Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Measure Of The Man

IT IS peculiar what gets into the heads of Fairfax columnists – or, rather, the curious notions that took root years ago and refuse to be dislodged. Geoff Strong, one of the reasons the Age sells so well, is at it this morning with a dribble of nonsense about how proud he is that Australia moved to the metric system. When crusty conservatives, like the one who lives at the Billabong, insist on thinking of, say, Buddy Franklin as 6’5” rather than 196cm, be assured that it has everything to do with the imperial system providing a better and more accurate mental image of the Hawk forward’s imposing physicality. Not according to Strong, however, who fingers the United States’ pernicious influence on non-progressive minds:
Perhaps it is the adulation for all things American that makes some cling to the old illogical measures.
After that, and still having a few inches of newsprint to fill, Strong does what Fairfax’s six-figure sit-abouts do better than anything else, which is fail to notice the contradictions of their own prose. He was off in Austria, Strong tells readers, where he basked in the praise of a Sound of Music tour guide chuffed that her English-speaking visitor understood metrics. “I felt a tinge of pride,” he writes, “that she saw us alone among the Anglosphere as being comfortable with the measurements used by nearly everyone else.”

So, Australians are “alone” in grooving to kilos and kilometres. Except…except…. in the very next paragraph Strong writes that “metrics are used by America's neighbours, Canada”.  One can be alone, apparently, but still have company. Then comes another passing and pointless shot at the United States:
Is it part of the Yank mythology of them being different to the rest of us?
Finally, the mystery of the column’s purpose is revealed. In the very last paragraph, he addresses the matter of the Strong schlong:
Let's face it, when it comes to being a normal average bloke, 150 millimetres doesn't stand out as much as six inches … or five, or even four.
That’s the thing about wankers. Sooner or later they always return to what fascinates them the most.


  1. I was amused by driving around England with the distances in miles, but buying fuel from the garages in litres. I confused my friends muchly by telling them I was getting fuel economy of 10 miles per litre!

  2. The imperial system used 12 as a base. 12 is divided evenly by more numbers than 10. It is a better system for those whose brains can handle it. Especially in engineering and similar fields. Still we're stuck with metrics now. Strange how many still use inches and feet, however yards have definitely disappeared

    1. I guess it might be okay if we were using a base 12 number system... but we're not - we're using a base 10 number system... you'll find that people that have grown up with the imperial system will always be more comfortable with that, but a country needs to move on, unless they're all memebers of the flat-earth society.
      Sure 12 is more divisible by small numbers and that's all primitive societies used... but when you want to use big numbers you quickly run into trouble i.e. how many yards or feet are in a number of miles etc.

      Whereas with the metric system you just add zeroes or delete them most of the time... easy!

      Frank Russo (Physicist)

    2. Really sfw your imperial base 12 argument is pretty weak. As most imperial measures are just various odd & sods bases with little logic and or standardisation. I work in the mining industry and metric is logical, as one can quickly mentally estimate things not only distance measures but rapidly determining volumes and tonnages when using density criteria.
      Prof's musings may be more to do with the banality of what passes for 'quality journalism' at the Fairfax collective.

    3. SFW You are dead right !

      Not only does 12 have many divisors but the imperial system also works on a base 2 system. When you go smaller you divide by 2. We work in 1/2 inches 1/4 inches 1/8 1/16. Then you just drop the number of divisions you want into the numerator. When it gets so small you cant see it then you work in "thou". That is why people that build boats and aeroplanes use it.

      It's all very well to say "we work in a decimal number system" but try using a calculator to spread six rivets between two ribs.

      Sure when we are working in a lab we switch to SI Units.

      FTR I grew up with metric and adopted Imperial with great relief, when I started working with my hands.

    4. PhillipGeorge(c)2012June 30, 2012 at 11:11 PM

      The base 12 numbering system is superior, and zero plays the same role. Frank, when you refer to primitive societies are you referring to pyramid builders for example, or to people who moved 800 ton stones around like the Trilithon set. Remember modern men cut up single stone carved statues to build the Aswan dam - because they couldn't lift what had been left there. Ever wondered about the optical illusions designed into the Parthenon?

      Jesus is Lord - the Egyptians didn't quite move with their times, so they became yesterdays heroes.

      What these primitives did is still a mystery

    5. From what those in the know say, it was aliens that did the clever ancient things and not primitive man!
      ps Christianity is concocted from paganism... read "the Christ conspiracy"... "Who was Jesus"... "Christ in Egypt" and they actually borrowed most things from the Egyptians eg "Meri Isis" ... Lazarus the mummy etc
      (Christianity is not science, it's credulity)
      Frank Russo

    6. From the book "Lost Civilizations and secrets of the past" and "The Ancient Alien Question"

      Man's Origins "Is man a ET experiment?"
      Genesis 3:22 And The Lord went on to say: "Here the man has become like one of us in knowing good and bad, and now in order that he may not put his hand out and actually take also from the tree of life and eat and live to time indefininte."

