For nearly 130 years the definition of the kilogram has been tied to a lump of metal inside a Parisian vault that varies in mass from decade to decade. Now all that is about to change
Deep underneath the Parisian suburb of Saint-Cloud, in a vault that can only be opened by three people wielding three different keys, there lies a hunk of metal that is so crucial to the world of measurements that it only ever leaves its tightly-controlled environment to be cleaned and weighed.
For the last 129 years, this small cylinder of platinum-iridium has defined the weight of the kilogram. The International Prototype of the Kilogram, or IPK, does not just weigh one kilogram. It is one kilogram. If its mass goes up or down – and in the past century it has done both – then the definition of a kilogram goes up or down too.
Such is the importance of the IPK, there is even a sixteen-page manual devoted to the task of cleaning the mass. First, it’s wiped with a chamois leather that has been soaked for 48 hours in a mixture of ethanol and ether to remove any impurities. It’s then sprayed with steam from double-distilled water. The remaining water is then blotted away with filter paper, or blown off with clean gas, before the IPK is flipped over and the process starts again.
In total, it takes 50 minutes to clean the IPK, which measures just 39 millimetres in both height and diameter. “It's the world's mass standard and you don't muck around with it, it's really rather important,” says Ian Robinson, a researcher at the National Physical Laboratory who has been working on the redefinition of the kilogram for nearly four decades.
So what’s wrong with the IPK?
The problem, Brown explains, is that tying a definition to a physical object is nowhere near as useful as using physical constants. “Ultimately the traceability of the kilogram is through this single material artefact which is held at this international facility,” he says, but the IPK’s mass actually fluctuates by millionths of a kilogram as it accrues grime or loses mass when it gets cleaned. The aim of the conference was to switch the definition to something that can never change.
For most people, this precise definition of the kilogram isn’t going to change how we measure out flour or weigh ourselves, but for organisations such as the NPL, which promote accurate measurements across industries, getting precise about the kilogram is a huge deal.
All countries that are part of the Metre Convention – the 1875 treaty that established the created the international Bureau of Weights and Measures (known by its French initials, BIPM) – have their own copies of the IPK. Every 40 years these copy prototypes are carried – usually by hand – to Paris, where they are weighed to see how they compare to the IPK. The last weighing-in happened in 2014 to lay the groundwork for the upcoming redefinition, but there had only been three prior calibrations before then.
The UK’s copy is called Kilogram 18, and rests in a safe at the NPL’s headquarters in Teddington, South London. “It’s got a pretty nice life,” says Robinson, who, despite leading work on the redefinition of the kilogram, rarely works with Kilogram 18 itself. Like the IPK, Kilogram 18 – so-called because it was the 18th copy to be alloted by ballot and distributed – is kept under two bell jars filled with filtered air.
It’s these copies that national measurement laboratories, such as the NPL, use to set measurement standards and correctly calibrate delicate instruments. But the problem is that no copy is exactly the same mass as the IPK. Kilogram 18 is around 60 micrograms heavier than the IPK – overweight by an amount equivalent to a couple of small grains of sands. And that’s before you account for fluctuations in the mass of the IPK itself, as it picks up pollutants from the air or loses some of its alloy during cleaning.
“You're looking at stability of the mass, and in no circumstances can you get a mass that's exactly one kilogram, they all drift slightly,” says Robinson. “So what you're bothered about is that your own [mass] is the same difference as the IPK or you can predict that difference.”
This is a problem when you’re setting standards for industries such as pharmaceuticals, which regularly deal with measurements right down to micrograms. All metric mass measurements are derived from the kilogram and it’s extremely tricky to put in an accurate shot when your goalposts are moving every forty years or so. And that’s why Robinson and his colleagues have been working on a device that will allow scientists to leave behind the IPK for good.
Nearly 40 years ago, Robinson started working with his colleague, the late Bryan Kibble, on an instrument called a Kibble balance – a complex mess of scaffolding and wires that from a distance looks like it could be a spacecraft instead of an instrument that’s redefining one of our most important units of measurement.
