Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Where does a year go, eh?

A year of blogging, I can already hear you saying 'it seems much, much longer than that!'
As this my 52nd week I will finish with a celebratory joke that sums up the essential 'bah, humbug' of my weekly ranting.
However, first, I would like to draw your attention to the screen grab (right).
This is the stats page of my blog, and it shows that about a hundred people a week read my vitriolic prose.
I thank each and every one of you for showing an interest.
Down at the bottom right you can see a rather nifty map showing where the readers come from, and latterly, my north American readership has picked up due to sharing it to some new sites, Reddit, Pinterest, Stumbleupon and Delicious.
The darker green of the US shows that there are more from there these days than home, so I am going to change my writings slightly to accommodate them.
So instead of just saying that Julie Bishop likes murdering children, I will say "the Australian Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, likes murdering children".
Instead of saying simply "the Abbott government like destroying the environment", I will instead say "the current Australian Federal Government, headed by an ultra-conservative lackwit, Tony Abbott, like destroying the environment", and so on.
Hopefully the accommodating of our overseas readers will not inconvenience those at home or interfere with the free flow of invective that I spew.
And now, since we have some US readers I will take the opportunity to tackle an issue that still bugs me, namely, the Imperial system(?!!) of measurement.
The US of course still famously refuse to institute the Metric System, due to, I guess, an unwillingness to change to something unfamiliar.
This I understand, there is nothing more frightening to humans than change, indeed most of the xenophobia that the current Australian Federal Government headed by an ultra-conservative lackwit, Tony Abbott, display, is due to fear on something different, mostly Muslims, but anyone who isn't white and traces there genetics back to the British Isles, is right in the government sights.
But (as usual) I digress.
So, the Metric System.
I think the world should use the metric system mainly due to my background as a scientist.
We scientists use what's called the System Internationale (SI) for units of measurement.
Under the SI, the unit of time is the second, the unit of weight is the kilogram and the unit of length is the metre.
The US still uses the Imperial system and this has no basis in logic: "and why", I hear you ask, "is that?"
Well, as expected, I'm going to tell you.
The metric system has its basis in logical, worldwidely available standards.
Thus, 1 kilogram, 1,000 grams, is derived from the weight of a cubic centimetre of water.
(Editor's note: You yanks can damn well spell centimetre the correct way an' all.)
Water exists everywhere, and so we have a convenient standard for weight.
A metre was originally recorded as "1/10,000,000th of the distance of from the equator to the north Pole".
This had some problems as the North pole moves around a bit due to climactic, gravitational and magnetic reasons.
So it was redefined as: "the length of the path travelled by light in a vacuum during a time interval of 1/299,792,458th of a second".
Not handy on a household level, but for those that can measure it, it gives us a uniform standard for length.
Temperature is recorded in units known as Kelvins, named for an early engineer working in the field, William Kelvin.
0 on the Kelvin scale is absolute zero, -273.15C.
At this point it is so cold that even sub-atomic particles stop moving.
The two common scales in use today are of course Fahrenheit and Celsius.
Celsius is, by a cosmic margin, the more logical, with zero being the freezing point of water, and a hundred being the boiling point.
Fahrenheit, still used in the US, makes no sense with freezing point at 32 degrees and boiling at 212.
It seems our US friends like to stick dogmatically to units that are counter intuitive at best.
Time is thankfully universal and derives from segments of the day, with a second being 1/86400th of a day.
The day itself being worked out by the Greeks and Romans, painstakingly, as they watched the seasons pass and the shadows move across the Colosseum.
Alec Baldwin as Jack Donaghy: "Arrgghhh!
he told me in kilometres!"
OK? So everything to do with the metric system has a logical basis and has easily available standards to get your first measure.
Compare this with the hopelessly misguided Imperial system.
A yard in the Imperial system is apparently the distance from King Henry VIIIth's nose to his fingertip with arm outstretched, a foot was the length of his foot, and in inch, the length of one of his toes.
The pound, the basis of the Imperial weight system, has an uncertain provenance, but stems from Roman times and was some arcane standard now lost to the mists of history.
The abbreviation for pound, "lb", comes from the Roman for scales, libra.
The point being that there is now no logical standard that a pound can be measured by if for some reason we lose it.
(Another Editor's note: I'm not crazy about monarchies of any sort, so the Imperial system has two strikes with me.
Further to that: The yanks hate the British monarchy and had a revolution to break away, you'd think they would have embraced the egalitarian Metric system at the time, just goes to show there's not a lot of logic involved with the Imperial system and its use.)
The American attitude to the Metric system is best summed up (in my opinion) by Alec Baldwin in 30Rock.
Alec plays arch-republican, Jack Donaghy.
In one episode he attends a conference in Toronto, Canada with his heavily pregnant wife.
Some days before the due date, she begins contracting, and Jack and wife start a major flap as they want their child to be born in the US, so that the kid can be president some day.
Frantically Jack tries to find a way to get back to the US, and his wife asks, "can you drive me back there? How far is it?"
Jack replies: "I don't know, I asked a Canadian the distance, but he told me in kilometres!"
For the record, it's 160k, or 100 miles from Toronto, Canada to the closest point of the US, Buffalo, New York.
So to all my new US readers, glad to have you, but please start using the Metric system and catch up with the rest of the world.
So having raised the blood pressure of everyone States side I will close this week's epoch marking rant with one of my favourite jokes that could have been written for me.

A guy joins a monastery in the Himalayas.
It's a vow of silence monastery, but every year on mid-summer day each member of the order is allowed to say two words to the abbot.
So the new guy goes about his devotions and then summer comes and it's time to say his first two words.
He joins the line in front of the abbot, seated at his desk with quill poised ready over his parchment.
His turn comes and the abbot says, "Yes, brother, what are your words for this year?"
The new guy says, "More food."
The abbot writes it down, and the novitiate goes away and another year passes.
The next year comes and once again the line forms in front of the abbot.
The new guy comes up in turn and is asked for his words, he says, "More blankets."
Once again it is written down with due ceremony and the members of the order pass another year.
Our joke's abbot in one of the first two years.
Mid-Summer comes again and the new guy comes up for his third utterance, his fifth and sixth words in three years.
He shuffles up to the desk and the abbot looks up at him enquiringly, and the guy says, "More firewood".
At these word the abbot throws down his quill and says with considerable exasperation, "For Buddha's sake mate, you've been here three years and all you've done is bloody complain!"