Friday, October 03, 2008

Relativity as an excuse for tardiness

How many times have you waited in all day - sometimes for several days in a row, for something to be delivered, only to feel that perhaps you could actually grow old and die before it actually arrives?

Or maybe you work in some computer related industry, and find yourself eagerly anticipating a particular piece of hardware or software which, the supplier tells you, will, with absolute certainty, be ready on schedule and within budget. It never is, is it?

Now, never mind the inconvenience of not actually having whatever it was you were waiting for in your eager hands (metaphorically speaking, obviously, if the item in question is a fridge) - no, what really 'does my head in' is how the cheeky bugger at the other end of the telephone line can so absolutely confidently trot out and assurance that 'it will be there on Wednesday' when he or she has demonstrably never once managed to hit a predicted time or date. Oh, and why are these people almost always called Keith?

You know they've no more chance of making it this time than you have of getting a decent bacon sandwich in a synagogue. And yet you could wire these people up to a full-on lie detector setup, you could attach elestricles to their tectrodes, kidnap their children and threaten to return them over a period of time in a series of minute parcels and you wouldn't get a blip. Their confidence is unshakable. How on earth can this be?

Well, the answer is obvious really. As Arthur Conan Doyle was overfond of declaiming "when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth? ".

They aren't lying to you. That's right, they're telling the truth.

And yet, the eagerly awaited gizmo, doodad, widget, gimmick or ethereal piece of intellectual copyright still fails to manifest itself. Paradoxical? No - let me explain.

Its all down to Einstein's theory of relativity, and something called the Twin Paradox (look it up in Wikipedia if you don't believe me). Put simply, if you take identical twins, stuff one of them into a rocket, and send it off quite a long way at speeds approaching that of light, then bring it back, the traveling twin will be younger than the one that stayed behind. Or to put it another way, the twin who's moving might have spent a week in the rocket, while the one that stayed behind has waited a year to be reunited with his sibling.

This has been proven, by the way, in a complicated experiment involving flying clocks. There's another proof to look for as well. When you accelerate an object close to the speed of light, you can pump immense amounts of energy into it with out it going any faster. In fact, the energy is turned into mass.

So what's happening is that the delivery man, or purveyor of technology is actually moving so fast to be sure of not disappointing you that they nearly reach light speed. In the process, they get quite a bit heavier than they were when they started.

When, eventually, a hugely fat individual turns up with what you've been waiting for, relativity has kicked in, they think they are on time, and you know they aren't. This also explains their child-like look of bewilderment and unjust hurt when you berate them for their tardiness.

So next time this happens to you, please don't give the guy a hard time. Tell him how much you appreciate his efforts, and give him a cup of tea.

OK, I have to go now, I have to take a mug of Lapsang souchong to 'Colossal Keith' in the office.

This has been a public service announcement issued by the Royal Association of Fat Lazy Buggers.

No comments: