Moonlighting agony uncle Professor Dirichlet answers your personal problems. Want the prof’s help? Send your problems to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’ve just started my PhD at a well-known university, and I’m trying to make some friends. There are supposed to be 55 other students but nearly everyone in the PhD office refuses my offers of tea, sits in silence, and will barely talk to me unless I whisper them some very specific technical questions. I was hoping there would be some people in the group who enjoy everyday things: biscuits, beer, and just shooting the breeze. Is this really what academia is like?
— Pearl among swine, Withheld
Most new employees feel like this initially, and academia is no exception. You simply need to find a normal subgroup. Alas, it may not be very big: for a group of order 56, expect a normal subgroup of order 7 or order 8. It should be jolly good fun finding them, though: this subgroup is defined as being invariant under (ahem) conjugation. (Alternatively just follow them home from work as by definition, your colleagues who commute with each other—the centre—are a normal subgroup).
I’ve finally done it! I’ve invented a new kind of supercomputer! It has processors which don’t just work in parallel—they do better than that. They’re infinitely more parallel than regular processors! I call it ultraparallel!!
— Computer Champ, London
i) This is not a question. I’m afraid, champ, that your behaviour mimics an irritating crackpot at a plenary lecture who insists on making self-congratulatory statements after the esteemed professor at the front has spoken.
ii) I’m not sure I believe these claims. I think you’re being a bit hyperbolic.
I’m from continental Europe and I can’t make sense of all these road signs in America with their distances listed in miles! What’s going on?
— Pedro, Caballo Lake
The problem here, of course, is that distance is impossible to measure without a properly defined metric system, which America does not have. Maybe try asking someone from Imperial College?
I’m on sabbatical in Egypt and just doing some light archaeology. Currently I’m trying to enter a sealed tomb hidden deep within the Valley of the Kings, but I can’t seem to enter without working out the meaning of an ancient code written on the door. Any advice?
— H Jones Jr, Chicago
Ah, Egypt. One of the many countries where one cannot find badgers. I once spent an afternoon in de-Nile, but ended up in de-Mediterranean Sea. Anyway, to your question…
Do you not have the key? Is there not a back door? Sounds like you need to brush up on your knowledge of crypt-ography.
It’s career week at school and we have to come up with some potential future jobs for ourselves. I’ve been thinking of going into teaching but it seems a bit of a uninspired choice. My friends say I should choose something that involves travel.
What are the odds of all of the senior ecclesiastical leaders electing me to become the pope?
— Sophie Willock, Bedford College
Well, given that the number of cardinals is infinite, I’d say quite unlikely!
… But I don’t want to pontificate.
Heed Professor Dirichlet’s previous advice:
More from Chalkdust
- Did you solve it?
- Sus Mafia strategies, LMS president Ulrike Tillmann, and Bae's theorem 😍 all feature in our latest edition. Plus all your favourite puzzles & columns.
- Issue 13 is here! Find out how to get involved with our mathematical art launch project
- Have your say
- Fashion is fleeting, Chalkdust regulars are not.
- Are you binary? Roman numerals? The decimals? Find out by answering a maximum of ∞ easy questions