Sunday, March 23, 2014

Odds of death

After a careful analysis of my risk factors, I now have a comprehensive actuarial assessment of my likely means of leaving this world. In the interest of the common good, I have listed them here. Your odds may differ from mine.

Odds – Cause
30% – Cardiovascular disease
30% – Infectious disease
11% – Cancer
10% – Digestive disease
6.0% – Respiratory disease
4.0% – Other non-communicable disease
2.0% – Alzheimer's and other neuro-mental illness
1.5% – Automobile accident
1.0% – Homicide
0.8% – Drowning
0.8% – Falling
0.7% – Fire or smoke
0.4% – Extreme weather
0.4% – Poison or venom
0.4% – Suicide
0.1% – Bear attack
0.1% – Drugs or alcohol
0.1% – Electrocution
0.1% – Nuclear holocaust
0.1% – Sports
0.05% – Domesticated animal attack
0.05% – Lightning
0.05% – Nanobot malfunction
0.05% – Pirate attack
0.05% – Robot uprising
0.05% – Terrorist attack
0.05% – War
0.03% – Alien invasion
0.01% – Bad juju
0.01% – Bionic hardware malfunction
0.01% – Circus animal and/or clown attack
0.01% – Earthquake
0.01% – Excessive leeching and/or bloodletting
0.01% – Frozen in the vacuum of outer space
0.01% – Trampled by farm animals
0.01% – Zombie apocalypse
0.005% – Alien parasite or fungus
0.005% – Killer bee attack
0.005% – Murdered by a renegade theme park robot
0.005% – Shark attack
0.001% – Aircraft accident
0.001% – Alligator or crocodile attack
0.001% – Catapult malfunction
0.001% – Dehydration
0.001% – Devoured by Cthulhu or another reawakened, ancient evil entity
0.001% – Dinosaur attack
0.001% – Eaten by cannibals (professional or amateur)
0.001% – Human pyramid collapse
0.001% – Kaiju attack
0.001% – Kangaroo or wallaby attack
0.001% – Landmine
0.001% – Laughing
0.001% – Mutated by radioactive waste, then killed by an angry mob
0.001% – Sinkhole
0.001% – Snake attack (2:1 odds it's an anaconda)
0.001% – Teleportation accident*
0.001% – Time-travel paradox
0.001% – Volcano
0.001% – Other wild animal or carnivorous plant attack
0.001% – All other possible causes**

* Note: does not include cases of successful teleportation, which technically could entail the destruction of my current body and assembly of a completely new body, depending on the type of teleportation.

** Note: this includes the possibility that I will, in fact, not die. Currently, my odds of escaping death due to the Rapture, for example, are 0.00000000000000000000006%

Sunday, March 16, 2014

There's a planet out tonight

Here is an idea I have for a science fiction story. There is a double planet: two planets sharing the same orbit and revolving around a common center of gravity. The civilization on the larger planet is aware of the smaller one, but early in their history they don’t understand what it is. The smaller planet has a very dark surface, but still reflects an incredible amount of light because it is so close. They can see darker and lighter patches on it, and at first they think it is a god. Later, they think it is a special light placed in the sky by their god.

As they develop some technological sophistication, they begin to understand the nature of planets, and begin to use telescopes to learn more about their orbital companion. They see that it is a world much like their own with what appear to be mountains, deserts and seas, but their telescopes are primitive and they cannot make out more details, and they have no way of traveling there.

Their scientists debate for years about whether the other planet harbors life like their own. Some claim to see winged people living in canyons, while others claim that the planet is lifeless. Finally, they manage to build a rocket powerful enough to carry them to the other planet, a journey which takes days to complete. The trip proves conclusively that the other planet is indeed lifeless and barren. What appeared to be seas, in fact, where nothing but dry ancient lava beds. Still, the people rejoice for they have conquered the challenge and become and spacefaring species. The universe awaits.

Oh, wait, that’s not fiction. That’s Earth’s history. The other planet is our moon, which is big enough to be considered a planet in its own right. (It is big enough that if the Earth wasn’t there, the moon would still be able to dominate that orbit on its own, thus meeting the modern IAU definition of “planet.”) And in fact Earth and its moon are close enough in size that many consider them to be a double-planet.

So the next time you look out your window at night, don’t just casually note the light of the moon. Marvel at the fact that there’s a whole freaking planet hanging right there in the sky. (Tonight's a good night to look: there's a full planet!)

It’s close enough that when we build permanent settlements there, we’ll be able to see the lights, just like they’ll see ours. It’ll  be pretty hard not to think of it as another planet at that point.