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An Example

“How do they calculate per diem when you're in subspace?”

“It's complicated,” he said.

Those lines from Isle of the Dead remind me of a joke I once made that's relevant to the idea of law as a series of approximations.

At the small consulting company I used to work for, we would occasionally discuss and revise our billing policies. The basic concept was simple: you bill the client for however many hours of work you do. That basic concept defined the big rectangle, but of course there were still some twisty little fractals left over that we had to try and cover with smaller rectangles.

The biggest of the fractals had to do with travel time. Travel wasn't work, exactly, but travel time definitely needed to be taken into account somehow or other, and to do that, we had to be able to measure it.

As I remember it, we started with another fairly simple rule: if you were commuting to a client site, and it took longer than your normal commute, then the excess counted as travel. Gradually, however, the rules became more and more complicated … fixed clock times were used to distinguish commuting, which was travel, from driving during working hours, which was work; a cap was placed on the total amount of travel per day; and so on.

It wasn't as bad as I make it sound, but it was bad enough that I made some smart remark about it, something along the following lines.

What if you fly east across a time zone boundary at 4:30 PM? How much of the trip counts as travel in that case?

The use of fixed clock times made the question not academic, but, somehow, nobody seemed to care. Imagine that! I was amused, anyway.


  See Also

  Cost of Driving, The

@ December (2001)