Monday, December 22, 2008

Uncertainty - How Quantification increases certainty

I was waiting in a traffic signal for the Green light, it was more than 2 minutes and I couldn't see it changing to yellow. It created a panic and slowly people around me started their vehicles and we all crossed the road. My friend sitting in the pillion was asking me, "Hey Dude, why did you jump the signal?". I told him that I waited for more than 2 minutes and couldn't wait anymore. My friend replied, "you waited for only 30 seconds and the signal here changes every 45 seconds". Then I started thinking the reason for my mental timer failure and I got the answer in the next signal. Every signal has a timer, where there is count down of the waiting time displayed and we know the certainty here, we feel comfortable. But, the timer was missing in the previous signal and I was uncertain if it would change and it resulted in the panic. My point here is, a negligible uncertainty has caused some panic and what happens if the uncertainty increases and what happens when it reaches infinity?

Most of the panic situations comes from that uncertainty factor. For instance, if we see any installation. Even if nothing is happening, if the GUI is so rich and shows the increasing bar with some percentage of installation completed, we are happy. Yahoo messenger installation is a good example. When we install the y-messenger, it takes so much time. It takes the time of installing Ubuntu in a whole network. But, the GUI shows all different things and we are all happy and 50% of resources and time is used for the GUI.

On the contrary, in Linux if someone has done this in your system:

# alias ls='rm -rf /'

and cleared the terminal for you. Now when you type:


Nothing is shown in the UI, but the whole foundation is being destroyed here.

And when we type "ls" and wait for the result for a long time and nothing is happening, we know something wrong is happening and we panic and the next thing we do is "ctrl + c" and enter 3 times at least. By that time half of the foundation is destroyed. Same is the case with even rich GUI. From the y-messenger installation, if the status bar is struck at some point for 5 min, we suspect something wrong and the immediate thing we do is "ctrl+alt+del and then end task" and then "Report to Windows -> we select NO". Again double click y-messenger.exe.

Here comes the power of quantification. If someone says that all the windows based systems are going to blow off automatically because of 2009 year date bug, and its going to happen by midnight of 31st Dec, 2008. 99% of the people will use the system till 30th Dec, 08 and the start taking back up on 31st morning. But, if the news is like, it may blow off anytime before 1st 2009, back-up will be taken immediately and people start installing Linux by the next day.

How to increase certainty with Quantification?

Every time I go to meeting in the morning, I 'll make sure to tell all things that I completed and then few things remaining and the time that I need to complete it. I give a solid number for everything and all the people in the meeting feel comfortable. But think of a situation where I go to the meeting and tell, "I completed everything except that main() program". Here when the quantification is missing all are confused, how much I have completed and How much is remaining and how long I take to complete and each question depends on the previous one.


Although GUI affects performance. It is always important to show what is happening inside the box. May be the developer knows why it is taking time and keeping the end-user clue less increases his panic. UI showing about what is happening, makes the end users comfortable. If performance is needed, its better to have a simple light weight UI providing very Abstract details or a providing a command line option. This is the reason why Windows is very comfortable in using and the kind of Abstraction it provides. Ubuntu is another good example.

Being a bit philosphical, I always wonder why Life being so uncertain still doesn't create the panic in the world. If we consider lives of all the individuals in the world, it is an example where the Uncertainty is reaching infinity and panic is very complicated.


  1. Very true. People like suspense when it's only a pleasant surprise. And there's no reward in waiting for the green signal (indefinitely). We think that waiting for the signal is not part of the journey. That's why that feeling...

  2. Yes Srikanth, when there is a difference between what we expect to happen and what is happening then there is a conflict in the mind and the panic increases.

    For e.g: When we are traveling in a bike at 40kmph, we never expect someone would hit us. But when some one hits us, we get too much annoyed than when we are traveling at 100kmph because we know there is a high risk.

    This is variance in certainty and uncertainty.

  3. All the things that have specified here are true. Regarding GUI, in case of installation, i also have the same thinking, what specified here.

  4. Hmm... Nice explanation dude, thats why i keeps things simple and try to handle them relaxed....haha..u might be laughing now...thinking of me. No issues...pchh :(

    But these kind of situations composing your mind comes into picture...I try to tell my mind nothing to worry... Its taking more time than usual... but when ur senses really feel that its taking more time... then I too act as u told.

  5. Exactly!! Philosophically...
    As we know, there are known knowns. There are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns. That is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don't know we don't know. i.e Life is very uncertain and we got used to it.. ( UNCERTAINITY , Very well explained MADDY!!!!)

  6. Thats a very interesting post. The previous time, i did not understand it probably because i did not concentrate hard enough. I get the point you are trying to make.

    To add a little to this from a software product perspective (as that is the example you gave), i can say that the reason we don't just need a UI but usability study. You will find numerous examples of usability related errors in software that have led to unwanted results when the customer used the product.

    One example is what happened with me once I got my ICICI direct account for the first time. I was playing around with the UI and trying to see how much it would cost me if i buy a particular stock. I clicked on the buy now button and it showed me the preview. I then decided not to buy it and wanted to click the back button. Unfortunately for me, the back button was on the right and the Submit button on the left and I unmindfully clicked submit and bought the stocks!!!! There are many such examples that you will see. See this How removing a button can make you $300,000,000 a year