The Measure Of Things
August 7, 2011 1:39 AM   Subscribe

The Measure Of Things
A tool for finding comparative measurements of physical quantities. The Measure of Things lets you take a measurement of a physical quantity — i.e. 14 meters or 23 ounces (or even something like 18 hogsheads) — and understand how compares to well-known objects. You can compare measurements for categories including length, mass, speed, time, height, area, volume, and data.

14 meters in length, for example, is:
  • ¾ times the length of a bowling lane
  • 1¾ times the length of a London bus
  • 0.016 times the length of the Navy Pier
  • ...and more
Role: Designer, Coder, Researcher
posted by FreelanceBureaucrat (16 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

Cool idea but it's saying that 2 acres is bigger that PRince Edward Island or Yosemite Park.
posted by bonobothegreat at 2:27 PM on August 7, 2011

good catch, bonobothegreat. i've fixed the data for those two. thanks.
posted by FreelanceBureaucrat at 3:23 PM on August 7, 2011

This Is Good!

A small suggestion, however, to lose the graphic how-to below the thing. The tool itself is intuitively designed and seems self-explanatory. You could make the drawn-out instructions a click-through instead, like a "What do I do?" button tucked away somewhere. Maybe change "Pick a category" to something more descriptive like 'dimension' or 'metric' (though that one could be confusing)?
posted by carsonb at 8:02 PM on August 7, 2011

Great feedback, carsonb, thanks!

I'm glad to hear the interface is intuitive. I spent a while deliberating how much instructional text to add and I wanted to opt for over-the-top obviousness, rather than risk anyone getting lost. I'll give some more thought to finding the right balance.
posted by FreelanceBureaucrat at 9:25 PM on August 7, 2011

I like it! But I was a little taken aback by the emphasis on the fact that the distance I entered is "less than one-tenth" of the specific thing being compared. For instance, I entered 1 million miles, and the site tells me this is
About 1,200 times the length of the Rhine. In other words, it would take
Less than one-tenth that amount to equal the length of the Rhine
Then, in smaller type:
More accurately, that's 1,220 times the length of the Rhine.
It would take 0.00082 times that amount to equal the length of the Rhine.
I mean, yes, .00082 is certainly "less than" .1 (one-tenth)! However, it's also less than .001 (one-thousandth)! Considering that the point of the site is to help us roughly visualize the scale of different measurements, it seems odd to keep referring to a fraction (1/10) that's literally over a hundred times more than the relevant proportion.

Also, I think "more precisely" would be a better phrase than "more accurately." There's a subtle difference between accuracy and precision. Since you appropriately qualify "1,200 times" with "about," you're being quite accurate (you're doing the best you can at rounding to the nearest 100); it's just not as precise as 1,220.
posted by John Cohen at 11:31 AM on August 8, 2011

Good thoughts, John Cohen - I agree. Thank you.

I've updated the phrasing of the small text and I'll work on the "less than" text after work.
posted by FreelanceBureaucrat at 12:15 PM on August 8, 2011

In a related vein to John Cohen's suggestions, what about reporting the precise measurements first, then in the explanation using the more approximate relations?
posted by carsonb at 5:47 PM on August 8, 2011

carsonb, I'd built the site based on the use case of someone coming to find information for use in a written explanation that might have a conversational tone. In that context, I don't know that the more precise measurement would be more useful than an approximate one. But maybe I'm missing something?
posted by FreelanceBureaucrat at 9:18 PM on August 8, 2011

Ha. I apparently weigh exactly twice as much as a toilet.

I was a little taken aback by the fact that it says that I'm almost the same height as Napoleon, even though I'm 19 centimeters taller. Might be my vanity talking here, but when it comes to human heights, 19 cms is a rather large difference.

No idea how to fix that though.
posted by Sourisnoire at 3:54 AM on August 9, 2011

I love this. I picked "weight", then "tons", then "40,000". Because on the news, they always tell you how many elephants that is (because we're all familiar with the weight of an elephant, right?)

So yes, elephants are in the result set, but there is so much more that it doesn't matter!

However... it tells me that is about 27,000 times the weight of a human brain, although in the text description underneath it seems to have the right mass of a brain listed.

Possibly these 1.48-ton brains are those of the average MeFite and not the average human from the general population?
posted by FishBike at 7:40 AM on August 9, 2011

@Sourisnoire Yeah, you'd almost have to know what object the user was submitting to give a comparison in relative terms. You entered - as far as I can tell - 1.89 m, which is just over 111% of the height of Napoleon. But if you had been looking for a comparison of, say, a refrigerator that was 1.89 m, the "about the same height as" language might seem like the right level of precision.

@FishBike Presumably, yes. But I've updated the measurement data to be more align with brains of the "normals." Thanks.
posted by FreelanceBureaucrat at 8:53 AM on August 9, 2011 > like this?
posted by femmme at 7:06 PM on August 9, 2011

I weight almost as much as a Kangaroo!
posted by stp123 at 11:02 AM on August 10, 2011

Wow. I weigh about as much as an octopus and "About one-fifth the weight of a Snow, Cubic meter of." Hm, maybe the phrasing on the latter item could use some work.
posted by desjardins at 10:28 AM on August 11, 2011

@desjardins That's for alphabetical sorting — that entry would fall under 'S' with the way it's phrased now. Maybe the alphabetical sort isn't that important?
posted by FreelanceBureaucrat at 4:31 PM on August 11, 2011

If you wanted to be sneaky about it, I guess you could do the alphabetical sort with the descriptions the way they are now, but have a separate description for display that says e.g. "Cubic meter of snow".
posted by FishBike at 6:49 PM on August 11, 2011

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