Thought Experiment

I'm working on a story, and I need an estimate of what the odds are that two spacefaring cultures would reach the same uninhabited planet within a few years of each other.

So, first off, there are an estimated 100 billion stars in our galaxy, which I think I can take as average for the purposes of this thought experiment. There are, supposedly, about 100 billion galaxies in the universe. That means that the population of stars is about 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, or 1 x 1022. Of those, only perhaps 10% have planets, and of those, only about 1% are estimated to be Earth-like, but that still leaves 100,000,000 per galaxy, or 1 x 108. If we say that the average life of a planet is five billion years, and that 'within a few years' is a window of, say, 1000 years, then each Earth-like planet has 5,000,000 windows, or 5 x 106, for a total of 5 x 1014 planetary co-occupation windows per galaxy.

Ok, ignore the universe numbers. Let's just keep it to one galaxy, because now we have to estimate the numbers of planets that develop space-flight and the will to explore extra-solar systems. Let's just say that 1% of all earth-like planets develop life, and 1% of those develop practical space-flight, and 1% of those decide to make the very, very long journey to nearby stars1. Let us ignore the problem of adjacency, in which it becomes clear that civilizations that meet the above requirements are not going to start exploring planets ten thousand light years away, they're going to start close by. Let's assume that they have equal access to any system, because this is just a wild-assed guess.

Ok, so 0.01 x 0.01 x 0.01 = 0.0001, across time. That is too high, because that is the wild-assed guess of the number of systems that will develop spaceflight at any time, including in the future. Let's assume that the average length of time to develop a lifeform to spaceflight-ness is, oh, 100,000,000 years. Let's assume it takes 2 billion of our estimated planetary lifespan of 5 billion years to actually get life going. That leaves 3 billion, divided up into 100 million year 'windows', or only about 30 per planet.

1/30 x 0.0001 x 1/(5 x 1014), or 1 in 5 x 1019, or maybe 20. Damn long odds2.

The (sup) tag has been brutally abused in the making of this poast.

  1. These numbers are wild over-estimates, IMO.

  2. I realize that this whole thing reveals my mathematical weakness. So be it, it's just to arrive at a somewhat reasonable number for a short story. I didn't want to use 1 in 100, for example, nor 1 in 104392.

Bizon phone card
Jupiter calling card
Mozart calling card
Continental phone card


I've been listening to a radio station that advertises 'playing what we want', which is supposed to mean that they don't take requests, but which really means that they play 80's tunes in a strictly non-ironic1 way.

I'd forgotten how early 80's bands all sang with non-ironic British accents if they were British and with ironic British accents if they weren't. If that makes sense.

If it doesn't, you aren't feeling the irony.

  1. Oh, the world is heavy with irony these days. I myself am so ironic that I rust.

Sophie's Choice

I could not watch the film Sophie's Choice now. I probably could have (never did) before I had children, but afterward... no. Even now, just thinking about the plot of the movie, in which a woman must choose which of her two children lives and which one dies, is painful.

I am reminded of this because I'm writing a short (about a thousand words) about a man who must make a choice in a near-future dystopia. It is between his daughter's education and someone's life. In the story as it is now, it is a nameless pedestrian's life. The only way the man can get the injured pedestrian to hospital in time to save him is to spend his daughter's education fund, and he cannot decide what to do.

As I was working, I realized that the story would be more powerful if I replaced the nameless pedestrian with the man's other child, making the story a sort of miniature Sophie's Choice.

I can't write that story.

Have to stop with news

Must write... must write...

I have to stop reading Google News.

I said some time ago (sorry, too lazy to look it up right now) that Iraq was a sort of Vietnam at 781. It has gone through the same general stages that the American presence in Vietnam did, just a whole lot faster. I think that the speed of the Iraq devolution is attributable to two major things:
  1. The information age. More people are getting more information from more sources. We know more about Fallujah, for example, and faster, than we knew about My Lai. We're hearing from ordinary Iraqis. We're hearing from people in countries nearby. We're hearing from people whose voices were not heard during the Vietnam war.

