About Sizes

How to contact Sizes

Almost every page has a link (“to contact Sizes”) that will open your email program pre-addressed to Sizes, or simply write editor (at) sizes.com. You can also contact us at the following postal and street addresses:

P.O. Box 3082
Santa Monica, California 90403

Sizes, Inc.
400 Village Center Blvd.
Milton, Delaware 19968

Sizes, Inc. is incorporated in Delaware; currently this web site is its only project. Since time is precious, we do not give out phone numbers. If you are an SEO consultant, thanks, but we do not have the money to hire you. Also, the domain name is not for sale. And if you are a fraudster, we don't sell anything, so don't bother sending us fraudulent orders asking if we accept credit cards.

An explanatory history

The author is an educational “content provider” who began his career in film, many media technologies ago. Even before the birth of the microprocessor, media began changing so rapidly that one had to run hard to stay in the same spot. In the early 1990's Microsoft was pushing a hot new format, CD-ROM. (Older readers may remember when a CD burner cost hundreds of dollars, and a blank CD was $15, not 15 cents.) Since the best way to learn a new technology is to make something with it, I looked around for a topic suited to the CD-ROM's capabilities.

Works on units of measurement have been written for millennia, from ancient Sumer to last year. Anyone who starts comparing source materials on obsolete units soon realizes why the subject has exasperated historians. Take, for example, France or India in the seventeenth century. One set of weights and measures was used in a city, while in villages only a few kilometers away the units had different values. Sometimes the units themselves were different. Surviving written records generally only describe the system in urban centers. In fairness, it is hard to imagine how books could have recorded more than that. When the French introduced the metric system they attempted to record all the old units. The result was a whole series of pamphlets, as well as a large book, and even these are incomplete.

Units have not simply varied by location. They also, of course, vary with time; the inch of 1900 is not the inch of 2013. They often vary by the commodity they are being used to measure: a boll of wheat is a smaller volume than a boll of barley. Some vary by the occupation of the person using them — and there are still other types of variation. Sources, both documentary and archeological, often contradict one another, and frequently contradict themselves.

The tool that can make sense of this nightmarish tangle is hyperlinking, because it is able to capture and display many-to-one connections. It seemed to me that a hyperlinking, electronic format had the potential for a more useful treatment of units than anything that could be done in print (and I am far from the only one who thought so).

HarperCollins contracted for a book and CD-ROM. The book Sizes was published in 1995. Scientific American named it one of the 25 best books of the year for young readers.

Due largely to the Internet, in the middle 1990s the reference CD market collapsed as suddenly as it had flowered, and the Sizes CD-ROM was never published. It had been prepared using an experimental application called MediaView. The material in MediaView, and much more that Harper's editor had cut, was converted to HTML. More was added. Corrections were made. The site went live in 2000.

Those were the days of dial-up modems, so it was essential to keep entries short and avoid eye candy. As more and more people got DSL (or better), we felt free to begin including more photographs, javascript effects, audio recordings and other byte-hogs. And now video.

At the end of 2006 we began to include advertisements, through Google's AdSense service.

Since then we have continued to add new pages, revise existing ones, correct errors and experiment with new techniques. Typically something changes every week.

Pages and readers

In writing the text we have imagined our reader to be a well-educated high school senior. The language of the site is American English (it has to be some particular language!) and we generally follow its conventions. For example, the decimal point is a period or full stop, and not a comma, and the comma is used as a thousands separator. In some contexts we ignore American conventions. For example, to avoid ambiguity it is sometimes necessary to put punctuation outside the quotation mark. We have tried to avoid idioms that might baffle readers whose English is not that of a native speaker.

Many languages, such as Chinese and Russian, are written in non-Roman glyphs. How best to present words from such languages in a line of English is a vast subject. Here we need only warn that Sizes often includes more than one romanization of the same unit. Consider Chinese units. In 1958 the Chinese government introduced the pinyin system for romanizing Chinese. Scholars may argue over the relative virtues of pinyin and, say, the older Wade-Giles romanization, but the fact is that everyone, including the ISO and Taiwan, has now adopted pinyin. In Sizes Chinese units appear in their pinyin romanizations. However, because readers of older works in English will encounter the units in the Wade-Giles spellings, and often a host of other old romanizations, the same unit may also appear under several different earlier romanizations.

Sometimes we have uploaded pages-in-progress. Our excuse for doing this is that we think there is already something on the page that might be useful to a reader researching the topic. Usually such unfinished pages are stalled because we are trying to obtain some hard-to-locate source, and we don't know when or even if that will happen.

We have tried to make the site accessible, particularly to screen reading software, and to color-blind users. We have not succeeded in this to the extent we would like. Part of the problem is lack of a test bed; we don't have a screen reader because screen reading software is quite expensive. Another problem is that sometimes making a presentation accessible can be very labor-intensive. For example, it is not immediately obvious how to mark up a chart like this to make it accessible to a blind user.

The future?

We naively greatly underestimated the amount of maintenance this site would require, partly because of unrelenting changes in technology. For example, at one point, swept away by the new thing, we converted many of the pages to XHTML. After six months we realized XHTML was foreign to our needs and converted the pages back to strict HTML 4.01. (You may still run across the odd XHTML page here and there.) Now we are in the process of transitioning to the mobile web, HTML5 and the use of @media queries.

Any work of this nature contains errors: typos, mistranscriptions of numbers, mistranslations, even simple stupid blunders. One beauty of web publishing is that errors can be fixed when they are found. We try to correct any error brought to our attention as quickly as possible; correcting errors takes priority over any other activity. We are very grateful to those readers who take the time to call problems to our attention. If there is someone who contributed and was willing to have his or her help acknowledged, and it wasn't, please accept our apology, and give us a chance to correct that error.

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