What Thanksgiving Means to Me by Way of Probability and Statistics

Amazing the things that inspire you to write. Take this morning. I was sitting at work punching in a level sensor quote and suffering from an ailment known as “Chronic Myjobsucksitis,” when out of the corner of my ear (is that even a phrase, or is it another of my infamous “Frankisms”?) I heard the opening bars of “Tuesday’s Gone” by Lynyrd Skynyrd. Suddenly, the sensor quote I was working on became the farthest thing from my mind. My creative juices began flowing. Before I even knew what was happening I had opened a blank Word document on my computer and my fingers were doing their familiar, ritualistic dance across my keyboard. And here we are. “Tuesday’s Gone” has ended and has been replaced by “In The Limelight” by… *SIGH*… Rush. But my inspiration has not waned. I just need to finish my sensor quote before continuing. *DOUBLE SIGH* Be right back.

Okay, that’s done. Amazingly enough, the only thing I have “pending” at the present time is an RMA (Return Material Authorization) for one of my customers, but that can wait. Priorities, priorities, priorities (sarcasm fully intended). Considering it’s the day before Thanksgiving and anywhere from 75-80% of my customers are gone or will be gone by noon, I’ll have some time to work on… well, the sh*t I get paid for later. But for now…

I haven’t written anything in a while, so if this composition seems a bit choppy at first, I apologize. Hopefully said choppiness will pass the more ritualistic dancing my fingers do across my keyboard (not sure why I felt the need to repeat that other than it sounded and continues to sound ‘kinda cool). We’ll see. I can’t make any promises.

As I mentioned, tomorrow is Thanksgiving. In years passed, said holiday played second fiddle to the night pre-¬Thanksgiving. This year, though (and last if I’m being honest), all that has changed. Instead of leaving work, heading home, grabbing a quick shower and heading to the bar, tonight I will be leaving work, picking up my daughter, heading home, feeding her, putting her to bed and thereafter either a.) beginning to review for my Probability and Statistics Final or b.) playing “World of Warcraft.” More than likely the latter considering my Final is still two weeks away and I promised myself I’d take advantage of Drexel’s mandated “Thanksgiving Break” this year despite my cumulative grade sitting precariously close to the C/D threshold. But I digress.

Being that I’ve opted to shelve my wild and crazy life for the time being (sarcasm definitely intended; my life hasn’t been wild or crazy in almost a half-a-decade) in favor of a more stable life of fatherhood, homeownership, husband… hood (?) and school… ership (man, the “Frankisms” are coming out in force in this composition!), I find myself inevitably pondering things that I’ve never really pondered before. Like Thanksgiving. As the virtually insignificant songs that followed… *SIGH*… “In The Limelight” segue in to Green Day’s “Welcome To Paradise” and I feel a renewal of energy course through my system (good Green Day is the musical equivalent of speed for me while “In The Limelight” and virtually anything by Rush is the musical equivalent of swallowing a bottle of Quaaludes), I find myself pondering the question, “What does Thanksgiving mean to me?”

Certainly a shade easier than the Multiplication Principle.

“What does Thanksgiving mean to me?” by way of the Multiplication Principle: “My mother is hosting Thanksgiving Dinner. There will be 4 different kinds of Hors d’oeuvres, 5 different kinds of drinks, 1 type of main course, 6 potential side dishes, 1 type of roll and 2 different types of desert. How many different combinations of ‘Thanksgiving Dinner’ are available?”

The answer is 240 (4 times 5 times 1 times 6 times 1 times 2). A relatively easy problem, but realistically? There are some situations where an analytical mind excels and some where a non-analytical one does. In this particular case, I don’t anticipate trying all 240 combinations in one Thanksgiving. Sh*t, I don’t know if I could do it in all the Thanksgivings I have left in my life! So I’m going to stick with the non-analytical… and less-obese approach. Analytical mind 0, non-analytical mind 1.

“What does Thanksgiving mean to me?” Well, the obvious answer is that it’s a time to give thanks for all the good stuff in my life. And despite my ever-existent propensity towards focusing on the negative and not on the positive (what can I say? Said propensity is about as prevalent a dynamic in my mentality as the “Frankism”), I’ve got to say, there’s a lot for me to be thankful for this year.

First and foremost, I’m thankful for my daughter, Cara and my wife, Nicole. I’m thankful that they’re a part of my life and I’m thankful that they’re in good health. Cara especially considering how things started for her—a month premature, a week in-and-out of the hospital with jaundice, a successive run of colds and stomach bugs back in January of this year that lasted for almost three weeks and virtually undid all the “real food” training Nicole and I had given her. I look at her now as she scampers around the house verbalizing sentences that only she can understand (for the moment), eating everything from apples to chicken, and I think to myself: wow. I really didn’t foresee this early on. I mean, I mused over it, but I was so focused on getting her “right” that I forgot about all the “good” stuff that awaited me. This stuff. This time. I’m thankful that she’s grown healthy and strong, finally eclipsing the 20 pound mark in the last week. I’m thankful that she’ll be able to eat and enjoy Thanksgiving dinner this year, at least whatever portions of it she “likes” this week.

And the other part of that “equation?” I’m thankful for my wife, Nicole, who nine years in to our relationship continues… daily… to intrigue my mind, body and soul. Who continues… daily… to be to most fascinating, intelligent and caring woman I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. I couldn’t ask for a better life partner… couldn’t ask for a better mother to help me raise my daughter. I know that I extol the virtues of “Nicole” often in these compositions and for some of you reading this, the practice is likely getting a bit tedious. But not for me. I love you, baby.

