brainwagon "There is much pleasure in useless knowledge." — Bertrand Russell


On Converting Celsius to Fahrenheit and Back

I pride myself on being able to carry out calculations in my head that cause most people to go for the calculator. Need to calculate a 15% tip? Divide the total bill by 10, and then divide by 2, and then add the results. Easy. Sometimes while exercising on a bike I try to factor four or five digit numbers in my head. Or try to remember how Conway's Doomsday Algorithm allows you to compute the day of the week for arbitrary dates. It's just a way to exercise the mind.

Another calculation that frequently (well, not that frequently, but still) comes up is to convert temperatures between Celsius and Fahrenheit. The way that I remember this is that zero C is 32 F, so to convert Celsius to Fahrenheit, you multiply C by 9/5 and then add 32. Of course, to do the reverse, you have to do the subtraction first (F-32) and then multiply by 5/9. They aren't hard to remember, but I was shocked to find there is a nicer way that avoids the assymetry.

The Citizen Scientist has a cute article that shows the easier way. The fact you have to remember is that -40C is the same temperature as -40F. How does that help? Well, to convert from C to F, you

  1. Add 40 to C
  2. Multiply by 9/5
  3. Subtract 40

To convert from F to C, you:

  1. Add 40 to F
  2. Multiply by 5/9
  3. Subtract 40

So, a balmy 86F is 30C. 15C is 59F. Neat!

Having difficulty multiplying by 9/5 or 5/9? You could just use 2 and 1/2 if you'd rather, it introduces about a 10% error, which might be close enough. (You'd get 23C and 50F above). You can get closer if you subtract 10% when you multiply by 2, and add 10% when you multiply by 1/2, but frankly, I think that reintroduces the problems of assymetry that this revamp gives you. Probably easier (and more accurate) just to work on multiplying and dividing by 9 and 5.
Anyway, cool article.

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Spring is Here!

Eggs Stand On End To Mark Spring's Arrival

Well, today is the the vernal equinox, known more informally as the first day of spring.  It's a blustery, rainy day here, and it probably would have gone unnoticed by me except for the mention on Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy Blog.  The equinoxes are a busy time for Phil, who debunked the idea that on the equinoxes, you can balance an egg on end: it turns out, you can do it any day of the year if you have a little patience and practice. Phil's egg balancing was what originally drew my attention to his blog,  so I wish him and all my readers a happy spring.

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