Check your units


A few weeks ago I was bugging my astro-buddy* to write a blog post about the funny-sounding units he uses, such as the jansky (watt per meter squared per hertz). Well, astro-bud, welcome to academia because you got scooped by Wired magazine. (*-Ok, so he’s not my `astro-buddy’ but rather my friend who is an astrophysicist… but astro-buddy sounds cool and retro.)

Particle physicists use \bar{h} = c = 1 and so don’t have many exciting units. So it’s nice to read about the silly-named units people in other fields use. Here are a few highlights from the Wired article and the associated comments:

  • nibble: half a byte, also known as a `nybble’
  • mickey: measuring the ratio of mouse-to-cursor movement
  • butt: two hogsheads, ~477 L of alcohol
  • jiffy: time for light to travel the radius of the electron

A few others they missed, (mostly from Wikipedia):

  • slug: an English unit of mass (the slimy-slugs that eat leaves are huge here, trust me)
  • sydharb: the amount of water in Sydney Harbor
  • jerk: 10^9 joules
  • warhol: unit of hype, equal to fifteen minutes of fame
  • pub-on: minimum amount of new information required for a paper to qualify as `original research’
  • gillette: amount of power for a laser to burn through a razor blade
  • fonzie: unit of coolness (fictional, courtesy of Futurama)

3 Responses to “Check your units”

  1. 1 Charles Tye

    So you don’t find anything amusing at all about “barn”?
    Or 1 shed = 10^-24 barn.
    Those humourless particle physicists….

  2. Haha! Good point Charles — I’d taken `barn’ for granted! The barn is a unit of cross sectional area roughly equivalent to the cross section of the uranium nucleus. It may also be the only `silly unit name’ that was classified: .


  3. Stupid Wired magazine scooping me …

    ah well. i have not blogged in ages. the start of my time here in Manchester has been HECTIC!! i will no doubt unleash a barrage of posts altogether sometime soon.



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