Over the past 24 hours, I needed to run some fairly intensive server processes for a business that I still oversee myself as it’s mostly automated. I managed to make it so efficient that I turned 21.18 gigabytes of data into 176.9 megabytes of data; a reduction of 99.17%. I still have quite a bit of work to do, as I think I can shrink it even further. The framework was very old, and by re-writing it, consolidating, deleting unnecessary accumulated data, and streamlining the file structure, the results were more than I expected. I’m going to spend the next 4-5 weeks working on it even more, when I have some time, to completely overhaul the rest.
While some of these processes ran, I needed to sit at the desk and watch them, making sure nothing unexpected happened. There was only one near disaster, when I accidentally deleted a navigation module that replicated through everything. I was able to rebuild it, though, and have the restored version redeployed within half an hour. Still, it was a lot of waiting – ten minutes here, twenty minutes there. This meant I had some time when I couldn’t really focus on other things, but my mind was bored. Despite not really reading fiction anymore given my preference for non-fiction, I have a huge set of the the Barnes & Noble bonded leather classics books that I bought en masse a few years ago. For no particular reason, I grabbed Jurassic Park and finished it half an hour ago.
What struck me was how perfectly it encapsulates the dangers of traditional thinking; the non-mental model approach. In case after case, situation after situation, when objections are brought up, the de facto villain of the story, John Hammond, dismissed, criticized, or waived away problems. In fact, I think one could use the book as a sort of homework project to identify several dozen of the big mental models that are necessary to understand the world. Denial. Hubris. Inertia. Shoichi Yokoi Fallacy. The Illusion of Control. Social Loafing. Avarice. Subconscious Assumptions. Morton’s Fork. Superpower of Incentive. Cognitive Dissonance Avoidance. Deprival Super-Reaction Tendency. Probability and Permutation Failures. Stress Induced Cognitive Failure. Autocatalysis. Cumulative Advantage. Overconfidence. Pareto’s Law. Redundancy. Margin of Safety. The list is endless – mental models that both appear explicitly, and mental models that should occur to you implicitly as a result of seeing a situation where they could either cure or prevent what is happening.
An illustration: When questioned about the possibility of monstrously lethal dinosaurs breeding in the wild, Hammond and Wu, the geneticist, are both indignant. They have four failsafes, so they presume it can’t happen. First, the dinosaurs are bred as female. Second, their reproductive tissue is irradiated. Third, the computer system tracks the number of animals in the park. There’s also an escape insurance policy where the animals require a diet rich in lysine or they will go into a coma and die.
[mainbodyad]If the dinosaurs could breed, the results would be catastrophic and uncontrolled. It presents a wipe-out risk for not only the people on the island, but possibly humanity as a whole. Yet, lured into a false sense of security by the systems they had in place, the Jurassic Park facilities had absolutely zero mechanism to deal with the probability, which always remained on the distribution curve. One of the most important lessons from financial and humanitarian crises past is that you should be prepared for the worst case scenario. Assume that everything is going to go wrong. Bank on it. Sooner or later, it probably will. Accepting that fact, and having the integrity and humility to know it is true, is one of the first steps in improving cognition.
It was a very good book. While the film, which I remember seeing back in 1993 when it was first released in theaters, was revolutionary for its time and still holds up well, it fails to capture the truly dangerous nature of Hammond; his disregard for anyone but himself; his refusal to consider problems outside of his limited scope of focus; his doing things simply because they can be done, rather than asking whether they should be done.
Truthfully, though, Jurassic Park‘s film iteration wasn’t the most traumatic, or even memorable, dinosaur movie ever made. That title belongs to The Land Before Time. I also saw that when it was first released in theaters, back in 1988 when I was all but five or six years old. I remember sobbing uncontrollably in the car on the way home because Little Foot’s mother died protecting him. I can still exactly remember what the movie theater lobby looked like, what I was feeling, and my thought process; I realized death was inevitable, and someday I’d have to stand over my own parents’ graves. I was also, paradoxically, happy they had reached the Great Valley, and my tiny little body didn’t know how to handle all that conflicting emotion. If that death scene didn’t break your heart as a kid, you have no soul.
I should not have watched that clip. I need some ridiculous, over-the-top Korean Dramas to cure this sense of loss. I’m watching this one at the moment.