Being a mathematician for 30 years, I am drawn to probabilities and odds and trying to figure out when things will happen.

 

We often are faced with events that we like to label as “coincidences,” things that are a bit out of the ordinary that seem to happen together. That is a mouthful and rather confusing. Being a mathematician for 30 years, I am drawn to probabilities and odds and trying to figure out when things will happen.

 

It’s just what I do.

 

My Daddy taught me to think this way beginning when I was very young. He would play cards with us or let us watch as he played Solitaire and ask questions like, “What would you expect?” meaning what card you would most likely expect to be the next off the deck or not showing. My brothers and I all have pursued math related careers, so I like to attribute this to my Daddy’s lessons related to games of chance such as cards, dice and dominoes.

 

A lot of folks are not very savvy when it comes to probability in their everyday lives. I often give examples of birthdays in the classroom. It only takes 23 people or students in a classroom for the probability of two of them having matching birthdays (Month/Day) to be about 50%. So when I have 30 students, it’s a pretty good bet there will be at least one pair of matching birthdays. Actually, it’s about a 70% chance at 30 folks and I will take that bet.

 

It’s just that people easily know there are 365 days in a year and they get that large number tied up in that versus a smaller number like 30. The simple explanation is that it has to do with exponents, which many people have a hard time grasping if they don’t use them on a regular basis. It’s called the “Birthday Paradox” because the probability of at least one match is high with a rather small group, which is counter-intuitive.

 

Getting back to coincidences, it’s a new year and I am ready for new things. I lost my big dog in 2017, he was a wonderful companion. My second daughter got a new puppy that is still less than a year old. So, I not only had all of my children home for the holidays, I also had this newish puppy. I say newish because he kind of spent summer camp with us also.

 

I like the little dog, he has a lot of energy and character. He seems to be rather smart, but is also very opinionated. Therefore, since my daughter was going to be with us for about a month before going back to college, we thought it would be a good idea to give her (and Wilson, the puppy) some obedience or training lessons for a Christmas gift.

 

The deal was that this expert would come to our house and give my daughter one on one help and homework on getting Wilson the puppy into shape in terms of manners and taking commands and stuff like that.

 

He’s not a bad dog, he’s very sweet actually, but he has this “Braveheart” attitude with other dogs where he seems to just want to pick a fight (you would have to see the movie Braveheart to understand that reference). It’s a puppy thing I’m sure, but our older little dog is kind of past playing with puppies. It’s like having a toddler in the house who is capable of breaking things, but not necessarily trying to break them.

 

Wilson has this thing for paper. He seems to enjoy the taste, but most of the time he just wants to tear it up. It could be an advertisement circular from the newspaper, a receipt or wrapping paper from random presents under the tree. The other day I pulled his jaws apart with both hands and used my teeth to grab the other end and pull out of his mouth what I thought was a check. It turned out to just be a coupon for a Southern Living subscription, but he did not want to let go of it.

 

Then the coincidence…While standing in another room, I caught just a glimpse of him running through the kitchen with a letter size piece of paper with typing on it. I said to myself, “Oh great he’s about to tear up something important.” He generally takes his paper prizes to the den to destroy. Chasing him down, we found that he had eaten the corner off of “Lesson Three” of his obedience homework.

 

Coincidence? Just a very improbable event? I don’t know, but I will swear that I was there and saw a dog try to eat his own homework.

 

Happy New Year!

 

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