Tuesday, July 18, 2006

It still comes in pints

For the second day running I have had to phone up my bank to complain. On this occasion they made a dollar to pound miscalculation then realizing their mistake put the money back into my account and took out the larger amount. I only found out about it by meticulously going through my statement (which they had forgotten to send out - that's what yesterday's phone call was about). In the meantime I had reclaimed the smaller amount, and I shall now have to go back and reclaim the difference from the Society, explaining why the mistake occurred.

Anyone can make a mistake, but I think the bank should have contacted me to tell me what was happening, rather than simply taking more money from my account without explanation.

I say anyone can make a mistake, but you don't look to a bank to make mathematical errors. After all what are banks for, except to do sums? I blame the education system, and especially Harold Wilson and Tony Benn who forced us into going metric.

When I learned sums, we started on hundreds, tens and units, but soon progressed to pounds, shillings and pence; yards, feet and inches and stones, pounds and ounces. This way we learned to calculate, not only in base 10, but in bases 3, 12, 14, 16 and 20. every time we changed columns we changed bases. The advantage of this is we didn't get sloppy about decimal points. We also learned to estimate size. We never, because of misplaced decimal points, cooked a cake the size of a house or built a bridge the size of a cornflakes packet.

I tested my bright daughter this morning at breakfast. How many ants could you get in this house? After a minute's thought she came back with a billion. American billion or British billion, I asked. British billion.

Show me your workings, I asked.

An ant is about 2 millimeters long; say it has a volume of 2x2x2 = 8 cubic millimeters. The house is about 20x20x20 meters, say 8000 cubic meters. There are a thousand millimeters in a meter, so 1000 x 1000 x 1000 cubic millimeters in a cubic meter. The eights cancel so there are 1000 x 1000 x 1000 x 1000 ants in the house. That's 12 zeros, so ten to the power of 12 ants which is an English billion or a thousand American billions. I think they call it a trillion over there, because nobody does Latin any more.

At least in America, it still comes in pints, I said.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank goodness we still use the 'English' system of weights and measures. For example, the temperature today is supposed to be 103 degrees. This is 'triple digit' weather, and it is (and sounds) hot, hot, hot. Yet in the sad metric world, it would be 39 degrees. Doesn't have the ring of 'triple digits', does it?

I know what a mile is, I don't know what a kilometer is.

Unfortunately, we now buy 2 liter bottles of pop, and 1 liter bottles of water. So this sad system is creeping in her.

A hex on the metric system, I say!