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Wednesday, May 14, 2003

How Long is Yours?

I need to take a mental break from some computer work.

I was just reading something about monitors and noticed that dot pitch (which affects resolution) is measured in millimeters. But in the U.S., monitor size is measured in inches.

Same situation with my Japanese car. The tires are in inches, but some of the smaller bolts and such on the engine are metric.

All of which leads me to believe we have a schizophrenic system of measurement in this country.

I learned the metric system first. It was the 1970s, and the first-grade teacher at my forward-thinking elementary school in Chicago pulled out a clear plastic cube and explained it measured one decimenter in all directions. Put 10 cubes in a row, and you have a meter. The cube holds a liter of water. Put the water-filled cube on a scale, and it weighs one kilogram.

Easy enough.

I went on to math and science classes in which we pretty much only used metrics.

Then I got in the real world and tried to cook. Two tablespoons? How much is that in relation to a quarter cup? How many cups in a gallon?

I found the old Imperial system actually makes sense in carpentry. A foot can be easily divided in half, thirds or quarters. And you can generally find a segment of your finger that equals an inch, you can get a rough estimate of something without a ruler.

You'll experience some frustration if you look for measurement to make sense beyond the yard. Acres? I don't know what that is. Mile? A tad more than 5,000 feet. I think the mile was Roman in origin, and then somebody had to figure out how many Imperial feet fit into it.

All of which reminds me...there's an old joke about how cars today trace their axel widths to horse-drawn Roman chariots. The punch line has something to do with "So when you're caught behind someone in traffic, just remember you're following a horse's ass."

Wow, this was a stream of consciousness post.

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