Dr Ian Malcolm, in Jurassic Park, of course. Yet I think the good Doctor (and possibly, by extension, Dr Crichton himself) is confusing the nature of the engineer with that of the control freak. Two different subsets of people, though, of course, there may be overlap. What I understand the quote to mean (and this is pretty much informed by watching the film and reading the book) is that it is Engineers who believe they can control the Park, and who fail to appreciate that such control is impossible; hubris, baby, to the max. I come from a line of engineers (in that my father is also proud to bear that title) and, as you might expect, I know a few others, here and there. I don’t think any of them believe in absolute control; rather the opposite.
Let’s take a subset of the species Engineer; the Software Engineer, or to use the common name, Programmer. Let’s take a look at the code that such a person produces. I’ll lay a small amount of money that you’ll see defensive coding; exceptions caught and errors handled. Throughout the source there will be an implicit understanding made evident; things can go wrong. This tends to show up especially where the program interacts with its environment. Opening a file? It might not be there. Writing data to it? Beware of disk failures or lack of space. Sending data over the Internet? Prepare to retry.
But the recognition that errors are a necessary and inevitable part of code doesn’t imply that they can always be handled. Every program has some level of error at which it will give up and yield to fate, throwing its hands in the air and commending itself to the mercy of the operating system. What the engineer does is to minimize the risk of that happening, no more than that, by balancing what can occur against the cost of handling it.
If you’ve ever put up wallpaper, you’ll remember this; after the paper meets the wall, there comes the smoothing, where the bubbles trapped underneath are pushed out to the edges. There are always some left, forever trapped as the paste dries around them. All you can do is minimize them to a point where they don’t get in the way of the main purpose of wallpaper; to look nice from a reasonable distance. Engineers are like interior decorators; we massage the bubbles of risk out to the margins of what is likely. Luckily we have less need to climb precariously perched ladders.
Personally, despite him being torn apart by the T-Rex, I’d blame the lawyer.
I’m unreasonably proud that my old paperback copy of Jurassic Park was bought in the US from an airport news-stand and has no mention or tie-in with the movie at all; no red/black/yellow logo, no T-Rex, nada. I have no idea why this should matter to me.
Not my money, necessarily.