[M.M.X.I.V. 163] More than N minutes

On Tuesday, I proctored an exam for MATH 234, and for the first time in three proctorings for this quarter, the main instructor of the course was there (she was out of town the first two times).

Unlike when the TAs proctored the exam, no instructions were written on the board, and she kept more frequently updated time updates written on the board than we did.  A little thing about that, however, spurred me to write about it!

After the exam started, she wrote “>= [greater than or equal to] 110 minutes left” on the board.  Normally, when I see time quotes in terms of a timer, I would expect to see the “<=” (less than or equal to) quote, or at least that is what I have done in the past.  (In other classes when I proctored exams, I would be particularly silly and write down the seconds too, in the sense of a game clock in sports where it counts every second down!)

There must be some sort of psychological difference between writing a “less than” or “greater than” with the time quote.  Of course, that means that after ten minutes had passed, the “110” was erased and replaced with “100.”  Once the time had reduced to 30 minutes, the interval of erasure became 5 minutes instead of 10 minutes.

When considering a count-down timer of which you cannot see the exact time remaining, would you rather have a low-ball or high-ball estimate?  Personally, I sometimes work well under pressure, so the <= may cause me to work harder on an exam.  Either way, the inequality sign may be ignored when the number is more salient to people.

Another case when the number stayed constant but the inequality sign flipped: when I went to Pokémon TCG tournaments in 2008-9, each round was 40 minutes, and requests for remaining time were answered, “Less than 20 minutes” or “More than 20 minutes.”  At the Kansas state championship, there was a stoplight that was green in the first 20 minutes, and yellow in the next 20 before turning red to end the round.

Interestingly, this somewhat relates to a Newton Minute.  On those machines, the time mentioned is implicitly “<=”, even though it seems like once it reaches 1 Minute, that <= becomes a >> (much greater than) until it hits zero!


Today is the one-hundred and sixty-third day of M.M.X.I.V.  That makes twenty-three weeks and two days.


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