Paarth Madan

A medium to iterate on my own thoughts.

Single Point of Failure

Posted at — Jul 8, 2021

In computer science, and generally any domains that deal with the abstract concept of a system, the notion of a single point of failure arises.

In simple terms, a single point of failure is any part of the system that, when compromised, can compromise the entire larger system.

One might say that the single point of failure for safe operation of a car is the driver. If the driver faints while operating the vehicle, the entire system is at risk. I suppose this is ignoring autonomous vehicles. Well, replace car with motorcycle and the analogy is a little bit stronger.

Anyhow, we study single points of failure to ensure our system is designed in a robust way. We want our systems to be resilient against individual failures so as to not let minor disruptions result in major ones.

Most software engineers work extremely hard to analyze their systems and ensure its free of single points of failure.

I find it amusing that we labour over our software systems and apply, what seem to be logical principles for the prolonged health of our system, but not for our individual life.

We are, in almost all definitions of the term, complex systems.

We are part of larger social systems, we are composed of health systems, and so on.

I think I’ve had a few single points of failure in the last little while and I’ve learned that certain things that could be perceived as minor issues affect me in major ways. I zoomed out and realized most of them were a result of me structuring my life in very one-dimensional ways. I didn’t have a resilient network to cope, withstand, and fight against failure. Instead, I let it compromise the entire system.

Action: Perform regular analysis on my life to determine if any single points of failure exist.

Some guiding questions:

  1. What do you rely on to feel OK?
  2. If you weren’t able to do one (or more) of those things, how much would it affect you? Do any of them need to be done.
  3. You have a problem. You need to confide in someone? Who can you talk to?
  4. Now, assume one (or more) of those people no longer exist? How much would it affect you? Do you rely exclusively on any one person?

These types of questions reveal the dependencies in my life.

For instance, my answers might look like:

  1. Lifting weights, walks, writing, coding, watching YouTube videos
  2. It would (and did) affect me a lot when I couldn’t do them. I’m having a particularly hard time not being able to walk or lift.

I’ve clearly identified some single points of failure, therefore.

Through 3 and 4, I realized that I did create immense dependency on a person at one point. It’s a strong note to myself to not do that again. That person can leave (or die, or go missing etc.) and then to cope with that, you have no one.

As a result, I realized I either need to be self-healing or diversify my confidence network. Namely, being able to confide in many people.

Currently, I’m working on understanding how to objectively and singly walk myself through tough times. It’s been a great exercise in developing mental strength. It’s also been really challenging.

I think it’s a positive thing to write about it in this way, so as to not feel at defeat when I defer to myself.

Here’s to becoming more robust.

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