Category Archives: Technology

Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton

Like many people, I’ve seen the movie a few times, but had never read the book before.

Up until the final chapters, this book reads like the movie. The only real difference is the age of the girl (I cannot remember her name in the movie to know if they changed that as well) and her being given some of Tim’s (the boy) actions. I think this was a good change because it gave us a second strong female character. Lex, in the book, is like 7 years old and for the most part she acts like a 7 year old, which is a good choice. She’s a strong 7 year old, but still a 7 year old.

Where the movie ends, this book continues and there are distinct differences from the direction the movie went. I think I prefer the book in this, but I don’t remember how sympathetic I felt towards Hammond at the end of the movie, but he definitely learned his lesson by the conclusion of this book. And I think many readers will walk away with a more ethical approach to scientific advancement after reading Jurassic Park.

When it comes to Malcolm’s ethical preaching, I agree in the most general terms that we as humans should never seek to play God. BUT, whereas Malcolm seems to think that all scientific study is for the advancement of human ego, I think that study is inherently for good of humanity not just the prestige of the scientist. Take this conclusion Malcolm gives near the end of the story: “Let’s be clear. The planet is not in jeopardy. We are in jeopardy. We haven’t got the power to destroy the planet–or to save it. But we might have the power to save ourselves.” Add to it this part of a lecture I heard in college where the professor listed a dozen or so animals and plants that have gone extinct recently and the potential cures to disease that died with them. There is a distinct line when it comes to ethics and science and I think that “do no harm” is a good rule of thumb because for every harm we cause to the environment, we have had the potential to harm ourselves. We need to see things much more broadly than the “thintelligence” that Malcolm coined and we do have to admit the potential consequences of all of our actions and admit that there are dozens more that we could never dream of. But to stop all scientific advancement simply because it has a possibility of causing harm is also dangerous.

I consider myself an environmentalist. But I do not automatically oppose mining for natural resources or even pipelines for transporting them. But I approach these issues with a very specific set of questions. First and foremost is “What will you do WHEN said pipeline leaks?” Oil and gas companies and the governments that support them like to talk about “ifs” and “maybes” even though all the evidence points towards “whens” and “definitelys”. The Alaskan pipeline has been leaking since the day it was built. Offshore drilling platforms do blow up. We do everyone a disservice when we pretend that we can play God because then we’re not allowed to plan for the inevitabilities (anyone who does plan is laughed at for being paranoid).

Anyway, there were a few specific items within Jurassic Park that made me giggle or roll my eyes. The first giggle was the description of a CD-Rom as a laser disk run by a computer. I think that folks just a few years younger than me will read this and think “what the hell is a laser disk?!?”. ‘Course, I’m one of the few people my age who has actually met a real floppy disk (the one about 5 inches across that really did flop when you waved it). I eye-rolled every time someone “clicked off the radio”. Uh…that means the radio would no longer be able to send and receive transmissions because it’s OFF! Physically off–no juice flowing from the batteries, OFF. I was in a search and rescue group in college and learning how to use the radios was one of our lessons, jargon included. In our organization (a conference of 2 dozen groups across the state and surrounding states), we used the term “clear” to indicate that we were done with the conversation and were putting our radio away. “Out” meant we were going to turn our radio completely OFF. When we worked with law enforcement, we’d have to remember that they’d use “out” with a different meaning so base wouldn’t panic. Anyone who’s used a radio before knows that you don’t turn your radio off during an exercise. You’d turn the volume down to get relative silence, but you’d still keep it loud enough to hear when someone needs you. And with as often as you’ll read about the hiss of the radio being heard, you know that it was a writer error to say that they were turning their radios off.

There is one last poignant conversation within Jurassic Park that bares mentioning. When Wu and Hammond discuss the nature of the park and whether or not the dinosaurs are real and if they really “re-created the past”. One of the classes I took in college was on the history of museums and we discussed to what extent these creations were creations vs. reality. Colonial Williamsburg is an excellent example. I believe that just about every building there was built during the 20th century to try to re-create what it looked like during the 1700s. But, it can at best be nothing more than a snapshot. In fact, the way the park is run, the “date” that it on any given day changes depending on what the overall plan for the season is. One day they may be showing a world preparing for Revolution. On another, it’ll be acting as the national capital after the war. On another, it’s life under British rule. But in all cases, it’s constructed to be entertainment. The restaurants cater to modern tastes. The actors perform on schedule. Sure, they hold slave auctions, but only on proscribed days (this would be historically accurate), but true slavery would have been on display every day during the real days of Williamsburg in the real 1700s. Back then, you’d see slaves getting slapped in the streets probably daily. Now, you’d only see that during a scheduled event. “Attention guests: at 3pm please come to the main square to see William Turner get beat for dropping the gravy on the carpet in the Governor’s Palace”. Actually…change guests to citizens and under certain circumstances that announcement would also have been historically accurate.

