277: Long Light

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Long Light
You can look at practically any part of anything manmade around you and think "some engineer was frustrated while designing this." It's a little human connection.
Title text: You can look at practically any part of anything manmade around you and think "some engineer was frustrated while designing this." It's a little human connection.

[edit] Explanation

This strip depicts a common experience to most people, becoming frustrated with a device, system, or rule that appears to be badly made or have no purpose other than to frustrate the user (in this case, a traffic light that seems unreasonably, inexplicably long). One temptation we might have in these cases is to blame the designer of the system. Here, the designer appears and testifies to the amount of effort that went into the design, considering many factors. He challenges Cueball to come up with a better solution, the implication being that without a similar amount of training and effort, any naive solution would have flaws the designer would be happy to point out. This demonstrates to Cueball and the reader that just because they were unlucky enough to encounter something in a way that was inconvenient for no obvious reason, doesn't mean there is no reason at all.

Of course, all of this has occurred after the designer leapt out of nowhere onto the hood of the car, so he may not be entirely stable. This is capitalized on in the final panel, wherein he finally admits that red light won't change until Tuesday (presumably a day or more beyond the current time), meaning that the timing scheme really was absurd after all. This comic was published on Friday; it seems Cueball has to wait a few days more.

The title text returns to the original point, reminding us that designers work hard and often encounter complex problems in doing their jobs. Their frustration may also be in part from the knowledge that future users will blame them for unavoidable problems and undervalue their work. With a little empathy, we can find a human connection to these problems rather than let them drive us crazy.

[edit] Transcript

[Cueball in a car, sitting at a red light.]
Cueball: This light always takes forever. I'd like to smack the idiot who designed this intersection.
[An engineer steps up onto the hood of Cueball's car.]
Engineer: Hi.
Cueball: Who the hell are you?
Engineer: I designed this intersection.
Engineer [arms spread outward]: You're right - I should have just made the light shorter! Never mind the hours of simulation and testing I did. Never mind that this intersection interacts with it's neighbors in a complicated way and it took me a week to work out timing sequences that avoided total jams.
Engineer: Clearly, I'm a crappy engineer and you have a better solution. Go on, show me your proposed timings.
Cueball: Get the hell off my hood before I start driving and fling you into traffic.
Engineer: You can't. Light's red.
Cueball: Well, when will it change?
Engineer: Tuesday.
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Discussion

The driver seems to know that the light always takes forever and yet there he is. Sometimes people get what they deserve. 99.234.144.69 (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)


when I'm at a long light like this, I don't blame the engineer of that light, I blame the city planner who decided to put that light at that intersection when a different system would have worked better (one that adjusts to time of day and/or uses sensors to notice that someone's waiting and there's no traffic). just sayin' 70.72.16.171 13:42, 25 April 2013 (UTC)

Not that 70.72.16.171 will necessarily see this, but there are traffic engineers, who design intersections (not only the types, number, and arrangement of individual signal assemblies and sensors in a given intersection, but also any timing or sensor-based relationship with other intersections and several other things not signal-related). I think the engineer in the comic is one of these traffic engineers (maybe that's what ...16.171 is calling a city planner?). It's not the one that designed the actual assembly of bulbs, lenses, circuits and housing that makes up a given "signal" - which would also no doubt be an engineer (somewhere in the civil/electrical area I might venture to guess)Brettpeirce (talk) 18:28, 18 February 2014 (UTC
108.162.250.203 06:44, 27 April 2014 (UTC)Doesn't mean Cueball can't reverse away to get the engineer off his car. Unless it's a one-way street.
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