Off Topic

I think, therefore I harm


Recently, I stumbled on a headline about a large prehistoric egg having been sold on auction for $101G. I didn’t click because of the egg, I did because I was impressed by the price. I thought that only a few humans could possibly pay this price, so it had to be someone I knew by name. Was it Bill or Mark*? I ended up being once again deceived by the clash of cultures.

Walking Backward

The Greatest Country of the World™ forgot to follow the rest of the world when we switched to the metric system in the 60s. Actually, we don’t even call it the metric system, we say that so you know what we are talking about. It’s called the International System of Units (SI – From French Système International). Yep, it’s international. Except in the USA. But I can sure understand that you haven’t really heard of it yet, as it’s quite a recent invention. It was developed in the 1790s in France, and adopted by law there in 1799. It was later adopted by the British in 1875.

Why did we switch? Because measuring things for the purpose of engineering in inches is quite inconvenient. What about, your boss tells you that you need to create a piece 0.0002362 inches wide, with an error of 0.000002 inches? When my boss wants the same piece, he says he wants it 6 microns wide, with 50 nanometers of error. Because, you see, SI is not only very precise, it’s also much more convenient.

The International System

The metric system was initially created with three base units. Meter for length, kilogram for weight and liter for volume. And all of these three units work together. They picked one cubic centimeter of water and decided that would be one milliliter and would weight one gram.

Let’s see a quick example. My aquarium measures 36 inches long, 12 inches wide and 18 inches high. Therefore, it contains 33 gallons of water which weights 275 pounds. This is very easy to measure because we all know there are 231 cubic inches in a US gallon and that a gallon weights 8.34 pounds. Alright, I was sarcastic. These conversions are so difficult to process that most people must resort to some unit conversion calculator.

In my world, I’d rather say that my aquarium is 90 cm x 30 cm x 45 cm. 90 × 30 × 45 = 121,500 cm³ = 121.5 L (liters) = 121.5 kg (kilos). It’s just that easy.

With the metric system came a number of multipliers, for convenience when expressing very large or very small amount. Here’s a table, it’s easy to figure.

Metric Prefixes -- Click for full table

Metric Prefixes — Click for full table

Having been raised in the SI, I know these prefixes, by name and by abbreviation. Well, I know it up to the giga and down the the pico – it seems I never needed to measure things larger or smaller than that. So, when the headline says (because apparently a headline always speaks in the present tense) that the egg sold for $101G, I really read one hundred and one BILLION dollars, though I quickly found in the text that it really was one hundred and one THOUSAND dollars. So, how come it be that G stands for THOUSAND?

So, what about the G?

Oh, great! In the 1920s, a new word became common in the English language. A grand began to mean a thousand dollars. Oh, I get it. G stands for Grand. Right. I suppose a thousand dollars was a large and impressive in size (definition of grand from sum of money back then, but nowadays it barely pays for my monthly apartment rent.

A local newspaper recently announced that the cost for the new Echangeur Turcot (just a large and odd highway exchange) was up to $3.5G. Though I would have loved that it meant three grands (loose change, really), I am sadly aware of it meaning… well… you know what it means by now.

I’ve got to say there was a double necessity to this for us. The French word for billion is milliard. $B wouldn’t be understood and $M is already taken by what you mean for $MM, which makes no sense to me as there aren’t two M’s in million, but you needed the double M because the single M already meant thousand, which made a lot of sense.

* Was it Bill or Mark? Obviously, I was speaking of Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, two of my great friends who, just like me, have a bank account over $1G.


10 comments on “$101G

  1. heretherebespiders
    May 18, 2013

    They did try to teach us in the US Metric in the 1970’s, along with inches, feet and miles. For some unknown reason they stopped. I get confused here between pounds, stone, and kilos. I have NO idea why people still use stone as a measurement (14pounds). We used inches at work until recently – in Ireland – and just made a change to cm instead. And the roadsigns only changed country-wide from miles per hour to km per hour in 2005 (right before I moved here, so I had no issues changing as everything about driving here was different anyway). I agree the G is stupid. I would use a K myself, 101k. I think US government treats it’s citizens like idiots. Yes a lot are, but a lot are in any country!

    And yes, sorry – I’m only just NOW getting to read this. I’ve had troubles of late.

    • Tom Duhamel
      May 18, 2013

      I have been aware of the Americans having taught both metric and imperial, in an obvious attempt to make the switch in the future, I just don’t understand why they gave up. The switch cannot be made in a short period of time, it was made over several decades here. My mother is among the first few who were taught metric at school, all the people older than her are still speaking in imperial.

