Rule #22: Two is coincidence, three is a pattern.

A team of engineers mechanical, electrical, and computer engineer were all driving to a robotics competition to compete with their new masterpiece. While driving down a hill the car's brakes suddenly fail and after some smart thinking by the driver the car eventually comes to a safe stop. The mechanical engineer immediately gets out, pops the hood, and starts digging in the engine. The electrical engineer pulls out the haynes manual from the glove box and starts tracing the breaking system. The computer engineer stays in his seat thinking for a moment and says "Let's take it back to the top of the hill and see if it happens again."

I'm sure this joke is completely lost on anyone not familiar with the different engineering disciplines, but it's revealing a chief principle in computer engineering. Stuff happens. If you can't reproduce a problem it's not worth investigating. Obviously a car with failing breaks doesn't warrant the response given but in general when something goes wrong with a computer program I wrote the first step to fixing it is to get it to happen again. In the testing world we look for Steps to Reproduce. And if we can't reproduce the results we move on. Computer programs are big and have millions of variables. To test all of them is nearly impossible. So a computer engineer must focus on the bugs that happen often and can be reproduced to maximize their efforts. It's a great way to explain Rule #22: Two is coincidence, three is a pattern. 

Patterns happen everywhere. Even chaotic, unpredictable systems have some patterns inside of them. The ability to predict the weather is proof of this. Weather is a chaotic system that requires some of the worlds most complicated super computers to predict and modal. It's not surprising that predictions are often wrong. It is surprising that preictions are ever right. Identifying patterns is a key skill in understanding yourself, your relationships, and the world around you. Identifying patterns is also the first and easiest skill to learn for critical thinking.

The most common example of Rule #22 is the well known Lemon Law. I don't know the law itself but the basics principle is if you buy a car and it has more than 3 failures within a given time span the dealership is required to give you a full refund. It's normal for a system as big as a car to have a few kinks in it. But every once in a while a car just doesn't seem to ever work correctly. It's a lemon.

The lemon law is not just applicable to cars and complex machinery. If you make a mistake it's just that, a mistake. If you make the same mistake a second time, It's bad timing. On the third time it's officially a pattern and you yourself are becoming a lemon. You have a problem and it needs to be fixed. I used to spend hours in the woods building small fortresses and exploring drainage streams. My parents, rightly concerned for my safty in such adventures, asked me to check in every 2 hours. So I told myself I would be back in 2 hours and marched into the heart of darkness. 5 hours later my parents were very angry. I genuinely thought it hadn't been that long. After several of these failures my father provided me with a watch. He recognized the pattern and instead of leting me keep trying without success or simply banning me from my favorite activity he gave me a tool to help break the pattern. I learned something from this process. I learned that when a pattern develops it's time to build tools or implement systems to fix them. I made it home the next couple adventures within the alloted time. But then started to stray again. I would forget to check the watch. I would come home 20 min late or an hour. Usually in a hury with the excuse that I forgot to check my watch. My parents in their great wisdom set a very simple rule. If I come home late I can't go back out. After three for four times of this I realized I needed to make another change. And I discovered the watch had an alarm. I would set it 20-30 min out from my check-in time. I was very rarely late after that. Patterns indicate a change needs to be made or a system needs to be implemented to break it. I am not good at keeping track time so I must use tools like alarms, reminders, and good habits to keep things in track. But ask my friends and they will tell you I am highly punctual and almost always 5min early for any meeting, party, or event.

It's also important to recognize patterns in others. I have a general rule that I try to trust someone when I meet them until I have a reason not to. And as simple as baseball, 3 strikes and you're out. I have learned in recent year to mitigate my risk during this "trial period" of trust and to separate the categories of trust. I don't loan money to a stranger expecting them to pay me back as a first test. I don't loan money to anyone for that matter but I'll leave that for Rule #33: Budget your money.  Instead I start with small things, like the parable of the talents. I give a small task or set up a meeting time or loan a pen. If the task isn't completed, if the person is late or doesn't show, if the pen never comes back I watch the patterns. If the person is late 3 times I assume they will always be late and treat them as if they will always be late. If they show up on time for a change they will probably inconvenienced and I would have no problem telling them why. If I never seem to get my pens back from this friend I know not to loan them my tools or anything worth more than a dime (including future pens). If I catch a person in 3 outright lies, I end the relationships completely. I watch patterns in other peoples behavior to decide when I can trust them and what I can trust them with.

It would be easy to use this principle to be a boring person, and follow a pattern for every day of my life. Graham Cooke has a sermon called "The Goodness of God". I've listened to it from time to time. He talks about how consistent God is in his goodness then breaks into the same point I want to make here. God is also ridiculously unpredictable. A true chaotic system: free will. And in the case of God a free will with omnipotents. And yet God can always be considered good. Summarized it looks like this: God's character is infinitely consistent, you always know where you stand with God. But you never know what he is going to do next. He will always love you but he will never reveal himself the same way twice. He will always work things to your good but never in the same way or through the same channels. When I talk about patterns and avoiding being a lemon I'm not talking about where you go out to lunch or what your evening entertainment will be. I'm talking about character. Let your character be predictable, a rock your friends are proud to stand on. Then you are free to have an adventure of any kind you can imagine. No one is bothered that you never park in the same place twice just to change things up. As long as they know you will be there when you are needed.