List of humorous units of measurement

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Many people have made use of, or invented, units of measurement intended primarily for their humour value. This is a list of such units invented by sources that are notable for reasons other than having made the unit itself, and of units that are widely known in the anglophone world for their humour value.

Conventional[edit]

These units may or may not have precise objectively measurable values, but all of them measure quantities that have been defined within the International System of Units.

Systems[edit]

FFF units[edit]

Main article: FFF system
Unit Dimension Definition SI Value
furlong length 660 ft 201.168 m
firkin[1] mass 90 lb 40.8233 kg
fortnight time 14 days 1,209,600 s

Most countries use the International System of Units (SI). In contrast, the humorous Furlong/Firkin/Fortnight system of units of measurement draws attention by being extremely old fashioned, and off-beat at the same time.[2]

One furlong per fortnight is very nearly 1 centimetre per minute (to within 1 part in 400). Indeed, if the inch were defined as 2.54 cm rather than 2.54 cm exactly, it would be 1 cm/min. Besides having the meaning of "any obscure unit", furlongs per fortnight have also served frequently in the classroom as an example on how to reduce a unit's fraction. The speed of light may be expressed as being roughly 1.8 terafurlongs per fortnight (or megafurlongs per microfortnight).[3][4]

Great Underground Empire (Zork)[edit]

In the Zork series of games, the Great Underground Empire had its own system of measurements, the most frequently referenced of which was the bloit. Defined as the distance the king's favorite pet could run in one hour (spoofing a popular legend about the history of the foot), the length of the bloit varied dramatically, but the one canonical conversion to real-world units puts it at approximately two-thirds of a mile (1 km). Liquid volume was measured in gloops, and temperature in degrees Q (57 °Q is said to be the freezing point of water).[5]

Potrzebie[edit]

In issue 33, Mad published a partial table of the "Potrzebie System of Weights and Measures", developed by 19-year-old Donald E. Knuth, later a famed computer scientist. According to Knuth, the basis of this new revolutionary system is the potrzebie, which equals the thickness of Mad issue 26, or 2.263348517438173216473 mm.[6]

Volume was measured in ngogn (equal to 1000 cubic potrzebies), mass in blintz (equal to the mass of 1 ngogn of halva, which is "a form of pie [with] a specific gravity of 3.1416 and a specific heat of .31416"), and time in seven named units (decimal powers of the average earth rotation, equal to 1 "clarke"). The system also features such units as whatmeworry, cowznofski, vreeble, hoo, and hah.

According to the "Date" system in Knuth's article, which substitutes a 10-clarke "mingo" for a month and a 100-clarke "cowznofski", for a year, the date of October 29, 2007 is rendered as "To 1, 190 C. M." (for Cowznofsko Madi, or "in the Cowznofski of our MAD"). The dates are calculated from October 1, 1952, the date MAD was first published. Dates before this point are referred to (perhaps tongue-in-cheek) as "B.M." ("Before MAD.") The ten "Mingoes" are: Tales (Tal.) Calculated (Cal.) To (To) Drive (Dri.) You (You) Humor (Hum.) In (In) A (A) Jugular (Jug.) Vein (Vei.)

Quantity[edit]

Sagan[edit]

See also: Sagan's number

As a humorous tribute to Carl Sagan and his association with the catchphrase "billions and billions", a sagan has been defined as a large quantity of anything.[7][8]

Length[edit]

Beard-second[edit]

The beard-second is a unit of length inspired by the light-year, but used for extremely short distances such as those in integrated circuits. The beard-second is defined as the length an average beard grows in one second. Kemp Bennett Kolb defines the distance as exactly 100 angstroms (10 nanometers),[9] as does Nordling and Österman's Physics Handbook.[10] However, Google Calculator supports the beard-second for unit conversions using the value 5 nm.[11]

Mickey[edit]

One mickey per second is the smallest resolvable unit of measurement for the speed and direction that a computer mouse pointing device is moved. It is named after Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse cartoon character.[12] Generally there are two measurements sent during a mouse movement, one for the horizontal axis and one for the vertical axis. Device sensitivity is usually specified in mickeys per inch.

Sheppey[edit]

A measure of distance equal to about 78 of a mile (1.4 km), defined as the closest distance at which sheep remain picturesque. The Sheppey is the creation of Douglas Adams and John Lloyd, included in The Meaning of Liff, their dictionary of putative meanings for words that are actually just place names.[13] It is named after the Isle of Sheppey in the UK.

