Improbable Drives

Several years ago Greta Van Sustern gave the keynote address at the Ruston Peach Festival. She started a funny story about her trip to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina with the question: “Does everybody in Louisiana know each other?” We all laughed. A lot. The game of Six Degrees started in LA– the State We’re In, not that little California town.

Almost 76% of the people born in Louisiana will stay here; it’s the highest retention rate in the country. When we go places like 4-H camp or college and meet people from exotic locales like Basile or Transylvania, we remember. And, since most of our towns are small, if I meet another person from that city or parish, they are likely to know the person or family I am talking about. It ain’t rocket science; it’s social networking.

Even though the chances of my running into someone I know just about anywhere in the state are pretty good, it doesn’t happen all that often. This week, I stopped at the Stuckeys off I-49 and ran into a former co-worker that I hadn’t seen in 13 years. I stop there nearly every time I go south of Alexandria and never have seen anybody I know.

I was here.

My friend is now a lawyer practicing in Ville Platte. This brings the number of people I know from there to a grand total of 2. This summer, I ran into the other guy in a Love’s truckstop. What are the chances of that? I looked up a formula that may or may not help me to express the likelihood that in all of my gas station stops over the past 15 years, the 2 times I see someone I know, the city of residence is the same.

Negative Binomial Formula. Suppose a negative binomial experiment consists of x trials and results in r successes. If the probability of success on an individual trial is P, then the negative binomial probability is:

b*(x; r, P) = x-1Cr-1 * Pr * (1 – P)x – r

So, let’s see.  On my 2007 Yukon, I’ve got about 100k miles @ 12-15 mpg = ~8500 gallons of gas/ 15 gallons per fillup  = 567 stops just since 2007. Multiply by 3 for the last 15 years. Take the population of Ville Platte and use in in conjunction with the state population and factor in transient vehicle traffic,  and the odds are about 1 in a gazillion. (My nephew in the 3rd grade is helping me with the computations, because this is just about what their workbook looks like.  SRSLY. 4 adults with multiple college degrees got 4 different answers to one of his problems. I’m saving the NEW MATH topic for another day.)

The odds of winning the Powerball Jackpot are 1:195,249,054, but I play twice a week anyway, since the odds of winning any prize are 1:36. And, we could really use several million dollars.  No, really, we could. Guess we are not the only ones who think that, because the jackpot doesn’t climb by $5 million a week on our $2 bucks alone.

Now, I just have to wonder if maybe I am using up all my improbable luck that could be used for winning the lottery on running into old friends at truckstops? While winning the lottery SEEMS like a completely independent event, what if it isn’t? What if at a subatomic level, it’s all interrelated, kind of like my home town, and the improbability of one event occurring actually DOES affect the likelihood of another?

The more relevant question is can LSU sustain it’s improbable drive toward an undefeated season and National Championship? Are there only so many tricks in The Hat? We’ll know tomorrow.


About Laura Alford, PhD

I'm a recent graduate of LSU (PhD in Accounting). In addition to academic research, I also write fiction on Tuesday nights with the Asilomar Writers.
This entry was posted in Census Bureau, football, Louisiana, LSU, Statistics, television, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Improbable Drives

  1. Mark says:

    What is the improbability that I would marry someone as smart, funny, and beautiful as you? I know where all my improbable luck has already gone.

  2. Susan Sands says:

    Laura, your mind is an amazing thing. I think I’ll go fish out those lottery tickets I bought on a whim last week from the gas station that I’d forgotten about, where I ran into no one I knew.

    • Somebody in a state other than Georgia won that one, I already checked! Maybe you got a prize anyway, though. Good luck, although you might want to save it up for something really big, like a good parking spot at the mall.

  3. Warren Ward says:

    As improbable as it may seem, your Grandmother taught English in Transyvania. Willie

  4. Warren Ward says:

    you are so talented…and i love mark!!!!!…kay

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