Furlongs per Fortnight

Background

Furlongs per fortnight is an expression used in (at least) engineering when one is confronted by parameters expressed in unfamiliar terms.  Furlong is also a very standard measurement in the world of horse racing but unfamiliar to the average person.

Here is a down-to-earth example of another unfamiliar set measurement parameters.  Eggs are sold by the dozen, but they are actually priced by the pound.  Farmers or egg sorting machines separate eggs into sizes we call small, medium, large, extra large and jumbo.

On the farm where I grew up we packed eggs into layers of 36, in an egg crate which held two stacks of 5 layers or 30 dozens. (see details)  A dozen large eggs weighs 24 oz or 1.5 lb.  So the case weight is approximately 45 lbs.  The vast majority of egg consumers wouldn't have a notion of what you were talking about if you were to say that eggs had just gone up by \$1.50 per crate or \$0.033 per pound, when the price per dozen had increased from \$1.20 to \$1.25.  Of course they also would have no reason to care!   For more on eggs check here,  or try the British Egg Information Service.  Note that the British have only recently adopted the same egg size standard as we use in the U.S.

What are Furlongs and Fortnights?

Here is what a furlong per fortnight (f/f) represents in more familiar terms:

• a furlong is 40 rods (16.5 feet) or 660 feet or 1/8 mile.
• a fortnight is 14 days, or 1.209x106 seconds (24 hour day) or 1.20953x106 seconds (sidereal time), but we don't use this for Earth-based activities.
• a furlong per fortnight is then .0327 feet per minute or .39285... (~ .4) inches per minute - wow, very close to a centimeter, which is .39370... inches.  [This observation thanks to Douglas Wilhelm Harder.  He also pointed out a rather embarrassing math error in an earlier version of the page.]

Now, this velocity is pretty close to a snail's pace.  Actually I just went outside and "clocked" one of those brown garden snails at close to 6 inches per minute.   Let's call this the Average Snail's Pace (ASP).   That's 15 f/f, and if the snail ever had a reason to go a furlong, it would only take him .917 days, or 22 hours.

In the same vein, with a snail's pace being just about within an order of magnitude of f/f, we could reasonably define f/f as approximately 0.06 ASP.  This could also bring 'snail's pace' out of the realm of being a simple idiomatic expression and give it a place in the world of rule of thumb.

Great Utility

How useful is this information?  I believe that the knowledge of such an expression as 'furlongs per fortnight' is extremely useful when you are confronted by a situation in which you are uncertain of the measurement parameters.  When I hear 'f/f' from someone I know he is trying to define his units to solve a problem.  In actual use it is certainly as precise a measurement as centimeters per second, but no one cares.  We don't use it as a measurement but as a "in" way of saying "more information needed."

Based on the extensive web search I performed I might also be the only person who has ever brought f/f into the realm of everyday "stuff" by associating the heretofore humorous expression with an everyday, observable phenomenon.  I can see the headlines now: "California Man Creates New Standard."

• To see someone's current use of the furlong concept check out Dr. Michael B. Feldman's CS51 class project.
• And have a gander at Roel van der Meulen's "Weird Units Of Measure." (temporarily not found - but still looking!)
• In the meantime, here's a practical measurement site which takes furlongs into account.
• Try Google's calculator to convert most anything to anything else (numerically, of course).  Just enter into Google, feet per hour in furlong per fortnight, the "in" being the operand, and more on the calculator is here.
• For a completely nonsensical but purely "scientific" putdown on furlongs per fortnight, check this (gone dead, quote will have to do) from The American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Physics News.  In this blurb the author claims that "...such mongrel units do not abet the sort of consistency needed for carrying out scientific research..."  Mongrel, perhaps, but certainly not lacking in accuracy.
• And here is another example of my pseudo-scientific meanderings about an improved measuring system.

note All of this packaging information came not from my fuzzy memory, but from looking at pictures in a National Geographic article, "America's Debt to the Hen", Vol LI, Number Four, April 1927, page 453.  And no, I did not have a subscription to the National Geographic in 1927!

The image below was sent by Bob Skinner in response to seeing my page.  Discrimination at high levels?

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