Dear Tom and Ray:
This is for Tom. In a recent column about batteries, my science teacher, Mrs. Ondrovic, pointed out six chemistry errors you made. First, you wrote "H2S." It should be "H2S." Next, you wrote "PB." The "P" stands for phosphorus, and "B" means Boron. What you meant was "Pb," which stands for lead. You also put "CU," which means carbon uranium. My class understood that you meant "Cu," for copper, but people who don't have a good education will not know this. Here are some other mistakes you made: "O2" should be "O2." "H2SO4" should be "H2SO4." How can someone with a degree in chemical engineering make mistakes that a seventh-grader wouldn't make? What college did you go to? I want to know so I won't make the same mistake you did. -- A Concerned Citizen, Sarah
RAY: Well, we don't want to embarrass our alma mater by publishing its name here, Sarah. But I will tell you we're cc'ing the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on this answer, so it can be prepared for the deluge of application withdrawals.
TOM: As you know, Sarah, yours was not the only letter we received about these six mistakes. It seems that Mrs. Ondrovic persuaded every kid in her class to write letters to us reminding us of how stupid we are. It's just that yours was the only one that was printable in a family newspaper!
RAY: I'll quote from some of the others: "Embarrassing!" "How could you mess this up??" "You are creating a chain of ignorance!"
TOM: And my favorite: "I won't even let my dog read your column anymore!"
RAY: Well, I enjoyed these letters tremendously ... since they were all directed at my brother! And it was interesting to watch him -- as he read the letters -- go through the five classic stages of grief. First, denial.
TOM: I couldn't believe I could have made such a mistake. After all, I have a degree in chemical engineering! I know the chemical abbreviation for hydrogen sulfide is H2S! I figured that the mistake must have been made by the local newspaper in Mrs. Ondrovic's town. It certainly couldn't have been me!
RAY: So we checked, and sure enough, the mistake was there in every newspaper around the country. So much for that theory. So my brother went to Grief Stage No. 2: anger.
TOM: This is unbelievable! Can't we get any good help around here?? Somebody's going to get fired! I mean, I might be the brains of this operations (editor's note: Ha!), but I'm not the last person to see the column before it gets sent out to all the papers. Clearly, our editor made these changes in a blatant attempt to impugn my good reputation. And if he had any common decency, he would just step forward, admit it and apologize for this insult!
RAY: Well, I checked with our editor, and he sent me back the copy we had sent him. And sure enough, the mistakes were in there, too. So my brother moved on to stage 3 in the grief cycle: bargaining.
TOM: OK, look. If you take the fall for me here, bro, I'll wash your car every day for a month.
TOM: OK, now I'm depressed.
RAY: That's stage 4. And stage 5 is ... acceptance.
TOM: Well, here's what happened. We type up our answers every week on a computer that doesn't have chemical notation. So I just assumed that when I wrote "H2S," someone who had the right software would change it to "H2S." I notice that all of you little brats in Mrs. Ondrovic's class wrote to complain to me using pencil and paper. Sure, anybody can do chemical notation with a pencil!
RAY: Ahem. Acceptance!
TOM: OK, so it's probably my fault. I trusted my dumb brother. And I assumed our lazy editor would have a modicum of scientific knowledge.
TOM: Can I at least flatten Mrs. Ondrovic's tires first for being such a wiseguy and putting all her students up to this?
TOM: OK, I'm sorry. I should have told our editor about chemical notation. That's my fault. I'm the chemical engineer. And you kids are absolutely right on all six points. I guess I should be grateful that America has smart kids like you guys, who are well-educated enough to know the difference between carbon uranium and copper. That speaks well for you and your teacher.
RAY: Much better.
TOM: But here's a warning: If I ever run into any of you kids in person, watch out, because I'm going to teach you the chemical notation for atomic wedgie.