Measure Mania

March 12, 2013

By T.W. Burger

Way back in Colonial Times, at least according to movies like “Drums Along the Mohawk,” one character might be heading out of the territory on a hunt, on business, or spying for the British or whatever.

“Good luck,” his friend or wife would say.

“Thanks. Look for me in the fall,” or something like that.

Can you imagine that sort of world-view today?

Think about it, if I am talking to somebody over the phone here at my desk (OK, here in my recliner, where I do most of my work,) and they ask me what time it is, I glance in the lower right hand of my laptop screen and say, 8:50.

Where I come from, the answer would be “’bout nine.” Oddly enough, if I looked at my analog wristwatch, I would still probably answer that the time is “about nine.”

Yes, I still wear a watch, though many people just use their cell phones or tablets, which have the advantage of being very accurate. I have two watches, and they are both analog, which means I know how to tell time, not just read numbers. Yes, I know analog is obsolete, as are watches. I am a dinosaur. Shut up.

This all came up yesterday when we were driving around doing errands. Sue asked what the temperature was. We had just walked from the house to the car. Both of us knew very well that it was cool. Not cold. Not really mild. Cool. We both know what “cool” feels like.

Nevertheless, I poked at the screen on my smart phone, which told me that it was 52 degrees Fahrenheit.

Before we entered the digital age, I would not have had any idea what the exact temperature was. In fact, the exact temperature where I was at any given time mattered not at all. When I drive around in my ’97 Olds, which has a digital thermometer right on the dash, it tells me that the temperature outside will vary by several degrees at various spots within five minutes of my house.

Yesterday morning, in all those assorted places, it was cool.

I am part of a volunteer program that measures rainfall in a hyper-local area. I think there are six of us in my county alone – we are all over the US – and we all have identical rain gauges. In theory, we each check our rain gauges at 9 a.m. at the latest every morning, or as close to that as possible. I am lucky I get it done by nine, but that is another story.

Before I got into the rain gauge thing, I might look at the birdbath outside the door and report to you that this morning we had about an inch of rain. Now I can tell you we had 91/100s of an inch of rain.

I understand why the climatologists want the information in such fussy detail, I really do. Now, if somebody asks me how much rain fell “out your way,” I am more likely to say “91/100s of an inch” rather than say “about an inch,” or “a bunch. It rained pretty good.”

Look, I predate the Space Age. I remember when we filled orbital space with any number of encapsulated rats, dogs and monkeys. Some of them are probably still up there, which is sort of sad. Back then, the math had to be exact though, to be blunt, space is big and I am sure it is not that hard to hit.

On the other hand, only a few years ago we fired a satellite at Mars and missed a whole doggone planet. Somebody goofed on the math. Oops.

Mars is a lot farther than an orbit that is maybe 250 miles away. Heck, at 250 miles you can probably shoot from the hip and come close.

Mars is a “whole ‘nother” matter. I forget how far away it is. A few numbers followed by a whole mess of zeros. It takes six months to get there, even at something like 50,000 mph. That is twice around the earth in one hour. Zoom.

It was time to put away the slide rules (for you young folks, those are artifacts from an ancient civilization occupied by your grandparents. You would never be able to figure them out. You would waste half a day figuring out where to plug in the charger) and get out the supercomputers. Even then, you might miss the freaking planet.

What is my point? You need a point? See, that is sort of what I am talking about. We are addicted to the point, and all the numbers that come after it. Relax. Life is too short to worry about the last few gazillion numbers of Pi. Near enough is good enough. Was good enough for our forbears, and ought to be good enough for us.

Unless you are shooting at Mars.



© 2013 Marsh Creek Media, Gettysburg, Pa.

Burger to Go” is a product of me and my company, Marsh Creek Media and, as such, I am solely responsible for its content.



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