Originally called the watt balance, but renamed the Kibble balance after Bryan Kibble’s death in 2016, the device was intended to solve a rather arcane problem with how the ampere – a unit that measures the flow of electrical current – is calculated. In 1988 Robinson and Kibble published a paper showing it was possible to use the Kibble balance to fix the definition of the ampere without having to use a complex instrument composed of two parallel lengths of wire.
Soon cracking the ampere, Robinson and Kibble realised that they could use the same device to leave the IPK in the dust. It could let them redefine the kilogram itself.
Here’s how it works. First you need to know that when you pass a current through a coil of wire, it generates a magnetic field. That’s exactly how loudspeakers work – they use electrical signals to switch an electromagnet on and off, causing a speaker cone to vibrate. What Kibble and Robinson realised is that you could balance this magnetic force against a physical mass – a little like resting a mass on your speaker cone and measuring how much electrical current you need to run through your electromagnetic to get it to move.
Through the clever deployment of a couple of physical laws – including one that won its creator the 1985 Nobel Prize in physics – the pair worked out that it was possible to express mass in terms of electromagnetic forces. Armed with this information, the pair worked out they could use the Kibble balance to calculate the Planck constant – an important number in quantum physics that relates to the amount of energy carried in a single particle of light.
Since Kibble and Robinson knew that they could calculate the Planck constant by starting with a mass, they also knew they could work backwards and derive a mass by starting with the Planck constant. And, unlike the IPK, the Planck constant does not fluctuate with time.
“You can then use any equation you like in physics to get yourself from the Planck Constant to mass,” says Robinson. “If you have the value of the Planck constant you can get a milligram, a kilogram, an atomic mass anything you like.”
But the kilogram isn’t the first of the seven base metric units to switch from a physical measure to a mathematical constant. A metre used to be defined as one ten millionth of the distance between the North Pole and the Equator. In 1983, the BIPM voted to instead derive the metre from the distance that light travels through a vacuum in a fraction of a second.
The kelvin, too, is getting an upgrade. Currently defined as a fraction of the temperature at which water can exist as a liquid, solid and gas, it will soon be defined in terms of the Boltzmann constant – a number that relates to the energy of particles in gas. It will join the kilogram along with the ampere and mole as the latest metric units to be defined in terms of fundamental constants.
If everything goes to plan, Brown says, no one outside of the scientific world will notice a difference when the kilogram switch is made next year. “It's very important that when we make the change, actually nothing changes,” he says. “We have to be absolutely sure that we're going to replace it with something that's better and something that is effectively the same size.”
That’s why Kilogram 18 is heading back to Paris for a final weighing-in session to compare it with the IPK in preparation for the switch over to the Planck constant. After that, standards will be derived from Kibble balances instead of from kilogram prototypes. This will spur a whole new industry of people working to refine the Kibble balance, Brown hopes.
For Robinson, who has spent nearly four decades working on the device that will replace that IPK, today’s vote was the conclusion of an extremely long and complicated process. After all, when you’re redefining one of the world’s most fundamental units of measurements, people tend to move extremely slowly.
“We were aiming at the kilogram in 1988-90, it's just that it's an extraordinarily difficult job,” Robinson says. But now, as he sets on his new task helping the world’s measurement bodies getting to grips with the Kibble balance, he’ll do so with the knowledge that behind the scenes of every weight measurement made in metric, his elegant solution to the kilogram problem is being put into flawless motion.
In my work with entrepreneurs and business students, I often hear marketing strategies explained as “having social media,” “having an online brand,” or “advertising a lot.”
These explanations make me cringe because, while they might be part of a plan, they grossly oversimplify the deeper and more complex concepts behind a truly effective marketing strategy.
In order to explain and help others understand marketing — namely the differences between marketing, advertising, and branding — I ask them to apply each of these concepts to themselves personally. When you do, this is what it would look like.
Marketing is how you see yourself.
Marketing is the image that you are trying to present to others. It starts with how you dress, the colors and patterns you choose, and how you groom. We all have a strategy for this — yes, everyone, including your unkempt second cousin who rarely showers and wears the same Star Wars shirt he’s worn since college.
