This article by Jerry Coyne got me to thinking. Britain is, supposedly, a decimalised country, though you'd not know it from the road-signs. Certainly kids these days are taught—as they should be—in purely decimal measurements, but the change-over was gradual. This was further exacerbated, in my case, by the fact that we moved around a lot between education-districts when I was a kid; and different districts made the change at different times, leading to me being taught one year in metric, the next in imperial, and the next back to metric. Which, as you can probably imagine, Gentle Reader, led to my preferences for measurement-scales being somewhat confused.
A billion's not ten to the ninth, but the twelfth
And it's kilo-calories, when watching my health.
When measuring timber, I cut it to mils
But work out the yardage when hiking up hills.
My baccy's in ounces (though tis grams on the pack)
And I think of the poundage when lifting a sack.
My beer comes in pints, and is sold as such, still,
But five mil's a spoonful, when I'm feeling ill.
More than thirty degrees, I complain of the heat
And it's pence per gram when buying my meat.
Shall I fill up the bike and go for a ride?—
Pricing miles-per-litre's what helps me decide.
If I fall for a second, that's thirty-two feet
But a light-year's Kay-Emm ( 'cause the figures are neat);
It's ten-"trillion" of 'em—see line-one again,
'Cause a real trillion's eighteen powers of ten.
A note for those of an American persuasion, who may be wondering what the billions-trillions thing was about. This is the old, now defunct, British system that I grew up with:-
106 – one million
107 – ten million
108 – one hundred million
109 – one thousand million (one 'US' billion)
1010 – ten thousand million
1011 – one hundred thousand million
1012 – one billion (one 'US' trillion)
1013 – ten billion
1014 – one hundred billion
1015 – one thousand billion
1016 – ten thousand billion
1017 – one hundred thousand billion
1018 – one trillion
Don't ask me why 1018 wasn't one million billion, as would seem logical. I have no idea.