[FRIAM] XKCD: Least Action Paths with Ice Cream

Steve Smith sasmyth at swcp.com
Sun Sep 3 12:08:20 EDT 2023

SG/Randall Munroe -  Most excellent point made!

On 9/2/23 11:14 PM, Stephen Guerin wrote:
> Economic Optics: Hotelling's Law (Ice Cream Vendors on Beach Problem 
> in Game Theory 
> <https://leimao.github.io/blog/Breaking-Hotelling-Law/>) meets 
> Fermat's Principle.
>     Economicoptics  - just hard enough to pronounce on first sight
> image.png
> https://xkcd.com/2821/ from a couple days ago

I have returned from a long (4 weeks) walkabout through Red/Purple 
states... along the Front Range and then Heartland/Prairie to Upper 
Midwest... coinciding (unexpected) with the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally and 
a cool patch in the near-nationwide Heat Dome (with a couple of 

What this has to do with the topic at hand is not nothing but probably 
oblique and obscure as seems to be my nature/style..

So a new Acronym TODR  (too obscure/oblique/obtuse don't read):

I have been puzzling for at least a few years on a corollary to or 
implication of Hotelling's Law which has to do with whether a modified 
"free market" system might include Socialized Commodification of goods 
and services which reach their Nash Equilibrium (within some delta).

    <TO;DR vignette> Relevant to the above, is the Green Dinosaur
    experience:  Through most of our drive, Sinclair (green dino) was
    the most frequent brand of gas station I encountered... or maybe I
    was just attuned to it by their catchy spokesmodel (last time I took
    a long drive up the rockies into the cascades there was a
    dino-renewal effort underway where every other Sinclair station was
    either removing an old dino, had two dinos in place before removing
    the old or had a brand-spanking-new shiny one already installed
    where an old chalky one had been).  Our 1 year old 20lb doodle puppy
    Hank challenged every green Dino he saw (thus raising my awareness
    further)... along with every bison and Harley (and there were a LOT).

    As a corollary</TO;DRv>

It feels that there are many goods (and services) which have degenerated 
to a commodity.   Fast Food and Fuel being the most blatant (relevant to 
my recent experience), convolved strongly with "branding" and "image"  
and "loyalty" programs, trying to maintain/establish/invent/conjure a 
"difference that makes a difference".

    <TO;DRv>Mary's X/Millenial-cusp children were having a debate one
    night with their neighbors (lawn chairs in the driveway) about
    "which fast-food" restaurant was the best... Every member of the
    group discussing this (except us) has young children of the "Happy
    Meal"/"Whacky Pack" age...  so which little bit of "plastic junk"
    they got to collect this week was a big feature... but also which of
    the chicken nuggets/fingers/strips (and attendant sauces) satisfied
    their pickiest eaters was also a feature.   Chik-Fil-Et (sp) and
    McDougals and Wendy's and BK were the most referenced, along with a
    few Taco chains (El/Del/John's/???) I barely recognized. Pizza was
    not considered FF by them but was almost exclusively "ordered in"
    and the choice of Brand was mostly about how convenient the delivery

    Mary and I held our OK-Boomer Virtue-Signalling tongues (until we
    retired early from the driveway conversation to gossip about them
    between ourselves) and realized that being vegetarian ourselves, the
    fast-food fitness function (FFFF) was different: /Who has
    good-enough French Fries and/or Onion Rings... do they offer a Salad
    option.../ /how about that Impossible Burger (BK has one and
    Starbucks has an Impossible Breakfast Sausage-Sandwich/).  A
    secondary (but important) consideration is whether their drink cups
    are foam/plastic/paper...   all fry/ring packaging seems to be
    paper/cardboard universally but I get the sense that burgers and
    chicken-bits often come in foam clamshells?  Salads always come in
    plastic (or occasionally) foam clamshell.

    As a matter of practice we are usually looking for funky local
    Cafe/Diner/Coffee-Shop experiences which means (as you expect) that
    we don't get consistent experiences.   Generally the coffee is good
    (though not a Starbucks Latte!) and most places do eggs and toast
    pretty consistently well.   We found several "gems" along the way
    and a couple of "duds".   We tipped heavy and engaged generously
    with the staff on the off-chance that the place and the staff will
    be there "next time" (if not for us, for like minded travelers and
    locals).    </TO;DRv>

We *were* seduced by the branding of convenience/fuel stops for their 
customer experience and Restrooms more than anything. <Virtue Signal> Of 
course, the fountain drink cups and whether they had an easy 
method/policy on filling your own ice/water container was 
important</VS>  Their Sunflower Seed brands were also a minor discriminator.

    <TO;DR>We saw a LOT of convenience stores, a few (thousand) big-box
    stores (from a distance, signs/facades being so big!) and the
    new(ish) phenomena of Dollar (General/Tree/-/???) stores that are
    some weird halfway between, as well as the various "drug" stores
    (Wallgreens/CVS/HyVee/???) catering a lot to the same clientele and
    offering similar but different (limited) options.   Every one of
    them was effectively a a "Food Desert" or more appropriately? a
    "Food Swamp"?  They had foodstuffs but highly processed/packaged
    almost exclusively.   There  was one exception/discursion in the
    fuel-stop/convenience category which seemed to be a new midwestern
    entry: Quik St*r (not Quik Stop)  where there was an array of fresh
    fruit, baked goods and deli-foods right up front with the
    artificially colored/flavored/salty snacks and sugary drinks pushed
    to the back.   I overheard a stocking employee tell another customer
    that they were spread across "several" states and had "dozens" of
    stores and were "fairly new" (a year or 3?).  </TO;DRv>

Broadcast Radio was another experience.

    <TO;DRv>I like running the AM dial while driving cross country to
    hear the local "dialect" (more content and style than accent or
    idiom) with "trading post" sessions being the most unique.   'I gots
    a pregnant breeding sow ready to birth a litter and I'd like to make
    a trade for a good side-by-side quad bike but not a honda, i have
    one now and they suck" or "anyone able to take down my old 50' silo
    and haul it off can have it for free as long as they take everything
    away and don't make too much of a mess".  The FM stations are more
    recognizeable by their (published by some obscure
    side-band/stigmergic radio signal?) genre...  "classic rock",
    "jazz", "right wing talk", "public radio", etc. than anything
    recognizeable to a non-local</TO;DRv>

I *do* think that "generic brands" attempt to cash in on the larger idea 
by acknowledging that for some things there is no residual "difference 
that makes a difference"...   Someone surely has done studies (in 
particular) on nationalized fuel vs commercial...   I also accept that 
"public franchise" is a way to try to meet this, granting a private 
interest an effective monopoly (and rights-of-way, etc.) with very 
narrow constraints on what services they provide and how they conduct 

Does deliberately "commodifying" some goods/services free up the 
complexity/energy/neg-entropy for innovation elsewhere?  Or is this 
(seemingly) arbitrary/noisy scramble to differentiate on a fine margin 
provide some kind of reservoir for these quantities or a 
testing/development ground for more substantial/relevant 
differentiation?   My idea of "deliberate commodification" seems to be 
an arbitrary *clamping* which may be totally wrong-headed in a 
fundamental way and possibly unprecedented in 
evolutionary/complex-adaptive systems?


  - Steve

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