Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Price of Randomness

I never been one for conspiracies, but something rather odd is happening at Bay Area gas stations.

In the weeks leading to Election Day, the price of gasoline had been steadily going down. Back in May, the price of a gallon of 87 octane gas was $3.25 -- by European standards that was still rather cheap, but still rather high for the US. From that high it had been steadily, by two or three cents each time, decreasing. Three months later, at the same station, the price was at $2.98.

Then the run up to the elections began. Newspapers covered the ballot measures and the various impacts each would have. One of those measures was the “Alternative Fuel fund” which would require oil companies to pay into a research fund that would make their industry less lucrative in the long run.

The price of gas began to steadily decline.

A barrel of oil hardly dipped at all, and at times would rise to a new high; yet the price of a gallon of gas continued to fall at the local station.

Within two months, the cost of filling up my gas tank dropped to a level less than it had been all year. On Election Day, it was at $2.25 – a full dollar less than it had been five months before – for a gallon of the low octane gas at the station I’d been watching. There were similar low prices at all the local stations.

The day after the election, each of those stations raised their prices. Not by a couple of pennies, but by as much as 8 cents. On Saturday, I drove by the local station and imagine my surprise when I saw that they had raised the price again, by another 6 cents: a total of 14 cents altogether.

On Tuesday gas was $2.25 and on Saturday it was $2.39! Within the space of four days, it would now cost me a little over a dollar and a half more to get a full tank of gas. In four days, the price rose to a level from which it took a month to creep down, pennies at a time.

I don’t consider myself to be paranoid or given to conspiracy theories, but something rather odd is happening at Bay Area gas stations, and I don’t think it was merely increased demand on the part of drivers – that can happen around the holidays. I think the oil companies were trying to win California voters over, making us think that gas prices weren’t that bad and we don’t really need to pass a measure that would make them pay into a fund that would go toward research that would make their own product less in demand. Perhaps we bought it, because the measure was voted down.

Then the price of gas went back up.
Photo Credit:

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Honorable Randomness

Eighty-eight years ago, on this day, the big guns of World War I were silenced. The world celebrated the end of the “War to End All Wars”. For a while, this day was known as Armistice Day, a day of peace.

Then World War II came, and we had peace no more. Armistice Day gave way, to be known as Veterans’ Day. And we honored those who fought for our nation and its security.

As it was the first flower, and in some places the only flower, to bloom in the bloody battlefields of Europe, a tradition began after the 1918 Armistice of wearing a red poppy to honor those who fought bravely for their nations and the security thereof. Some still honor the warriors – from all wars – by wearing the Red Poppy.

Most, however, do not.

They have no clue what the Red Poppy means. They see the day as a holiday – freedom from work or school.

War is so removed from our everyday lives. It’s something that happens “over there”, not here. Here, we have a day of leisure and relaxation. Have a drink, it’s not like you’re going to be drafted and sent off to defend your country.

On this day, I’ll be wearing the Red Poppy in honor of those who did go off and defend our country, because war is not as removed our lives as one might think.

On this day, I’ll be thinking about the student who was called back to duty and shipped out to Afghanistan in the days after September 11, 2001. I’ll be thinking of the students who had to drop out of college because they couldn’t find a way of fitting their class schedule around defending the local airport as part of the National Guard. I’ll be thinking of the students who had to put their education on hold when they were deployed to Iraq. I’ll be thinking of them because a handful of them were in my classes.

There was the student who came to class in fatigues and said that if his phone went off, he’d have to leave because they were on alert after 9/11. Twenty minutes into the lecture, his commanding officer called. I gave him an incomplete and was pleased that he survived to finish the course when his battalion returned from Afghanistan.

There were the two National Guard students in my class who had to drop all their courses because they were required to put in 50+ hours a week defending the Santa Barbara airport from terrorists. They couldn’t attend class, and didn’t have time to study; they had to drop out because no one could tell them how long their guard duty would last. Thankfully, the silliness of guarding the SB airport didn’t last as long as some had thought – if you’ve ever been through SBA, you’d understand why it wouldn’t be high on the Al Qaeda list of targets – and the student warriors were able to return to school.

Only to have to leave it again when the National Guard was called up and shipped to Iraq, along with the recently graduated Army ROTC students. One of whom I knew wanted to go on to law school so that he could be come military lawyer. That would have to wait, the war in Iraq had begun.

It is to them, when I have a drink this evening, I toast. It is for them, and the thousands like them who will not be having a simple day of leisure, that on this day I wear the Red Poppy.

What did you do to honor them on Veterans’ Day?
Photo Credit:

Friday, November 10, 2006

Random Games

Most students of Political Science have heard of the Game Theory. Few have seen it in action. Over the weekend, I had the joy of doing just that.

My Gentleman and I went to Phoenix for the first weekend in November and had the (mis)fortune of staying at the same hotel as a visiting high school band. Visions of giggly, screaming, hormone-driven teenagers put a bit of a damper on our romantic inclinations. Surprisingly enough, the kids were rather quiet once 10 o’clock rolled around.

Sure, prior to that we could hear them banging around and chatting as they gossiped up and down the hallway. But the few chaperones shepherded the students into their rooms and there those kids stayed.

I was amazed at how the limited number of adults – probably in great need of sleep after a day of dealing with a marching band full of teenagers – managed to keep the kids in their rooms and out of trouble. Around 11pm, my Gentleman had gone out to get some ice for his Coke and came back with the answer.

The solution to keeping all the students in their rooms was to put a piece of cellophane tape over the gap above the doorknob on each door. It if was broken when the chaperones went to knock on the door to wake the occupants up in the morning, then all the students within that room were in trouble.

It had me thinking about Game Theory.

Given that each room has a phone, and thus the occupants could call each other and arrange a “jail break”, it would be possible to communicate and plan. All students who wished to break out and sneak from room to room could conceivably do so. The problem would be that only the last student to return to his/her room would have the telltale broken tape, as that student would be able to replace the tape to everyone else’s door, thus the only ones who would be punished would be the occupants of that last room.

Given this scenario, what would you do?
Situation A: your friend calls, asking that you come out, promising that you can return to your room before the friend, the tape on your door would be replaced and appear to be unbroken. However, you run the risk that your friend might not honor the promise.
Situation B: your friend calls and asks that you let the friend out so the tape on that door would be unbroken, while the one on yours would be, but if things get interesting for the friend, you can go back to your room and the tape on your door will be replaced.
Situation C: it’s the friend of your roommate who calls to suggest either Situation A or B to the roommate, but you don’t leave the room and will get in trouble along with the roommate if the tape on the door to your room is broken.
Situation D: cooperate with the chaperones and tell anyone who calls to bugger off.

Hmmm. Not quite Prisoner’s Dilemma nor Stag Hunt, that’s more like Chicken or Volunteer really. Perhaps we should call this one Big Band Theory

All I know is that the students seemed to pick D, because we had a lovely, restful night with nary a giggle to be heard after 10pm.