Rambles around computer science

Diverting trains of thought, wasting precious time

Fri, 27 Feb 2009

Lab lunch

Often when someone (like me) feels the need to bemoan a relative lack of communication and collaboration within our research group, the topic of food and lunching always comes up. Everybody seems to agree in principle that lunching together is a Good Thing. But I can tell this is never going to happen for me in my time here. The concept of lunching before 1pm is foreign to me, and certainly doesn't appeal. But it appears that in this Laboratory, lunchtime, for all those who take it communally, is almost unfailingly at or before noon! What's that about? Just now I saw a bunch of theory people in West finishing lunch at 12.30. I used to see, from my window, the Xen guys going off in a car to some pub or other every 12 noon. And I'm told the queue starts forming at the burrito van around 11.40am.

It's particularly puzzling because hackers, and computer scientists generally, are stereotypically considered to be a bit nocturnal, and so unlikely to be up particularly early in the morning. You'd think this would shift their eating schedule later, rather than bizarrely early. Perhaps they eat badly, skipping breakfast and therefore taking an early lunch. Perhaps selection pressure has left us with a super-hardworking Lab, where only those who not only stay up late, but also get up early and can survive on almost no sleep, are admitted. Perhaps the stereotype is not at all true. More likely, there's an arms race going on: food is scarce in our back-of-beyond West Cambridge location, so there's a pressure towards earlier lunchtimes for the sake of ensuring a good selection of food remaining at the supply. We should all know better than to participate in such a race, but clearly many don't. In any case, late lunchers are penalised, and this is not a good thing. My chosen lunchtime has been 1.30pm for years now, and since I only finish breakfast around 11am, I refuse to compromise earlier than 1pm. Eat lunch at noon if you like, you strange people, but it'll be without me. Your loss, perhaps, although more likely mine.

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