Jun 08

The All New SI Units Of Work

FT15 comments • 830 views

As a follow up to one of my favourite threads on FT (with one of the best comments sections ever), we return to the all new SI Units with a conundrum. A discussion about difficult jobs threw up two separate examples. Namely when one wants to invoke the relative simplicity of a task it is usually compared to EITHER rocket science or brain surgery. As the BIPM of the all new SI Units, we need to know.

Now both of these throw up an interesting point about units of measurement. If both are considered to be about the hardest jobs one can do, every other job will be a fraction of them. So data entry might be ten milli-“rocket sciences”, driving a bus might be a centi-“brain surgery” and moderating an online message board could range from 0.001 to 2 of either of these units depending on contributers. Having your standard unit too large or two small can cause problems in comprehension when you are talking about large quantities. Since a light year is almost impossible to comprehend as an ACTUAL distance, how meaningful are fractions of it. And look at the poor old Byte, now we are getting into the Terrabyte age does this standard unit even make sense?

Which brings us back to Rocket Science and Brain (salad) Surgery. Is there a more appropriate unit. Should we go to the other end and have data entry as a unit of work (its something most people have done somewhere along their work career). Or checkout cashier? You can’t force these things though, and I don’t think brain surgery and rocket science are going away. So which is harder, and which is more appropriate as our unit? A small amount of research has come up with this response from a scientist (retired – and possibly prejudiced).

Brain surgery is complicated, but not difficult.
Rocket science is easy and not at all hard work. It’s the rocket engines that do
all the work. If you had to pull all the rockets up into space yourself – now that would be hard
work, but it doesn’t work out like that. (nb This is a trade secret. nobody must know this).

So perhaps we should pick brain surgery. Not so fast – as I have a solution based on the usage of both these popular terms, which salvages them both. We could use brain surgery is the SI unit of difficult work but Rocket Scientist as the SI Unit of a difficult job? What do you think? And while we are at it what are the SI Units of the following:


Come on, its not rocket surgery.


  1. 1
    CarsmileSteve on 17 Jun 2008 #

    we missed “width of a human hair” off the old one (we should clean all that spam off there, but it’s all quite pretty isn’t it…)

    ANNOYANCE should be measured in Apprentices

  2. 2
    Kat but logged out innit on 17 Jun 2008 #

    Annoyance – number of fingernails on blackboard?

  3. 3
    Andrew F on 17 Jun 2008 #

    Most famous Brain Surgeon = Doctor Frankenstein – but NO! As the documentary film Young Frankenstein shows, he just puts the intact brain in, he doesn’t perform any actual surgery on it – you might as well claim it was Dr Hfuhruhurr. In fact the most famous Brain Surgeon is probably Gazi Yasargil. Yes, exactly.

    Most famous Rocket Scientist = Dr Bruce Banner, the Incredible Hulk.

    I thus propose that we use Brain Surgeon as the unit of Difficulty and Rocket Scientist as a mixed unit, such as the foot-pound, to indicate Difficulty and Fame.

  4. 4
    Martin Skidmore on 17 Jun 2008 #

    SI Unit of evil = the Hitler, surely? I guess Mother Theresa or Jesus would have some claims to its flipside.

    There’s a very good bit relating to this in the pretty good comedy The Big Bang Theory, which centres around two nerdy geniuses, the funniest of which is Sheldon. Sheldon’s sister appears in one episode, and she says she is always pleased when rocket science is invoked to tell her friends that her brother is a rocket scientist.

    “Rocket scientist!” he says, totally outraged. “I’m a THEORETICAL PHYSICIST! You might as well tell them I collects tokens in a highway toll booth!”

  5. 5
    Pete on 18 Jun 2008 #

    The Hitler is a good call, it being the unit which usurped the Imperial measure the Ghenghis.

    I dread to ask the SI Unit of stupidity.

  6. 6
    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 18 Jun 2008 #

    uselessness: a hammer carved from a banana etc

  7. 7
    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 18 Jun 2008 #

    si unit of scaring kids into goin to bed: before hitler = BONEY!

  8. 8
    Alan on 18 Jun 2008 #

    the vector product of annoyance and evil is measured in the kilo-clarkson. examples:

    “They stole all my treasury tags! woo that measured about 2 kilo-clarksons”

    and non work:
    “when i killed that child cos i was speeding it was about 3 kilo-clarksons”
    “when he killed my child cos he was speeding, it was about 20 giga-clarksons”

  9. 9
    Martin Skidmore on 18 Jun 2008 #

    The uselessness standard unit is traditionally the chocolate teapot, I think.

    Studidity is the short plank, but the problem with that is that it is its thickness rather than its shortness that is the point.

    Goodness of a new thing SI = sliced bread.

  10. 10
    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 18 Jun 2008 #

    uselessness is not scaleable, is it? you near hear “this is as useless as chocolate teapot but that’s as useless as seven chocolate teapots” — so some of these aren’t units strictly speaking

    and hitler is more the ASYMPTOTE of evil than the unit

  11. 11
    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 18 Jun 2008 #

    oops “near” = “never”

  12. 12
    Pete on 18 Jun 2008 #

    Hmm, good point. Perhaps a footsoldier maybe the unit – so a Gestapo Officer?

  13. 13
    Tom on 18 Jun 2008 #

    Well just a Nazi would do the job.

    So a quite evil thing would be a milliNazi, and then murdering someone might be 1 Nazi, since that’s the sort of thing they did, and then clearly Hitler is several teraNazis up the scale.

  14. 14
    Tom on 18 Jun 2008 #

    1 Hitler is of course the SI unit of parental repression as measured by a teenager.

  15. 15
    Sahra on 20 Oct 2011 #

    Not what i was looking for

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