Even not having a strategy for your personal appearance is a strategy itself.
You choose your image to portray yourself as a business professional, a punk rocker, a tech nerd, etc., and by doing so, you are expressing to others through your appearance your character, lovable attributes, and in the end, the value you offer to others.
It isn’t fun to admit that appearances are as important as they are, but let’s be honest, first impressions are driven by appearance. Impressions can evolve and be molded later, but as we all know, they require time and effort to change, so we do our best to get it right up front.
For a business, a marketing strategy considers how you want others to perceive your company. It should convey the vision and values of the business and express these in a way that the public will recognize and associate with your company.
How you “dress” your company will determine how effectively your message and image will be accepted by consumers.
Advertising is how you act in public.
If marketing is how you see yourself, advertising describes your actions.
How you carry yourself, where you hang out, and what you say are just as important as how you look. All of this should be considered with your marketing strategy to assure that you have consistency between your image and your actions.
For instance, imagine that you wear a New England Patriots jersey and get a “I Heart Tom Brady” tattoo, but during the Super Bowl, you cheer for the Philadelphia Eagles and celebrate their victory. You will confound — and probably infuriate — all of your friends and likely be exiled from future Sunday game days.
Your business advertising strategy is the same. If you execute it in the wrong places, with the wrong message and tone, at the wrong times, or to the wrong audience, it will ultimately confuse consumers and could turn them away.
Branding is how others see you.
While marketing is how you want others to see you, branding is how they actually do.
Your marketing strategy should assess and consider your personal brand. If you have a strong brand, you can spend more time building on it. If you have reputation problems, however, you need to focus on rebuilding or changing perceptions.
As an example, if your professional network believes you to be a fraud or slacker, then it will require more than just dressing professionally and mastering your LinkedIn profile to change this perception.
Similarly, from a business standpoint, understanding how consumers perceive your business is crucial for how you decide to execute a marketing and advertising strategy.
Now, I understand I just oversimplified complex marketing concepts — exactly what I critiqued at the beginning. I find, however, that applying these concepts to ourselves creates an effective and simple way to explain how each concept can and should be applied to your business.
This story originally appeared at Inc.com.
Milk first, or milk last? YouGov tackles the debates that matter
Spare a thought for the good people at YouGov, and the pollsters in general, these days. After years of operating under the radar, just quietly going about their business of asking the nation every so often about the tiny swings this way and that in the political world, suddenly they have become the centre of attention - and not in a good way.
First up everyone had a go at them when they failed to predict the Conservative election win in the 2015 General Election, then everyone had a go at them when they failed to predict Brexit, then everyone had a go at them when they did actually predict the 2017 General Election right. Now, they have to almost daily deal with angry people being angry about Brexit as poll after poll comes in showing how everyone blames everyone else for the mess we’re currently in.
So, at last, a bit of light relief. A poll on tea. Yes, it might be pretty much as divisive an issue as Brexit, but at least we’re all agreed that we like tea, even if we might disagree on how best to enact it.
The big issue in tealand, of course, is whether milk is to go in first, or last. And it seems we’re not quite as divided as you’d think judging by the results of YouGov’s poll, with a whopping 79% of the population believing that it goes in last. Opinions are strongest amongst 18-24 year-olds, who simply cannot countenance the idea of the milk going in first - only 4% of them finding this acceptable. Oh, the idealism of youth.
The 65+ age group is much more relaxed about things, with two thirds of them still preferring milk last, but a third of them going milk first.
Presumably to kill a bit more time before they had to go back to being spat at in the street over Brexit, YouGov decided to run a couple more polls on tea issues, with one on ideal tea strength coming in exactly as you’d expect.
Well, we say ‘expect’, but the great British public did not cover themselves in glory when they were asked a similar question on the correct shade of toast eighteen months ago - in short, they got it completely and utterly wrong - so perhaps we should be grateful the results came in as they did.
