Andalucia Steve the dream

Units in Spain

How some old units of measure endure to this day.

100 Pesetas

My first souvenir from Spain was a banknote. Back in 1972, my sister's boyfriend at the time had a fortnight in Torremolinos and gifted a One Hundred peseta note to me on his return, knowing that collecting foreign banknotes and coins was my childhood hobby. I remember I was quite taken by the images of the people on each side of the note. They looked so dignified and interesting in a foreign sort of way. Spain abandoned the peseta in 2002 when it joined the Euro (and achieved world-record sales of BMWs and Mercedes as bundles of black money which would otherwise soon be rendered worthless, were quietly withdrawn from under mattresses nationwide and laundered through car dealerships who had never had it so good).
So it came as quite a surprise when I first moved here and started to parlez with the locals, that the value of most assets, houses, cars and so on were still valued in pesetas.
This became a bit of a nuisance when I started working with a Spanish estate agent. Typically I'd be in the middle of a conversation between him and some English speaking clients, translating with my crude command of Spanish.
"How much would it cost to build a pool in this property?" They would ask, and I would translate to the agent.
"Two million pesates" would come the reply.
As a rule of thumb, a million pesetas is 6,000 euros, so I'd translate,  calculate and tell the client 12,000 euros for the pool. A similar process would be required when folk asked me for quotes for kitchens, bathrooms, outbuildings etc. At times it became quite a challenge!
It was interesting though, travelling around the country while working with the estate agent. He had lots of property all over the place, mainly in Murcia but also from Valencia down to Almeria. One thing I'd often see in old houses were mains transformers. Spain used to use a 110V electricity supply, and apparently still does in some places. Although all electrical equipment sold today is designed to run on 220V, there are still houses out there which I have seen that have a mixture of 110V and 220V appliances used in the same house thanks to crude transformers that are often unboxed and look like rusty relics from a bygone age.
It wasn't just the volts and pesetas that gave me a jolt back to the past. Another thing I noticed was that although Spain adopted the metric system in the 1850s, it was still common to hear other units used to described land length and area. The first one of these I came across was the fanega,  which the estate agent would use mainly when talking to farmers about the size of a plot in the country. My Spanish wasn't really up to diving into the conversation between two old guys rabbiting on at ten to the dozen in their thick regional, country accents, so I used to enlist the help of a young girl who worked in the office to figure this stuff out. She told me that a fanega was a unit of land area that was used in Spain in antiquity and that the funny thing about it was there was no consistent standard across the country. So a fanega in Murcia could be a different size altogether to a fanega in Andalucia. The web didn't help me much at the time (this was about 2005) but while researching this article, I came across a conversion chart that confirms this to be the case Just look at the Square Metre column and the wide range of different values across Spain. It's a wonder they managed to do any deals at all!
And the fanega wasn't the only one. Another measure I came across while working there was the  tahúlla which was used more in the north east of Murcia up towards Valencia way. Again, at the time I couldn't find much out about this online but I've just checked and the tahúlla possibly dates back to Islamic times, but is still being used today by some folk in Spain who can't get their heads around hectares. For the record, a tahúlla is equivalent to 1118 metres squared.
I thought I'd write about the units used in Spain as many of them would be unfamiliar to lot of my readers. However one unit used here will be familiar to everyone, even if the word used is different. Like most countries in the world, Spain measures TV screens and monitors in 'pulgadas' which means inches.  You can't keep a good unit down!

On the Virtues of Laziness

It's more a question of effective energy management!

Being lazy is often frowned upon by society but I'd like to argue here today that not only is being lazy a virtue, it's actually a personality trait that benefits wider society.

There are some great definitions of the word lazy such is this one from Merriam-Webster:  disinclined to activity or exertion : not energetic or vigorous. Most of them reserve overtly negatively charged terms, but when you look at synonyms for the word 'lazy' it's a different story. Try these out for size: apathetic, careless, dull, inattentive, indifferent, lackadaisical, lethargic, passive, sleepy, tired, weary, comatose, dallying, dilatory, drowsy, flagging, idle, indolent, inert, laggard, lagging, languid, languorous, lifeless, loafing, neglectful, procrastinating, remiss, shiftless, slack, slothful, slow, slow-moving, snoozy, somnolent, supine, tardy, torpid, trifling, unconcerned, unenergetic, unindustrious, unpersevering and unready. Ouch!