      I used the aquarium example because that is one I am familiar with (I make my measurements in metrics, but I know all of the conversions rules because most people gives imperial measurements). I recently began learning archery, and quickly found that that’s another field were imperial is common. Distances are in metric (targets for beginners are 90 cm width and located 10 m away) but my bow is 60″ and weights 30#@28″ (30 British pounds when pulled 28 inches) and my arrows are 27″. I understand this is because the sports standardized around mixed customs from both England and France, but why didn’t they went for the modern units at some point? As far as I am aware, that would be the only Olympic discipline in which imperial measurements are used.

      I agree about the “US government treating it’s (sic) citizens like idiots”. You are probably aware that most US schools teach creationism now, because evolutionism is so 20th century. So why would they teach metrics? I mean, people are too stupid to learn the better way, isn’t it?

      I hope you fixed your problems and life is getting back on track. Feel free to email me if you’d like to talk about it, I am always available to listen to you. My own problems are mostly history now, and I am planning a couple of new articles right now. I will probably not post two articles a week like I did for two months, it was obviously too much, but I am trying to get back to a regular post, probably once a week, but I know I won’t be able to keep up with this regularity with summer just starting and vacations and summer activities slowly filling my schedule.

  2. Steve Morris
    January 30, 2014

    I am always amazed by just how many old units of measurement exist. Furlongs, fathoms, barrels, knots. Although utterly useless for calculations (may as well use Roman numerals too) they do have a certain poetry, thank to their perceived antiquity. Imagine …

    Slowly, carefully, he centimetred his way towards the open doorway …

    • Tom Duhamel
      January 30, 2014

      Haha! Yes, it doesn’t sound very poetic 🙂

      I have no idea what a furlong or a fathom represent. I am puzzled as to why large quantity of oil is still measured in barrels, as if the product was still transported in barrels. Knots are still used in aviation, even if distances are in km in most countries (not sure about marine). We are flying at 120 knots, we have 100 km to go, how long will it take?

    • heretherebespiders
      February 1, 2014

      I worked for an estate attorney in Ohio about a decade ago – sometimes the old property deeds would have the measurements in chains! What was great about it is that the description couldn’t be changed without a new survey, so I would end up re typing the old description verbatim.

      In Ireland, they still constantly use stone as a weight measurement (14lbs to a stone). And while they will use kilometers, and meters, they still state their height in feet and inches. Too confusing for me!

      • Tom Duhamel
        February 1, 2014

        Google unit converter knows about stones, but not chains. What is a chain?

        Tell women that their weight will get a smaller number if they state it in kg instead, we might get the people to finally convert! (I’ll continue to state my weight in pounds, for in kg I would just vanish)

        • heretherebespiders
          February 1, 2014

          Ugh! I’ve not weighed myself in at least a year (yes, apparently that makes me no longer female, boobs and other bits notwithstanding). But. Thursday at work I was charged with checking to see if a bit of medical equipment worked. It was a BMI calculating weighing chair. Joy. So I’m there in two shirts, a jacket, work pants filled with stuff, and steel-toe boots. It told me my weight in kilos, after I had to convert my height via google into centimetres (173). And then told me I have a BMI of 26, which also according to google, means I’m fucking fat. Just barely fucking fat as normal is 25 BMI. sigh. At least I take comfort in the fact I was wearing about a half-stone of clothing 🙂

          I don’t recall how long a chain is, it was ages ago and I’ve had no reason to know since. I brain-dump stuff I don’t need to keep, now that I’m old n stuff. It’s nice – saves more room for the crappy songs from childhood that won’t leave my internal storage space.

          • Tom Duhamel
            February 1, 2014

            Bah! I’m like two stones under normal BMI. If I was a girl, I would be just the right for the cover of a men magazine. You know, like how they picture a flat belly as being concave. You know, these girls don’t have any stomach muscle, it’s really the bowel that you see. But you know, these pictures don’t really reach me. A girl of normal BMI (meaning, there is something in between the ribs and the skin) is more likely to get my stone heavier.

            • heretherebespiders
              February 1, 2014

              Oh my fucking god. I crunched over so hard laughing at that last line I really, really did almost shit myself!

              I only ever knew one man who preferred the skeletal look. I was skeletal at the time, so it didn’t matter. It was just me – I ate like a pig, but had no boobs or hips. I have a real woman’s body now, and I can’t say I’d like to go back! The stretchmarks suck balls, but I think I’m pretty decent overall.

              • Tom Duhamel
                February 1, 2014

                I think you are decent too. But you found a better long haired guy, right? 🙂

                Don’t worry about the small white roads that lead nowhere (stretchmarks). Creative men like to run their fingers on them and imagine it’s a vehicle driving them.

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This entry was posted on April 24, 2013 by in Culture, History and tagged , , , , .
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