Friday Feb 03, 2006

Re: ISBN

In an earlier post I wrote "1859726542". See how well some standards work? I didn't even need to use words. The ISBN, of course, is a standard for uniquely identifying books and similar items. As the User's Manual explains:

The International Standard Book Number (ISBN) has experienced remarkable success. In almost thirty years it has conquered the world's publishing industry, and the book trade would not be able to function without it. Ordering and distribution have gained a new quality with ISBN, and the huge amount of publications on the market can only be regulated by the ISBN-driven directories of the Books in Print type.

The ISBN is relatively short, machine-readable in the form of the Bookland EAN bar code and not just applicable to print media. It is also applicable to most non-printed book material, especially electronic publications, provided their character is monographic and stable.

By the way, the book I referenced was written by my father in 1997 when he was 81 years old. This is his second book (the first - 1856288633 - was published in 1994). He's still going strong at 90.

Thursday Feb 02, 2006

Why are there 63360 inches per mile?

The answer is really quite simple, according to this researcher. British units of measurement ("which now only the Americans use, the British having gone metric like everyone else") include a fundamental unit called the rod (aka the pole and the perch), which in the 16th century was defined as the total length of the left feet of the first 16 men to leave church on Sunday morning.

16 men in front of a church

There are four rods to a chain, 10 chains to a furlong, and 8 furlongs to a mile. Since each rod is 16.5 feet in length (the average 16th century male churchgoer's left foot being a little over 12 inches in length), it all adds up. And you guessed it - there are five toes to a foot!

Image credit: The Dynamics of Progress: Time, Method, and Measure. Samuel L. Macey (University of Georgia Press, 1989).

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Patrick Curran

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