A pint between friends!

Measure what is measurable, and make measurable what is not so.– Galileo Galilei (1564 – 1642)

I hope my British friends do not take offense to this, but the current measurement system in England is confusing.   Milk brought to the house by the infamous milkman is in pints, but the milk sold in stores is in liters.  “Petrol” stations sell gas in liters and advertise the price in gallons.  The distance between cities is in miles, but other road signs are in meters.   Of course, beer is sold in pints!  Everyone just knows when you walk into British pub you ask for a pint.

It is not uncommon to have local rules that dictate measurement.  Most people do not know that the volume of a UK pint is not the same volume of a USA pint.  One UK pint is equal to 1.20 USA pints.    A pint in the US is about twenty percent smaller by volume than a pint in the UK.  If a “pint” of beer is ordered in London, it is going to be about twenty percent larger than a pint of beer in the USA.  When my British friends order a pint of beer in the USA, they typically spend some time examining the size of the glass.  They often comment, “This doesn’t look right.”  They know something is wrong, but they just can’t identify it; they just can’t put their finger on it.

I have had CEOs tell me the same thing about their software organizations.  They tell me, “Things just don’t look right.”  Malcom Galdwell points out in his book Blink that intuition is often right, especially for those with a lot of experience.   The problem is that it is difficult to persuade someone based just upon intuition.   In the end, everyone should be able to explain and answer the question, “How do you know what you know?”   Without measurement, many people get attached to their beliefs and embrace all the emotions that go with their opinions.  In the absence of measurement and data, the person with the highest pay grade wins the argument that is based upon opinion.

I tell my British friends the reason a pint is smaller in the States is due to King George.  I tell them that King George taxed the colonist in America and shorted them on beer.  History tells us about taxation without representation, but fails to tell the story about the beer.

Read more at Reboot! Rethinking and Restarting Software Development (www.RebootRethink.Com)


David Longstreet
Software Economist.

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  1. Actually, some of your observations of British measurement are inaccurate. Milk is sold in supermarkets with a pint and litre measurement, but the containers are based around pints – typically in one, two, four and eight-pint bottles. The milkman’s glass bottles also have a litre marking, if you look carefully.

    Petrol stations almost exclusively advertise prices in litres (currently, a little over £1/l), whilst car economy is often in miles per gallon, because it makes them sound more efficient.

    And finally, I can’t think of any normal road measurements in metres – even junction countdown signs are in decrements of 100 yards. It’s not uncommon for (usually young) people to use metres in informal directions though – `it’s about 100m on the left’, and of course most mapping software can be set to use either unit.

    We’re not quite so confusing as you make out, therefore.

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