Smoot[edit]

Main article: Smoot

The smoot is a unit of length, defined as the height in 1958 of Oliver R. Smoot, who later became the Chairman of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and president of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). The unit is used to measure the length of the Harvard Bridge. Canonically, and originally, in 1958 when Smoot was a Lambda Chi Alpha pledge at MIT (class of 1962), the bridge was measured to be 364.4 smoots, plus or minus one ear, using Mr. Smoot himself as a ruler.[14] At the time, Smoot was 5 feet, 7 inches, or 170 cm, tall.[15] Google Earth and Google Calculator include the smoot as a unit of measurement.

Supposedly, the Cambridge (Massachusetts) police department got into the convention of using Smoots to measure the locations of accidents and incidents on the bridge. When the original markings were removed or covered over during bridge maintenance, the police had to request that someone reapply the Smoot scale markings.[16]

Area[edit]

Barn, outhouse, shed[edit]

A barn is a serious unit of area used by nuclear physicists to quantify the scattering or absorption cross-section of very small particles, such as atomic nuclei.[17] It is one of the very few units which are accepted to be used with SI units, and one of the most recent units to have been established (cf. the knot and the bar, other non-SI units acceptable in limited circumstances).[18] One barn is equal to 1.0×10−28 m2. The name derives from the folk expression "Couldn't hit the broad side of a barn", used by particle accelerator physicists to refer to the difficulty of achieving a collision between particles. The outhouse (1.0×10−6 barns) and shed (1.0×10−24 barns) are derived by analogy.

Volume[edit]

Barn-megaparsec[edit]

This unit is similar in concept to the attoparsec, combining very large and small scales. When a barn (a very small unit of area used for measuring the cross sectional area of nuclei) is multiplied by a megaparsec (a very large unit of length used for measuring the distances between galaxies), the result is a human-scaled unit of volume approximately equal to 23 of a teaspoon (about 3 ml).

Hubble-barn[edit]

Similar to the aforementioned barn-megaparsec, the Hubble-barn uses the barn with the Hubble length, which is the length of the visible universe as derived by using the Hubble constant and the speed of light. This amounts to around 13.1 litres (3.46 US gallons, 2.88 Imperial gallons).

Power[edit]

Donkey power[edit]

This facetious engineering unit is defined as 250 watts—about a third of a horsepower.[19]

Time[edit]

Friedman[edit]

The Friedman is approximately six months, specifically six months in the future, and named after columnist Thomas Friedman who repeatedly used the span in reference to when a determination of Iraq's future could be surmised.[20][21][22][23][24][25][26]

Jiffy[edit]

A jiffy is a unit of time used in computer operating systems, being the interval of time between system timer interrupts. This interval varies from system to system, but is typically between 1 and 10 milliseconds.

Kardashian[edit]

A Kardashian is a unit of measure representing 72 days of marriage.[27][28] This unit of time came in response to the 72-day marriage of Kim Kardashian to Kris Humphries.

Microcentury[edit]

According to Gian-Carlo Rota,[29] the mathematician John von Neumann used the term microcentury to denote the maximum length of a lecture. One microcentury is 52 minutes and 35.69 seconds.

Microfortnight[edit]

In the VAX/VMS operating system the parameter timepromptwait was specified in microfortnights (unit of about 1.2 seconds).

Tatum[edit]

A tatum is the "lowest regular pulse train that a listener intuitively infers from the timing of perceived musical events." It is named after the legendary jazz pianist Art Tatum.[30]

Shake[edit]

In nuclear physics, a shake is 10 nanoseconds, the approximate time for a generation within a nuclear chain reaction. The term comes from the expression "two shakes of a lamb's tail", meaning quickly.[31]

Non-conventional[edit]

These units describe dimensions which are not and cannot be covered by the International System of Units.

Earthquake intensity[edit]

Tom Weller suggests the humorous Rictus scale (a takeoff of the conventional Richter scale) for earthquake intensity, as pertains to later media coverage of the event.[32]

Rictus scale # Richter scale equivalent Media coverage
1 0–3 Small articles in local papers
2 3–5 Lead story on local news; mentioned on network news
3 5–6.5 Lead story on network news; wire-service photos appear in newspapers nationally; governor visits scene
4 6.5–7.5 Network correspondents sent to scene; president visits area; commemorative T-shirts appear
5 7.5+ Covers of weekly news magazines; network specials; "instant books" appear

Information flow: Dirac[edit]

Physicist Paul Dirac was known among his colleagues for his precise yet taciturn nature. His colleagues in Cambridge jokingly defined a unit of a dirac which was one word per hour.[33]

Beauty: Helen[edit]

Helen leaving for Troy with Paris, as depicted by Guido Reni

Helen of Troy (from the Iliad) is widely known as "the face that launched a thousand ships". Thus, 1 millihelen is the amount of beauty needed to launch a single ship.

