1658: Estimating Time
Title text: Corollary to Hofstadter's Law: Every minute you spend thinking about Hofstadter's Law is a minute you're NOT WORKING AND WILL NEVER FINISH! PAAAAAANIIIIIIC!
Estimation is difficult; many people seem to greatly underestimate the amount of time or other resources required. To illustrate how difficult this estimation is Douglas Hofstadter coined Hofstadter's law which is a non-scientific self-referential time-related adage, mentioned in the the title text. It states: It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter's Law.
Ponytail is working at her computer and becomes frustrated as it seems her project will (again) take much longer than she has estimated. She is annoyed with herself for always failing to make a decent guess. Danish begins to give Ponytail advice on how to estimate the time, starting with the comforting words don’t panic and a common guideline of taking the initial estimate and doubling it.
Danish then iterates the law once more and she tells Ponytail to double this again, and then add five minutes. Unless the project to begin with was estimated to somewhat less than an hour, those five minutes will do nothing but confuse Ponytail. But Danish does not stop here, and iterates Hofstadter's law once more. Ponytail still doesn’t get where this goes, saying a hesitant okay to that.
It turns out that Danish was not at all trying to help, but just mess with Ponytail, as she now tells her that the only thing she has accomplished by listening to her advice is wasting half a minute doubling imaginary numbers (not to be confused with i, the imaginary number), i.e. even her first estimate is just something she has imagined especially since she states herself how bad she is at those kind of estimates. Finally Danish completes her frustration of Ponytail by saying "Paaaniiic!", negating the initial advice.
The title text is an extra corollary to the law, that states that using the law to estimate anything about the time your project takes is not only wasted time you could have spent working there is a substantial risk that you will conclude that you will never finish, and thus panic instead of just get the job done now.
Self-reference is a recurring theme on xkcd and this comic is quite self-referential both in the comic but also referring to other comics especially to 917: Hofstadter. He is perhaps most famous for his book Gödel, Escher, Bach from where the quote is taken (in a section on recursion and self-reference, rather than estimation). This book has been directly referenced in 24: Godel, Escher, Kurt Halsey.
- [Ponytail is sitting back from her a laptop lifting her hands of the keyboard, having presumably just paused work on a project.]
- Ponytail: Aaaa! I'm so bad at estimating how long projects will take.
- [Danish walks into the panel towards Ponytail who seems to relax back against the chair.]
- Danish: Don't panic-there's a simple trick for that:
- Danish: Take your most realistic estimate and double it.
- Ponytail: Okay, but-
- [A frameless panel with only Danish holding a hand up.]
- Danish: Now double it again. Add five minutes.
- Danish: Double it a third time.
- Ponytail (from off panel): Okay...
- [Danish raises her arms above her head in mock hysteria. Ponytail runs away from her desk screaming.]
- Danish: 30 seconds have gone by and you've done nothing but double imaginary numbers! You're making no progress and will never finish!
- Ponytail: Aaaaaa!
- Danish: Paaaniic!
- Ponytail: Aaaaaaa!
- This is the most recent comic in which Danish has dialogue.
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