.

At certain levels there are new things you can do. You can unlock the talent panel, the dungeon finder, mounts, as well as the continents of Outland and Northrend.

And then there are Achievements. Doing certain things will earn you Achievements, which increase the number of Achievement points you own. This is addicting as it gives you an incentive to do something that would have otherwise no gameplay value. You are doing it just for the achievement.


When you hit the max level, or are in any fixed situation, you will still want to improve. You do this by optimizing everything. If there’s an item you have that adds 50 armor, and there’s another that is otherwise identical but with 55 armor, you will feel very strongly compelled to obtain the more powerful one. You’ll hunger for the sword that gives 200 damage over the one you have that gives 185.

Within a battle you’ll want to optimize the amount of damage you are doing, to try to finish the battle as quickly as possible. You’ll figure out the optimal order in which you use your abilities, the optimal equipment for doing so, the optimal setup, the optimal environment, etc. You’ll want to be the most efficient.

Even in travel, you’ll want to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible. You’ll find the optimal route, and you’ll use the fastest mount you can. If you have 5 quests to complete in 5 different locations, you’ll figure out the optimal order in which to complete them as to minimize the traveling time.

You can never be the best. You can always be better.


Of the four reasons I list, this one is the most separate. Largely, WoW is a move away from modernity and towards the old, if not ancient, past. Besides the Dwarf and Gnome engineering projects, which are more funny than representative of technology, the game is almost completely at peace with nature. The Night Elves especially represent a love towards nature, and they guard it with utmost respect.

It happens to match the environmentalist movement happening right now. There are quest lines aimed at stopping a deforestation (of Ashenvale Forest). In The Burning Crusade, the Fel Reaver is a colossal enemy war machine portrayed as highly destructive. In general, many enemies are associated with trying to destroy the environment, and this is an idea that definitely rings in our current society.

World of Warcraft’s scenery in some zones can be very beautiful, and they show a pristine nature that we cannot easily visit in our own world. Therefore, playing WoW is like visiting with nature. Just google wow screenshots and look at the ones that are outside. Some of those areas make you feel that the game world is so close to nature that it is more real than our own. Hence we don’t want to leave it.

Just as WoW is a throwback to nature, it is also a throwback to mythology and the belief in magic. Azeroth is a world of imagination that can seem more convincing than our Earth, and far more mystical.

WoW Screenshot 2

If what we are looking at is a representation of a more primitive way of life, it is no wonder than World of Warcraft is so successful. Even the interface looks ancient: for reading, it is often scrolls and parchment. Even the professions, such as fishing, cooking, and herb gathering, are a nostalgia for an earlier time.


  1. World of Warcraft is a great and successful game, but it is also terribly addicting. It will drain hours per day and affect schedules.
  2. It is addicting because it allows us to not only play a game, but also to experience and live in a new world. This world allows us to connect with nature, or at least, what we perceive to be nature.
  3. In the future, what will dominate virtual reality might not be a virtual reality of the real world, but instead, a virtual representation of an older, more forgotten world, with ties to our ancient past, its history and its traditions.

I thought it was a fun 20 days, but I must tell myself to stop the experiment now, while I still can.

Finally, for a parting to WoW, I created this Halloween screenshot. Enjoy!

WoW Screenshot 3

This experiment, needless to say, has had some major effects on me. I will be trying to get back to normal schedule the next few days. So while I am not going to conduct another experiment like this for some time, I am opening this up to the public as to what my next experiment should be. I’d rather it not be playing another video game. Also, I will not consider anything with drugs or alcohol, etc. If the idea is feasible, and has some worth to it, I’ll consider it.