Spelunking to uncertainty

Last week I wrote about the major differences between my experience at Dell and my experience here at Infinio.

One of those was the idea that here, there’s no supposition that at least someone, somewhere knows the answer.

That is really, really hard to digest for someone like me.  I have a predisposition to assume that there is an answer to everything.

I shouldn’t think that, I know.  Even my professional training as a mathematician should teach me that isn’t the case – look at how many unsolved problems still exist in math and may forever.  Look at Godel’s incompleteness Theorem.

Or, last week I was at an engineering meeting and the topic of discussion was a terrible little behavior we were seeing in our product’s interaction with another product.  This behavior came up over and over, and while we fixed each instance of the problem, we had no way of knowing that we had addressed every instance of the problem that could arise.

While extensive testing could minimize that risk, it can’t eliminate it entirely.  As one of the engineers said, “There’s no real way to know when software is ‘done’ or ‘right.’”

This feeling has awed me in the past once before as well.  Before babyDiva, mrDiva and I used to travel a lot, and one of our best vacations was to Belize.  We had planned to hike ATM, a well known cave-system in the Cayo district, but the rains had been so intense that it was un-navigable.

Disappointed, we went to our hosts who said, “Oh, let’s call Ken!  You can go see Ken’s cave.”


mrDiva, our guide Leo, and Ken, with Ken's 1979 Land Rover

mrDiva, our guide Leo, & Ken, with his 1979 Land Rover

Ken’s cave, it turned out, was amazing.  Known more formally as Achtun Chapat, it was only accessible by a bumpy ride in the back of Ken’s 197X Land Rover.  He and his guide led us through a 5-6 hour hike into the cave system, pointing out bats, bones, and pottery shards as we went.  There were cathedral height ceilings and crawl spaces.  Beautiful stalactites and stalagmites.  It was pitch black when we turned off our headlamps.  Like, literally black.  At the end of the cave, we sat under a sinkhole that provided some sunlight from above and enjoyed Ken’s wife’s homemade burritos.

As we were sitting, Ken mentioned casually that this was one path, but they hadn’t mapped the entire cave yet.  There were probably 100’s of additional yards of cave that nobody had yet traversed, because of safety issues – low oxygen rates and unpredictable lakes.

It was inconceivable to me.  This cave was obviously a national treasure for Belize, at least as complex and rich in archeological and natural items many of the well-known sites in Central America.  How could they not have mapped it out?  Aren’t there X-rays or robots or something that could do this?

mrDiva and me at the entrance to Achtun Chapat

mrDiva and me, at the entrance to Achtun Chapat

But there aren’t.  Or they’re not economically or practically viable in Belize.  Or Belize chooses not to explore this for fear of losing control of their resources.

Whatever the reason, I am still overwhelmed by the idea that there’s a cave that I have been in that is only sort of understood.

Sometimes, we just don’t know the answer.


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