27 January 2010
The temperature here when I woke up this morning was zero. Zero as in no degrees. The temperature tonight may be ten degrees less than zero. Ten degrees less than no degrees.
That makes no sense. It's like saying "I have one beer, so I'll drink two of them and then I'll have less than zero beers". Or "There are zero gallons of gasoline in the tank of my car, so I'll drive another thirty miles and it will have less than zero gallons."
Zero should mean zero. Zero as in none, bupkus, nada, zip or zilch. Zero as in "I have zero chance of beating Lebron James to the basket with my killer slam dunk."
Fahrenheit is a lousy way to measure most temperatures, that's the problem. When Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit (1686–1736) figured out his temperature-measuring scale, he determined the point at which water freezes, the point at which water boils, and divided the difference between the two into 180 increments. Hence 212-32=180.
Problem is, the Fahrenheit scale doesn't match the physics of the world, hence the negative temperatures on its scale. It runs out of degrees while there are a lot of degrees remaining.
Centigrade or Celsius isn't any better. It has negative temperatures, on a different scale, just like Fahrenheit. Worse, the Celsius increments are further apart, so temperatures are fractional, as in 23.6 degrees.
Paging William John Macquorn Rankine, please pick up the courtesy phone.
Rankine had the bright idea to make zero actually equal zero. His scale sets zero °R as equal to absolute zero, or −459.67 °F. The Rankine scale increments are identical to the Fahrenheit scale. Water freezes at 492°R. It boils at 672°R. And there are no negative degrees.
See, it all makes perfect sense. And it's a balmy 480°R here as I write this.
Where's my Coppertone?