Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Doing the numbers

Having plenty of time on my hands during this morning's voyage of discovery that was the morning commute, I finished the crosswords in both the newspapers on the way in to work (I had to pick up a book to read on the way back).

Doing one of the crosswords it occurred to me that I'm probably going to be of the last generation that would understand the significance of a rod, pole or perch. When I was a tiny tot we all had little red exercise books which had a couple of hundred little boxes on the back cover, each one containing a table of relationships between different suites of avoirdupois and sundry other Imperial measurement units, starting with the nursery slopes:

16 drachms = 1 ounce
16 oz. = 1 pound
14 lb = 1 stone
8 st. = 1 hundredweight
20 cwt. = 1 ton

and then moving right along to scruples, firkins, ells, rods, poles, perches, pennyweights and fathoms. Heady stuff.

I reckon that the move to metrication has made it more difficult for the children of today to get to grips with mathematics away from the calculator, till and spreadsheet. If everything's in base ten then there's no opportunity to practice simple calculations in everyday life. So it becomes trickier to make sure you're getting the right change when you're down the shops doing your messages.

And we miss out on the sheer versaitilty of base twelve. Ah well...


ChickPea said...

And 10 chains in one furlong, eight furlongs making a mile.....

And did you have 'a chain' stretched out across the playground, and try to imagine 80 of the things, end to end....... ?

Ah, yes..... Calculators don't do that....

Kevin Musgrove said...

Good heavens... and so we did. I'd entirely forgotten that trick.

Ellis Nadler said...

I miss my log tables

Kevin Musgrove said...

Back in the 70's, Andrew Marshall and David Renwick wrote a spin-off book of the smash-hit wireless programme 'The Burkiss Way.' In the back was about ten pages of "Uselessarithms," set out just like log tables but when you looked up the number it arrived at the number you were looking up in the first place.

Just like our introduction to natural logs.