Scheduling and Humpty Dumpty

When Alice met Humpty Dumpty in Lewis Carroll's book, Through the Looking-Glass, chapter 6, we are told: “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”

Tina and I were on holiday last month (which is part of the reason why I didn't post at all in May) and we visited the city of Arles, in the south of France.  Arles has a long history, and is noted for its surviving Roman buildings.  On our last full day there, we visited the modern archaeological museum, which houses a wooden Roman ship, recovered from the bed of the river Rhone.  As well as the preserved ship, and some of the contents which survived its sinking, there is a short video about the discovery, excavation and preservation of the vessel.  And it had commentary in English.
Tina beside the Roman ship

Besides describing  the process of preservation, the video described the complex schedule of examining the remains, treating them, preparing them for exhibition.  And throughout the commentary, the speaker kept using the phrase "just in time" for the schedule.

For people involved with operational research, "just in time" carries the connotation that items are delivered to the place they are needed, for assembly or for sale, at the time that they are needed, thereby eliminating the need for holding stock.  Deliveries to supermarkets are an example - vehicles unload their cargo, it is placed on trolleys and moved onto the display shelves without much stock being retained outside the shop floor.

To me, it seemed as if the expression was being used incorrectly.  There were no deliveries, except of the materials needed for the preservation.  No resources were being moved around.  But then I remembered Humpty Dumpty.  The video was all about precise scheduling.  Once one operation on the ship had been completed, it could be moved to the next stage, which was ready and waiting to start its operation.  And "just in time" is associated with precise scheduling.  And to the non-O.R. person, it is an expression which carries that association.  The commentary would not have been so easy to follow if every time it read "just in time" we had been told "precise schedule". 

I explained this to Tina, who gave me a further association in her mind.  "Just in time" has the connotation of urgency, with time and progress being measured constantly and exactly.  And because the schedule had very little slack, it was being scheduled precisely and urgently.

Many images for "just in time" use the stopwatch picture
So did the writer of the commentary want to convey those meanings?  Or had he/she heard the expression "just in time" and wanted to use it to describe the archaeological rescue of this Roman ship?

As Humpty Dumpty said, which is to be master - the O.R. sense of the word or the association for the non-specialist?


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