As a result of our advanced technical developments, we have become capable of measuring every aspect of life to an exceptional level of precision. Because of this, we are losing our ability to communicate distance, weights, time intervals and so on with approximations born of a time where precision was impossible or irrelevant. So my question this week is, despite our technical capabilities, are we truly measuring up?
Not by a country mile I say. But what is a country mile anyway? If you measure in the Imperial or western standards it’s 5,280 feet. In the metric system a mile is 1609.34 metres. But it’s all pasture sauce when you’re actually in the country. In the city, everything tends to be laid out in grids of specific dimensions so we can fairly precisely tell it you Grandma lives seven blocks north and three west. In the country, without these landmarks, perhaps we don’t appreciate that over the hills and through the woods to Grandmother’s house is really further than a mile, but hey, who’s got an odometer, so I estimate it’s about a mile (a country mile).
What other measures have we adopted that are on the periphery of our accurate knowledge?
The Apgar Score. Is that the start of the Gar scale? Apgar, Bigar, Cigar etc? Nope. It’s the first test we all took, and since you’re around to read it, you must have passed. The Apgar Score came about in 1952 when Dr. Virginia Apgar created a way to evaluate the vitality of newborns immediately after birth. Here are the criteria: Appearance, Pulse, Grimace, Activity and Respiration. It ranges from 0 (not so good) to 10 (Bo Derek the first official Perfect 10).
The carat – not the old carrot that Bugs Bunny sought after, but something interchangeable with the carrot in the inducement of a carrot (carat) or a stick. And here’s the inducement, the carat is a unit of measure of how big a diamond is. It’s from the Greek word keration meaning a carob bean, which was used as a standard weight in ancient Greece. But out with the beans and in with precision: a carat is defined as 200 milligrams. Not so a-peeling.
The jerk – The jerk of the car when you accelerate quickly. Engineers define a jerk as a unit of the rate of change of acceleration. 1 jerk is equal to 0.3048 m/sec3. Truth is there isn’t just one jerk. They’re all around me everyday in rush hour! Oh, sorry. They’re not all jerks. They’re the ones that zoom past me really fast, cut in without signaling and make rude gestures even when I wave with most of my fingers extended. No they’re not all jerks. The ones who get in my way, poke along and cause me anxiety … are the morons! There’s no scientific measurement for them.
The baker’s dozen – A dozen is twelve. So where did we get this idea that bakers should be generous and put in a bonus bagel, a complimentary croissant, a free focaccia? It’s not because they had more dough than they needed. The practice actually came to be in the 13th century, when a medieval English law stated a baker could be punished by chopping his hand off with an axe if he was found to be shortchanging a customer. It was a crummy thing to do so adding an extra loaf of bread was handy insurance.
The moment – We’ve all had experience enduring or invoking that precise time period known as the moment. If you ask someone to wait a moment, you’re asking them to wait for a very short period of time. But how short? I was amazed to find out this is a medieval unit of time. It’s actually a defined 1/40th of an hour or 1.5 minutes. The people who put you on hold for just a moment should be told that.
Finally for this edition, the cubit: A biblical unit of measure as per the instructions given to Noah before the rainstorm to end all rainstorms. It’s the distance between a man’s middle finger and his elbow, about 18 inches. A cubit is divided into 6 palms or 24 digits. See? It was a digital world even back then, and accurate enough to allow for the world’s largest menagerie (zoo) to survive and repopulate the earth.
That’s about the size of it.