Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Register of interest

I've just checked the National Historic Ships Register website, and Chertsey's entry is now up there.

Interestingly, the historical details which I painstakingly typed into the little box have been cleverly edited (possibly by a robot) to make it look as if they have been translated from Mandarin. No matter; you, dear reader, are not likely to think that I really write like that.

The measurements, in the column on the right, are another matter, though. I recall Halfie commenting how, on the certificate, the length had been transcribed into a metric measurement, to four decimal places, that bore no visible relation to the 71'6" which I had entered. And we can now see why. 71'6" has been rendered as 71.60 feet - OK, so that's only about an inch out and for all I know is more accurate anyway. But look at the beam - my 7'1" has been turned into 7.01 feet - it's lost nearly a whole inch where it really matters (I can go up the Llangollen after all!).

I do accept that this doesn't really matter. But. In some ways it does. What is the point of presenting something to four decimal places if it's not accurate? What, come to that, is the point of measuring a bloody great boat to four decimal places, when you haven't measured it anyway, only converted it from the much cruder measure of feet and inches. And what on earth are they doing expressing feet and inches in decimals? It's depressing because you'd think that they of all people would firstly want to get things right, and secondly would be satisfied with presenting boats that were built in feet and inches in feet and inches and so avoiding getting themselves into this mess at all.

Now, I have nothing against metrication. I am one of that fortunate bilingual generation who spoke metric at school and imperial at home, and annoy purists by using a mixture of both (ooh, that's seven and a half inches by 28 mm). I tend to measure in whatever fits best, although I visualise lengths better in imperial. But I am intensely annoyed by the insistence of the Guardian and the Observer in writing their recipes only with metric measurements. Metric may be good for many things but it is crap for cooking. For a start, if you used balance scales, you need more weights, because you have to have 2 x 200 and 2 x 20, and they don't stack neatly on top of each other. Scaling up or down is so much easier with imperial, because it's based on doubling and halving. But the worst thing is, it is obvious that quantities in recipes are still at some point being converted from imperial (with 25g being substituted for an ounce, even though 30g is nearer the mark) and you end up with all these odd little 5 gramme bits. Now, unless it's poison, or possibly something really expensive like saffron or gold leaf, five grammes is nothing, it's insignificant. But how it bloody complicates things, especially to someone like me who glazes over at the sight of too many numbers. So if you want to write recipes in metric, invent them in metric, with nice round figures, rather than inventing (or more likely discovering them) in pounds and ounces and then converting them.

And the same goes for you, National Historic Ships Register. If you want to know what my boat measures in metres, come out with a metric tape and measure it.

3 comments:

  1. Just read ours...mmmmm! funny how they have moved punctuation marks so it reads different to my original script. Doesn't make sense now and somewhat childish.

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  2. A fine rant, Sarah.

    You will, I trust, allow me to point out one small thing? 71.6 feet is a tenth of a foot - not a tenth of an inch - different from 71' 6" (which is 71.5 feet). Still only 1.2 inches, so hardly worth mentioning... Pedant, moi?

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  3. Ha! Changed it already! Knew it didn't look right.

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