Modern Marvels taken for Granted: Weights & Measures

Tscale2hose of us who need to lose a pound or two hover over the bathroom scale. Scientists think of it abstractly as the realm “weights and measures” when it comes to the ubiquitous device. We surely take this modern marvel for granted. You hop on each morning to take a reading and then you are on your merry way. So who exactly invented the scale and why? It was no doubt for commerce and the exchange or trading of goods. You had to know how much you were selling before you could name your price.

To do business in any society, you need accuracy of your merchandise to be fair. If you say it is cotton, it cannot be silk. If you say it weighs a pound, it cannot be 15 ounces. You can’t always count it out like a dozen eggs. It could be in powder or liquid form. Weights and measures as a concept have to be reliable and uniform. In the early days it was no doubt somewhat speculative. You had seeds, grain or stones as a countermeasure or for the measurement of length you had the span of the hand. Standards soon became stringent to avoid cheating and finagling. During the days before the American Revolution, a bushel of oats would weigh something different in Virginia, New Jersey, or Connecticut. By way of explanation, it could weight from 28 to 32 pounds. In California during the Gold Rush, measuring land or grain in exchange for gold was imprecise. It seems that each mining camp had its own rules.

To make things more exact, basically, it comes down to units. In measurements, you have inches and feet, or meters. In weights you have ounces and pounds or liters (or to go to extremes—tons). As is obvious, there is no worldwide system at present, although the metric system is always gaining ground. The US remains the only industrialized system that does not use it as their standard. Whatever system is used, the units must be the same in all places. At present we have the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Washington D.C. to safeguard our precious units. You want some type of authority to ensure that the quantity is correct when purchasing certain products. Laws for weights and measures have stabilized the process to protect consumers from fraud.

So without you even knowing it, weights and measures to some degree permeate your entire life – especially if you’re looking at scales for weight loss – because you’ll probably also be using a set in the kitchen to measure all of your food every meal as well. It is all behind the scenes in factories or labs where ingredients are measured for medications and chips are manufactured to scale for watches and phones. The bathroom scale is unfortunately lagging behind the times. We do have more accurate digital models, but they can be off due to a false initial tabulation. Scales used to operate by means of a stretched spring that moved a lever. This little device activated the dial that shows you the calibrated weight. Electronic versions are a considerable advancement using a strain gauge attached to a springy metal. When you stand on this type of device, this metal bends. Since it is connected to a circuit, it serves to compare changes in current through the strain gauge to a fixed current. You then read the results in a digital screen.

And yet, your average weight can be several ounces different from one scale to another, give or take – except on the most accurate scales. God forbid it should be off a whole pound from one day to the next! We have come to accept inconsistency with such scales, a fact we would not tolerate in other areas of our life. We don’t want to pay more for our gas than we buy and we don’t want to fork over extra money for incorrectly weighed premium cheese sold by the pound.

Weights and measure therefore matter. We can’t live without them. All of our packaged food contains a label regarding weight which correlates with price. When we buy lumber, it must be accurate to a 32nd of an inch. Why do we agree to use a bathroom scale that tells lies? Can we trust the deli department for accuracy when wrapping cheese? We don’t think too often about it, but maybe we should. Weights and measures are here for a reason to help humanity come to terms with the necessities of fair commerce. No one wants to be hoodwinked in the grocery store any more than on the scales. Maybe it’s wise to drop a few extra pounds to be on the safe side.

Modern Marvels Taken for Granted: Plumbing

Montage-of-Turkey-8268History buffs study just about anything, but often overlooked is the story of modern plumbing. We seldom think about it much and just about never utter the word “sanitation.” But it did exist, even if in only primitive form. The need for waste disposal is the history of mankind (from caveman to gentleman) in effect with major advancements occurring in ancient Greek and Roman times and those amazing aqueducts. However mundane a subject, a discussion of what is often taken for granted merits a minute of attention.

We have to take a breath and be thankful for the obvious sometimes. Sanitation has come a long way from a hole in the ground in an outhouse to the porcelain commode. We no longer have to even use euphemisms for it. The lavatory, loo, or “water closet” are just about obsolete except maybe in retro historical novels. Yes, there are still primitive devices where you stand on a piece of wood or ceramic and look down lest you spill a drop. These are found here and there in third world countries where toilets often separate the rich and the poor. But overall, the world is moving toward modern plumbing in order to combat disease from those nasty microbiological elements.

Statistics show that five million people a year die from unclean water. It is a huge issue in the world with concerned environmentalists. It seems to be the right of every human being to have access to clean water. A lot has to be done to eradicate these numbers. We should be grateful indeed for the legacy of those innovators who led the way to sublime cleanliness.

The word toilet comes from the French for cloth or “toile.” It pertains to an item used in personal grooming such as cutting the hair or applying cosmetics. It came to English usage in the 16th century with a wider base meaning to be applied to more than ablutions. Remnants of its origin still exist in the phrase “taking one’s toilette” implying getting ready for the public. It also is part of the connotation of “eau de toilette” or cologne.

