, September 28, 2022

An Imperial good laugh over base ten and the metric system


  •   4 min reads
An Imperial good laugh over base ten and the metric system

Which is best: Imperial or metric? Are you kidding? It is like asking what is best: pain or pleasure? But then refusal to let go of the past is kind of the point.

I know how tall I am in feet and inches but know my weight in kilograms; these days, I think in centigrade and have no idea how many pounds there are in a ton or what a metric ton is. I know the price of bread, but not in Guineas. But there is one thing I am pretty good at, and that is multiplying by ten.

And here is a question: how many metres are there between the equator and the North Pole? Answer: a million. (10,000 KM, although there is a small error in the calculations, but for all intense and purposes, that's right.) That's the definition of a metre.

And I find it is easy to think in tens.

Here is a joke for you. They say there are ten types of people in this world: those who understand binary and those who don't.

I get that ten doesn't have to be the number that describes how many fingers and thumbs most of us have: we could count in twos, threes or fours. But Imperial doesn't. I mean, you count in sixteens if it is ounces, but fourteens if it is pounds, and twelves if it is pennies, twenties if it is shillings and twenty ones if it shillings and Guineas.

As for temperatures: zero is freezing, 212 is boiling, which means there are 180 degrees between freezing and boiling, and to convert that into base ten, you have to divide into 180 and add 32 — I think. Not 100 per cent on that, or should I say not 212 per cent (assuming 212 equals 100). Maybe I am tuppence short of a pound coin, or maybe I could do with a few more bob.

As my dad used to say, a policeman is called a Bobby because a policeman is a cop and 20 coppers is a shilling, and a shilling is a Bob. Or maybe not; I am getting confused....

The thing is, base ten is easier, but because of my youth, I still think less efficiently some of the time.

And that's the problem with change. It is darn difficult.

Change is so quirky which is why we get stuck with QWERTY


Wouldn't it be great if all the world drove on the same side of the world — but that won't happen this side of an Apocalypse, or at least this side of 100 per cent autonomous cars, which some people think is the same thing as an apocalypse anyway.

But we won't change because people won't let us, and our little brains — I am not patronising here, my brain is little too — can't handle it. But if we were told to switch, as happened in Sweden in the 1960s, I do not doubt that lots of conspiracy theories would circulate, and we would be told that the move to make us drive on the right is another example of how 'they' want to control us.

This is also a kind of problem with the economic systems — all systems: capitalist, communist, fascist or fairytalist. They are resistant to change,

That's why we have QWERTY keyboards, why in the UK, the country that gave railroads to the world, the railway gauge is an inefficient four feet eight and a half inches or 1,435 mm.

Evolution in stop mode


It is like that with evolution too. Richard Dawkins once said evolution has three speeds, slow, dead slow and stop. But I think most of the time; we are in stop mode.

So, that is a stop to keyboards that follow the order of the alphabet or superior railway gauges or in applying the same rules on which side of the road you drive on and even in moving to an obviously superior metric system because Imperial is connected with our history or some equally arcane argument.

To be clear, the rationale behind sticking with or returning to Imperial is the same rationale that prefers things how they used to be, like in the era of bigoted and hypocritical, empire-building Victorians who committed foul deeds in the name of religion, just as most regimes have done in the past.

People might think it was better in the past, but global median incomes have almost trebled since 1981,  and the world's undernourished proportion has fallen by around a third this century.

I appreciate that undernourishment rates will probably increase this year, but for most of the world, we are better off than at any time in history.

And when I say evolution is usually in stop mode, consider the dinosaurs. They ruled the world for 150 million years and changed very slowly.

It took the meteorite —or from a dinosaur's perspective: Armageddon — to create space to allow mammals to evolve into us and dogs, and cats and rats and chimpanzees and…well, I'm not going to mention them all.

(For that matter, it took the creative destruction caused by the formation of the Rift Valley before a two-legged ape could evolve.)

But that scares me. Are we so resistant to change that it takes Armageddon to enable it?

Well, maybe not Armageddon, but it takes something unusual like Covid heralding the era of remote working, even though not everyone likes it, especially those of a Dickensian disposition.

And it took the Ukraine crisis and climate change to herald the era of renewables, which will ultimately mean cheaper energy, even though some say they don't like it.

And it will probably take fears over climate change to usher in cultured meat, which will eventually mean cheaper meat that is kinder to the environment and kinder to something else; errr, what is it now? Oh yes, animals. Even though some people don't like it because the world was a better place when we killed living things.

So if it takes disasters to create space for change, then I have a wish. My wish is that humanity becomes sufficiently enlightened and our minds sufficiently flexible that we learn to welcome change without the necessity of disasters.

And then I read about the return to Imperial Measurements and the kind of arguments used to justify Imperial that a five-year-old could see through, and I despair.

But then I count to ten and start to feel better. But should I count to ten, or 12, or 14, or 16, or 21, or 212 and should I start at zero or 32. I mean, I am in a right imperial mess over this.

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