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Unfair: The New Science of Criminal Injustice by Adam Benforado

“It is better one hundred guilty Persons should escape than one innocent Person should suffer”

–Benjamin Franklin

I first heard about Unfair via NPR (not sure which program the author was speaking on) and was amazed at the idea of using Avatars and recorded testimony to better present information to a jury at a trial. Turns out that this book is full of a lot more than just this idea for reforms.

This book looks into the science behind why people do what they do: the perpetrators, the judges, the lawyers, the witnesses, the jury, the public. While reading it, I started wondering which of my extended family members (a group that succumbs to many of the fallacies listed here) would most benefit by reading this. My conclusion was probably none. Even if they were able to finish reading it, they’d still probably label it “liberal rubbish”. What I find ironic is that these types are covered within: the ones who when presented with overwhelming evidence that their beliefs are misguided (at best) they will still find a reason to reject the evidence.

I don’t know if I’m simply more educated than the general public, but a lot of what I read in Unfair seemed to be common knowledge now. I thought people were aware that eye-witness accounts are more often than not limited if not completely incorrect. Benforado makes it seem like no one in the public sector knows this, but I can imagine that in especially a trial setting, lawyers will overstate the importance of eye-witnesses and other facts.

I certainly will forever question the validity of an eye-witness after reading about at 74 year old woman who identified the wrong man even though the actual rapist was also in the line-up (put there simply as filler by the police). Especially when you look at a photo of the line-up and only the real rapist looks like the original description, given 5 weeks prior.

In this era of what appears to be more police brutality, I thought that there were a few quotes that maybe some folks should take to heart.

The first comes during the chapter on why the public seeks to find someone to blame when a crime is committed, even if that means taking a pig or dog literally to court, or the public thinking it’s okay for a pitcher to hit an innocent player during a baseball game in retaliation for one of his own teammates getting hit. “[W]hen a harm has been committed, our desire to find a culprit and reset the moral scales by inflicting punishment may sometimes override out commitment to fair treatment.” I was immediately reminded of watching the latest video evidence of the shooting of Walter Scott. Officer Slager claimed that it was in self-defense or otherwise was in defense of the public, because they’d just emerged from a scuffle on the ground when they got up and Scott started running again so Slager used his gun. You see, when I hear that story (of a scuffle and the retaliation), I picture me acting in “hot blood” to hurt the person who just hurt me. Officer Slager had just (probably) gotten hit in the nose (or somewhere else that resulted in injury or at least insult) and in anger pulled out his weapon and fired. I suspect this “hot blooded” approach to justice occurs in more cases of police brutality than anything else (Unfair does touch on the Rodney King case, but only from the perspective of the expert witnesses).

The second quote that stuck out to me was “Numerous studies have shown that those who have murdered a white person are more likely to be sentenced to death than those who have murdered a black person.” Well, this is a statistic that the Black Lives Matter cause should pick up. Currently the debate seems to be centered on police brutality towards black suspects with opponents saying “well, what about Black on Black violence?” It seems to me that the Justice Department is making a statement that White Lives are more important than Black Lives simply because they go after harsher punishments when the victim is white rather than black.

The third quote is “In one recent experiment, researchers had two groups of participants read about a fourteen-year-old with seventeen prior juvenile convictions who raped an elderly woman. Participants were then asked to what extent, in general, they supported sentences of life without parole for juveniles in non-homicide cases. The texts given to the groups were identical, aside from one word: for the first group, the defendant was described as black; for the second group, he was described as white. Participants who had read about the black teenager expressed more support for the severe sentence and for the notion that kids are as blameworthy as adults.” I think this should give EVERYONE cause to stop and reflect on their own preconceptions. Of course, this is also discussed in Unfair: jurors are told repeatedly that they are completely capable of being impartial and most of us want to believe that even though there is mounting evidence that at least some amount of bias skews our judgments. People are so certain that they would never discriminate that they are blind to the fact that they do it daily.

I think this is one of those books that should be required reading. Even if it doesn’t have an effect on the Criminal Justice department, at least it will shed more light on the social issues that cause crime. Armchair politicians like to admit that lack of education and poverty contribute to the crime problem, but when it comes to saying where tax dollars should be spent, it’s usually on a bigger prison rather than a new school. I’ve heard more people talk about the waste of throwing money at education, but not the same about the waste of throwing money at jails. Except when some new jail can’t be used because of a wonkie law–then the complaint isn’t that the jail was built, but because it cannot be used.

I received this book for free via Blogging For Books, but as always the review/commentary is all mine.

You Just Look Guilty
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