Archive for June 23, 2012

Conversion Perversion

“Be there in a jiffy.”

If someone says that to you, then you know that that person should arrive soon. But did you know that jiffy is a technical term? Similarly, the expression “two shakes of a lamb’s tail” used to indicate a short period of time, but the unit of time known as a shake now has a specific designation.

  • 1 sec = 100 jiffies = 100,000,000 shakes

I’m big into conversions. I often tell folks, if you need to convert between televangelists and expatriate poets, the following picture may be helpful to you:

Pound Graham

That is, 1 Ezra Pound ≈ 454 Billy Grahams.

The following are some other fun conversions.

  • π sec ≈ 1 nanocentury

It’s interesting that this is so accurate. It is within 0.5%.

  • 1 furlong per fortnight (FPF) ≈ 1 cm/min

This one is even better. The error is less than 0.000025%.

  • 1 m/s = 1 Hz/dpt (Hertz/dioptre)

This is what can happen when common units are replaced with uncommon units. Hertz per dioptre is an inside joke among physicists and yet another reason not to hang out with them. (Dioptre is a unit of measure for the optical power of a lens.)

  • 1 square = 100 square feet

The term square is used in the construction industry, typically to measure a roof. For example, if a roof has an area of 1,000 square feet, then the contractor would order 10 squares of shingles. But you wouldn’t want to use this unit in regular conversation, because it leads to awkward phrases like a “one-square square,” which would be a square that measures 10 feet on a side.

  • 1 gal ≈ 3 + π/4 L

This is one of my favorite conversions. It’s accurate to 0.00000003%.

  • 1 Hubble-barn ≈ 13.1 L

A Hubble length is the length of the observable universe (a very, very big length), and a barn is 100 square femtometers (a very, very small area), so it’s neat that their product gives a very tangible volumetric result.

  • 1 stone = 14 pounds

When asked for my weight, I usually respond, “About 13 stones.” Such a reply leaves room for interpretation, and it could be assumed that I weigh as little as 175 pounds or as much as 189 pounds. And I’m fine with that. What kind of rude bugger asks your weight, anyway?

On a related note, the following formula can be used to approximate the U.S. population for a given year. Let x = the last two digits of the year, and let y = the projected U.S. population for that year (in millions). Then,

  • y = πx + 276

This result is based on projections from the Pew Research Center. This formula provides an accurate estimate (within 1%) of the actual population for every year since 2000, and it should give a reasonable projection for the next several decades, assuming there are no major catastrophes.

June 23, 2012 at 1:44 pm 4 comments


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The Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks blog is an online extension to the book Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks. The blog contains jokes submitted by readers, new jokes discovered by the author, details about speaking appearances and workshops, and other random bits of information that might be interesting to the strange folks who like math jokes.

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