Modern plumbing is a gift from the gods in so many ways. From a mere utilitarian ceramic object, the toilet in all its various guises has become customized as a design element in most new homes. You have a choice of materials, sizes, and shapes to accommodate your every whim. When updating a bathroom, a self-cleaning low-water usage model is a must. You also don’t expect must repair or maintenance these days. Upgraded tubing, fittings, and valves make longevity and reliability a no-brainer. Soft or filtered water make rust a thing of the past. Fortunately, we seldom have to greet the plumber at our door.

Dealing with sewage is a distasteful concept and is all but hidden from normal human view. Few have seen a water processing facility or been confronted with one’s views on water treatment for re-usage. It is behind the scenes magic in faraway plants that makes the most base personal needs almost pleasant. We actually get excited about modern toilets with bidets that spray different levels of mist to water sprays that can eliminate the need for paper. Before you know it, the porcelain throne will play music to accompany our perennial deeds.

Celebrating plumbing is not a common practice, but given its importance, why not praise a good thing? We have to credit it with transforming our daily existence in the simplest ways. We now have entire rooms for all our many fixtures including shower, tub, and sink. We want these rooms to be luxurious, comfortable, and supremely clean. It is hard to believe such obsession with health came so late in human history. But it did come with dry toilets, pit latrines, septic tanks, and more. Engineers have been delving into new solutions without our even knowing it.

Paying homage to the ubiquitous toilet is to honor civilized behavior, privacy, and absolute decorum. It is to salute plumbing innovation. Few have to lift those heavy tank lids any more to stem the flow of water onto the floor or to press bulbs and gadgets to make them work. You don’t even have to whisk with a brush every day with the advent of automatic tank disinfectant systems. We can turn the other cheek, pun intended. It is a brave new world of sanitation and hygiene that promises to stay the course and keep us clean unto eternity. Let’s stop taking it for granted.

Modern Marvels Taken for Granted: Hot Water

Ah! A hot shower in the morning when you first wake up or just before retiring. The pleasurable words conjures up steam on the mirror and jet sprays of heated warmth on your back. Adjust the shower head and go all out. Hot water creates images of luxurious pampering with the best scented soap and a free-for-all use of the most delicate shampoo on your scalp. You can stay in there forever, crooning a tune, listing to jazz, or just doing the reverse of chilling out. Thank the Lord for hot water systems and home filtration that gives us a soft regulated flow every time. What would we do without them?

Among the many modern marvels that are taken for granted, hot water is surely one of them. People actually used to heat up pans of the stuff on the stove and pour it into a portable tub. They would boil it to rid it of impurities before filtration crossed anyone’s lips. When a baby is born at home, someone screams “get some hot water.” Who knows why! When tea is desired, it must be made hot and steeped tout de suite. Hot water is a fundamental part of life that has immeasurable uses. We can’t even think of them, they are so obvious. But if you had to go without, you would know what they are!

Is hot water the basis of civilization? Those in the shower would say so. Those without would vote yes. But running water, not to mention hot, is definitely a jump up on a primitive well. It is a major improvement over the alternatives. Now we have electric heat pumps and instant tankless water heaters to do the vital job. It costs money to heat water so we know it is worth its weight in gold so to speak. It doesn’t come cheap or easy. A lot of people know as they upgrade to digital tankless units that are state of the art. A lot of new machining, welding, and assembly has gone into the process. More research and development is on its way.

You have heard the expression, “getting into hot water.” Is that a bad place to be? Perhaps yes and no. Metaphorically, you want to avoid such situations if you can, especially if they are not of your choosing. It means you are in trouble and need help. A husband with a roving eye is often in hot water. A child who has painted his bedroom walls with indelible ink is in hot water. On the other hand, a literal jump in a hot tub is a mighty fine thing indeed. We can riff on hot water endlessly, but you get the picture. We have your attention at the moment, so don’t wander off just yet .

What else has hot water done for you lately? It boils your eggs, heats baby bottles, washes dishes, helps you scrub yourself or your dog, and cleans your clothes. We already mentioned tea, so let’s add coffee and give a shout out to those marvelous self-heating units. The quicker the heating, the happier we are. No one likes to wait for mere essentials!

Anyone who has lost their electrical power in a storm knows what we are talking about. Try going for very long without hot water. Think about a tepid bath. Life is unattractive and grim. There are people who can’t survive without a least two cups of hot brewed morning coffee. Clothes never feel as clean when done in the cold cycle. While there is vichyssoise, no one likes cold tomato bisque or turkey noodle soup.

Stop taking hot water for granted and recognize it for the modern marvel that it is–modern here being loosely used since stoves have long been around. For eons, it has been helping everyone survive. I penned a little paean to its worth, with a little satire in mind.

Ode to Hot Water

Cool is nice, especially if you like ice, but hot is a welcome savior
Liquid gold in its converted form, has many uses to savor.

Heat it up to boiling point, that’s not a lot of palaver
It warms the cockles of your heart, inciting special behavior.

A hot tub beckons, so jump in now. It’s not a time to waver
Don’t turn away a hot cup of grog, full of rich rum flavor.

Take your tea tepid or piping, according to your favor
Enjoy the rapture down your throat, it will make you a raver.