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Weights and Measures
Dr. A.K. Williams, Ph.D
San Pedro, Costa Rica

What can I tell you about weights and measures that you don't already know? As many of you have undoubtedly noticed in other pages on this site I do not use the "English System". When I was about 12 years old I already knew that the system that I was being taught sucked, made no sense at all, and was something that I wanted no part of. In fact, that is the problem, it is not a system at all. It is a non-system in which you never know what yardstick to measure any particular thing by because the yardstick is only to be used for certain items.

Can anyone out there give me any intelligent reason why a ton of coal does not weigh the same as a ton of Epsom Salts? Well, they don't weigh the same because The English non-system uses a completely different set of scales to weigh them. One set of scales is "rigged" so that it doesn't register the same as the other. If that weren't bad enough, neither of these scales is tied to any unchangeable standard.

Why is a mile 5280 ft? Is there any standard thing in the universe that fits this odd-ball number? Why not just round it off to 5000 ft? That would make a little more sense (very little). Just off the top of your head, how many feet in 1/5 of a mile? Don't cheat! Assume that there was 5,000 ft in our mile. Now ask the same question. The answer is obvious. Why? Because in the latter case you are thinking in decimals and units of ten. Think about it.

Of course we have the "statute" mile as above but where does the Nautical mile fit in. The nautical mile was devised because it is near impossible to navigate in statute miles. So why is a nautical mile any better? Because it is based on something that gives it reason for being. A nautical mile is the distance of one second of longitude at the equator.

Are you really content measuring things as 14 17/92 of an inch. You have two minutes to divide that number by 2. Bet you didn't make it. You would have, had we used increments of 10.
I seem to recall a story about the English building a railroad across Australia. Of course they started on each side of the continent and built toward the pre-determined meeting spot. It seems that the surveyors were pretty good because they did, indeed, meet. However, it seems that the tracks could not be joined because the two building crews had used different track gauge. One half was wider than the other. I believe the engineers explained the costly error by the simple ruse of using the stupidity of the English non-system. They said they used different "yardsticks" to measure the distance between the rails. I have been told that until this day, trains must stop at this point so that the cars can be detached from their wheel carriages and installed on carriages of the proper gauge so that they can continue the trip. Is this true? If anyone knows tell me, I'm interested. History is littered with stories such as this. All because of the unreasonable non-system that England, due mostly to their rabid colonialism, managed to inflict on a large part of the world. This non-system is not a laughing matter. It is plague, a sickness, and a monument to man's stupidity. To the English for devising it and to the rest of world for accepting it.

Can you even entertain the thought of accepting measurements such as long tons, short tons, avoirdupois tons, carats, karats, avoirdupois drams, apothecary drams, pennyweights, fluid ounces, solid ounces, avoirdupois ounces, apothecary ounces, leagues, miles, liquid barrels, dry barrels, petroleum barrels, large calories, small calories, chains, US gallons, imperial gallons, gills, grains, troy grains, hands, British hogsheads, US hogsheads, short hundredweights, long hundredweights, dry quarts, liquid quarts - - - - - -. Don't think for a minute that I have covered them all. I just got up to Q; most of the alphabet is still to go. Hope I made a point. By now you assume that I do not like or embrace the English non-system of measurements. Not only do I dislike it; I refuse to use it!

The Metric System

I am not going to give you a great long boring and worthless conversion table. I don't want you to convert it; I want you to FORGET it. The only reason to have to convert is that someone who is bogged down in English non-measurements has laid this idiotic stuff on you. You know, I just miss-spelled measurements. Why? Again, the English non-system of pronunciation. Why do they never seem to get anything right? What I am going to do is to give you a few key prefixes and suffixes so that you can convert to the metric system, tell all the Brits to kiss - - - - - - the Blarney Stone, and be liberated from the anchor that has been around your neck all these years.

There are a few terms (not many) that you can learn in a few minutes that can guide you through the mysteries of the metric system like Einstein through remedial math. How can this be? Spent my whole life and I still don't know the English non-system. That is the point. Metrics is a system, not just a collection of unrelated garbage.
Learn these few terms and you will be able to understand the entire metric system.

  • The metric system is based on the meter (distance), the liter (volume), and the gram (weight). Nothing else, no exceptions. No short meters, apothecary grams, none of that crap.
  • Everything is in terms of 10's.
  • The prefix tells you immediately how many 10's and if it is more or less than the unit. I.e., grams, liters, or meters.
  • The prefixes deci, kilo, mega mean 10, 1,000, 1,000,000 respectively. We can have a gram, a decigram, kilogram, or a megagram. That means one gram, 10 grams, 100 grams, 1,000 grams and 1,000,000 grams. These prefixes are for amounts more than 1 gram.
  • The prefix milli, micro, pico, etc. refer to amounts less than 1 gram. We can have 1 gram; we can have 1 milligram (0.001 gram), 1 microgram (0.000,001 grams), or 1 picogram (0.000,000,001 grams).
  • There are other terms for amounts more or less than these, but let's just work with the ones described.
  • These prefixes usually go in jumps of three zeros, thousands. The exception is deci that really is not used very much. It's really easier to say "10 grams" rather than "one decigram". Same thing.
  • So when you get used to metrics you will know that a milligram is 1/1,000 of a gram, a microgram is 1/1,000,000 of a gram etc. A kilogram is 1,000 grams, etc.
  • A metric ton is 1,000 kilograms (Kg).
  • A hectare (area) is an area 100 X 100 meters. 10,000 M2.
  • The point here is to try to show you that in the metric system everything is in increments of 10. Now doesn't that make more sense than 19/32 or some such idiocy.
  • Another example, if someone says "hey, I got 100 milligrams (mg) of gold in that last pan". You can convert that immediately to 1/10 of a gram. About $1.00 worth.
  • What if he said, " hey, I got about 1/300th of an assay ton in that last pan". Does that really mean anything to you before you have to pull out your calculator and work for 5-10 minutes? I think not.

Really, all I want to do here is to present a more reasonable and useful alternative to the generally accepted means of measuring things. I just want to get you to think about it. If you do, I have won! Because there is no reasonable excuse for putting up with the bullshit English non-system. After all, science has NEVER accepted this self-crippled non-system because it was obvious from day one that it was unworkable and an insult to any ones intelligence.

Systems work! Non-systems Suck!

This document maintained by A.K. Williams. Material Copyright © 1999 A.K. Williams

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