Idiotic or Inspired?


Um, that's not right.

Um, that’s not right.

A coworker and I were just talking about the confusion in our country between English (aka Christian) and Metric (aka Heathen) units. I fell solidly in the heathen camp, as I much prefer working in Metric units. I’m slowly learning to think in those units, as well.

Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit obviously smoking something

Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit obviously smoking something

Our conversation predictably devolved into wondering what the hell ol’ Danny Fahrenheit was smoking. Celsius is based on the freezing and melting points of NIST-traceable water. What is Fahrenheit based on? I remembered learning this at some point, but those brain cells had long ago been consumed by delicious (or, occasionally, not so delicious) alcohol. After a bit of research, I have learned the story behind the confounding Fahrenheit scale.

So, in 1724 Daniel Fahrenheit proposed a temperature scale he “developed”. He “developed” it off of three reference temperatures — brine, ice and blood. The brine was a 1:1:1 mixture of ice, water and ammonium chloride. It stabilized its temperature very quickly and made a good first point. The ice point was measured in a 1:1 ice water mixture. Blood, I can only assume, was the blood of a virgin which was later burned on an alter to Abaddon.

Why the quotes around “developed”? The scale is derivative of work by Ole Rømer. The Rømer scale, which we don’t even bother teaching our offspring about any more, placed the brine temperature at 0, body temperature at 22.5, and water boiling at 60. Fahrenheit took the Rømer scale and multiplied the body temperature and boiling point of water by 4 to get more granularity and to eliminate fractions. Then, he recalibrated the scale so that ice would freeze at 30 and body temperature would be 90. THEN, he changed those to 32 and 96 semi-arbitrarily so there would be 64 divisions between them making it easier for him to mark a thermometer. By this scale, the boiling point of water was about 212 degrees. Later scientists would monkey with the already monkeyed scale so that the boiling point of water is exactly 212 degrees to make 180 divisions between the freezing and boiling point of water.

If you went all tl;dr on me with that, the bottom line is Daniel Fahrenheit stole a temperature scale then engaged in some heavy drug use to come up with a temperature scale that is almost but not quite like the one we use today because some other dudes were mixing crystal meth and decided to change it up even more.

Meanwhile, Anders Celsius just shook his head and laughed.

  • "…Metric (aka Heathen) units."

    That depends on which flavor of metric units is employed:

    cgs = Convenient, God-given System

    SI = Satan's Invention

  • Not as catchy as Conjunction Junction but Little Twelvetoes makes an interesting case.

    [youtube p2H6RLKGNDc youtube]

  • But -40F is equal to -40C.

    Which I believe is the average temperature of a nice spring day in Canada.

    • Deartháir

      Lately? Totally true.

  • $kaycog
    • OA5599

      Is that made by Kelvin Klein?

      • $kaycog

        It's made by his twin brother, Calvin.

        • I have absolute zero interest in that.

          • That's really the lowest. I don't think anyone could have more negative vibes about this.

          • ptschett

            I bet both have a rankine smell.

          • CaptianNemo2001

            Actually, you are getting warmer with those thoughts the more you drop.

    • B72

      Don't do it! The Celsius is more concentrated and therefore the better deal. You need to use more than twice as much Farenheit to achieve the same result.

  • Even though I'm a scientist, I am perfectly comfortable working in either traditional or metric units. Traditional units often have a human scale that makes them easy to use in many contexts.

    But Fahrenheit degrees are the one traditional unit that irritates me.

    • About the only nice thing about Fahrenheit is a little more precision vs. Celsius. Not that you can really tell much difference in 2 deg F.

      • CaptianNemo2001

        Every degree matters when discussing the temp on a laptop. EVERY DEGREE.

  • It is more convenient to design in metric, but I still don't' really think in metric. I end up doing weird length calculations in my head:
    9mm = 0.355"
    10mm = 0.400"
    5.56mm = 0.223"
    7.62mm = 0.308"
    These come most readily to mind for me for some odd reason.

  • Okay smarty-pants…
    Twist Drill Sizes: Fractional Sizes, okay; Wire Gauge Sizes 1 through 60something, plausible; Letter Sizes, …whuh?

    Thread Series! So many thread series'! Why?!?

    First vs. Third Angle Projection! How did we miss the memo? Actually I have a theory about that one. I explain the difference between First and Third Angle Projection to people by asking them to imagine a glass table; In third angle projection you're looking through the glass at an object what's Front is touching the glass, from there the object flips about but never disconnects from the glass. In first angle the object is sitting on top of the glass, on its back.
    Clearly, Americans prefer third angle projection because we see the world through a television screen.

