myself with the design, without determining whether I was able to undertake it; not but that the difficulty of launching my boat came often into my head; but I put a stop on my own inquiries into it, by this foolish answer: Let us first make it; I warrant I will find some way or other to get it along when it is done. This was a most preposterous method; but the eagerness of my fancy prevailed, and to work I went. I felled a cedar tree, and I question much whether Solomon ever had such a one for the building of the Temple at Jerusalem; it was five feet ten inches diameter at the lower part next the stump, and four feet eleven inches diameter at the end of twenty-two feet, where it lessened and then parted into branches. It was not without infinite labour that I felled this tree; I was twenty days hacking and hewing at the bottom, and fourteen more getting the branches and limbs, and the vast spreading head of it, cut off; after this, it Cost me a month to shape it and dub it to a proportion, and to something like the bottom of a boat, that it might swim upright as it ought to do. It cost me near three months more to clear the inside, and work it out so as to make an exact boat of it: this I did, indeed, without fire, by mere mallet and chisel, and by the dint of hard labour, till I had brought it to be a very handsome periagua, and big enough to have carried six-and-twenty men, and consequently big enough to have carried me and all my cargo. When I had gone through this work, I was extremely delighted with it. The boat was really much bigger than ever I saw a canoe or a periagua that was made of one tree, in my life. Many a weary stroke it had cost, you may be sure; and there remained nothing but to get it into the water; which, had I accomplished, I make no question but I should have begun the maddest voyage, and the most unlikely to be performed, that ever was undertaken. [image] But all my devices to get it into the water failed me; though they cost me inexpressible labour too. It lay about one hundred yards from the water, and not more; but the first inconvenience was, it was up hill towards the creek. Well, to take away this discouragement, I resolved to dig into the surface of the earth and so make a declivity; this I began, and it cost me a prodigious deal of pains; but who grudges pains that have their deliverance in view? When this was worked through, and this difficulty managed, I was still much the same, for I could no more stir the canoe than I could the other boat. Then I measured the distance of ground, and resolved to cut a dock, or canal, to bring the water up to the canoe, seeing I could not bring the canoe down to the water. Well, I began this work; and when I began to enter upon it, and calculate how deep it was to be dug, how broad, how the stuff was to be thrown out, I found by the number of hands I had, having none but my own, that it must have been ten or twelve years before I could have gone through with it; for the shore lay so high, that at the upper end it must have been at least twenty feet deep; this attempt, though with great reluctancy, I was at length obliged to give over also. This grieved me heartily; and now I saw, though too late, the folly of beginning a work before we count the cost, and before we judge rightly of our own strength to go through with it. This passage gives a very graphic picture of how the seduction takes place. His decision to "first make it" and then to worry about launching the boat later characterizes all too well the misplaced optimism we all seem to succumb to from time to time in designing and implementing systems. *** Backing up major system components The second illustration concerns Crusoe's design and implementation of a backup supply of goats. Earlier in the narrative, Crusoe went to considerable pain to capture and domesticate some wild goats and they have since become a principal component in his diet. While this was doing, I was not altogether careless of my other affairs: for I had a great concern upon me for my little herd of goats; they were not only a ready supply to me on every occasion, and began to be sufficient for me, without the expense of powder and shot, but also without the fatigue of hunting after the wild ones; and I was loath to lose the advantage of them, and to have them all to nurse up over again. For this purpose, after long consideration, I could think of but two ways to preserve them: one was, to find another convenient place to dig a cave under ground, and to drive them into it every night; and the other was, to enclose two or three little bits of land, remote from one another, and as much concealed as I could, where I might keep about half a dozen young goats in each place; so that if any disaster happened to the flock in general, I might be able to raise them again with little trouble and time; and this, though it would require a great deal of time and labour, I thought was the most rational design. Accordingly, I spent some time to find out the most retired parts of the island; and I pitched upon one, which was as private, indeed, as my heart could wish for: it was a little damp piece of ground, in the middle of the hollow and thick woods, where, as is observed, I almost lost myself once before, endeavouring to come back that way from the eastern part of the island. Here I found a clear piece of land, near three acres, so surrounded with woods, that it was almost an enclosure by nature; at least, it did not want near so much labour to make it so as the other pieces of ground I had worked so hard at. I immediately went to work with this piece of ground, and in less than a month's time I had so fenced it round, that my flock, or herd, call it which you please, who were not so wild now as at first they might be supposed to be, were well enough secured in it; so, without any further delay, I removed ten young she-goats and two he-goats to this piece; and when they were there, I continued to perfect the fence, till I had made it as secure as the other, which, however, I did at more leisure, and it took me up more time by a great deal. That Robinson Crusoe should provide backup for such an essential component of his survival as his goat herd seems so obvious as to need no comment. However, how often do professional programmers and analysts fail utterly to provide backup for equally essential components of their own systems? *** Further reflections Cases like the two just presented abound in the book. Mistakes and successes are even replicated, just as they too often are in the contemporary systems world. The insight which these cases afford is particularly appealing because the adventure does not purport to deal with systems or computing at all! Moreover, though the cases largely lack the complex human interface problems common to systems involving many people (Robinson Crusoe lives and labors alone on his island for most of the narrative), this simplification allows Defoe to strip problems to their essentials. Crusoe's work is done primarily for himself. He is his own end user. As such, he must, in the most literal of all senses, "live with" the system he creates. Defoe thus presents us with the entire systems environment in a very compact form. What else lies within the narrative of Crusoe's life on the island? Get a copy of Robinson Crusoe, read it, and find out. Be prepared to see your systems work in a refreshing new light. And should you feel too critical of Crusoe's solutions to his many problems, notice how long he survived. His solutions were viable enough to keep him going for 27 years, 2 months, and 19 days. Can any of us top that?