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Common Yardsticks

Date written Jun 8, 2020
Date updated Last updated: Apr 2, 2021
Filed under Handbook in ref

Contents

Historically, science has made great strides because someone cared to ask, how much? This is my concerted effort towards numerical literacy in the modern world. Assigning tangible quantities is immensely effective towards understanding the metaphorical "gravity of the situation".

All values are approximate and meant to facilitate back-of-the-envelope calculations. I highly recommend Measurement: A Very Short Introduction for a short history of measurements, and a crash-course in how different fields have evolved in assigning numbers to phenomenon.

Length

  • Neutrophil (White Blood Cells) - 12-15 microns
  • The Great Pyramid of Giza - 150m high
  • Eiffel Tower - 300m high
  • Burj Khalifa - 830m
  • Golden Gate Park - 3 mi
  • ISS Orbital Height - 250 mi / 420 km

Astronomical

  • Farthest object captured by the Hubble Telescope GN-z11 - 13.4 billion light years

Area

  • Golden Gate Park - 1000 acres / 400 ha

Mass

  • Large Shipping Container - 26 t / 30 US t

Time

  • ISS Revolution - 90 min

Historical

  • Oldest stone tools - 2.6 million years ago e.g. the Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania
  • Fire-treating stones - 164000 years ago
  • Oldest lime products - 9600 BCE, Gobekli Tepe
  • Potter’s wheel - 5500 BCE
  • Cotton - 6000 BCE
  • Wool - 6000 BCE, clothes 4000 BCE
  • Glassmaking - 5000 BCE
  • Iron - 1200 BCE, popular usage
  • Modern Paper - 105 CE, by Chinese eunuch named Tsai Lun
  • Intergenerational research project - 65 CE, Seneca the Younger's research on comets
  • Black Death - 1347 CE, the plague wiped out a big chunk of Europe, brought by Mongols.
  • Printing Press - 1440 CE
  • Founding of Manila - 1571 CE, marks substantial, direct and continuous trade between Asia and Americas
  • Great Fire of London - 1666 CE, pretty much forced the rebuilding that led to modern London
  • Unified System of Physical Measurements - 1670 CE, by Gabriel Mouton in France
  • Modernization of Paris - 1852-70 CE, directed by Eugene Haussmann
  • World's first encyclopedia - c. 1751-1777, edited by Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond D'Alembert
  • First modern record of a "birthday" - 1772 CE
  • First electric elevator - 1889 CE, Otis
  • Color Presses - c. 1890 CE
  • First mass car ownership - 1908 CE, Ford Model-T, "assembly-line"
  • Penicillin - 1928 CE, by Alexander Fleming, a breakthrough in antibiotics
  • Solution of the DNA structure - 1953
  • SI units - 1960, at the 11th General Conference for Weights and Measures

Healthcare

  • Antiretroviral therapy (ART) - 1996

Percentages

  • Percentage of total physical money in the world: < 10% (7% as of 2020)

Temperature

  • Melting point of (virgin) Cocunut oil: 24 °C

Speed

  • Wildfire fronts: 30 km/h (short bursts, otherwise 10% windspeed rule)