Tech

The UK’s plan to measure the bendiness of a banana using furlongs

Feedback is our weekly column of bizarre stories, implausible advertising claims, confusing instructions and more


22 September 2021

Josie Ford

Imperial march

For those intent on taking back control and liberating themselves from the straitjacket of always forwards-moving clocks, good news arrives with the UK’s intention to allow shops and market stalls to sell goods using solely imperial measurements again following its exit from the European Union.

From a purely nostalgic perspective, Feedback welcomes the prospect of once more being able to buy a fluid scruple of cough medicine or a furlong of elegantly curved banana. But why stop there? Many more recherché measurement units should now make a comeback. The British thermal unit, for example, a measure of heat that sows confusion in the rare contexts where it is still used by having at least six slightly different competing definitions, is overdue a return.

Or might it be time to bring back the UK’s predecimal currency? As one Twitter sage remarked, this would be a welcome boost for the STEM sector, “mainly for the huge amount of money you could earn configuring IT to cope with a system no-one else… would touch”.

Feedback suggests give and take is in order. For really good measure, and to show a flexible, global, forward-thinking Britain, the UK government should seize the initiative in abandoning nonsensical internationally imposed regulatory norms and decimalise time. That would really fast-forward us to the future as we turn back the clocks.

Safe harbour

Also taking a global perspective on measurement is Mike Clarke from Essex, UK. He takes issue with the Australian use of Sydney Harbour as a unit of volume (4 September), having been there once. “As far as I could see it has no hard bounded limits,” he complains, instead consisting of a river complex and very many bay inlets. “It’s almost impossible to appreciate or gauge its size let alone its depth as you can’t see it all from a single viewpoint.”

Because it has solid, well-defined edges and its entire body of water is visible from the quayside, “surely a better harbour to use as a volumetric unit would be somewhere like Bridlington on the east coast of England”, Mike adds.

Be careful what you wish for, Mike. The UK government will be issuing a statutory instrument advocating the Bridharb before you know it, and suggesting Australia adopt it as part of the countries’ new trade and defence deals.

Toilet hippos

Meanwhile, Australia’s development of idiosyncratic measurement norms continues apace. Very many of you write in linking to ABC’s news report on new “flushability” standards intended to prevent fatbergs of congealed oils and wet wipes accumulating in sewage pipes. “Every year 120 tonnes of wipes, the equivalent in weight of 34 hippopotami, is removed from the network” in south-east Queensland, it states.

This statistic speaks of weary experience – it can’t be easy to crowbar a hippopotamus from a drain. With Feedback’s sources quoting the average weight of a hippo at around 1.5 tonnes, the specimens in the Queensland sewers are clearly big ‘uns, too. We suppose they fall in when small and just grow fat on the overabundant nutrients. And possibly pizza. If they have learned the ancient art of ninjitsu from a mutant rat, we shouldn’t be at all surprised.

The ones that got away

Many activities were curtailed or had to be abandoned amid the pandemic restrictions introduced in early 2020. But not in one sphere, Feedback learns from a study by Stephen Midway at Louisiana State University and his colleagues, “COVID-19 influences on US recreational angler behavior”. Its survey of almost 250,000 anglers in 10 US states reported a slight uptick in fishing trips compared with normal years.

A phrase has, naturally, been coined for this safe, solo, outdoor activity far away from the stresses of pandemic life. Let’s hear it for social fishtancing.

Keep it to yourself

A less rosy picture is painted for fans of recreational three-plus-somes by a paper in Feedback’s bedtime go-to, The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality. The study by Anabelle Bernard Fournier at the University of Victoria, Canada, and her colleagues is titled “Group sex in the time of COVID: Intimacy, learning, and community-building in sexual communities during a pandemic”.

We will leave it as an exercise for the reader to find out how, but their findings follow the discovery by researchers at the University Medical Center Göttingen in Germany that mask wearing boosts self-perceived dry mouth and halitosis. Getting up close and personal again in the after times ain’t gonna be easy.

These corvid times

Such squeamishness goes some, but not all, of the way to explaining the sign seen by Katherine Little at the National Trust property of Cotehele in Cornwall, UK, which she sends in response to us unwisely cutting the ribbon recently on a thread on toilet signage (31 July and 28 August).

“Please be kind as we all find our way back to normality,” it states. “These toilets are enclosed and can get busy. Face coverings are recommended in crowed areas.” They are notoriously intelligent birds, of course. Who knows what they have been plotting while we have been away.

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