Finally, the YouGov bods asked the nation what their favourite brand of tea was, and the nation went along with astronaut Tim Peake in choosing Yorkshire Tea as it hoovered up 25% of the vote, edging out PG Tips, who could only muster 22%. Tetley took bronze with 16%, while Twinings took 6% - presumably those votes were taken entirely from the ‘Metropolitan elite’ - and Typhoo 4%.
Hard to argue with that either, really.
So, just for today, forget about Brexit, brew up a Yorkshire Tea to a mild brown colour and put the milk in last and, finally, we can be united as a nation again.
The idea of the Gentleman grew out of the traditions of knighthood in a very dangerous period of history.
While the concepts of knighthood and honour have long been out of fashion, some of the behaviours from that time still have meaning and purpose. The core concepts of the knight and the gentleman are similar: Protect the weak and defenceless, show compassion and mercy, speak the truth, and be courteous to others, especially women. So what are some of the actual behaviours of a true modern gentleman?
HERE ARE 20 BEHAVIOURS OF A TRUE GENTLEMAN
Hollywood often portrays pirates as drunken swashbucklers, scurvy-ridden thugs and with perhaps the exception of Jonny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow, you might not hold them in very high esteem – a bit like estate agents some might say!
What you might not realise is that pirates were in fact way ahead of their time in being pioneering and principled entrepreneurs, innovative thinkers and excellent marketeers.
The infamous Englishman Edward Teach, otherwise known as Blackbeard, had possibly the most fearsome reputation of all. But it was his understanding of the importance of image and perception, which ensured he was dreaded by anyone who came across him.
At the time, sailors were treated with less respect than convicts, paid very little, and were kept in filthy, cramped living quarters with appalling food rations. Many were forced or duped into that truly horrific life. If they were lucky enough to survive a skirmish, then it was likely they would instead die of typhoid or scurvy.
But Blackbeard was a pioneer who appreciated the value of of looking after your crew. He was an excellent communicator who treated his men (and women) very well – therefore they were willing and loyal. He fed and paid them fairly, sharing the plunder won on a voyage at the end of each trip. The crew knew they would be rewarded at the end and so that incentivised them to continuously work hard.
Blackbeard also understood the value of establishing a strategy borne through years of experience. He rarely wanted to engage in battle as it naturally led to critical loss of men and precious supplies, which would fatally damage his ability to continue his lucrative life at sea. And when you know this, the reason why he developed his dastardly reputation begins to make sense for his enemies would be more likely to surrender than resist.
It’s just these kinds of Blackbeard-esque qualities that mark out the good estate agents from the bad. Good agents have seasoned property sea-legs, are supported by a disciplined and well-trained team, and can predict the storms and battles up ahead. These qualities will help you navigate the unpredictable and often choppy waters of selling your home. Yes, you might pay a bit more commission for that level of service, but it’s more than worth it in return for peace of mind and a stress-free move. That bit extra that you pay a good agent will be offset by the speed and security of your sale actually getting over the exchange line.
Like their pirating predecessor, good agents are changing the traditional way of doing things and cleaning up their act, stamping out the bad old ways and ridding the profession of the wide-boy reputation they’ve had for years. They know that it simply isn’t good enough to just throw a property online, sit back and hope for the best.
Like our pirates who had to stay focussed and motivated throughout their voyage, most high street estate agents are rewarded at the end of the transaction, when their efforts are finally remunerated. Interestingly, many of the online and hybrid agents demand payment at the beginning, so you need to ask yourself, “will they have the same incentive to work hard?”
Many competing smaller pirate crews tried to take on and oust Blackbeard. But unlike him, they underestimated the value of networking and creating allies. If Blackbeard was in trouble, help would come. Similarly, an excellent estate agent has a far reaching network, with access to properties and buyers you might never know are out there. They know their market inside out, will use that knowledge and their networks to get the best outcome for you.
So my message to all estate agents, buyers and sellers out there is: ‘Be More Pirate’!
Whether it's choosing the wrong glass for your wine or abiding by old-school whisky rules, we make mistakes every day when it comes to how we eat and drink.