According to The Rebel Angels, a 1981 novel by Robertson Davies, this system was invented by Cambridge mathematician W.A.H. Rushton. However, the term was possibly first suggested by Isaac Asimov.[34] The obvious reference is Marlowe's lines from the 1592 play The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, "Was this the face that launched a thousand ships / And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?"[35]

The Catalogue of Ships from Book II of The Iliad, which describes in detail the commanders who came to fight for Helen and the ships they brought with them, details a total of 1,186 ships which came to fight the Trojan War. As such, Helen herself has a beauty rating of 1.186 helens, capable of launching more than one thousand ships.

Negative values have also been observed—these are measured by the number of ships sunk or the number of clocks stopped. An alternative interpretation of 1 negative helen is the amount of negative beauty (i.e. ugliness) that can beach a thousand ships.

David Goines has written a humorous article[36] describing various Helen-units. It has a chart with the fire-lighting and ship-launching capability for different powers of "Helens". For example a picohelen (ph) (10−12 helens) indicates the amount of beauty that can "Barbecue a couple of Steaks & Toss an Inner Tube Into the Pool".

Thomas Fink, in The Man's Book,[37] defines beauty both in terms of ships launched, and also in terms of the number of women than whom one woman will, on average, be more beautiful. One helen (H) is the quantity of beauty to be more beautiful than 50 million women, the number of women estimated to have been alive in the 12th century BC. Ten helena (Ha) is the beauty sufficient for one oarsman (of which 50 are on a ship) to risk his life, or be the most beautiful of a thousand women. Beauty is logarithmic on a base of 2. For beauty to increase by 1 Ha, a woman must be the most beautiful of twice as many women. One helen is 25.6 Ha. The most beautiful woman who ever lived would score 34.2 Ha, and 1.34 H, the pick of a dozen women would be 3.6 Ha, and 0.14 H.

The webcomic Irregular Webcomic! dedicated a strip to the helen unit of beauty, in which is stated that the millihelen should not be used, because metric prefixes should not be mixed with troy units.[38]

Bogosity: Lenat[edit]

The unit of bogosity, i.e. how bogus a person, claim, or proceeding is, derived from the fictional field of Quantum Bogodynamics, is the Lenat. The Lenat is seldom used, as it is understood that it is too large for normal conversation. Its most common form is the microLenat.[39][40]

Coolness: MegaFonzie[edit]

A MegaFonzie is a fictional unit of measurement of an object's coolness invented by Professor Farnsworth in the Futurama episode, "Bender Should Not Be Allowed on TV." A 'Fonzie' is about the amount of coolness inherent in the Happy Days character Fonzie.[41]

Happiness: Puppy[edit]

Lucy van Pelt is credited in the comic strip Peanuts to have discovered the axiom happiness is a warm puppy. The proposed SI unit of happiness, puppy, is derivable as the quantity of happiness that a one kilogram beagle puppy whose body temperature is 310 kelvins produces when held in skin contact for one second.[42]

Magical energy: Thaum[edit]

The Thaum is a measuring unit used in the Terry Pratchett series of Discworld novels to quantify magic. It equals the amount of mystical energy required to conjure up one small white pigeon, or three normal-sized billiard balls. It can, of course, be measured with a thaumometer, and regular SI prefixes apply (e.g. millithaum, kilothaum).[43]

A thaumometer looks like a greenish glass cube with a dial on one side. A standard one is good for up to a million thaums — if there is more magic than that around, measuring it should not be your primary concern.

Parodying the introduction of the metric system later Discworld novels refer to the introduction of the newer unit Prime to avoid arguments around standard sizing of pigeons. It is more reliably defined as the magical energy required to move one pound of lead one foot.

It is not to be confused with the magical particle "thaum" from the same series of novels.

Obstruction: Pouter[edit]

During WW2, scientists working for DMWD encountered a particularly obstructive British Naval Officer called Commander Pouter, for whom the unit of Obstruction was named, due to his implacable opposition to any work being carried out in the field for which he was personally responsible.

