I have no mechanical aptitude whatsoever. I think somewhere along the line I broke the part of my brain that deals with spatial relationships and logic, because I cannot build nor even conceive of how to build something. For instance, two summers ago I wanted to make a planter for my front porch, which was basically a wooden box. I bought all the lumber, I measured everything out, I cut some stuff up, and then I stood there with a pile of wood and a confused look on my face. I literally could not figure out how to attach the boards to one another to make this wooden box. Could. Not. Do it. My husband had to rescue me, and he built that planter box in less than an hour because he is a regular person who can see that if you want a wooden box, then eventually you are going to have to screw some things together.
Despite my obvious shortcomings in the Build It Yourself department, I love this show on the Science Channel called “How It’s Made”. This show takes you into a factory or workshop and shows you step-by-step how they make things. Anything from suits of armor to CCD semiconductors – they will show you how it’s done. It’s wonderful. My favorite ones are when they are making things by hand, like violins or wooden ducks. However, most often you’re going to see a lot of automated machinery and robots doing things at incredible rates of speed or applying incredible amounts of pressure. And that’s where my confusion comes in.
The last few times I’ve watched this show, the narrator has said something like “The blank goes into a press, which exerts an amount of force roughly equal to the weight of four elephants.” The first time it didn’t really make an impact, but after hearing it twice, I started to think “Something is not right there.” I mean, I’m watching a show on The Science Channel. It’s a show about how science is used to make things. It is, most often, a very scientific show. When did “the elephant” become a scientific unit of measure? Wouldn’t it be better just to say “two tons” or however much it is? I also love how they have to throw in the “roughly equal” to make it sound even more like people are going around ordering things by the elephant now. Really, is there a press that exerts pressure precisely equal to the weight of four elephants? No, there is not, because elephants don’t all weigh the same amount.
I realize that most people have no way to visualize a ton, and that if you picture four elephants all balancing on one tiny bit of metal, you can say “Wow, that’s a lot of weight”, but really. You don’t know how much weight “four elephants” is, you just know it’s a lot. The same way you can’t really visualize 2000 pounds of weight , but you know it’s a ton. It’s a lot of weight. It’s such a lot of weight that people use the unit of measure as hyperbole in normal conversation – i.e. “I ate a ton of food”. What I’m saying is, most people have no frame of reference for that much weight, so why not just use the proper amount and be done with it? Four tons or four elephants, most people are going to have the same reaction: “I wouldn’t want to get my hand caught in that press.”