Statistics are a fascinating thing.
If you flipped a penny a hundred times, and it landed on heads 99 times, guess what the odds are that it’ll hit on heads the next time? 50-50. Weird, huh? (You might want to check that penny first.)
The guys who do statistical studies are real brainiacs. I took a probability and statistics class once at the Naval Postgraduate School. The professor spoke as if he were from a different planet – he spouted stats and formulas like a Phalanx shoots depleted uranium. But despite his efforts, by the end of the quarter the only probability I could confidently regurgitate was the chance I’d get an ‘A’, which was zero.
They’re in their own world, the stats guys, and I’m glad they’re there. They can look at a complex war game and tell you which side would win, and by how much. They can look at just about any problem and tell you the likelihood of success or failure.
I say all this because I have a real problem that only a statistician can solve. On any given day there are around 25000 commercial flights in the United States. To make it easy, let’s say there are an average of 100 people on each plane.
So how come, no matter what flight I’m on, I always get stuck next to the biggest guy on the plane? What are the odds of that?
I don’t know what it’s like to use two arm rests, because the big guy always claims one of mine. My seat is not my own either – his cushion is never big enough, so he overflows into my territory. And heaven help me if I have to get by to go to the head. I used to think it was all a sick joke that someone at the airlines played on guys in the military, but now that I’m a civilian I have found that it’s not the uniform. Apparently it’s me.
I’m an optimist, though, and each time I walk down the aisle I look with anticipation toward my seating area. When I spot my seat and inevitably see a massive hulk sitting next to it, I’m sure the disappointment on my face is obvious. To make matters worse, something unsettling has started happening lately.
When the big guy sees me, I’m starting to see disappointment on his face too.
Odds are I’d better start cutting back on the cinnamon rolls at the airport.