Subsequently, the micropouter was used, as it was hoped that no individual of a similarly difficult disposition would be encountered, and the pouter was too large a unit for everyday use.[44]

Pleasure and pain: Hedon and Dolor[edit]

Philosophers talking about Jeremy Bentham's Utilitarianism sometimes use the conceptual unit of the hedon to describe the amount of pleasure, equivalent to the amount of pleasure a person receives from gaining one util of utility.[45] The converse unit of the hedon, used to measure pain or displeasure, is the dolor.[46]

Fame: Warhol[edit]

This is a unit of fame or hype, derived from Andy Warhol's dictum "everyone will be world-famous for fifteen minutes". It represents, naturally, fifteen minutes of fame. Some multiples are:

  • 1 kilowarhol — famous for 15,000 minutes, or 10.42 days. A sort of metric "nine-day wonder".
  • 1 megawarhol — famous for 15 million minutes, or 28.5 years.

First used by Cullen Murphy in 1997.[47]

Also used simply as meaning 15 minutes; as the Warhol worm, that could infect all vulnerable machines on the entire Internet in 15 minutes or less.

Quackery: Canard[edit]

The canard is a unit of quackery created by Andy Lewis in the need for a fractional fruitloopery index.[48] It is proposed as an SI Unit to replace the old "Crackpot Index" [49] that was presented in 1998.

"Quack words include 'energy', 'holistic', 'vibrations', 'magnetic healing', 'quantum'. These words are usually borrowed from physics and used to promote dubious health claims."

It scores on a scale from 0 to 10 the quantity of quackery used.[50]

Twitter followers: Wheaton[edit]

The Wheaton is a measurement of Twitter followers relative to celebrity Wil Wheaton.[51][52] The measurement was standardized when Wil Wheaton achieved half a million Twitter followers, with the effect that Wil Wheaton now has 5.2 Wheatons himself (as of June 2014). As few Twitter users have millions of followers, the milliwheaton (500 followers) is more commonly used.

World Peace and Stability Index[edit]

World Peace and Stability Index is a measure of stability and/or volatility of the world on a particular day. It is calculated as the "number of times CNN news channel repeats a tape". Zero indicates a turbulent world with a lot of disturbing events going on in various parts. A high value signifies there are not many major events and the world is mostly peaceful.[53][citation needed]

