Rough Theory

Theory In The Rough

The Plot Quickens

Via Mark Liberman at Language Log, Lawrence Saul has assembled a piece on academic conference papers as an episode of 24. I think I’ve seen this plot somewhere before…


The following events take place on February 9, 2007, between the hours of:


Midnight – 1:00 am

Paper exists in skeletal form, with preliminary results. All seems well until hero exposes shadowy bugs in implementation of core routines.


1:00 am – 2:00 am

Hero assembles crack team of students and postdocs by email. Suffers moral anguish knowing that one or more will need to be sacrificed for greater good.


4:00 am – 5:00 am

Team shows signs of cracking under pressure. Hero reverts to “motivational methods” from covert and troubled past. (Episode contains flashbacks.)


5:00 am – 6:00 am

Tensions flare. Team members put aside personal differences when late-breaking experiments yield better than expected results.


6:00 am – 7:00 am

Long overdue literature search reveals large body of related work. Scarce resources must be diverted to decipher its relevance.


7:00 am – 8:00 am

One by one, key members of team disappear for coffee, precisely when they are needed most.


9:00 am – 10:00 am

Student who cannot let go of old ideas must be “retired”.


10:00 am – 11:00 am

Hero is trapped in committee meeting. A secretive channel is opened for instant messaging, enabling further progress.


Noon – 1:00 pm

Hero, exhausted, responds without thinking to knock at door. Undergraduates swarm office with questions about Monday’s homework assignment.


6:00 pm – 7:00 pm

Sluggish CPUs reveal rogue team member (previously retired in episode 10) running unauthorized background processes.


9:00 pm – 10:00 pm

Rumor of extended deadline is picked up on Internet chatter. Sources are tracked down and ultimately discredited.


10:00 pm – 11:00 pm

Figures and references added to paper, which consequently overflows to ten pages. Frantic pruning. Rough draft submitted at 10:58 pm.


11:00 pm – Midnight

Proofreading reveals extensive typos and sign errors. Paper teeters on brink of eight page limit through multiple revisions. In act of ultimate sacrifice, hero removes all self-citations. Final submission: 11:59:59 pm.

One response to “The Plot Quickens

  1. Kenneth Rufo February 15, 2007 at 1:05 am

    “(Episode contains flashbacks.)”

    That generated a pleasant laugh – thanks 🙂

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