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How tall is a giraffe?

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nickjames's picture
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How tall is a giraffe?

Over the years scientists and engineers have developed a precise and internally consistent set of measurement units to describe physical objects. Unfortunately these are often considered too complicated for the general public to understand so journalists often use what I call Non-Technical Units (NTUs) in their reporting. Length in terms of double-decker busses, volume in swimming pools, area in places the size of Wales, you get the idea.

The most bizarre example of NTUs yet must surely be this article from the Express regarding the close approach of NEO 2019 CS5 (disclaimer this link was sent to me by a colleague, it should not to be used for actual information):

https://www.express.co.uk/news/science/1087656/NASA-asteroid-tracker-asteroid-2019-CS5-earth-close-approach-warning

It starts with the fairly conventional "4.6-times as long as a London double-decker bus and 9.5-times longer than a Volkswagen Beetle car" but then progresses to the positively bizarre: "the space rock is believed to be about nine times as long as a Queen Size bed and about three times taller than an average giraffe".

That's certainly one for my collection.

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Queen size giraffe...or something

Like that helps?

I’ve only got a vague idea how big a Queen size bed is, I assume the Queen needs a bigger bed than the one I sleep in. I’ve only seen a giraffe at a zoo when I was a kid and that's a distant memory.

I’ll stick with metres, kilometres and miles, I know how big they are.

nickjames's picture
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Indeed. If there is an ISO

Indeed. If there is an ISO standard giraffe then there aren't many of them roaming the streets of Chelmsford for reference. At least I have a vague idea of how long a double decker bus is. I'm hoping that the journo that wrote this did it tongue in cheek but it is very difficult to tell...

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Oddball measures

What's that in Americans' chief measure - football fields?

Grant Privett's picture
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Football

Is that real football or the other sort?

Perhaps play it safe and measure in perch, rods and chains*?

* For those unfamiliar with the joys of the archaic Imperial units. A chain is the same length as a cricket pitch :)

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Oddball measures

If they had just kept it to beard-seconds, it would have been much simpler...

https://royal.pingdom.com/strange-funny-and-baffling-units-for-measuring-almost-anything/

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Speed of light

Indeed. The speed of light is defined to be exactly 299,792,458 m/s but how much more fun it is to quote it in obscure units. I think it is around 1803 giga-furlongs/fortnight. At least a furlong is well defined (1/8 mile or approx 201m). The problem with NTUs is that they are so vague. How tall is a giraffe and what is the volume of a swimming pool? In most cases I don't really think they help to visualise the object being described.

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Furlongs fortnight ^-1

Nick, you should have been at my "Speed of Light" talk to Newbury in January.  I even measured it with some chocolate and a microwave oven.  One of my slides is attached.  Your statement should be 1802.6175 Gigafurlongs per fortnight!

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Measuring the speed of light

OK Steve, you are going to have to explain how you measured the speed of light using a microwave oven and some chocolate. I'm guessing it is a rather circular argument involving standing waves and melted chocolate. What would Michelson and Morley make of it?

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giraffe height guide

As can be seen from this photo I took in Tanzania in 2013, giraffes are so tall that they have to reach down to the tree tops ... or maybe the "trees" in the photo are really just bushes

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Big Ben asteroid unit

Of course it’s just possible they mean the Elizabeth Tower.  Big Ben is a big bell but not that big.

nickjames's picture
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Asteroid sizes

That's the length of 8 London buses...

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asteroid sizes

Or 2,336 weather owls

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LOL. Would you ask your

LOL. Would you ask your weather owl if it can arrange for the fog here to be 'burned off', so that I might, this evening, have a look at the dwarf nova in Monoceros that Robin has highlighted. Or does the owl just predict the weather? It faintly reminds me of a favourite character from childhood - the mechanical owl in the 1981 Clash of the Titans, constructed by Hephaestus so that Athena does not have to be parted from her beloved pet.

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weather owl

David,

If there is any fog to be burned off, it's concentrating on Birmingham first but alas it just predicts.  I too want to see ASASSN-19de (easier to write than the TCP designation).

Good luck 

Gary

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Half a league onward?

Whats a bus in furlongs?

nickjames's picture
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One standard London bus is 0

One standard London bus is 0.05517776187067525650202815557146 furlongs long to within the accuracy of my calculator so this must be true.

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Interstellar distance

I once used a scale to try to visualise interstellar distances, at least out to the Proxima  Alpha Cen system. I would represent the Solar system as a sixteenth of an inch dot and call that 10,000,000,000 miles diameter, that's out into the  Kuiper belt.  Of course we know the Solar system is vaster than this, this is just a rough estimate.  The nearest star on this scale would be thirteen feet away, The Voyager spacecraft have just come off the sixteenth inch dot.  I haven't worked out how many tall Giraffes would fill the interstellar void, I don't think I'll bother! 

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Giraffes in Chelmsford

You must have missed it Nick - see https://www.bookatable.co.uk/giraffe-chelmsford-essex

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Units

I generally measure things in attoparsecs, one of which is about the distance between the end of my thumb and its first knuckle.  Femtoparsecs are useful for measuring car journeys.

Densities should always be quoted in international standard carats per cubic fathom.

I thought everyone knew that the speed of light is a foot per nanosecond to an adequate accuracy.  It's all you need to know if you want to make delay lines from optical fibre.  Remind me someday, when you're especially bored, to recount the time when I helped build a photon time-of-flight spectrometer. (It should be well known that the speed of light depends on wavelength ;-).  The guy who designed and did >90% of the construction had a peer-reviewed paper published in a reputable journal.

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How tall is a giraffe - Unusual units of measurement

Firstly I hope I don't fall foul of the moderator but it is a true story. Our eldest son, when at university made a batch of wine with some of his mates. Brewed it themselves. They wanted to do it properly so they were casting around for a name for the labels on the bottles. After test tasting it, they settled on the name 'cat's arse', because, one sip and the mouth pursed together tightly like a cat's .... The more astringent, the tighter the pursing of the lips.

Okay, then fast forward. It is virtually impossible when buying cheaper white wine (say in casks) to get any idea of how astringent it is.  This is no guide -fresh white - crisp white - dry white . Champagne has 'brut', but white wine nothing... (Here in Australia anyway.) So our family have adopted the 'cats arse' scale. A higher number represents more astringent and it has proven very useful.  Nevertheless it makes for difficulty in the bottle shop when asking "Where does this wine rate on the  ...... scale?" Then you need to explain it. I used it just this morning when buying a cask of wine. . Perhaps the scale should be formally introduced.

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Godzillas ?