      Genesis 1:26 And The Lord went on to say: "Let us make man in our own image according to our likeness,

      Tower of Babel
      Genesis 11:6 And The Lord proceeded to go down to see the city and the tower that the sons of man had built. After that The Lord said: "Look! They are one people and there is one language for them all, and this is what they start to do. Why now there is nothing that they may have in mind to do that will be unattainable for them." (Emphasis added!)


    7. The main bone of contention for the imperial system seems to be the convenience of fractional sub-divisions of a unit... however people fail to grasp that these are not units... one is still using inches when he chooses to use a half, a quarter, an eighth, a sixteenth etc... there's nothing to stop one from using similar fractions of the centimetre... if such tools were in demand they would be made... however a system of units should cater for the extremely large and small and not just for the proverbial handyman!!! We're in the nano-age (and I 'use' measurements of 10 to the minus ten of a meter in my Michelson-Morley formulations!)

      Frank Russo.

    8. PhillipGeorge(c)2012July 2, 2012 at 12:46 AM

      Frank, you're over looking the Fibonacci series and its relationship, both aesthetically and practically to the royal inch and foot and cubit.
      The inch and foot are aesthetically pleasing and practical.

      As for vague theories on paganism: they do lack substance and seriously don't accommodate for Jesus' resurrection.

      The Resurrection is really the sticking place.

      As for Michelson-Morley: I've often wondered if they didn't get a false negative - but I'll leave that for another day. You might be on pay dirt with that one.

  3. Excellent work, Bunyip!!!!

    To Geoff, I would advise that if he really was so clever as to understand both systems he would know that 150mm stands out 2" more than 4 inches.

  4. You're absolutely 'write' Bunyip, those wankers only have 6", 5', 4", .. doodles.

  5. Elizabeth (Lizzie) B.June 30, 2012 at 11:52 AM

    Generally I'm a metric kid, Prof, but when it comes to heights and, um, that other thing, then I definitely go for the Imperials. I like to visualise. :)

    I note too, with some people, particularly lefties, if you give them an inch, they'll take a mile. Somehow can't see that working in metrics.

  6. Prof
    I seem to remember a particular battleground of the Metric Revolution was fought in aviation. The imperialist running-dog reactionaries in the world of aeroplanes resisted the push for change. However the apparatchiks at the Politburo of Weights and Measures were having none of it and, given the high level of Federal regulation of aviation, were salivating at the prospect of ripping Operators Certificates away at the mere whisper of “feet” or “pounds”.
    Finally someone pointed out to Gough that the international business of aviation was conducted in imperial units. They went on to ponder the consequences of an Australian pilot being given an assigned altitude in feet but getting the conversion wrong on his new metric altimeter.
    The feeling was that Gough was a little concerned at the prospect of a prang but what seemed to focus his mind was the personal ridicule he might suffer on the world stage as a result.
    The Irish Lion

    1. There was, of course, that famous 767 operated by Air Canada c1984 that ran out of fuel because those loading it were confused by metrics avoirdupois.

    2. Walter Plinge of Coffin BayJune 30, 2012 at 1:09 PM

      Same thought occured to me. You are, of course, referring to the famous Gimli Glider

    3. In addition to just one or two other items, a minor requirement to pass your check to the line on Boeing or Douglas or Lockheed types (L188, used as a freighter into the eighties) with Ansett, Australian Airlines or Qantas you needed to be able to do the lbs vs time fuel burn for sectors / reserves / holding / alternates all with different fuel flows as mental maths.

      There are happy, mysterious synchronicities

      There were various whole number, shortcut formulae that allowed all to be done as exact mental calculations. Perfect.

      Then kgs and litres new mentally usable methods were possible to convert from flight plan to loading....we tried, O how we tried to reinvent the wheel. Back we went to the circular slide rule, (left hand shirt pocket).

      God prefers Imperial, it's obvious.

    4. Not to mention the multi-million dollar Mars probe that was lost because some contractor used pound-seconds (imperial) instead of the newton-seconds (metric) specified by NASA, causing the satellite to disintegrate in the Martian atmosphere instead of going into Mars orbit.

    5. And there was also the case of the probe that crashed into Mars because the engineers mixed up,their units!

    6. Still - Vertical measurements in Aviation are in feet, horizontal are in Metres... Go figure.

      So we have 5000 metres visibility cruising at 6000 feet. Eh.

