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Monday, December 02, 2002

at long last! the meter, she is finally exposed for the bitch that she is!

I always hated the metric system and now I have even more reason to. screw you, centimeter. die, kilometer. take that, meter, you fraud. celsius/centigrade whatever, you're next, you asshole, you.

snippets from the article in case that link goes bad:

Why the metric system is wrong

Author takes 'The Measure of All Things'
By Todd Leopold
Monday, December 2, 2002 Posted: 5:00 PM EST (2200 GMT)

(CNN) -- The meter is a crock.

Originally, you see, the metric unit of distance was supposed to be one ten-millionth of the span from the north pole to the equator.

But the Earth isn't a perfect sphere -- it's an oblate spheroid, flattened at the poles -- and every meridian isn't equal because the Earth isn't perfectly smooth, either. So the meter is an average, a compromise -- a figure agreed upon by men, not handed down by nature.

It's arbitrary, in other words.

Which makes the metric system, extrapolated largely from the meter, arbitrary as well. Not as arbitrary as the yard or the cubit or the rod or the mile, but arbitrary nevertheless.

And then there was the error made by one of the surveyors assigned with coming up with a precise measurement for the new unit. That story, and the story of the metric system's creation, is told by Northwestern University history professor Ken Alder in "The Measure of All Things" (The Free Press).

As Alder chronicles, the metric system was promulgated by the French Academy of Sciences in the years just after the French Revolution. It was a creature of the 18th-century Enlightenment, when ideas based on science, logic and mathematics were overtaking the world.

In France, the revolutionary governments were determined to take these ideas to their logical conclusions. The country changed to a decimal currency -- an idea that caught on -- and even a decimal calendar, with 10-day weeks, 10-hour days and 100-minute hours -- an idea that did not.

At the time, measures varied from town to town, and were often drawn from human scale.

"This meant that not only were some measures based on the human body ... but that many other measures were based on human labor or on some human evaluation of their worth," Alder says. "Land was measured in days (how many days of labor did it take to reap the harvest?) or in bushels (how many bushels of grain did it take to sow the land?)."

The new French leaders were determined to create a single standard based on the Earth, and assigned two astronomers, Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Delambre and Pierre-Francois-Andre Mechain, to travel the French countryside along the Paris meridian to determine its exact length from the English Channel to the Mediterranean. From that length, the meter would be extracted.

Delambre and Mechain's job wasn't easy. The country was still roiled by politics, transportation could be awkward, and their instruments, though the best of the time, can't compare to today's satellite- and laser-based systems.

Yes, the actual length of the meter -- compared with what was intended -- is a mistake. But it's a mistake that has "transformed the world," as the book's subtitle has it.

posted by Ren @ 8:58:00 PM |

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