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In Search of the Weakest Link Mar 10, 2011

In Search of the Weakest Link

Links on a Chain
I'm sure you've heard the adage, "the entire length of chain is only as strong as its weakest link", right? True. It universally applies - to human relationships, to the space shuttle, to mountain bikes, to any organization and to business models. Every model has a weakest link...even the strongest models (otherwise, everything fails at the same time). Sometimes though, especially with very good designs, the weakest link is not obvious - you actually have to push the system to its maximum output. The first thing that breaks down is the weakest link. I address these issues at the outset. But never have I actually looked for them aggressively.

Bugatti Veyron
For example, take the Bugatti Veyron, perhaps the most finely engineered car that came off an assembly line. It's been spec-ed like an aircraft and built like one. At a cool $1.5M per, you're getting state of the art engineering from a car that can pass off as objet d'art. You'd be hard-pressed to find a flaw in that car. How do you find the find weakest link? You race it for 24 hours...or until something breaks.

   Programming is the Great Game. It consumes you, body and soul. When you're caught up in it, nothing else matters. When you emerge into daylight, you might well discover that you're a hundred pounds overweight, your underwear is older than the average first grader, and judging from the number of pizza boxes lying around, it must be spring already. But you don't care, because your program runs, and the code is fast and clever and tight. You won.
-- Orson Scott Card

What are these Weak Links?
Anything and everything that takes perfection away from it. From the obvious ones to ones requiring pushing the limits of the model to get them coming out of the woodwork. It can be the coding, it can be the way I present my pitch to a client, it can be a massive global coding refinement I have to implement to hundreds of existing webpages that'll throw me back an entire week. It can be as mundane as adding a dingbat to enhance a graphic, changing alignment on a layout, etc.

The business model, as it is right now, is already bomb-proof. I've overhauled it several times to gain marginal efficiencies...not that there was anything wrong with it...just marginal efficiencies. For me to find a weak link at this point, I'd have to race it until an imperfection shows up...then I jump on it the way a cat jumps on a mouse. I could liken myself as the bounty hunter.

Not About the Client
Perhaps, 90% of the changes I do on the site don't even appear on the browser - it's all under the hood. The client wouldn't even know the difference. But it's not about the client or the money he puts on the table. Again, it's about perfection...not unlike Michelangelo's obsession on the Sistine Chapel.

Easter Egg
But sometimes, curious tweakings lead me to my proverbial "quarter turn on a sensitive valve that unleashes 500 horses under the hood". In my own Zen, I call it "truth, unleased". As you keep going at it, you don't really know what you're going to find...and that's the rush right there! On a few occassions, I came upon something potent that necessitated a complete overhaul of the site (without changing how it looked on the browser!). That was a glorious easter egg that took me nearly a week to implement! Analogy? Hmmm. Before quantum physics, it was widely regarded that the atom was the smallest particle to ever exist in nature. But the scientists kept hammering away at the impregnable atom until the quantum universe opened up before them. Reality as we know it has never been the same.

Under the Weather
I haven't been well the past few days. I just finished a marathon work that took me coding nearly non-stop the entire weekend. I hardly slept as I kept waking in the middle of the night with new creative ways to fine-tune my model. I think my being sick is my body's way of telling me to hold back.

Ending Thoughts
There are so many ways to get a kick out of life. I've tried several already...bombing down a technical single-track on a mountain bike, great conversation followed by great sex, butter on freshly baked bread (yes!), being on top of a mountain after a 2-day climb and consumed by the 3600 view, etc. This one I'll have to add on to - pushing the boundaries in search of perfection...and stumbling upon something so new, it redefines the once familiar landscape.

--- TheLoneRider

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