    7. Well sort of....Runway Visual Range (RVR) is used as metric, it's a takeoff visibility limit.

      Aircraft airborne are either 'visual' ie. clear of cloud or IFR ie. on the dials.

      Except in PNG, where we were often 'between layers' a concept that rightly induces nightmares in Australian CPLs

    8. Speaking of aviation and metric/imperial measurements, look at the wikipedia entry 'Gimli Glider' for a classic stuff up.

  7. What man of true grit would ever descend to fanfaronade after having landed a
    3kg trout? It would be drinks all 'round should he boast of nabbing a six and a half pounder. (Strictly on fly, of course.)

  8. Imperial will never die.....
    The Metricians made the mistake / had the disadvantage of well established rounded Imperial and instead of trying to redefine (a hopeless task in any case) a trophy rainbow trout as 4.5 kgs they are stuck with 10lbs, that's 4.536kgs and your 4.5 definitely won't do. That'd be cheating.

  9. Prof your comments gizmo would appear a touch dis functional it may just be me , however it seem to be freezing up a lot .

  10. I very rarely agree with anything in the Age and I usually agree with your views but not in this case. Surely it simply boils down to what you are used to. If you are educated in the metric system than that will provide a "better and more accurate mental image". Conversely, with the imperial system. Common sense really.

    Logically, it's a "no contest". What sense is there in 12ins = 1 foot, 3 feet = 1 yard, 16 1/2 feet = 1 rod, pole or perch, etc? It's laughable that anyone could favour such nonsense.

  11. This obsession with the six inch bizz,proves my theory the Melbourne pravda writers are Wankers ! Dont know about the Feminazis ?Perhaps someone can enlighten me?

    1. At 6 inches, I would suggest they are boasting or dreaming.

  12. Babies are also more meaningful in pounds and ounces.

  13. As for the Feminazis and their gear Boris, go to and see what Larry has our Juliar lugging around in his cartoos.

    1. What a find! I havent seen anything by Pickering in years - maybe he has been suppressed for being poilitically unreliable.

      Brilliant Cartoons.

  14. Prof, my personal view is that the Yanks refuse to embrace the metric system because the French invented it and are scared they'll all turn into cheese eating surrender monkeys. Or like mime.

    As an engineer that has dealt with a lot of US product and companies over the years, I can work with both units easily enough and do most conversions in my head, but metric is far easier to use and more logical.

  15. You know why women can't judge distance?

    For years men have been telling them that this...

    forms ] with thumb and forefinger

    is seven inches.

    1. Elizabeth (Lizzie) B.June 30, 2012 at 6:17 PM

      That's absolute gold, Kae.

      ps. I've never met a man who does penis-speak in metrics. Do they exist?

      Metrics might have the advantage of allowing some to sneak in a few more mm to their boasting but I suspect that more men use Imperial because they like to round up to the next inch. :)

  16. I find it easier to judge inches than centimetres. I'd already learnt imperial measurements before metric came in.

    Some things are just easier in imperial because I grew up with it.

  17. Some measurements are simply more convenient in imperial than metric. The reason why international aviation still uses feet for altitude is that "1000 ft" is a very convenient interval for altitude separation in aircraft. Hence "Descend to Flight Level 28..."

  18. As a [former] precision fencer, when you're working with a tape measure, arse-up and nose to mud, with rain and/or sun in eyes, it's bloody difficult recording a distance as eg. 3005mm, or was that 3050mm???! In a bad lay - and there's plenty - feet and inches greatly reduce the chances of costly errors. However, metrics are better in the workshop when making the drawings and 'marking out' metal stock. Some operations just work better in a specific human arena.

  19. Anybody here ever work with standard sized lumber or bolts, or sheet rock, or metal bar stock, or screws, or pipe fittings, or keep real estate records, or survey land, or maintain weighing scales....?

    Because those who do realize the implications of re-defining all this stuff for a country the size of the USA with 300+ million people. What should we do, completely replumb our houses when we have a leaky drain because all the new pipes and fittings are now metric and don't fit?

    And yes, transition could be done over many years, but what's the return for all the effort and huge expense?

  20. Well, I believe the whole metric system started out because a metre was the length of one easy stride by Napoleon's troops, and, having selected all the guys of greater stature (he being very short, required tall soldiers to offset this - he was always on a horse to disguise his shortness etc), however by the end of Napoleon's ramblings, his soldiers could no longer make the stride so easily, and the height of the whole French population was reduced by three inches due to such heavy genetic selection.

    1. Interesting story, but this seems more like the reason

  21. mojo, Unrepentant YankJuly 3, 2012 at 5:37 AM

    Had an engineer from Jolly Olde once who asked "Why do you Yanks still use the Imperial system?"

    After a short side trip re: the word "Imperial", he got his answer: "Because we can."