And buying and making coffee is no exception.
To find out what we're doing wrong when we buy, order, and drink it, Business Insider spoke to Will Corby, head of coffee at Pact Coffee, a London startup that delivers freshly roasted and ground coffee by post.
Corby has been working in the coffee industry for 12 years, has won and judged global barista awards, ran his own coffee shops, and also has experience roasting.
"For the past 12 years, I've specialised in the absolute pinnacle of coffee quality and optimising the process of growing it, shipping it, importing it, brewing it," he said.
He's also been a head judge -- appointed by the Colombian government -- for the Colombian National Quality Competition for the past two years.
Now at Pact Coffee, he works on relationships with coffee founders to "develop practices, and increase quality and production in a sustainable manner," he said.
"We want to show the coffee in the best light we can, brew the coffee in the best possible way, [and] provide it to [people] in a way that makes it easy."
However, he said there's a lot of steps that go into making sure people have a good cup of coffee every day -- and there are plenty of things you can do to make sure you're getting the most out of your java.
1. Not buying it fresh like you would vegetables or bread...
2. ...Then keeping it for longer than a month
3. Not making sure your grind size is consistent
4. Letting it brew for less than 4 minutes...
5. ...And forgetting to decant what you don't drink straight away
6. Using a less-than-clean cafetiere
7. Adding milk and sugar when you don't need it
8. Buying instant for a cheap, easy fix
9. Not knowing how much caffeine you're consuming
Wonbo Woo - Wired.com
Growing up with six brothers, John Collins got really good at folding paper planes.
"Anything you can beat your siblings at is good," he says.
But he didn't just beat his siblings. In 2012, Collins set the world record for the farthest flight by a paper aircraft. Thrown by football player Joe Ayoob, the glider, named “Suzanne,” after Collins' wife, flew 226 feet, 10 inches (69.14 meters) before gracefully making its way into history.
Collins, a former television producer and director, left his TV career behind three years ago in order to focus full-time on using his planes to educate audiences.
He studied origami and aerodynamics and put those skills to use designing spectacular planes that perform tricks. He came up with a design for a boomerang plane, which loops through the air and returns to the launcher. Also notable is his bat plane, which eerily flaps its wings as it glides through the air.
Collins, who's also known as the Paper Airplane Guy, has just published his fourth book about folding paper flyers. He also regularly performs demonstrations for students—from kindergarten to college—using his planes to teach them about science.
"I bring paper airplanes into classrooms and start talking about complicated ideas involved with fluid dynamics and using paper airplanes to explain it," says Collins, who somehow makes terms like "dihedral angle" sound accessible to kids.
"If you can have a group of middle schoolers and high schoolers that don't look at their phones for 45 minutes while you're doing a demonstration, you've hit success," he says.
If you really want to know what goes on behind the scenes at estate agents, who better to interview than the person who trains many of them!
In this frank and direct interview, Boyd Mayover discusses what he sees as the fall down of both high street agents, hybrid and online agents.
What are they good at and where do they need to improve? What is the difference between them all? Who would Boyd instruct?
All these questions and more will be explored in this most insightful interview yet!
The Problem with Rightmove and the Issues to Avoid
On the face of it, selling your house online appears to be a simple and straightforward option. Just choose an agent, fill in a form, have some photographs taken and in a few clicks of the mouse, your home can be shared instantly with the millions of people who use sites like Rightmove, Zoopla and On The Market. How easy is that?
Actually, it’s not that simple and there is another side to this. While millions of users will be alerted when your home is first advertised, how many of those recipients are buyers with genuine potential and how many might just be being a bit nosey? In the UK, we are renowned for our love of property, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise to learn that many people surf online sites just to look at the photos for design inspiration, extension ideas, to check out how much the neighbour’s house is on for – and also maybe, just maybe, to buy.
This is the Achilles heel of online portals (and the online/hybrid agents out there who rely heavily on website enquiries). Just who are all these people looking around your home online?
