Media interest has recently focussed on the effects of the credit crunch. The UK’s stalled metric changeover is all but forgotten. John Frewen-Lord has, perhaps tongue-in-cheek, succeeded in linking these issues while providing another example of the superiority of metric measures.
In the UK, several of the banks, as well as various other entities, have had to be bailed out by the government. A figure commonly quoted by the media is that these organisations have received around £1 trillion of government ‘funding’ (a trillion here is defined as the now commonly accepted 10^12). Can you imagine just how much money that is?
Setting aside the fact that most of that money is simply zeros on a computer screen, and most of the physical money that’s left is of the paper variety, it would still be interesting if that £1 trillion could be visualised in terms of £1 coins. Just how big would the pile be?
A pound coin is specified as being 22.50 mm in diameter, 3.15 mm thick, and has a mass of 9.50 g. The coin will therefore occupy a cube 22.5 x 22.5 x 3.15 mm deep. The volume of that cube is 22.5 x 22.5 x 3.15 = 1595 mm³ (working to four significant figures). Now, as we have one trillion of these, we’d better convert to cubic metres, which we can do by moving the decimal point nine places to the left (another way is to move the decimal point three places to the left for each of these millimetre values to convert them straight into metres – the end result is the same). This gives us a figure of 0.000 001 595 m³. Don’t worry about all the zeros – we are now going to multiply this by 10^12, again by just moving the decimal point, this time 12 places to the right. This gives us a total of 1 595 000 m³ (we could even express it as 1 595 000 000 litres, such is the simplicity of the metric system).
That’s a lot of cubic metres. Imagine these coins in a warehouse stacked 10 metres high (approximately the topmost ceiling level of a four-storey house). To find the floor area of this warehouse, simply divide by the height of 10 m – and we have an area of 159 500 m² (which can also be expressed as 15.95 ha again, more metric simplicity). If this warehouse was say 60 m wide, it would be 2 658 m long 2.658 km! It would take the average person a full half hour to walk from one end to the other.
As for how much these 1 trillion coins weigh – well, 9.50 g = 0.0095 kg x 10^12 = 9 500 000 000 kg, or 9 500 000 t (tonnes). You certainly won’t want that landing on your toes.
Note that the ONLY calculations have been to multiply 22.5 by 22.5 by 3.15, and to divide the volume of the warehouse by its height and then its width a total of four calculations. Everything else is simply moving decimal points around.
Now for all those who say Imperial is easier/better/more ‘human’, etc., let us show these same calculations using Imperial measures. Pay attention at the back!
The first thing we have to do is find all the necessary Imperial conversion factors conversion factors that are simply not required in metric. So we have 12 inches in a foot, 3 feet in a yard, 1760 yards in a mile, 9 square feet in a square yard, 4840 square yards in an acre, 1728 cubic inches in a cubic foot, 27 cubic feet in a cubic yard, 0.1605 cubic feet in an imperial gallon, 16 ounces (the avoirdupois kind) in a pound, and 2240 pounds in a long ton. One of the claimed advantages of the Imperial system is the use of base 12 (to facilitate division by 2, 3, 4, and 6, as opposed to base 10 which permits division by only 2 and 5), so we will initially use fractions rather than decimals.
Now comes the easy bit. Converting from the official metric values, the pound coin is approximately 7/8 diameter by 1/8 thick and weighs about 1/3 of an ounce. The volume of the cube that the coin fits into is therefore 7/8 x 7/8 x 1/8 That works out to 49/512ths of a cubic inch (with normally four calculations, two for the numerator and two for the denominator). 49/512 is not exactly an easy number to work with, so let’s cheat and convert it into decimals 0.09570 cubic inch (working again to four significant figures). Multiply by 10^12, and we get 95,700,000,000 cubic inches. Divide by 1728, and we get 55,380,000 cubic feet. Divide again by 27, and we end up with 2,051,000 cubic yards. If we take the cubic feet and divide by 0.1605, we have the equivalent of 345,100,000 imperial gallons.
So far, eight calculations where we had just two with metric (other than moving decimal points around). None of the answers bears any relationship to the others.
And the size of the warehouse that this £1 trillion of coins will fit into? Well, let’s say the stack is 33 feet high, then the area is 55,380,000 cu. ft. divided by 33 = 1,678,000 square feet. Divide by 9 to give its area as 186,500 square yards, and divide again by 4840 to express its area as 38.53 acres. If the warehouse is 200 feet wide, then it would be 8,390 feet long. Divide by 3 and divide again by 1760, and it calculates out to 1.589 miles long.Â Another six calculations where we had just two in metric.
As for the weight of these 1 trillion pound coins well, 1/3 oz x 10^12 = 333,300,000,000 ounces. Divide by 16, and we get 20,830,000,000 pounds, and divide again by 2240, and we get 9,300,000 long tons. Another two calculations where we had NONE in metric (other than moving the decimal point).
All this has involved no fewer than sixteen separate calculations (not to mention getting all the conversion factors right, what if we used the wrong one, or multiplied when we should have divided?), whereas in metric we had just four calculations and no conversion factors.
Of course, this example has been chosen to illustrate the issue. But until the 1970s in Commonwealth countries, including the UK, it was the misfortune of many working in, for example, the construction industry to carry out similar calculations on a daily basis. It is still so in the US.
By any standards, this was and is idiotic, particularly when there is an alternative. So why do the Imperialists want to stay with these measures, for example on the roads and in the street markets? Sounds like self-inflicted torture. If your eyes sort of glazed over when looking at the imperial calculations well, hardly surprising, but it really does beg the question: Why do some of us still want to use this irrational and complex system?
Now, if I go onto Google Earth, I should be able to locate that big warehouse….