Thursday, June 10, 2010

Light bulbs and PhDs

On March 3, 2009, my dad (a retired BYU chemistry professor who is very proud of his PhD) wrote of an experience he had with Lights of America's customer service department. He said that he emailed them inquiring about a contradiction in their instructions for a particular light bulb on 10/24/2007 and received a reply from them on 3/23/2009.

Their email said, "We normally respond to emails within 1-3 business days. Should you need to contact us, kindly reply to this email or phone us at [number]. We are open Monday through Friday from 8 am to 5 pm pacific standard time."

He and I then had the following exchange:

I wrote (disregarding the fact that it took the company almost a year and a half to reply):
Dad, you were trying to download an instruction sheet for a lightbulb? Seriously? I know it seems magic that light actually comes out of a piece of glass instead of having to light a fire like you're used to, but really they're not that complicated to operate.

Dad replies:
OK, Rob, answer this. How many Dads does it take to change a light bulb? [Only one if he has the instruction sheet.] So, that's why I needed it. And I was curious to see what information a light bulb instruction sheet contained. After all, they claimed to offer one. And I bet you think cfl (see link in my message to them) stands for Capacitated Facility Location, don't you? Ha!

My reply:
I was actually thinking of the question in terms of, "How many PhD scholars does it take to screw in a lightbulb?" Only one, but he must first read the instructions through completely, then he must consider the problem and try to make sense of it. Then he must form a conjecture and deduce a prediction from that explanation, assume that his conjecture is true and determine the consequences that will follow. Then he must look for the opposite of each consequence and try to disprove his original conjecture.

Everyone knows that cfl stands for Canadian Football League. Why they are so peculiar in their choice of light bulbs and why they need instruction sheets for them is explained by the fact that they are Canadian, and football players. Why a PhD scholar is peculiar about his choice of light bulbs and needs an instruction sheet is similarly explained.

I don't think Dad liked that very much.

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