The Irrationality of Metric

 


Officially Canada is 100% metric, but in reality our heights are in feet, we weigh ourselves in pounds, but we buy our steaks in kilograms and put liters in our gas tanks.  There are several good reasons to use imperial measure and some bad ones. The best reason for imperial is that we share many products with our imperialist cousins, the excitable states.  Most of the stuff we buy,  food weights or volumes, cooking temperatures, building products are manufactured, measured and sold in feet, inches, gallons, quarts, liquid ounces or in Canada as awkward conversions to metric no one uses, such as a 3.78 liter one US gallon can of paint.   

A bad reason to use imperial might be old fartism, of which I could be guilty.  When I learned to measure it was in imperial, but stick with me a for a moment. 

When the 18th century enlightenment era philosophes (bored French rich people) contemplated ridding society of archaic measuring standards, such as the length of some long dead king's foot or thumb, they proposed a rational system (their words) that would be based on a single measurement.  They chose the circumference of our planet, which they had proudly calculated sitting in their comfortably appointed ivory towers.  And so the meter was born.  One ten millionth of the distance from the Equator to the North Pole.  Wonderful.  From there the rest was derived, but as it turned out their circumference measurement was wrong, if not just plain silly, and no less arbitrary than the thumb an extinct king, not to mention earth-centric and planetist, for which we will surely pay when cultures from outside our solar system come over here to join us, but I digress.

The Philosophes also thought that metric measurement should only use base 10 numbers, a purely arbitrary way of counting based on the average human having 10 fingers.    Which seemed to make sense 300 years ago,  but they would have been better off to use a horse finger of which there is only one per limb.  Had they done that we would be able to talk to our computers directly, instead of relying on computer languages which have to translate everything we tell our computers to ones and zeros. 

Ten is actually a rather useless number if you are making things that need to be divided in thirds, quarters or sixths, all of which can easily be done using base 12 but not evenly in base 10.  Base 6o improves on base 12 by adding fifths, sixths, twelfths, fifteenths etc..  Ten can only manage halves or fifths without resorting to decimals, something the Babylonians, among the earliest builders understood, but the Philosophes had forgotten, or more likely had dismissed as unimportant, as they would have assigned a person with actual skills for making useful stuff that needed to be made.  Dividing things into thirds or quarters was a working stiff's problem. 

And finally, my biggest beef with the International System of Measurement aka SI is their insistence on using the names of those long dead Philosophes and their associates for naming measurements.  Consider the old irrational BTU, which stands for British Thermal Unit.  Notwithstanding the British, who will soon be as gone as that old dead king, reverting to English Irish and Scottish, the last bit, Thermal Unit, sort of implies heat is probably being measured, and yes, that would be the quantity of actual heat needed to raise one pound of water one degree F.  

SI wants us to use Joules.  So what is it about a Joule that says heat?  As it turns out, nothing obvious.  Joule was some formerly alive person, of whom the Redneck has no interest in knowing anything about.  To make it even worse, it turns out that a Joule is equal to one Watt per second.  Right.   I will allow that it is possible to use  a Watt (a dead guy), the combination of electrical force in Volts (dead guy named Volta) needed to push an Amp,  an unimaginably huge quantity of electrons honoring  deceased Monsieur Ampere through an electrical resistance of one Ohm (yet another dead guy), to push something with a force of 1 kilogram per meter per second, but do we call it that? No, too easy, call that a Newton.  Newton most of us have heard of, he described gravitational force after getting clouted with a falling apple, despite having only the body parts of extinct monarchs with which to perform measurements.  

To sum up, Joules are an electrical force equivalent to gravitational force used to measure heat.  Einstein, a dead guy who hasn't had any SI measurement named after him yet spent most of his life trying unsuccessfully to unify all the forces, a problem his followers are still working on, but no matter the SI bureaucracy has done it for him.

The redneck has to fill his truck's tires with kilo pascals.  Pascal, as you can probably guess, is another dead Frenchman.  How many Pascals are needed to prevent your tires from causing a lethal accident?  And what is it about Mr. Pascal that would make the Redneck think of air pressure, and what is wrong with kilograms per square centimeter which is what a Pascal actually is,  which would at least alert the uninformed that we are measuring pressure.  

The philosophes also proposed to rationalize the calendar with 12 months of 30 days apiece, which inconveniently left a remainder or 5 and 1/4 (give or take) days left over.  This should have been the first clue that philosophe notions of rationality do not fit the actual world, a mistake their philosophe descendants continue to make to this very day.

 


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