“The Barringer Crater in Arizona is over twelve-hundred meters across. To give you some idea of how big that is, it’s large enough to have ten football games going on at once in the center with more than a million fans watching from the outside. To put it another way, it would take all of the backyard swimming pools in the state of New York to fill the crater; more than a billion gallons!”
– Any meteor show on the Discovery Channel
Over the years the explosion of cable networks has meant a proliferation of documentary television. These aren't investigative documentaries or documentaries on the cutting edge of science, they're the modern equivalent of the science class filmstrip about America's Steel Industry or America's Coal Mines. The language and terminology used in these documentaries have been carefully chosen. They are easily accessible to everything from a civil engineer to a borderline retarded grade school kid in the process of choking to death on his own hair.
The show's producers assume (perhaps rightfully) that the average American has no concept of any form of empirical measurement. Feet, kilometers, pounds and grams are all mumbled half-heartedly and then followed by one or more colorful "real world" descriptions. The fiber optic cabling in the United States can suddenly wrap around the world 85 times or the energy released by an earthquake is a hundred times that released by the atomic bomb at Hiroshima.
These dramatic explanations seem fine, but over the past decade their constant use has created a society that can no longer specifically quantify anything. Engineers are left comparing buildings to Mount Everest and marathons are measured by the number of football fields a runner has completed. Our new world of TV metrics has crippled our ability to interpret the world around us, which brings us to the subject of today's guide: Understanding TV Metrics.
Today we will cover five categories of TV metrics in detail. These consist of the three common metrics (distance, mass and energy) used on a daily basis and the two uncommon metrics (macro and micro) used infrequently or by science specialists.
Perhaps the most commonly used TV metric, distance can describe length, height or area. Let's have a look at the TV ruler and its component measurements.
Increment One - Sports Field(s)
Everyone loves sports and everyone is certainly more familiar with the irregular dimensions of a baseball field than, say, a ruler. Thus it is practical to use the baseball diamond to describe modest distances. If a distance is greater than can be described by one to two baseball diamonds, then the baseball diamond is upgraded to the football field. The football field is used up to a multiple of ten before we move up the scale to the next increment.
Example: When rescue workers arrived at the overturned tanker the oil slick was the size of a baseball diamond. By late afternoon, that slick had spread to cover an area eight football fields in size.
Increment Two - Specific Mountain(s)
Scientists often refer to Mount Everest as "Nature's Yardstick", although no one is quite sure why. They believe it is because in our ancient past something called a "yardstick" was used to measure distance. Whatever the reason for the moniker, Mount Everest and various other exceptionally tall mountains have become excellent tools for measuring distance. While it might seem this would only work when determining height, it turns out that anything can be "turned on end" and leaned against a mountain for measurement.
Example: The proposed Harikari Bridge in Tokyo will span the widest portion of Lake Tokyo and, when turned on end, would be more than five times as tall as Mount Fuji.
Increment Three - Trips Around Earth
Sometimes mountains just aren't up to the task of portraying a staggering length or height. This is particularly true when you are placing objects "end to end", such as interstate roads, train tunnels, sheets of paper or telephone wires. Because these go everywhere and all over the place, it turns out that when you stick them all in a row they get really long. Way to long to measure with a mountain. In fact they get so long that they would wrap around the earth, which is why Trips Around Earth is the second largest metric in our distance vocabulary.
Example: If placed end to end, the number of tampons used each year would wrap around the earth six times. If the blood were squeezed out of all of them they would fill a pit more than nine football fields across and as deep as Mount Hood is high.
Increment Four - Distance to the Moon
Even though the moon is the closest natural object in our solar system, it is still very far away. That might seem to make it a candidate for the "Trips Around Earth" metric, but everyone can actually see the moon and it would take a lot of trips around the earth to get to the moon. That's why the Distance to the moon is the largest non-macro measurement of distance. You can measure everything within our solar system in terms of the earth's distance from the moon. Mars is like 30 times the distance from the earth to the moon. Jupiter, I don't know, like 200 times. Once you get out into the Oort Cloud you might need to switch over to macro measurements.
Example: The frozen body of the black astronaut sent on the Capricorn mission has drifted out into deep space. By now it is at least three times the distance from the earth to the moon from the body's homeland of darkest Africa.
Sir Mix-a-Lot's classic follow up to "Baby Got Back" has serious unintended consequences.
"Really, Holmes!" I dropped into my seat, shocked. "You are remarkably tall! What are you, six foot six? Six foot eight?"
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