Jump to main column content

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Life is a game

One of the consequences of teaching a class that is part economics and part game theory is that you tend to start viewing all aspects of life as a game. Sometimes this can be good of course, and I have an example for you. Perhaps this can improve your life by some microscopic amount.

Our family pretty regularly orders from the drive through at McDonald's, and we get the same thing each time. Ellie wants the kid's meal for a girl with a coke, Linda likes a #2 with a coke, and I usually get a grilled classic sandwich without mayo and a coke. (Part of living the "Supersize me" life when Linda was in the hospital means I now tend to go for the low-fat offering and I don't order fries.)

My order is pretty regularly completed incorrectly. The most common mistakes are that they give me the meal instead of the sandwich (so I get and get charged for fries) or they forget my drink. I suppose it has to do with the "without mayo" part which distracts them--they have to hit extra keys for that. I realized that I could probably optimize the probability of my purchase being done right simply by changing the sequence in which I ask for items.

Historically, I have ordered my items last, after Ellie's and Linda's, for no particular reason. I realized that asking for a "grilled classing sandwich without mayo and a medium coke" at the end of my order was doing me in. It has pretty much the same rhythm as ordering the meal with a coke. All they have to do is plonk their finger down on the wrong button (which they probably press a dozen times every day) and my order is wrong. Or they get caught up using the override button to remove the mayo and then leave off my drink.

Solution: order the drink first and the sandwich second. It breaks the pattern. Since the drink is first, they don't forget it, and since the typical pattern is broken the temptation to hit the "meal" key is reduced. My order comes through more reliably.

The best part of my solution is that it seems to work.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The crush at the end

With 5th week grades due this semester instead of midterms, there was a crush at the beginning of term. There's always a crush at the end, and this semester is no different. Linda is already complaining that she doesn't get to see me. She's wanting to do games and things in the evening and I have grading. It happens other times of the semester, but it will be pretty consistent from here to Christmas. I suppose it makes it harder when you can't get out on your own.

Speaking of getting out. I took Linda to the driver's license office yesterday to renew her state-issued ID. The birth certificate she had wasn't good enough for them, so we've had to send off to get an official one. What I don't get is that it'll just be printed off on some computer and stamped with some raised stamp. Seems not that hard to fake, so I don't know exactly what the point would be. I'm pretty sure I could fool the lady at the desk.

Linda and I talked about how plenty of people who don't drive don't actually have current photo identification since it can be a hassle like this. Still if the United States is going to become one of those countries where you have to have your "papers" I suppose we'd better hassle. If you apply for your birth certificate by mail it only costs $10 and 6 weeks. You can apply online, and they promise not to sit on their hands for so long but they rook you for an extra $24.50 in processing fees and shipping. What a racket! Mail and pathetically slow will be just fine thank you.

It makes me glad I have a passport so this will be simpler when I have to renew.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Insurance talk

It's open registration at Truman. Until tomorrow. After tomorrow the University can get back to all of the other things it does. I can't believe how much energy has gone into deciding our insurance options this year.

Some of it is because we have a new insurance option, a health savings account. Most of it is because we've received scant information about how our new option could work. And when we do get info, it all contradicts itself. We don't have co-pays on medication, we do have co-pays on medication. You can spend your HSA money on the same things you could use FSA money for, you can't.

Faculty members are scanning the IRS web site, checking out the guidelines because the don't believe the benefits director and frankly the representative from the insurance company was really uninformed. Some of the things we've been told seem to contradict what the IRS says an HSA can do. So faculty members clump up in little groups speculating what will happen if the benefits director discovers that it is illegal for the insurance to actually provide what we've been promised.

Everyone knows the answer of course. If the promises contradict the law, or even just the plain desires of the insurance company, we're screwed (it is insurance after all).

Somehow, I've gotten a reputation among the faculty for being an insurance expert. I get emails and phone calls asking me for opinions, or for the temperature of my particular brand of speculation. It really is an interesting question; so interesting that I had one of my math classes discuss it (as part of a unit on games of conflict). But still, I'll be glad that tomorrow is the deadline; the whole thing is a bit distracting.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Yesterday, Ellie handed me a note that said, "Bles, can we go to my libre?" I had no idea she could do that. I was so impressed that I took her. I even paid some of my fines so she could check something out. It was nice of her to say bles (please).