Friday, September 23, 2011

Somerville College and the Immutable Laws of Physics

An e-mail sent today at 3:15 pm included the following statement: I would be grateful if you were able to reply to the Academic Office by noon on Friday, 23 September, if possible.

My response to this was: It will be impossible for us to reply by noon on Friday 23 Sept as you requested below, given that you did not send us this message until several hours after that 'deadline'. Of course, as you did not specify the year, the only way to interpret that would be to imply that we have 1 year less 3 hours to respond, so what deadline do you actually have in mind?

We will, of course, be prompt about this.

Now, this is pretty clearly a simple typo that didn't have the intended 'deadline' or perhaps was an e-mail that originally was going to be sent earlier (for which that deadline would make sense), so this is a rather easy bug to make in an e-mail, and I'm sure that I have done the same thing on several occasions. What is amusing in this context, however, is the phrasing "if possible" in the request. The e-mail sender was referring to the time schedules of people like me---which is why this is a 'deadline' rather than a deadline---but the relative times indicate naturally made me think of physical impossibility rather than ones that have to do with my own schedule. Hence, it is excellent that the fact that the request might not be possible was included, though I'm sure that relativistic effects were probably not part of the equation. Still, the phrasing is uncanny. (Or maybe it's just that I'm easily amused?)

Perhaps it's best to end this by quoting Jerry Seinfeld: Unfortunately the immutable laws of physics contradict the whole premise of your account.

Yesterday's e-mail from a Mathematical Institute colleague about the changing of a schedule because of a "dairy clash" was arguably even more amusing---especially given that I'll actually be talking a bit about cows when it's my turn to speak.

Update: My Ph.D. student Martin Gould has reminded me about this exciting, hot-off-the-presses piece of physics news.

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