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Thursday, May 2, 2013

Big Idea: Translate Currency & Measurements

Reading any kind of article about science or money inevitably involves numbers of one sort, and where we have numbers we need to know just what we are enumerating, i.e. what unit of measure are we using? Since there are two popular measurement systems (English and Metric) and innumerable monetary systems, if you choose to use just one system in your writing, some reader somewhere is going to feel left out. Many writers try to compensate by including a converted number with alternate units in parentheses. i.e. 6 miles (10 clicks). This is alright if there are only one or two numbers involved, but when there are more, it can obscure the writing, making it hard to follow.
    Since we all have these fancy-schmancy computers now, it would be nice if the computer could automatically translate these numbers into your preferred system. Something for the next version of HTML, maybe. Of course, to make this really painless, we would need a sophisticated parser that could identify the numbers and units being used. Should be a piece of cake for the people who brought us self driving cars.

The drawing above is supposed to show that the Metric system is superior to the English system, and if the world was filled with rectangular islands it might be. But it's not. The world we live in is more like the squiggly shaped yellow island. The English measurement system has been constructed to measure the world as it is. For science and engineering, the metric system has certain advantages. Given a choice, I would prefer to work on cars built using the metric system. Fractions of an inch are just a pain. They would be okay if they stopped at sixteenths, but no, so people insist on using 32nds, and even 64ths, and then below that they revert to thousandths of an inch.
    For things in everyday life, like weather, land, travel and houses I prefer the English system.

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