A Real Cliff Hanger
The high cost of saving money
The sign held no real significance to me. “Caution: Cliff diving is extremely dangerous and can lead to serious injury or death.”
It was scrawled on a 3’x2’ sign at Rick’s Café, a tourist trap joint at the far south end of the Negril Cliffs on the western tip of Jamaica where an endless chain of resort shuttles ferry throngs of pigeons from the sterile environment of their all-inclusive hotels to be separated from their money at twice the local market rate for Red Stripe beer and banana daiquiris.
Negril is one of my favorite spots on Earth, and it would be unfathomable for me to be cloistered in a guarded compound, and isolated from the true Jamaicans and their
numerous little restaurants and shops that line the coastal road from the northern tip of the seven-mile beach, to the tiny village center where one can buy beer and meat patties (a sort of spicy meat turnover) for next to nothing, to the slow rise of the cliffs south of town, where those like me prefer to settle in and sit on a deck with rock stairways leading down to the ocean for a 2 AM swim with the stinging jellyfish.
The Jamaicans sometimes seem standoffish to visitors until mutual respect is established, and that respect is never garnered by treating beach vendors as though they were invisible. A polite, “no thanks, mon” is fine, as long as eye contact is made. I embrace the Jamaicans, and find that if I give them a healthy ration of grief, they are quick to laugh in a hearty, rolling, weeping kind of way.
Once, a lean Jamaican man in his early twenties was jogging down the beach, and stopped to ask me if I wanted to parasail, so I decided to pull his chain.
“No thanks, mon. Say, you look pretty fast, mon. How’d you like to race me for a beer. Just you and me for 100 meters?”
A huge smile split his face as he sized me up. Now, bear in mind that some of the greatest sprinters in history were born in Jamaica. If you follow the 100 meters, you’ll know that the current world record of 9.77 belongs to a Jamaican photon named Asafa Powell, who waved bye-bye to Maurice Greene last June. Or how about Jamaican-born Donovan Bailey, or maybe perennial scorcher, Merlene Ottey on the women’s side, who went 11.09 last summer at 44 years old? Dozens of young Jamaican men jog up and down the Negril beach, and most of them look like a Lamborghini in first gear, with five more notches available at command. These guys resemble coiled springs even when they’re sitting in the sand, let alone jogging, and not one is more than three percent body fat.
“So, what do you say, just you and me, right now, 100 meters for a beer?”
He was weak in the knees from laughing at this point.
“Sure mon, a cold beer. Let’s go to that jet ski down the beach. You ready?”
“Who said anything about running?”
He looked confused. “You said 100 meters…”
“Yes. Swimming. We go right from that sail boat down to where that jet ski is beached. Right out there in the six-foot-deep stuff. Come on, I’m thirsty, mon.”
Well, he looked at me a little differently now. He knew that in a footrace, he could whip my butt down the beach, drink his beer, burp, perhaps braid his dreadlocks, and then greet me as I passed the line. But I had enough of a swimmer’s build that the outcome of a 100-meter freestyle was very much in doubt.
He stuttered for a moment. Now it was me who was laughing as I grabbed his shoulder.
“Forget it, mon, I just put sunscreen on, so you’re off the hook. Come on, I’ll buy you a beer anyway.”
So, the tourists who cocoon themselves in the busses never see the “real Jamaica,” and that’s a shame. They go down to Rick’s to watch the sunset, spend too much for their drinks, and a few of the terminally buzzed are goaded into jumping off the cliffs by their friends, often with terrible results. Every week, some pale, inebriated college kid bounces off the rocks, and is carted off to Savannah La Mar to be reassembled at the small hospital.
But it’s not dangerous if you know what you’re doing. I dove competitively before I grew too tall to deal with my changing moment of inertia, but was still able to throw a one and a half with two twists, and a fair number of similar DD (degree of difficulty) dives. If you think I’m mentally unstable now, for water shows at the Kik Pool in Kalamazoo I would stand on the handrails above the three-meter board, wet feet and all, and leap out onto the end of the board, and throw a full twisting one and a half. On slow days, we would sail off the lifeguard platforms above the two-foot-deep baby pool and, if you landed absolutely flat, you’d not hit the bottom. So, tossing a garden variety one and a half off a 45-foot cliff is really pretty easy.
The trick,1 for those of you heading to Jamaica, is that you first make sure you’re moving out to clear the rocks, snap into a pike (a tuck will have dire consequences) and, as soon as you see the sky again, open up. You’ll be moving towards the water at a good clip, so make your next choices wisely. If it looks like you under-rotated, that’s ok, bend your knees and you’ll start spinning again, just make sure you straighten your legs before hitting, and lock your thumbs together with your arms outstretched or you’ll drive your follicles to the soles of your feet.
If you didn’t open until a few tenths of a second too late, you’re screwed. If you open out of your pike and you are looking straight at the water, well, you’d better tuck up in the fetal position and pray to Jah that you make the double somersault. A one-and-three-quarters will seriously impact your vacation as your back will feel as though you stumbled into a Jamaican beach fire after a reggae concert at De Bus (if you’re lucky). Either way, you’ll draw drunken laughter from the crowd, so try to smile.
So, there’s your lesson. Lessons are good, lessons are safe, and lessons are wise. I wish I could sometimes be as convincing when I see “bail-out projects.” This is when you get the call that a customer has been implementing an informatics project and things have gone woefully wrong. In every case I’ve seen in the past six or eight years, the root cause came down to money; the customer elected to take a project predominantly internal, and to use in-house resources to implement the system(s).
“The decision to save money is the most expensive choice you will ever make.”
I’d like to quote Alan Greenspan, but I just made that up.
If you’ve ever written code, or have a friend who has, ask them about fixing someone else’s work. They will ruefully shake their head and say, in one form or another, that it’s the worst programming experience in the world. That argument is extensible to project design and implementation that has been poorly executed. The difference between a pile of code and an implemented system is that the pile of code usually blows up right away, and it is very obvious that it has. A butchered system spirals into a death arc like a slowly-building case of food poisoning, and the resultant toxic effect isn’t obvious until many months down the road. In the past two years, I’ve seen one system burned to the ground and started over, and three more in major surgery where the patient (or at least the project manager) may not survive.
Bringing in experts up front is money well-spent. Pulling back on the budget at this stage is like opening your eyes to see the wrong side of a Jamaican cliff, and waiting for the blowtorch to blister your backside a few moments later.
1. Actually, this applies only if standing on a 45-foot cliff above crashing waves hasn’t buckled your knees. Remember, Dr. Hice says, “Friends don’t let friends dive drunk. In fact, friends don’t let friends dive off cliffs at all.”
Randy Hice is the president of the Laboratory Expertise Center. He can be reached at email@example.com.