On The Laws of Probability
Friday, 29th April 2011
Every day we experience hundreds of near misses, accidents waiting to happen unless we take the right precautions and pay constant attention to all potential dangers. Yet the human brain can only actively focus on one event at a time, switching our attention to monitor the progress of other concomitant events. Some of us can switch between events better than others, but then some key tasks require much more intense concentration. The slightest momentary distraction can have unplanned consequences, like forgetting to close an upstairs windows before leaving the house, leaving frying pan on a stove unattended or as happened to me the other failing to check my rucksack still lay neatly between my feet in a crowded pub in central London during a recent Drupal meetup. Not only was my rucksack discretely lifted, but it contained my trusty laptop and my passport, renewed only last October. CCTV footage was unavailable as cameras had been turned off the previous day, Easter Monday. As I don't own a car or a house, this was pretty much my most valuable or mission critical possession, without which I can't work as a Web software developer. Little did the thief know how important this object was to me personally and while others can tactfully express their commiseration, the pain remains. I had to bite the bullet, metaphorically speaking, and enact plan B. Get a new laptop and restore it from scratch. Luckily Apple's OS X's Time Machine came to rescue. I was minded to buy a cheaper alternative, but to get up and running and avoid missing another day's work, I had to choose the more expensive route using funds I had set aside for something else. Hopefully some day soon, we can do all our work from a tablet with mission critical data backed up remotely as envisaged by Google's up and coming Chrome OS, but alas network coverage cannot be guaranteed. On many other occasions I had left my laptop temporarily vulnerable to smart thieves, in offices and even in bars while someone else kept a watchful eye, yet it had never happened. I had assumed among colleagues and friends, I would be safe.
The conclusion is simple. If something can go wrong in theory, sooner or later it will go wrong. That's the lesson Japanese nuclear engineers had to learn in Fukushima. The chances of getting my MacBook back are exceedingly remote. Lies, damned lies and crime statistics. While the occurrence of burglaries has decreased mainly due to better surveillance technology, thieves have simply adopted to new techniques. Smart phones and laptops are easy to carry away and sell. Many thefts simply go unreported, because victims know there is little the police can do. How can anyone seriously believe the oft-repeated claims about declining crime rates? In just 5 years in London I've witnessed one murder and two burglaries first-hand.