The above paragraphs by way of standard Probability: “A man has 10 total relationships in his life (I’m speculating; I don’t actually know how many relationships I’ve had in my life but 10 is a nice, round number). What is the probability that of those 10 relationships, 1 lasts forever?” The solution? I will now proceed to abbreviate. P (9 failures) = 0.90. P (1 success) = 1-P (9 failures) or 0.90 = 0.10. The P = 10%. Simple? Yes. But I count myself lucky that I’m in that 10% bracket. Analytical mind 0, non-analytical mind 2.

There are other things that I’m thankful for. My friends and family have been and remain my greatest bastions of support. Daily, they push me to be better than an everyday, Monday through Friday Joe-Schmoe with a bad case of “Chronic Myjobsucksitis.” Even at 35, they realize that I’m never too old… that if my goal is to one day teach and not sit behind a desk doing sensor quotes for 45 hours of every week whilst getting kicked in the proverbial nads on a daily basis by a company that I’ve given my all to, I should keep pushing to achieve it. I speak of my mother and my sister first and foremost, but beyond them? I consider myself a very, very fortunate man in that I remain close compadres with so many people that have been a part of my life since the days of my wistful and at times misunderstood youth. How many of us can claim that the same people we were friends with as Freshman in High School are our closest friends at 35 years young? How many of us can look at our Facebook or Twitter feeds, see the names there and honestly say that we maintain “some” semblance of a friendship with those people? An occasional phone call, email or Christmas card, even? I know people who have a couple hundred Facebook friends. Among them multiple ex-girlfriends, unsavory types and people they haven’t spoken with in years who think everything is “boss.” I have 140 FB friends. Of those 140, I’d wager a good percentage are people I still maintain a correspondence with. Not a bad ratio, friends. How can I not be thankful for that?

The above paragraph by way of Binomial Probability: “A man has 140 Facebook friends and 22 Twitter followers. He maintains a ‘true’ friendship with 110 of his Facebook friends and 19 of his Twitter followers. Given the existing conditions of ‘true’ friends and followers, what is the probability that exactly 1 of 4 friend or follower invites will be ‘true’ and not just some random Joe-Schmoe who follows him because he likes ‘Jeff Dunham’ and so do they?”

The solution? More complicated than previous problems ‘cause we’re dealing with Binomial Probability, but the answer is… prepare for abbreviation… P (Exactly 1 “true” FB friend/4) = 0.029 or 3%, and P (Exactly 1 “true” Twitter friend/4) = 0.009 or 1%. To find the overall probability, multiply 0.029 by 0.009 and get an even smaller answer: 0.000261. The reason being? There’s more chance of getting a greater number than exactly (or only) 1 “true” friend in both situations because said man maintains a higher percentage of “true” friends on both FB and Twitter, namely, 79% of his FB friends and 86% of his Twitter followers. That’s great if you’re in to calculating the percentage of friend/follower invites you accept on FB/Twitter, but really, really bad if you want people to like you. Henceforth, analytical mind 0, non-analytical mind 3. Seriously? If you’re calculating something like this using math you deserve to have your “human” card revoked.

What else am I thankful for? I can think of many things. I am thankful for my job, despite the fact that I’m not exactly its greatest fan at the moment. Not everyone has a steady income and… at least for the moment (or until my boss reads this)… I do. I’m thankful for my health, albeit not as great as it once was (seriously, I know I’m only 35, but I’m beginning to realize that with each year, I feel it a little bit more; nothing too invasive thank God, but there is a noticeable difference). I’m thankful for “World of Warcraft” if only because it provides me with a much needed release from working full-time, going to school part-time, being a parent and husband full-time and trying to squeeze between six and seven hours of sleep a night in (is it scary that I consider sleep a part-time activity at this juncture?). I’m thankful for what I see as a gift—writing—but others see as a means for me to ramble incessantly for a few pages about everything from Scientology to Probability and Statistics. Oh well. “I is what I is.” I’m thankful for Probability and Statistics which—when combined with Industrial Hydraulics—really keeps my brain frosty (and achy, but that’s an unfortunate side-effect sometimes of using it). My almost-completed “man cave”; my deck and my grill; my backyard; my collection of sports memorabilia; my movie and music collection; my ability to play pool (but no other sport); “Sesame Street”; and last but not least…

I’m thankful for my life. All 35 f*cked-up-at-times-but-always-entertaining years of it. If I missed anything? Well, I think the blanket-term “life” handily encapsulates the remainder. “What does Thanksgiving mean to me?” Simply spoken, friends, it signifies happiness…

About 80-85% of the time (at least). Or, if you take the median, 82.5% or 0.825.

The above composition by way of Probability and Statistics: “Given the following conditions, calculate the probability of the variable X (Serendipity). X (Serendipity) = 240 (possible variations on Thanksgiving dinner) times 0.10 (the probability that 1/10 relationships will end up succeeding) times 0.000261 (the probability that 1/4 “friend” or “follower” request ants on FB or Twitter are or become ‘true’ friends) times 0.825 (the probability that Thanksgiving and any thoughts that said holiday inspires signify happiness) = 0.0051678 or a shade over 0.5%. A half a percentage point? That’s it?

I’m not sure, but I’d wager I missed a variable or two. *TRIPLE SIGH* After all that. Ironic, huh? Analytical mind 0, non-analytical mind 4. Point, set, match.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

“Tuesday’s gone, with the wind…”

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