A couple of old amusing anecdotes suddenly popped into my head today.
I was reading some tweets and saw someone state:
I have a sore neck. I think I slept funny.
Now it’s not funny… but it made my mind go off on a tangent…. so I posted a tweet saying:
I woke up with a painted face, wearing clown shoes, baggy trousers & a hat with pom-poms on. I think I slept funny.
Whilst in that daft mood I then posted:
Isn’t it lucky that an orange is orange I mean, fancy the name matching the colour…..
That’s when it hit me…. the orange comment wasn’t as new as I thought. It was back when I was studying standardisation for my quality qualifications that I had heard something similar said in all seriousness….
Before standard measurements came along (very basic explanation coming up), people would buy a jug of beer in one pub, and it would be different amount of beer to a jug of beer in another (for example….) and it would cost a goat. No one knew really what the value of a goat was – or how much the beer cost per pint or litre… because there were no units to measure anything.
You couldn’t write a cook book and expect people to get the same results, as a pinch of this, a spoon of that, meant nothing – people had different spoons and different size pinches… You try to explain to someone how to make a cake WITHOUT referring to measurements…. and that includes TIME… Hell, try to tell someone how long a film lasts WITHOUT using time…
Eventually measurements standardised (although we still have duplicate measurements – metres/yards etc – but we at least know what a yard or metre is where ever we are in the world). The SI system (metric) was introduced – Within this you get your metres, seconds, kilograms etc.
Each measurement had to have come from somewhere, and very simply put, a kilogram was defined as the weight of 1 litre of water.
On being told this, one of the guys in the class earnestly said :
How did they know that 1 litre of water would weight a kilogram?
It was one of those times when, no matter how you explained it, the guy already had the thought locked in his head and it was near impossible to explain: There was NO kilogram… then someone weighed 1 litre of water and said “From this point on, this will be a kilogram“… to which he responded… “Yes, but how did they know it would be a kilogram…?“.
We all tried to explain again – that one day there was no kilogram, and then they weighed a litre of water and said that it would be a kilogram…
He looked like he’d got it that time… until he said: “It was a bit lucky that the litre weighed a kilogram then….”
Great guy – and we’ve all been there. It’s a bit like the picture of the old lady/young girl. Once you have the idea in your head that it is the old lady, it’s hard to see it any other way…
The same guy made another classic ‘logic brain freeze’ comment during the time we were studying the statistical side of quality management when we had to work with algebra.
Algebra scares people – but they use it everyday without being aware they are doing it.
If you didn’t know, algebra is (very basically) where numbers are substituted by letters to help solve problems. You do it all the time without realising it – like calculating shopping lists, figuring out how long a car journey will take, etc.
A very common bit of algebra is used for telling you the fuel economy of a car – MPG (miles per gallon).
If you do 50 miles for each gallon of fuel, then you can pretty easily figure out that for 10 gallons you could go 500 miles… that’s simple algebra…. 50miles/1gallon = 500miles/10gallons.
Anyway, this guy had managed to get through life without realising what algebra was, or that he did it anyway without realising it. I explained it briefly to him as he really needed to know it for the subject we were doing.
To help, I gave him a quick example to work out:
“What is A if A+3 =5?”
Straight away it clicked with him. “Oh yeah! A is 2… I see what you mean!”
Fantastic… that was easy.
Next thing you know and the instructor was writing up a huge formula on the board. Loads of numbers and letters to solve and find out the answer to some statistical analysis.
The board was covered with X,Y, Z’s and A,B,C’s along with a multitude of numbers. This was going to take some solving…
As the instructor finally finished making the board more white than black, he turned and smugly said…”You have 45 minutes left of the lesson today, so solve this and you can knock of early… ha ha ha….”
In a flash, my newly trained algebraic mate threw his hand up with a massive smile on his face…
“A is 2…….”
The instructor looked at him and asked what on earth he was on about (he was so far wrong it was laughable…).
“A… it’s 2……..Lucas told me…”
Okay…. maybe he needed more work…..