14 Weird Measurements And Scales

It’s in human nature to try and measure everything around us, to better understand us. However, some are not happy with meters, kilograms or liters. Instead, they create new ways of analyzing nature. Some are just bored, and create funny units. Others create new scales to look at data in new and exciting ways. But all of them make you scratch your head and think “why can’t we just use the metric system on this problem?”

14. Big Mac Index

The Big Mac Index only sounds crazy, until you realize what it’s there for. Created by the magazine The Economist, it provides an independent way of judging the purchasing power parity nations. There are McDonalds everywhere, right? And they all serve Big Macs (or a local equivalent). So you take how much it costs to buy one in a country, and compare that to the cost of the burger in another. If the difference in cost is substantially different from the actual exchange rate, it shows there’s a disparity between the stated value of a currency, and what it’s actually worth. You can also look at how long it takes someone to earn a Big Mac, based on their salary, as a way of analyzing pay in different cities.

13. Football Fields

For some reason, whenever a distance or area has to be used on the news, it’s always measured in “football fields”. It doesn’t matter what country you’re in, or what variant of football they play (soccer, handegg, or rugby), the same measurement is always used. “It’s 75 football fields long!” “That’s the same area as 17 football fields!”. For some reason, we’re all meant to have this perfect idea of how big a field is, and just how large a cluster of them would be. Ever heard of standard units? What exactly is so wrong with yards or meters, that we need to compare to the equivalent sports field?

12. Tons of TNT

When it comes to explosives, it all links back to one thing: trinitrotoluene. TNT. You know how nukes are measured in megatons or gigatons? Yeah, that’s how many tons of TNT it’s the equivalent of. It’s a handy way to compare, assuming you know the destructive capabilities of a ton of TNT. The thing is, do you? I have never worked with explosives. No one I know has (except for one guy who spent a bit of time working on fireworks, which don’t quite count). What exactly does a ton of TNT do? Is it a metric tonne or an imperial ton? How big of a boom is it? Could it knock down a building? A city block? A football field? Sometimes it’s good that people use an appreciable standard measure, but it only works if there’s a frame of reference for most people.

11. Tanner Scale of Sexual Maturity

The Tanner Scale isn’t weird in itself, but the way it’s used is a bit disturbing. It’s a method of judging the physical sexual maturity of a child or teenager based on physical characteristics. Size of the secondary sexual characteristics, development of pubic hair, that sort of stuff. However, it fails to take into account something very important — namely that people can vary mammothly. And due to the Tanner Scale, a guy almost spent 20 years in jail. See, there’s this porn star Little Lupe, who is absolutely tiny and used to have tiny breasts. She’s since had implants, but her old videos are still around. So this guy buys one of her DVDs, completely legally, and then gets busted for child porn. A pediatrician testified that due to the Tanner Scale, there was no physical way the star of the film was over 18. The judge even refused to admit evidence from the porn company’s records showing Lupe was of age. Eventually, the porn star actually showed up in the courtroom to prove she was legal, and so was the DVD. It’s terrifying that a rough guide is now being used as an absolute scale, with enough certainty to doom someone to jail for most of their life.

10. Smoot

Following the finest tradition of the US system of measurements, a Smoot is a very specific length as defined by the human body. In this case, a very specific human body, that of Oliver R. Smoot. As a freshman at MIT, his frat elders decided that Smoot’s stature made him an excellent height for measuring. Laid across the Harvard Bridge over the River Charles in Boston, a line was painted at Smoot’s head, some 5’7″. Again and again, they lay him down, crossing the bridge, and measuring it’s length at an official 364.4 Smoots. To this day, every year those lines are re-painted on the bridge, memorializing the Smoot. Smoot went on to chair the American National Standards Institute and become president for the International Organization for Standardization.

9. FFF System

Lets face it, the imperial system the US uses for measuring is pretty stupid. The rest of the world uses metric, and it makes a lot more sense. The FFF system was devised as a way of measuring using intentionally outdated units, just to poke fun at the impractical nature of the imperial system. FFF stands for furlong/firkin/fortnight, used for length, mass, and time respectively. A furlong is 220 yards/201.168m; a firkin 90 lbs/40.823kg; and a fortnight 14 days/1,209,600 seconds. Fortnight is still used pretty frequently in Commonwealth countries, but a firkin? That’s pretty obscure. The system is most famous for a “microfortnight” or 1.2096 seconds, and a “furlong per fortnight” which is around 1cm per minute.

8. The Galactic Year

Using the scale of an Earth year when talking geological or astronomical events is a problem, the unit of this time period dwarfs when compared to the length of time referenced. Hell, a million years is too small for some of it, but a billion years is too long. Enter the Galactic Year. This is a measure of the time it takes the solar system to orbit around the center of the Milky Way — somewhere around 250 million years. It provides a handy yardstick for great lengths of time, as well as providing a conceptually clear origin for the time period. Following this way of counting, the Earth is around 20 galactic years old, and the galaxy itself is around 80. Man, I can’t wait for Earth’s 21GY birthday! It’s going to be such a tight party! By the way, humans have been around for 0.001GY.