    • The Professor

      Actually, wire sizes go up to 80, for those itty-bitty holes. I use the entire panoply of drill sizes that you mention, including metric, and brad point and tapered versions of most of them, or at least the ones I can find. I'm still trying to locate a vendor that will sell me a set of brad point wire gauge drill bits.

  • I'm still waiting for the 100 hour days that the Not Ready For Prime Time Players promised me.

  • Deartháir

    I was taught the metric system in school, and only had to learn your furlongs and farthings later in life when trying to rebuild a Rambler. Seriously, no exaggeration, that was my first real exposure to Ye Olde Units. I happily set to work with my metric socket set, which had quite happily served me well for absolutely every task I'd ever encountered, and found that certain sockets fit, and others didn't. Eventually I realized that it would be using the Obsolete System, which had simply never occurred to me.

    I can totally understand how someone who was raised on inches and pounds sterling can find that system more familiar. But familiarity is the only thing I can see as a possible advantage. My socket set, for example, is neatly organized: 5mm, 6mm, 7mm, 8mm, 9mm, 10mm… The other kit is just irritating. It's probably second-nature to people who are used to it, but in those instances when I need a socket just one size smaller, and I've got a couple sockets in use already, trying to remember if 31/74ths of an inch is more or less than 18/53rds of an inch is just infuriating.

    When I discovered that the Lincoln, being mostly a Jaguar, used metric bolts and screws, I did a little dance of happiness.

    • CaptianNemo2001

      Nuts and bolts are a mess in the UK they have had many different thread schemes over the year. I think they have had a few more then the US but I will need to do a hard count.

    • You need a SAAB with a V4. The Swedish bits are English and the German bits are metric, leaving the various interfaces as something of a crapshoot. I still haven't figured out what size one of the nuts on the back of the alternator is supposed to be, other than "Crescent wrench."

    • The Professor

      What, you haven't encountered Wentworth threads yet? And here I thought you were a British car lover…

    • It's funny you mention the Lincoln. US cars are, for the most part, all metric now. There is still the occasional oddball part with an SAE bolt, but in general all nuts and bolts on an American car are metric. Heck, you don't even need a whole set. I can do pretty anything I need to on the wife's Edge with a 5 mm, 8 mm and 14 mm socket.

      My Cherokee is a mixed bag. It was designed in 1984 before the US car companies really started pushing metric, but built in 2001. I'd be willing to bet that all the SAE sized bolts are from the original design and the metric bolts are from later changes.

      • From the late 1970s up to the mid 1990s or later US cars were a mix of standard or metric. I remember when I worked for Genuine Parts (NAPA) there was a brake caliper, same casting, two different part numbers. The only difference was one had a standard bleeder screw, the other had a metric bleeder screw.

  • Tiller188

    I'm getting pretty used to designing and working in metric; I do still do the internal conversions, 3.2 mm ~= 0.125", 25.4 mm = 1", etc., but honestly it's the coherence of the whole system of units that makes it so much nicer. I can pretty much always get back to SI base units easily and do a quick units check to make sure everything is set up correctly in an equation, for example. Even Celsius as a temperature scale has the same "unit" as Kelvin absolute scale, so for those rare occasions when I need Kelvin, it's just addition.

    Oddly, the only thing in metric that is really intuitive to me is engine displacement. Anybody else experience that/does anyone else feel like that's the first, maybe still only metric measurement to become commonplace in the US? That's about the only time I find myself having to convert TO metric to get a better sense for comparison's sake. Since reading more car blogs and getting more up on sports car history I'm a little better with the bigger sizes common to 'murican V-8s, but a 225 ci I-6? How big's that?

    On the other hand, trying to do calculations with BTUs, or inches of water, or slugs, is just a massive pain. (Side note: who came up with the idea of using kgf [kilogram-force]?! Kg is mass, N is force…let's not confuse things with this lbm/lbf, kg/kgf malarkey…)

    • I think we think more in metric for engine displacement because that's what we've grown up with. I know how big a 5L engine is. My dad, on the other hand, still hasn't figured out the metric engine sizes. He's always asking, "My car says it has a 3L engine. How big is that in 'Murican units?"

      Your last paragraph is exactly why I hate English units. I can do calculations with BTUs no problem, and inches of water is just a pressure measurement, but if I am going to be dealing with slugs, lbm vs. lbf, etc. I convert everything to Metric then convert back at the end.

  • Mr_Biggles

    No one?

    "Eau de Toilette" makes me giggle every time I read it.

    • Mmmm…toilet water.

      • That's disgusting.

        • skitter

          No, just a subtle sign of The Mocha's mind control experiments.

        • and refreshing