MTBF: Life

* Fermi Paradox topic alert

MTBF is a manufacturing term meaning Mean Time Between Failure. On average, what is the amount of time a product operates without failure.

In our analysis of the paucity of life in the universe, this concept — as applied to life — is less frequently addressed. But it’s critical to understanding why humanity is “probably” alone in the universe.

If you were an abiogenesis researcher trying to create life in the lab and one day you astound yourself and world by creating replicating, mutating life in a petri dish. You run out of the lab, shouting to your peers and head to the bar to celebrate. Meanwhile, Billy-the-janitor, runs across your ugly-smear of creation you left on the counter and tosses it in the trash headed to the incinerator. Poof. MTBF of your abiogenetically created life? About 24 hours.

As we investigate the probabilities of life in the universe, we must not only imagine the conditions that we believe are required for life to spawn spontaneously in the strange seas or tide pools of exotic planets, but we must include the MTBF of that life. If a comet smacks such a life-foundational planet every few months, wiping out Darwin’s crucible — over and over — that must be a part of our calculations.

If life gets started but the periods of prosperity are so short lived, despite the initial conditions that engendered such life, it doesn’t matter that such a place is ‘perfect’ to harbor life. A short MTBF will exclude it from our tally.

And it’s not just microbial life that we’re considering. MTBF of a society killing asteroid: 50 million years? MTBF of a super volcanoes: every 100,000 years? And my favorite the MTBF of a technologically advanced society, reliant on electricity coursing through wires, due to coronal mass ejection (CME): About 200 years.

There are dozens of other types of life erasers, each with its MTBF. Pockets of life must not only navigate such continuous disasters, but it must grow large enough so that as these calamities occur, the likelihood that any one catastrophe kills the entire genome of the planet (or the species) is reduced.

We look for the exo-conditions that we think are favorable to life. But we must remember to include the windows of opportunity life has, interstitially inserted between extinction events. What is humanity’s real MTBF?

Writer’s Log: 1562 Golf

Learning to write fiction is like learning a difficult technical and physical game. Take golf for instance.

A few decades ago I decided to learn to play golf. It looks easy, right? The game itself is simple (except for all the USGA rules), the equipment obvious — used clubs can be had for a song, and is ubiquitous. Ha! Little did I know. My naivete provided no little amount of amusement to others and frustration to me personally (just like writing).

What I found was that there are dozens and dozens of very specific physical setups and movements that must be followed to even come close to a consistent game. Learning these techniques became the goal. But, with so many intricacies, learning them all at once would be impossible. So, I found, one must learn them one or two at a time, master those, and move on. Just like writing.

Even the game play is similar. You start swift with a resounding smack of action and whirling motion. Crack! There goes the ball off the tee, your driver swinging like the executioner’s blade. And the game is on.

At each hole, you approach, with various clubs over various terrain, to get closer and closer, building the tension and accruing your overall score. Plop. Into the cup, and then the next chapter begins.

Drivers are different from field-woods are different from irons are different from sand and pitching wedges and are all different from putters. Each requires a certain stance, a specific motion and follow-through. Each requires nuances that must be learned, slowly, a lesson at a time.

This learning process, this incremental addition of skills is mandatory; concise, self-contained lessons, drilled into your mind and body:
• Learn to keep your head still, shoulders level — for the entire swing.
• Learn to write in active (not passive) voice, with varying sentence length and cadence.

Master that pair of skills until your body and mind no longer need reminding. Muscle memory, as writer’s mind, is the goal here. Teach your body and mind to perform naturally, without thought. Once you have attained a proficient (enough) level in these selected skills, then you move on to add the next pair of abilities.

You must train your body and mind, rework them in such a way that you natively move and think in a certain way. The way of the golfer. The way of the writer.