7. The Dol

How do you measure pain? It’s incredibly personal and variable. What you might think stings a little, someone else might find agonizing enough to cause tears. Or, you might start wailing at what others would scoff at. There’s no absolute way to measure pain, and asking the person to say how much something hurts on a scale of 1 to 10 is flawed. After all, I really have no idea what a 10 is. Broken limb? Three weeks of torture in a dungeon in the Middle East? Passing a kidney stone? James D. Hardy, Herbert G. Wolff, and Helen Goodell attempted to create something a bit more scientific than saying “it hurts”. They created a unit of measure called the dol — equivalent to a just noticeable difference in the level of pain. Unfortunately, this falls in the trap of relying on self reporting, and requires that patients be able to correctly gauge these differences. Unsurprisingly, it never took off. Full points for trying, though.

6. Attoparsec

A parsec is a really, really large unit of measurement. It’s used in astronomy, and is around 3.25 light years, or 3.085×10^16 m (around 31 trillion km). Atto- is the SI prefix denoting 10^-18 or 0.000000000000000001. So an attoparsec a really small version of a very large measure. So what does that end up being? About 3.085cm. A nice, small length, gathered by combining to ludicrous measures. So why do it? Shits and giggles, more or less. It does create a humorous oxymoron sort of measure. Though utterly impractical. Frankly, I blame physicists. Coincidently, 1 attoparsec/microfortnight is nearly 1 inch/second.

5. Beard-Seconds

Remember what I just said about physicists? Well, this one is definitely their fault. Everyone knows what a light-year is. It’s the distance light travels in a year, in a vacuum, around 10 trillion km. It’s very handy for things far, far away. So what happens when you want something similar, but on a small scale? You take the average length that a beard grows in a single second. Light-year = fast moving thing over long time period. Beard-second = slow moving thing over short time period. Haha, very funny, bearded physics guys. In case you care, it’s 5 nanometers.

4. Bristol Stool Scale

As Scrubs once so eloquently put it, “Everything Comes Down To Poo”. And they’re right, you can learn a lot about someone’s health by their feces. So, how do you go about describing crap on an equivalent level? Enter the Bristol Stool Scale. Your poop gets rated on a scale from 1-7, constipated to diarrhea. And, for some unknown reason, four of the seven are described in relation to food. That’s right, nuts and sausages are used frequently when describing the consistency of the feces. You should apparently be able to differentiate between sausage and italian sausage when it’s coming out of your ass. Remember, try for types 3 and 4, they’re ideal!

3. The Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale

Life can be pretty bad sometimes. Finances, relationships, stress — it can all take a toll on your health. But how much of one? Ah, now we get into the science! The eponymous Holmes and Rahe put together a list of stressful events that happen in your life, and assigned each a point score. You look at how many have hit you in the last 12 months, total the score, and if it’s above 300, you’re at a pretty bad risk for illness — ideally you want to keep it below 150. The worst possible occurrence is the death of a spouse, which clocks in at 100 points. Then divorce (73), marital separation (65), imprisonment (63), and death of a close family member (63). At the lower end of the scale are little things: Christmas, breaking a minor law, changing your eating habits. But they all add up. They also made a similar list for “non-adults”, which pretty much boils down to teen pregnancy and school sucks.

2. Scoville Scale

The Scoville Scale is pretty well known — a way of measuring the heat of chili peppers, but when you think about, it’s kinda crazy. Someone’s legacy is a way of figuring out how spicy little red fruits are. While today the measuring of a pepper’s heat is a thoroughly scientific endeavor, using high-performance liquid chromatography, the original test was far less precise. The first method involved making an alcohol extract of the capsaicin oil from a measured amount of dried pepper, which was then incrementally added to a sugar/water solution until the heat is just detectable. In other words, it relied on someone being able to feel when something gets spicy. Since spicy food binds to receptors in your mouth, the more hot food you eat, the less spiciness you would feel, making the original scale more or less bunk. But these days? It’s the gold standard of spice!

1. Schmidt Sting Pain index

Justin O. Schmidt deserves a medal for the Schmidt Sting Pain Index. Personally stung by 78 species of insect, he compiled a a scale of the pain they caused. From 1-4, he classified and described the pain they caused — with vivid detail. In fact, reading his descriptions might cause you to question Schmidt’s sanity, but hey, being stung by all those critters might drive anyone up the wall. Rather than wax lyrical about the index, I’ll let the WTFery speak for itself:
-1.0 Sweat bee: Light, ephemeral, almost fruity. A tiny spark has singed a single hair on your arm.
-1.2 Fire ant: Sharp, sudden, mildly alarming. Like walking across a shag carpet and reaching for the light switch.
-1.8 Bullhorn acacia ant: A rare, piercing, elevated sort of pain. Someone has fired a staple into your cheek.
-2.0 Bald-faced hornet: Rich, hearty, slightly crunchy. Similar to getting your hand mashed in a revolving door.
-2.0 Yellowjacket: Hot and smoky, almost irreverent. Imagine W. C. Fields extinguishing a cigar on your tongue.
-2.x Honey bee and European hornet: Like a matchhead that flips off and burns on your skin.
-3.0 Red harvester ant: Bold and unrelenting. Somebody is using a drill to excavate your ingrown toenail.
-3.0 Paper wasp: Caustic and burning. Distinctly bitter aftertaste. Like spilling a beaker of hydrochloric acid on a paper cut.
-4.0 Pepsis wasp: Blinding, fierce, shockingly electric. A running hair drier has been dropped into your bubble bath.
-4.0+ Bullet ant: Pure, intense, brilliant pain. Like fire-walking over flaming charcoal with a 3-inch rusty nail in your heel