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July 22, 2006

Phew! What a bizarre system!

We were discussing Fahrenheit the other day, after my mother's observation that the media in the UK use Celcius all the time, until it gets really hot, and then they delight in using old money as it allows them to use bigger and better numbers.

Claire and I are both children of the metric system. One of the things that most used to infuriate me about the UK was the fact that the country now has an entire generation of thirtysomethings and below who have never been taught anything other than metric, yet somehow the tabloids still insist on having metric martyrs, and shops carry on selling goods in obscure measurements that mean nothing to half the population.

Take Fahrenheit as an example. We were discussing how it could be possible to devise a scale where the freezing point of water was an arbitrary 32°. I subsequently did some research and found out that not everybody even agrees on how Fahrenheit originally devised the system - I mean, how scientific can that be?

Some argue that the lower point was fixed at zero when an equal measure of salt and ice will turn into water. others say 0°F was just the lowest temperature that Fahrenheit could measure - and since he was in Gdansk that can be pretty cold. Others argue that he was a freemason and there are 32°'s of perfection hence 32°F being freezing point. (I'm not making this up you know)

Claire's theory was that it was just as likely to have been that he saw 32 bees fly by on a cold day, so fixed 0°C at 32°F. That is certainly more printable than the theory we devised after I suggested that the whole thing was bollocks ;-)

I just don't understand why people don't embrace metric - it makes everything so much simpler. Celcius mased his scale on an easily measurable temperature (if, for the sake of argument you ignore atmospheric pressure and water purity for a minute) - the bit where water freezes - and another one - the bit where water boils - and then divided it by one hundred equal degrees. Fahrenheit, on the other hand, picked one arbitrary point nobody can agree on at the lower end, another arbitrary point at the higher end, then divided them into twelve equal sections (Why 12? Did he have extra fingers to count on or something?), then sub-divided that by 5 or 7 or 9 to arrive at the value of a degree. Sheer mentalism*.

And what did he fix as the higest point of his scale? The human body temperature, which he measured from himself at 100°F. However, we all know that the actual regular body temperature is closer to 98/99°F. This suggests that Fahrenheit may have had some kind of fever when he was devising the scale. A-ha! He had a fever! Now, that could explain a lot!

*Please note that actual scale may be devised to give a scientifically elegant arc of 180° from freezing to boiling point and a scale of 0° to 100° describing all ambient temperatures where it was possible for humans to survive, and may not originally have been devised for everyday use by UK tabloid newspaper editors writing "Phew! What a scorcher! Over 100 degrees!" style news stories.

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Comments

"Why 12? Did he have extra fingers to count on or something?"

He probably glanced at a clock to check the time...

You *so* know that if it was up to me the second would be shorter, there would be a hundred seconds in a minute, a hundred minutes in an hour, and the day would be divided AM/PM into two chunks of ten hour stretches ;-)

I'm relatively confident that my school studies included *exactly and precisely* the same amount of metric stuff as yours.

Still can't help you with weights though. Kilogram? I know what it *is*, but only in the abstract. A pound, on the other hand, has tactile resonance. It's a bag of sugar.

I vote that the UK outlaws mentioning imperial measurements on products and road signs altogether. Learning about stuff is one thing, but you'll never fully get metric until you *use* it every day.

Like French. Or, I suppose, Greek.

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