Rightmove and your agent will say that your home is receiving an excellent number of interactions per week and an impressive conversion ratio of brochure downloads. Sounds great and you’re flattered that so many people have taken the time to look at that kitchen which you sourced from Italy. But nobody has any idea who they are. How can the agent then put in a phone call to see if they have any queries, or ask that all important question, would they like to come and view?
In my opinion, less is more when it comes to an online presence. So often do I see agents putting up photographs of every room, creating colourful 3D floorplans and fancy virtual tours. It can look good and get some great figures to feed back to the homeowner. But does it actually deliver results?
Well, no. As every bit of information has been given away upfront, why would someone looking online want to call the agent? Quite simply they don’t, as they mistakenly think they have all the information they need.
The art with online marketing is to put just enough detail out there to tempt genuine buyers to make that call. Put out too much, and they will prejudge that home and walk away, with you none the wiser.
You need to make sure that the key rooms are portrayed well, and leave potential buyers wondering what the rest of the house is like. Then they are more likely to call the agent. This is when they can find out the detail they are after and your agent’s real work begins.
Your appointed agent should have a proactive front of house team, who have seen your home in person, to take these incoming phone calls or walk in enquiries. They can talk knowledgeably and enthusiastically about it and accompany the viewers around, which is an art in itself. Remember, the lifeblood of any sale is the quantity and quality of your viewings. Relying solely on online enquiries and putting too much information out there is a sure-fire way to receive limited enquiries. No enquiries means no viewings, which inevitably means you can’t even begin to have a conversation about offers.
Rightmove and it’s counterparts are undoubtedly effective marketing tools, but they must be used in the right way. They can be your best friend in getting your home in front of millions. However they can also be your worst enemy, as all information placed online forms a ‘digital footprint’. If you spend too long on the open market, this information can be found and buyers start as asking why you haven’t sold yet.
Until a buyer makes an enquiry with your estate agent, they are completely anonymous to everyone involved and you are just a statistic. Rightmove is great, but getting the right balance with your estate agent, the other marketing tools at their disposal and above all, personal contact with buyers, is key to getting your move right.
Mario Tama/Getty Images
Imagine that for every million people on Earth, there was a single dot on a map.
In total, that would be about 7,600 dots – representing today’s global population of 7.6 billion.
But, what if we went back in time, and watched those dots accumulate over human history? When and where do the first dots appear, and when does population growth ramp up to get to the billions of people that are alive today?
The history of population growth
Today’s animation comes from theAmerican Museum of Natural History, and it shows over 200,000 years of population growth and the major events along the way.
If you consider yourself on the more impatient side of things, we suggest starting at 1:50 which will zoom you to 400 AD – the time of India’s Golden Age. Alternatively, go to 3:25 to witness the Bubonic Plague’s rare negative impact on population growth, as well as the ensuing age of European exploration.
It took 200,000 years of human history to get to one billion people – and just 200 years to reach seven billion.
That’s partly how the exponential “hockey stick” growth curve works, but it is also a factor of improvements in living standards, sanitation, and medicine that came after the Industrial Revolution.
Key population moments
Here are a few moments that stood out to us in the video, that we think represent particularly interesting moments in human population history:
The impact of farming cannot be emphasized enough. For many thousands of years, the human population dwindled until we learned how to plant crops to provide a scalable and sustainable food supply for a hungry population.
As you can see, after agriculture starts spreading, the human population quickly skyrockets. It is estimated to have reached roughly 170 million by the year 1 AD.
East vs. West
The Greeks and Romans were interesting cultures to us in many ways – but one thing that is sometimes missed with a Western education is the sheer size of Indian and Chinese civilizations.
The above screenshot is from close to the territorial peak of the Roman Empire – notice its size in comparison to the Han Dynasty in China, as well as the area that is modern-day India.
The Black Death, which started in 1347, didn’t do much to increase Europe’s population.
In fact, this was one of the rare times that global human population growth went backwards for multiple decades.
The Industrial Revolution brought innovations to food and medicine, and kickstarted an era that would be usher in the birth of many new technologies.
This screenshot is from close to 1900, when these innovations started to make rapid global population growth a reality.