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Failure is not an option

Well actually it is. But Complete Failure is definitely not!

NOTE: This article was originally posted on my photography blog in January 2017, but I’m re-posting it here for completeness.

In my previous work on computer systems and backup procedures, the complete failure of a data backup would mean a huge financial cost. But individual devices are always going to fail eventually, so we always designed the systems with redundancy in an attempt to reduce the risk to as close to zero as possible.

In managing my diabetes (especially when travelling far away from regular medical resources) the cost of failure could mean death. Obviously that’s not a cost I’m willing to pay, so again I’ve always tried to design the systems with redundancy to reduce that risk to as close to zero as possible!

Travelling with diabetes

For example if my insulin requirements went up during the trip and I ran out, Bad Things would happen. If my insulin supply gets overheated (or frozen) it becomes useless. And unless I’m already on my way home to a fresh supply, that can mean aborting the entire trip with a medical evacuation emergency, or worse. So when away from home I usually travel with twice as much insulin as I should need, spread into at least two packets, each well insulated and padded. In fact I have backups for all the important items in my kit. I need enough equipment to get the insulin into my body, and to check on my glucose levels, even if something breaks. This can complicate travel as the luggage space needed for all of this does add up.

For example, I currently use an Abbott FreeStyle Libre sensor to monitor my sugar levels. A small sensor is attached to my upper arm and I keep a reader to download the results at any time (it uses a wireless NFC signal). Last October I was in the Middle East driving along a highway in central Qatar, and noticed that the sun was fast setting into the haze. So I pulled off the highway (as I had repeatedly been doing all afternoon), drove to the highest point I could find, raced out of the car with my camera gear to climb a bit higher, and made a string of images including the one below.

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Qatari sunset

That evening back at my accommodation I went to check my sugar levels, but couldn’t find the Libre reader anywhere. I had to fall back to the Accu-chek Mobile blood meter that was in my luggage. The reader didn’t turn up anywhere, even after searching all the nooks and crannies in the 4WD. Presumably it was sitting somewhere in the desert dust! I had to purchase a replacement reader when I got back to Australia, but in the meantime my health didn’t suffer as I had a backup solution on hand.

I’ve never pretended to be perfect though, and at times in the past have had to recover from some situations where it became obvious I didn’t have the right backups in place. But we learn from our mistakes …

Travelling with photography

Those sorts of things have been routine for me for over 30 years. So in managing my photos (cameras, computers, data storage) on travels, not surprisingly I automatically think about what my options are going to be in the face of equipment failure/loss. I’ve had clients comment that they’re surprised/impressed at the planning which goes into the kit I take on trips, and in turn I’m usually surprised that anyone wouldn’t consider these things. It’s been a fact of life (or maybe that’s a fact of “avoiding death”) for so long.

On big trips I’ll have more than one camera with me in case one misbehaves (it’s happened), alternate lenses in case my favourite develops a fault (it’s happened), spare batteries, memory cards, etc. While I rarely take a spare laptop, I do have backups in place and in the event of a disaster might have to rely on the kindness of my travelling companions to access the data on my drives. I also carry a repair kit and can (and have) fixed many computer and camera problems in the field.

The cost/benefit analysis

Of course you do have to weigh up the value of all this work. In terms of disaster recovery, the maths tells us that the risk involved with a problem is the product of the probability and the cost of occurrence (multiply them together). For example if there was a 10% chance of a failure that was going to cost $1000, you probably wouldn’t blink at spending even up to $100 to reduce that chance. But you wouldn’t spend $2000, even if the chance of failure was 100%.
Obviously the cost of death is unacceptable, so we need to make the probability low, ideally without costing a fortune. With decent travel insurance the cost of evacuation can be reduced, but it’s worth noting that many insurers won’t cover diabetes-related issues once you get to age 50!

The cost of losing all the photos from a trip would be very high for me too. Having spent a lot of money (and found the opportunity) to visit a remote location at the right time with the right conditions, the “replacement” value of the photos could be huge (even ignoring how much I might earn from them).

So again for me I like to reduce the probability of Complete Failure to as close to zero as possible!

1 thought on “Failure is not an option”

  1. Well said, David, and definitely spoken by a person with heaps of experience in many fields of endeavour. The DOC can gain much from these years of experience, so thanks for sharing some of it.

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