Friday, October 26, 2012

Human MTBF

A friend asked me the other day, “why do you write?” And I got to thinking, why do I write? The answer was simple, “because it gives me pleasure.”

So I sat down to write me a story and there was nothing. The words just did not want to write themselves. The story wasn’t there. Nothing flowed. It was a series of one word followed by delete. No writer’s block, mind you, just blah.

Figuring that the limited mojo had gone out for a walk, I started with this…


(2 minutes later)


(5 minutes later)

You know the triple aboriginal thoughts of “Oh my!” “Now what?” and “We’ll see,” happened all at once. The chaotic migratory pattern of confusion has many a focus of blinding lights that are streamlets of productivity. So, I latched on to one.

What if?


What if, there was a predictor of loss of function? You know, like the one called MTBF (Mean Time Between Failure) in machines, only associated with the human. Now that would be nice, wouldn’t it? Say, the average MTBF of a modern day American is at 78 years. We could then use Baysean logic and find out which elements of us will go awry and cause an early departure from the land of the living. 

That, of course would be predicated on previously known and compiled human data and tailored to one’s deeds as a human. Say, if one were sedentary, drank a lot of soda and ate bonbons all day and it was determined that in many such individuals, this behavior caused Diabetes and through that conduit, high blood pressure and thence a stroke, followed by death from a heart attack, well that information would be a determinant of the expected longevity in your case if you were into those things, now wouldn’t it? Of course it would.


Now suppose we added another wrinkle in the form of smoking a cigarette, well then, the historical data would suggest a lower number of smokers surviving till 78 years of age because of infirmity from emphysema, chronic bronchitis and cancer. This predicate would be equally valid to reduce the likelihood of survival to the 79th year. 

And if you were to add some fine wine, or just potato released Vodka to the mix, a head and neck cancer would be the potential cause of death in many an individual. That would lead to a reduced chance of living for an additional year too- thus higher morbidity and mortality. For another rung to this ladder of survival complexity, we could add a chronic, unrecognized HPV (Human Papiloma Virus) infection in the throat, and the whole drama would certainly be played out much earlier in a lifetime. The HPV would be propelled into a state of furor, not Fuhrer ~ although at this point they are both the same damage causing agents. The inverse ratio lives; the more the number of diseases, the lesser the chances of living longer. And to a large extent that is predicated on human choice and lifestyle.

Null Hypothesis and the p-values:

In circumstances of many diseases, the rigid Algorithm of the calculator under these circumstances would suggest, the possibility, that survival at 78 years, although remote, is possible but beyond the calculated realm of mathematical reality. The past always catches up to the present eventually and limits the future. A meaningful number of p-value at 0.04, negating the null hypothesis (that this was not the norm) gives little comfort to the receiver (Only 95% of the tested population lives inside the bell curve-depending of course on the selected criteria). Essentially negating the Null Hypothesis states that that this person’s chance of survival is limited beyond "a coincidence" and the forces of his past behavior are against him (this probability is based on the cumulative data from a large cohort of individuals with similar behaviors and life-styles in the past).

Now I know what you are thinking. This writer (me) has lost it. He has gone mad. Yes, you are certainly entitled to your opinion, but guess what, the words have started flowing, and you my friend have arrived here with me. Haven't you?


We actually do have the Actuarial data to determine future outcomes of human beings. The Insurers use it all the time, but it is not that accurate or detailed ~ although it remains the best so far. What might and may already be happening as I write and you read this, IBM Watson programmers are shoveling this data, in spades, into the machine and writing billions of lines of codes for the software algorithm to project and predict the future. It is not to say that they will be absolutely accurate, but it will be an improvement.

And don't forget the genetics:

But, you say, well that may be true, yet my grandfather died at age ninety and he used to drink and smoke and was obese, how can your projections or those of the future Watsons be accurate? Ah, my dear friend, you are correct in your skepticism. There is the genetic code issue that we have left out. 

from Lew

Soon the GWAS and the assays of various Oncogenic and Suppressor gene data along with genetic and externally modulated epigenetic predictors for cardiovascular, diabetes and all other diseases, will be accrued, assimilated and digested for improved prediction. Watson of the near future will be able to mix and match and eventually beep a better digital result of survival probability ~ maybe even with a Confidence Interval (CI) of 97.5%.

“Doubt thou the stars are fire,
Doubt that the sun doth move…”

But doubt not the intent of human ingenuity and purpose.