By way of proving the point I'm about to make, I've already used my laziness to my advantage in preparing that list of words. These similes all appeared in the website in a list which, when cut and pasted, turned into 43 words on separate lines. In order to turn them into a comma-separated list I wrote a 'macro' in my text editor by going to the end of the first line, hitting delete, adding a comma, then running the macro 42 more times. Easy! It maybe only saved me a couple of minutes but time is money right?

I was first alerted to the fact that I was lazy back in the 1980s by my boss when I was working as a small systems developer, so called because our job was to shrink down programs from mainframes onto desktop computers. After I was handed the third really stinky job in a row after having seen my colleagues given much easier jobs, I pulled him to one side and asked him why he put all the tough, awkward jobs my way. He said "Because your a lazy bugger! I know you'll be guaranteed to find the easiest way to solve problems with the least amount of time and effort." I don't know if this was already a management maxim in the IT industry but years later a similar comment appeared in a meme being attributed to none other than Bill Gates! Anyway I smiled because I knew he had a point. I do generally look for the easy way to do things.

Don't get me wrong, I have no trouble sticking to routines for arduous chores nor attending to tasks that need to be done in a timely manner such as emptying a cat litter tray. I'd sooner just avoid arduous tasks by looking at the big picture e.g. having a small house or not having a cat! Making life easy for oneself is a pursuit worthy of more attention than people give it!

Do you remember those maze puzzles from comics when you were a kid? You know the sort, there would be like a mouse hole and three mice on three independent paths all tangled together and your job was to find which mouse was on the right track to get home and eat the cheese? Well the first time I saw one of those I immediately saw the easy way to solve the puzzle was to trace the path in reverse from the cheese back to the mouse. Simples! I soon learned this applied to academia too. I had an amazing history teacher for GCE O-Level who had a 100% pass rate. Everyone who took his class passed! His secret was he started from the exam questions and worked backwards! Instead of making us read a book from one end to the other, my hero Mr Martin would take a subject, say the 'Bay of Pigs Invasion' and he would highlight as bullet points, each of the questions that he thought were most likely to be asked on the exam paper. Then he would give us the story as an outline that answered each of those questions. It was just like fiddling the mouse maze. Working back to front saved so much time! It worked for his students year after year. It was genius!

I soon learned this worked with other subjects too. You didn't have to read the works of Shakespeare, just read Lamb's tales and you glean all of the salient points of the Bard's important stories in a fraction of the time. Math? Learn how to derive equations from 'first principles' which takes all the rote donkey work out of learning formulae. Physics? Similar thing. Instead of anguishing over Maxwell's equations, breaking them down into physical phenomena makes them easy to remember, e.g. upside-down triangle with an arrow over the top (vector for divergence) times B with an arrow over the top (vector for magnetic field) = zero.  All this really means is the magnetic flux lines always balance out because a magnet always has only two poles. You can't break a North/South magnet in half to get separate North and South poles because there is no such thing in nature as a mono-pole magnet. This makes the math so much easier to remember when you know and understand the physical effect underlying the formula! An ingenious shortcut for recognising which artists did which works recently appeared online I'd kind of developed my own version of this over the years from watching the Open University picture round until they irritatingly started showing pictures of book titles in foreign languages instead!

In the world of commerce then I found this approach to work served me well as employers generally don't want time wasters, they want time disruptors, people who can produce quickly, ship products fast, develop services that are 90% there but good enough to release. In the Civil Service I also found many kindred spirits, who, once they had made their way into higher layers of management, had discovered they can use their skill for work-avoidance even more effectively by delegating, especially if those being delegated to are given the minimum information to do their job so they don't get ideas above their station. Mushroom management my boss used to call it. 'Keep you in the dark and throw shit at you!'

In fact this blog itself is testament to my propensity for laziness. I never write anything too technical, historical or factual that need hours of research. I generally choose a topic that is personally anecdotal, spew it out into the page and try to brighten it up with a few gags. Anything more would take way too much effort and that would never do!

Anyway I feel the giant dormouse in me stretching away, begging me for a snooze. I could go on making my case but I've near enough hit my 1000 word target now and I can't be bothered to write anymore!