  2. The pretext for the war in Iraq is flimsier than the pretext for war in Vietnam. Both were entered by an administration that manufactured a crisis for ideological reasons, but at the time of America's initial involvement in Vietnam, the advancing threat of Communism was real. It should be clear by now that the alleged threat from Iraq was not. (The argument over the presence of WMD is a false one, in any event. The question isn't whether or not Iraq had WMD2, it was whether or not Iraq was a threat to the United States. Anyone who still maintains that it was is a hopeless ideologue.)

The writing has been on the wall for some time now. The best that the Bush administration can manage now is a handoff of power that allows them to claim victory and get out. That, at least, they'll have over the Vietnam experience.

  1. If you don't know what that means, you're young. At the risk of being horrifically redundant, vinyl records were recorded to play at various speeds. Anyone who had one of those cheapy stereos will remember the standard ones: 16, 33, 45, 78. Kids often played 33s at 78, laughing hysterically at the speeded up chipmunk voices.

  2. The whole idea that WMD are a credible terrorist threat is pretty weak, anyway.

Canada phone cards
India phone cards
France phone cards
Russia phone cards
UK phone cards
USA phone cards


I've downloaded Movable Type 3.2 and WordPress 1.5.2.

Yes, that means that I shall be leaving Blogger soon. Not yet, though. First I have to decide which of these to use, and get it working. Opinions? CW Murphy: I'm guessing you'll speak up for WordPress?

Plus I think I'm getting another damn cold.


HouseApe 1.0 and I are off for our annual Christmas shopping trip. We head to Nanaimo for the day. It will involve a lot of wandering and constant reminders that we aren't looking for things that HouseApe 1.0 wants. There will also probably be a cinamon bun, much whining about going to Toys R' Us, a trip to the big bookstore, lunch somewhere mediocre, and a sleeping child on the way back.

It also involves breakfast at McDonalds on the road, which is only tolerable because it is a tradition.

The sxKitten's entry on Jim Winter's blog today involves feline pogonophobes.

I just thought of something

Ok, this is a bit coarse. But then so am I.

I'm thinking that Aqua Velva could probably make themselves a smart marketing move by changing one letter in the product name. Everybody knows that us piglike men likes us some of that.

Or maybe they could market a line of women's product using that name? They'd double the size of their market, wouldn't they? Presumably men who wear Aqua Velva are married to/going out with women who would buy Aqua Vulva.


We just got an email from the boss, my boss' boss. It was a long thing (she's wordy) about the medical effects of scent pollution. Evidently, somebody complained.

I was a bit worried at first. I thought maybe it was me until I remembered that I don't wear anything other than a little deodorant1. Somebody must have been bathing in the cologne or something.

I'd hate to be a boss. I'd hate to deal with things like complaints about grooming. Nobody wins there: some schmuck doesn't bathe regularly, so everybody gets pissed and whines to the boss, who has to say (in effect) 'you stink'. The malodorous schmuck is pissed off and probably increases his bathing regimen for a while.

Or in this case, somebody probably thinks that since a little Aqua Velva smells nice, half a bottle smells better2. I once worked in an office building with a woman whose overpowering perfume made my eyes water I happened to get on the elevator with her in the morning.

The Next Door Rumanian is cursing a blue streak. He's trying to do something beyond his knowledge level, which is fine: that's how you learn. But he's getting frustrated and not accepting advice. So now that we have a policy that people can't smell too strongly, maybe I should harass the boss for a policy on noise pollution.

  1. Actually, I wondered for a while whether it was my hands. I rubbed the sxKitten's back last night using Body Shop Vanilla Body Lotion. The vanilla scent from that shit sticks to your skin like... well... shit to a blanket. For a little while I wondered if somebody was complaining about my Overpowering Hand Stench.

  2. That's assuming that you think that a little Aqua Velva smells nice. You may not.

From Feral to Domestic

Team fun

In search of specifications and buried to the hipbones in network folders nested so deeply that you couldn't hit the far end of the URL with a high-powered rifle, I came across a folder called 'Team Fun'.

My day brightened. I wasn't some desperate, squeaking cog in a relentlessly incompetent machine, whose mill grinds slow and exceedingly coarse: I was a member of Team Fun. I double-clicked to open the folder and get me some Team Fun, visions of saucy .wavs and borderline-harassment-suit-causing video clips tantalising me. Wet t-shirts, maybe? That would be a good Team Fun sort of thing.

Alas, it was empty. I suspect that somebody got interrupted while typing 'Team Fungus'.

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