|Wednesday, August 22, 2007
11:47 - Quarter Pounder with Cheese
I'm sure I've bitched about this before, but... speaking as an engineer and someone with a very expensive hard-science education at a school where one's HP 48GX was as precious as one's spindly right arm and making-taped glasses, I bristle at statements like this, from Gruber:
Good Magazine on the history of the official definition of the meter. Includes this humiliating nugget: “There are only three countries that do not use the metric system: Liberia, Myanmar, and the United States.”
Humiliating, eh? Why, because we're just too stupid to see the obvious merits of metric? Can't be because we have good reasons not to adopt it, can it? Nah.
The English system of length measurement is based on the number 12. Not 10. Why? Well, how's this for starters: 12 is divisible by 2, 3, 4, 6, and 12. That means you can evenly divide up the length of a piece of wood with just a few brief mental calculations. 12 is based on natural divisions of items you can hold in your hand—a dozen marbles or a dozen nails can be swirled around and portioned out evenly with a finger or two. 12's factors appear all over nature: halves, thirds, quarters, sixths, like you see everywhere from honeycombs to graphite molecules. But 10? 10 is based on nothing in nature but the fact that the human hand has five fingers on it. Really. The only reason 10 is special to us is that that's what we can count to on our hands. And for that dubious benefit, we've sacrificed the ability to divide our goods evenly into thirds or fourths at our discretion—just so that we can raise their number by a power by merely adding a zero. If you think that's a win, talk to the carpenter who has to measure lengths down to the 0.625.
Liquid measure is equally hobbled by the insistence on the Mighty Ten. Time was that we had a system based on powers of two: divide a gallon into fourths to get quarts, then divide in half and in half again for pints, cups, and so on. True, the names are quaint, but look past the names and you'll see a system optimally designed for the very purposes you need liquid measurements for: dividing liquids evenly so you can dilute them or apportion them, whether in chemistry, brewing, or serving food. When you insist on a 10-based liquid measurement system, you find yourself juggling numbers like 3.125 and 0.15625, and for what? So you can congratulate yourself on the fact that a cubic centimeter of water is the same thing as a milliliter, and that it weighs a gram?
What people love to point out about the metric system is that its measures are based on fundamental units taken from the natural world; but really, that's hardly an argument at all. What good is it that the meter is supposed to be the circular length from the pole of the Earth to the equator with the decimal point moved over a bunch of times? Some French guy thought that the dimensions of the Earth should for some reason be the basis for all length measures, and by doing a bunch of number-juggling he found that he could get it down to an almost usable length, something we'd been calling a "yard" forever, but which was formerly made up of three of a much handier unit: the foot, which describes something you can hold in your hands and divide up with your fingers, not something you have to measure with a stick that you have to keep in your closet or behind your desk. What, in the real world, does that have to do with how far it is from the North Pole to the equator on this lumpy, imperfect sphere of rock we live on, anyway? Why do we have to work with wonky units like "decimeters" if we want something that kindasorta resembles a hand-holdable length unit?
And for that matter, who cares if a cubic decimeter of water is a kilogram? Is that really any easier to remember than any other arbitrary conversion, or any easier to calculate? I remember having to refer to the table of decimal conversions in the back of my science books to figure out just how many places to move the point left, and then right, in order to arrive at the answer—and trying oh-so-hard to convince myself that the very act of trundling up and down that chain of powers of ten somehow proved how much easier the metric system was to grasp in the human brain. I wish I'd realized at the time just how far from that "ideal" the reality really was: that I could have saved plenty of time and space in my brain by jettisoning those useless "shortcut" decimal conversion factors and simply doing the appropriate multiplication or division operation. Or, better yet, using one of those newfangled calculator dealies we were all taking to carrying around. Funny how we never made decimal-place errors when we were multiplying things by 5280 instead of trying to remember whether we were supposed to move the dot up 8 or 9 places.
And let's not even get into the matter of Celsius versus Fahrenheit. "Oh, but it's based on water!" friends will tell me. "Zero is freezing and 100 is boiling! It makes perfect sense!" Yeah, if you happen to live your life at STP, I guess. Meanwhile, as it turns out, the scale of 0-100 Centigrade has very little relevance to humans, whose comfort levels are between... um... zero and 100 Fahrenheit. Because it was a medical scale. Imperfectly defined, to be sure, but again, it's not like we all live at sea level and 1 atmosphere of pressure where water freezes at exactly 0°C either. But now we have a scale with less resolution (my Audi's climate control has a whole extra digit of space so you can use Celsius mode and set the temp to 0.5-degree increments) and much more prevalent pain-in-the-ass negative values. For what? So we can wave our hands agitatedly and make vague, pompous, incoherent claims about cubic measurements of water changing temperature within standardized units of time that we never use in real life anyway?
Finally, purely on aesthetic grounds—which of these two statements do you prefer?
"Wow, that thing must be a mile long!"
"Wow, that thing must be a kilometer long!"
Friends from Caltech tell me stories... like the one where two grad students in a research team, one from France and one from Germany, who had never experienced anything but the metric system, came to the U.S. to do academic work. At first they were horrified at our backward system. But within three or four months, they were sold on it. Practical experience and exposure to the kind of work that the English system was created for gave them a whole new outlook and appreciation for decisions made hundreds of years before they were born, by people who were every bit as smart as a couple of European grad students in a lab, if not more so. Sometimes the things we inherit actually do make sense. Our ancestors were not all crazy. And if we eventually do adopt the metric system and the English units drop from our collective consciousness, I wouldn't be at all surprised if someone rediscovers it—or recreates it—a century from now, recognizing that there are ways in which the metric system could be greatly and materially improved.
Humiliating? Hardly. Call me a backward provincial hick if you want, but I'll wear my inches and feet and quarts and degrees F as a badge of honor.
UPDATE: And just what, pray tell, was wrong with pounds and shillings and pence?
... Okay, just kidding.
It's All Relative
Different companies around the world develop various networks to secure their data. Microsoft and Cisco Systems are helping these companies by providing basic exams. Some of these by Microsoft include; 70-282
exam that enables TK's Designing, Deploying, and Managing a Network Solution for a Small- and Medium-Sized Business, 70-291
exam helps in Implementing, Managing, and Maintaining a Microsoft Windows Server 2003 Network Infrastructure, 70-293
exam assists in Planning and Maintaining a Microsoft Windows Server 2003 Network Infrastructure and 70-270
exam helps in Installing, Configuring, and Administering Microsoft Windows XP Professional. Whereas Cisco has some like 646-171
exam that helps in becoming Small Medium Business Account Manager, 642-892
exam which helps in becoming Composite and 642-523
exam which helps in Securing Networks with PIX and ASA (SNPA).