Basis: CNN is (in)famous for telecasting the same 5-minute recording more than hundred times a day. If, on a particular day, even CNN is unable to repeat the same tape twice, it would mean that there are so many ghastly activities going on in various parts of the world that there is no time available in which to repeat any tapes.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ The firkin is normally a unit of volume equal to nine imperial gallons. The "firkin" of the FFF system is the firkin of water, i.e. the mass of nine imperial gallons of water. The imperial gallon was originally based on the volume of ten pounds of water (under certain thermodynamic conditions). This gives us a water density of ten pounds per imperial gallon. Using this as a basis of our calculation we obtain ninety pounds for the firkin of water.
  2. ^ Furlongs per Fortnight
  3. ^ "c in furlongs per fortnight - Google Search". Retrieved 2006-03-10. 
  4. ^ "FAQ for newsgroup UK.rec.sheds, version 2&3/7th" (TXT). 2000. Retrieved 2006-03-10. 
  5. ^ Encyclopedia Frobozzica, Infocom, 1993.
  6. ^ "The Potrzebie System of Weights and Measures". Neatorama.com. 2008-01-15. Retrieved 2011-09-05. 
  7. ^ "sagan". Jargon File. 
  8. ^ P.M. Gresshoff (2004). "Book Reviews: Plant Signal Transduction". Annals of Botany 93 (6): 783–786. doi:10.1093/aob/mch102. 
  9. ^ Kemp Bennett Kolb (2008). "The beard-second, a new unit of length". This Book Warps Space and Time. p. 13. ISBN 978-0-7407-7713-4. 
  10. ^ C Nordling & J. Österman (2006). Physics Handbook for Science and Engineering (eighth ed.). Studentlitteratur. 
  11. ^ http://www.google.com/search?q=6+meters+in+beard-seconds
  12. ^ Rowlett, Russ (20 November 2001). "How Many? A Dictionary of Units of Measurement". University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Retrieved 23 January 2014. 
  13. ^ The Meaning of Liff, Douglas Adams and John Lloyd , 1984. ISBN 0-517-55347-3
  14. ^ "Smoot in Stone". MIT News. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 2009-06-04. Retrieved 2010-07-20. "Specifically noting the bridge's length of 364.4 Smoots (+/- 1 ear), the plaque, a gift of the MIT Class of 1962, honors the prank's 50th anniversary." 
  15. ^ "smoot". The Jargon File (version 4.4.7). Retrieved 2006-06-27. 
  16. ^ "Keyser describes his top five hacks". MIT News Office. Retrieved 20 January 2013. 
  17. ^ "Chapter 4.1: Non-SI units accepted for use with the SI, and units based on fundamental constants". SI brochure (8th edition). International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM). May 2006. Retrieved 2009-03-13. 
  18. ^ "Table 8. Other non-SI units". SI brochure (8th edition). BIPM. May 2006. Retrieved 2009-03-13. 
  19. ^ "Rowlett's Dictionary of Units". Retrieved 2006-11-08. 
  20. ^ "Friedman Finally Urges Fixed Date for U.S. Pullout". Editor & Publisher. December 7, 2006. 
  21. ^ Klein, Ezra (December 8, 2006). "TAPPED". The American Prospect. 
  22. ^ "Gen. Petreaus is in". Think Progress (Center for American Progress). February 28, 2007. 
  23. ^ Drum, Kevin (November 1, 2006). "Meltdown in Iraq...". The Washington Monthly. 
  24. ^ Alterman, Eric (April 5, 2007). "The Politics of Pundit Prestige...". The Nation. 
  25. ^ Froomkin, Dan (May 8, 2007). "Four More Months?". The Washington Post. 
  26. ^ Yglesias, Matthew (May 9, 2007). "More Friedman Units to Come". The Atlantic. 
  27. ^ Sager, Jeanne (3 November 2011). "Kardashian Marriage Calculator Proves Reality TV Is Missing Out on Real Love". The Stir. Retrieved 25 June 2013. 
  28. ^ On-line Kardashian calculator
  29. ^ Gian-Carlo Rota, "Ten Lessons I Wish I Had Been Taught."
  30. ^ Tristan Jehan, Creating Music By Listening. PhD Thesis, MIT 2005, section 3.4.3
  31. ^ Clancy, Tom (1991). The Sum of All Fears. Putnam. p. 702. ISBN 0-399-13615-0. 
  32. ^ Weller, Tom (1985). Science Made Stupid. Houghton Mifflin. p. 76. ISBN 0-395-36646-1. 
  33. ^ Graham Farmelo. The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Quantum Genius. p. 89. ISBN 0-571-22286-2. 
  34. ^ "About Isaac Asimov". Asimovhumanists.org. Retrieved 2011-09-05. 
  35. ^ "''The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus'' by Christopher Marlowe - Project Gutenberg". Retrieved 2011-09-05. 
  36. ^ David Lance Goines (1987-08-04). "On the Inefficiency of Beauty Contests and a Suggestion for Their Modernization". Retrieved 2012-03-18. 
  37. ^ "Fink, ''The Man's Book'' (London, 2006), pp. 44-45". Tcm.phy.cam.ac.uk. Retrieved 2011-09-05. 
  38. ^ David Morgan Mar (2005-10-24). "Irregular Webcomic! No. 1002". 
  39. ^ Raymond, Eric S (1996). The New Hacker's Dictionary. ISBN 9780262680929. 
  40. ^ "The Jargon File: microLenat". Winter 2003. Retrieved 27 July 2014. 
  41. ^ [1][dead link]
  42. ^ Charles M. Schulz. Happiness is a Warm Puppy (Peanuts). p. 72. ISBN 1-933-66207-7. 
  43. ^ Prachett, Terry (1998). The Last Continent. Doubleday London. ISBN 0-385-40989-3. 
  44. ^ Pawle, Gerald (1957). The Secret War 1939-45. [page needed]
  45. ^ EG, "Utilitarianism and the Wrongness of Killing", Richard G. Henson, The Philosophical Review Vol. 80, No. 3 (Jul., 1971), pp. 320-337.
  46. ^ Lawrence M. Hinman (2007). "Hedons and Dolors". Ethics. p. 135. ISBN 978-0-495-00674-9 
  47. ^ Murphy, Cullen (October 2, 1997). "Too Much of a Good Thing — How much hype is overhype?". Slate.com. Retrieved 2006-03-10. 
  48. ^ "Towards a universal crackpot standard". New Scientist (2758). 28 April 2010. p. 64. Retrieved 6 April 2012. 
  49. ^ Crackpot Index
  50. ^ http://www.quackometer.net/?page=quackometer Quackometer
  51. ^ Madden, John (2009-11-23). "11 Ways Geeks Measure the World | GeekDad". Wired.com. Retrieved 2011-09-05. 
  52. ^ "DORK TOWER, May 21, 2009 – The Milliwheaton". Dork Tower. 2009-05-21. Retrieved 2011-09-05. 
  53. ^ World Peace and Stability Index