Probability and Eventuality:

Remember probability determines the likelihood of an eventuality and not the eventuality itself. So yes, some may dodge the single bullet in the game of Russian Roulette and unhealthy living, but adding more bullets into the chamber will certainly increase the chances of a mistimed “bang!”

Russian Roulette:

So what if you empty the chamber of the gun; don’t smoke (one less bullet), don’t drink (one less bullet), don’t eat in excess (one less bullet), exercise (one less bullet) then that will add to the age to the result. Even if you happen to have a genetic anomaly on one of the pair of the chromosomes (allele), well, you will live out your `90-100 years and never know it, because you did not challenge the remaining normal (good) gene with bad habits. (It takes two mutated alleles to tango). 

50 minutes later… we have a story. I think?

What if … you live a healthier life style?

Live Long, Live Well, Be Prosperous!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Words Matter

Let me tell you a short story.

It began when I was a wee bit of a being. Innocence or maybe the lack of experience governed my being. I was led to places, guided around pot-holes and helped across the street. Things were fine then. The hardest part was homework, as it always is at that tender age. There were essays to write and I wasn’t very good at them. There were questions about “x” that I could not fathom and complicated (for that part of my world) series of arithmetic; additions, subtractions, multiplication and division that I could not keep in order. Other than that life was a peach.

On a bright autumn day, when the leaves had shed into a heap of discolored knotty brown mass by the roadsides and the trees had turned bare to allow the blustery winter wind to pass through, I walked into a shed that we, my friends and I, called “the clubhouse.”

The prattle of 6 and 7 year-olds began. One of us suddenly and quite abruptly spoke in a loud voice above the clamor of the rest and the clubhouse fell silent. Ah, here was something important. The voice from this puny, five and half year old was commanding attention to say the least. What is more interesting is that this pip-squeak was only recently allowed in into the clubhouse and had never said a word before. And here he was commanding six and seven year-olds into silence. Wide and expectant eye turned towards him. “Who?” And “What the? “ gave way to “What the heck!” It was like the Shitzu barking up the Great Dane only sounding like one.

“Enough!” he said. Oh yes he was the orator all right. From the vocal cords of a not yet six-year old, the voice that bellowed seemed to belong to someone more mature, someone with presence and worldly appeal, not from the “who” that stood there, in all his knock-kneed, curly brown hair, brown eyed glory. His words made him taller. His words made him appealing. His words are still what I remember.

“We are a team!” he said, “ and friends.” He added, “We will always be friends.” For that moment these words could not have been more direct, more with meaning, more with life, more with idealism, more with authority than any other that I had heard.

They seem trivial now. They seem diminished from our today’s lofty standards where we proclaim to watch the planets on a flyby, claim to heal the illnesses beset the human existence, have the hubris to change the ecosystems on this planet, jump from 24 miles at the edge of space and land safely on earth and take vicarious trips to the red planet, zoom into the workings of a single cell and zoom-by the far reaches of our planetary system witnessing the “bow-shocks” yet, in those words from the innocent mouth of that five and a half year old stem the very essence of our true existence.

I don’t remember how the “meeting” ended and I don’t even remember the faces of those “club-members” much less their names, but a few years ago, I met one. We both stared at each other for a while, sizing up the ravages of time on each other’s human shell and then without prompt we simultaneously blurted out “We will always be friends!”

We shared the past diverse lives we had lived. The five and a half year old spokesperson had become a politician and corrupted by his sense of security and fame, ended up serving time. But he had in his innocence made a difference for at least the two of us. The emotions that tumbled over from that chance meeting cannot be expressed. That far away world of the past, now a dream, hurtled back into space, time and inner reality.

Words have meaning. Sometimes they are buried beneath the veneer of this thing we call “civility;” the turmoil of the daily living, but once spoken with clarity of purpose they are always ready to jump out and take seed into our being, whenever that might be..

Words are powerful!

Words have meaning!

Words evoke sentiments!

Words hurt!

Words bring comfort!

Words unite!

Words divide!

Words live on!

Words matter!

And when you do speak, “ This above all: to thine own self be true.” ~Hamlet (Shakespeare)

A more powerful set of words follow below that should give us pause and reflection in life:

If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too:

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated don’t give way to hating,

And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim,

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

And treat those two impostors just the same:

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools;
If you can make one heap of all your winnings

And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

And never breathe a word about your loss:

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

To serve your turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

Except the Will, which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

If all men count with you, but none too much:

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son
~Rudyard Kipling