Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

27 Dec 2011, 11:18 a.m.

Confidence Interval

Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2011 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.

I enjoyed having the apartment to myself for a week while Leonard visited his blood family (why is it easier to clean when I have the house to myself? Why?!), but of course I also enjoy his return. After all, I need someone else to admire these clean countertops! And yesterday he and I talked about what's implausible or frustrating about Jurassic Park (the film), which I had watched afresh on Sunday.

For contrast: the year before Jurassic Park came out, all across the US television screens flickered and blared with "Rascals", a cute and fun episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation that does UTTERLY AND WHOLLY IMPLAUSIBLE things with biology. We watched it again yesterday and Leonard pointed out that its science is about as bad as (and arguably contradicts!) that in "Similitude" (ENT). Argh argh argh.

Compare Jurassic Park, which barely ripples the suspension of disbelief.


recursion dinosaur

  1. Leonard notes that the scientists shouldn't have used frog DNA to fill in the gaps, but rather some kind of avian DNA. Yes, but I'm willing to be technobabbled out of that.
  2. More troublingly (Leonard read an article about this once) -- could you really get enough intact DNA out of the stomachs of millions-years-old mosquitoes? Probably not; you'd need to find a lot of mosquitoes, and I imagine some anaerobic digestive processes would continue even after amber encasement, denaturing the proteins and so on. Still, I am (possibly too leniently) rather unbothered by this -- my impression is that we keep discovering new places DNA's been stashed, and if it's not mosquito bellies, it's, I dunno, the La Brea tar pits or peat bogs or something.
  3. The engineering management failure is plausible, but only if the managers don't know how to manage large engineering projects and mitigate risk properly. Well, Hammond is a fantastic user interface designer who tried to do the software and hardware sides on the cheap. "Spared no expense" only applies to the user-facing bits. And he doesn't listen to criticism. Annoyingly plausible.
  4. The glimpses of software that we get are basically fine, in my opinion.

Yes, I am not exactly pioneering the field of scifi or media criticism by going over the plausibility of this very-well-known artifact from 1993. But if I'd asked myself last week, "What will have more implausibilities? A TNG episode from 1992 or a big-budget Hollywood action thriller from 1993?" I would not have predicted this case. A reminder not to be complacent.

I also appreciate Leonard's presence because I can occasionally ask him to diagnose a Python error (e.g., "TypeError: 'type' object is not subscriptable"). After years of trying to self-teach with books and tutorials and scratch-my-own-itch projects and lectures and lecture videos, I find that the Boston Python Workshop, CodingBat, and Python Challenge were the dance partners I needed. Yesterday I used a dictionary data type to help solve a problem! And it worked! But I'll write more about this on Geek Feminism. Anyway, hence the "recursion" half of the "recursion dinosaur" graphic.


28 Dec 2011, 1:24 a.m.

"Fantastic user interface designer"? I haven't seen the movie since it was out in the theaters, but wasn't there a scene where people had to navigate some ridiculous 3D maze interface to get to the right control system?

Also, I think whatever bit of code it was that copied your blog entries over to LiveJournal has stopped working, possibly as part of their most recent "upgrade".

28 Dec 2011, 11:28 a.m.

Well, phooey (re the LJ syndication). Not much I can do, is there.

The UI that Hammond cares about is the UI of the park itself, the part visitors see. And the park itself is indeed an amazing experience! You're talking about the Silicon Graphics UI that Lex (the girl) navigates on Nedry's computer, to turn the park's security system back on. Hammond wouldn't have paid attention to that since visitors wouldn't see it.

And yeah, maybe you should confine yourself to holding forth on things you can actually remember. :-)

28 Dec 2011, 15:29 p.m.

Naturally, since I posted that, your most recent posts have just shown up on LJ. Clearly this is one of those complaint-based user interfaces.

The 3D-maze UI scene is one of the bits of Jurassic Park that stick out in my head. It was just such a classic example of bad movie UI.

How well does the CGI hold up after all these years? (Though maybe you'd have to see it on the big screen, or on hi-def, to really tell.)

28 Dec 2011, 20:21 p.m.

I read the book before the movie came out, and I think the reason for the frog DNA was to explain the mating in the wild. Frogs have been known in certain same-sex environments to change sex to propagate mating, or so the book says. So if they used avian DNA it would nullify this point, which was more important in the book since the animals not tagged, ie made in the wild and not known to the park engineers, were the ones getting off the island. Or something like that.

29 Dec 2011, 8:27 a.m.

When I rewatched the film on Sunday, it was on a big screen, and people near me and I agreed that the special effects held up very well.

John -- I read the book first, too! And yeah, that explanation also shows up in the movie. So we know why the author chose frog DNA, as you say, for the sake of the plot. But why would it make sense within that plot for the scientists to have chosen frogs in the first place? I don't know, but I'm not too bothered.

30 Dec 2011, 12:43 p.m.

That bad movie UI is an actual UI! Irix had a 3D file manager. I used it for fun in college.

30 Dec 2011, 20:38 p.m.

Speaking of terrible file managers, have you ever seen Doom hacked into service as a system admin tool? Most admin interfaces let the sysadmin kill processes, but this was the first I'd seen that allowed the reverse.

30 Dec 2011, 21:23 p.m.

Aaron Diaz (of Dresden Codak fame) just started up an #accuratejurassicpark hashtag on Twitter.