Following the tragic death of Jeff Goldblum this past weekend, I feel now is the time to share a small revelation I had this weekend while watching one of his greatest works.
This past weekend I had to work on Saturday. We are trying to get some test flights of a new airplane based radar I’ve been working on in amid the rain showers. Don’t ask me why, but they don’t like to fly in the rain. This has been difficult and no sunny day can be wasted. I was not scheduled to fly originally, but following a flight on Friday in which no data was collected for mysterious reasons, the powers that be decided I should fly, with 2 coworkers because we were the ones who wrote most of the software involved. If we flew we would be there to diagnose and solve the problem on the fly, if needed. Everything worked perfectly on the flight so my presence was not particularly needed, but it could have been. I also did manage to get a little air sick while sitting on the floor, out of my seat, but in a position to see the control screen.
Upon returning home I found my room mate Sriram about ten minutes into the film Independence Day. This film, long one of my favorites, possibly my favorite action film of all time, is an oddity among my usual tastes in movies. Now, it does have, quite possibly, the best speech in a movie by an American president, but the events of last Saturday shed some more personal light on why I enjoy the film so much. I remember seeing it on July 3rd (or 4th) in Louisville, KY with my family the year it came out; I was 12 years old.
That same year, 1996, was also the year in which I first learned how to program, in qbasic with my buddy Greg.
In the movie Jeff Goldblum plays an MIT educated cable/satellite guru who looks into the alien television disturbance and finds something no one else bothered to see. Later, he creates a virus for the alien computer and flies up to the mother ship with the Will Smith character to deliver it, despite chronic air sickness. Why did he have to fly? He explains in the flim, “If anything goes wrong I’ll have to think quickly, adjust the signal, who knows?”
Now, my air sickness was nothing like his, and its all a different scale, but that’s essentially the same reason I was flying. Upon landing, while I helping to preparing for the next flight, some of the binary files used to setup the flight were found to have errors, errors so sever as to crash the program using them. I encounter problems like this, that require manually examining difficult to read binary files on a frequent basis at work. I enjoy it. Despite having a call in to the person who created the files, I couldn’t help but dive in and find the problem myself. Now that was easy, because I had the rubric for how the file was laid out. Goldblum’s character didn’t have that. I really wish there was more of a need to reverse engineer stuff like that at work. It is so much more challenging when one is not provided with a key.
This may also help explain why upon much self analysis, I consistently find myself thinking that if I go back to school, the only place to go, where it would be worth my while, is MIT (or possibly Harvard if I decide to go back for an economics degree). Clearly, everything in my life so far has put me on the path to become Jeff Goldblum’s character in Independence Day. At least, that is one way to interpret the facts.