Weights and Measures

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 9th, 2011

Technology 101

Flying Airplanes Require Careful Calculations and Exacting Measurements

How do you buy your gasoline?  Well, if you’re in the U.S., you buy it by the gallon.  And you choose your gas station by the price per gallon.  Typically choosing the cheapest price per gallon you can find.  Even if it means 20 minutes of additional drive time.  Because you want to get as much value as you can when you spend your money.  But have you ever wondered how much gas you’re really getting?

Actually the chances are pretty good that you’re getting what you’re paying for.  The next time you pump gas take a look at the pump.  You should see a tag from the Department of Weights and Measures.  This tag says an inspector filled up a 5-gallon test can and verified the pump metering.  If you see this tag you should be getting what you paid for.  And you should see this tag.  Because they test every gas pump.

Have you ever flown in an airplane?  If you’re a regular flier you probably notice that ticket prices go up when oil prices do.  Why?  Because jet fuel is the greatest expense of flying.  For it takes a lot of jet fuel to make those heavy planes fly.  And one of the heaviest things on a plane is that fuel.  So they try to carry as little fuel as possible.  Which requires some careful calculations.  And some exacting measurements.  Because a jet plane running out fuel while flying can’t continue to fly for much longer.

Egypt, Sumer and Harappa Developed a System of Weights and Measures to Build and Trade

Life as we know it would be pretty difficult without a reliable system of weights and measures.  Something we take for granted these days.  I’m sure you don’t give it a second thought when you pump your gas.  Or sit in an airplane accelerating down a runway.  But none of this would be possible without weights and measures.

There would be no economic activity, either.  Without being able to measure lengths, areas or volumes there would be no building.  And one thing we’ve learned from the Subprime Mortgage Crisis is that building houses IS the U.S. economy.  But it would be hard to build a house if different suppliers sold 2X4s in different lengths.  Or if there were no standard sizes of hot water tanks.  Or if there was no standard size of drywall.  Or no way to measure how much water to mix with gypsum to make wet plaster.

Of course, we would never have gotten to the building process.  Because we couldn’t trade without weights and measures.  We have to measure raw materials before we can trade them.  And assign a unit price.  Calculating prices per unit goes back to the beginning of civilization.  All the way back to Egypt.  Sumer.  And Harappa.  Who all developed systems of weights and measures to build.  And to trade.

Setting Unit Prices for Raw Materials and Finished Goods made Trade Possible and Efficient

Money made trade easier.  But without a system of weights and measures trade would not have been possible.  Even with money.  Because you can’t count everything.  You don’t count grain.  You weigh it in bulk.  You don’t count olive oil.  You measure it by volume.  And you don’t count seed-holes.  You calculate how much seed by weight is required to sow a field based on the calculated area of that field.

Setting unit prices for these goods made trade possible.  And efficient.  It allowed traders to find the best value.  By comparing unit prices.  Much like we do today when choosing a gas station.  All thanks to those reliable weights and measures.

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