[om] Units example usage ?

Andreas Strotmann Strotmann at rrz.uni-koeln.de
Wed Apr 23 15:49:31 CEST 2003

Well - that's indeed a difficult question.

I once requested unit symbols for MathML, and was refused with the 
argument that multiplication with the meter symbol was all that was 
needed, so that person favoured that one of your solutions.

However, zero meters is not the same as zero degrees Fahrenheit nor the 
same as zero Kelvin, but multiplying anything with zero gives zero. 
Using multiplicaton by units is therefore questionable.

Note also that frequently, dimensions can be either absolute or relative 
(e.g. time and temperature -- Jan. 1, 2001, 00:00:01.001 GMT vs. 5 
seconds; or 20 Kelvin as absolute temperature vs a temperature 
difference of 20K), determining the operations that can legally be 
performed on them (e.g. in a sum, at most one unit may be absolute).

Not just for this reason it is always good to use both the unit and the 

Note also that units are not just physical in nature.  The monetary 
units are actually notoriously complicated to calculate with and 
represent, and to specify: consider the 'old' Englisch system of pounds, 
pence, shillings...; consider the need to specify time and date, and 
sometimes the place, along with a monetary unit (e.g. 'in adjusted 1861 
US-Dollars in the Northern states.')  Historians and economists use 
these all the time and are used to it, but physicists need to consider 
these aspects as well when considering historical findings (I believe I 
heard that the actual length of an 'inch' was redefined to a metrically 
exact number in fairly recent history, for example, and that the speed 
of sound (and hence, the unit Mach) had to be corrected significantly 
quite recently, too).  Which brings us to an even more complex problem 
of calendars and 'absolute times'...

Personally, I would therefore prefer two possible solutions that you did 
not mention.

a) Consider units as type specifications (0 of unit meters of dimension 
length) and therefore use OMAttributions.

b) use a generic function "unit" as follows (for example)

      unit(0, meter)

Both solutions (as far as I recall) still require an additional CD to be 
introduced that contains the generic symbols (attribute names in a, 
'unit' and 'dimension' in b) required for the solution.

A CD of the latter type should also include constructors for compound 
units and dimensions (multiplication, integer powering, log, exp, 
division, absolute, relative, absolute_with_named_zero, addition). Since 
these obey special laws (e.g., the dimension length+length=length), they 
should be available as distinct symbols.

(Just some quick thoughts.)

  -- Andreas Strotmann

Paul Libbrecht wrote:
> Hi OpenMathers,
> We were about to use the units symbols until... I faced the fact that I 
> wouldn't know how to use, say, the "meter" symbol.
> Should the be a predicate applied to (probably a number) the length 
> amount ?
> Should I use a multiplication (not really elegant) ?
> Thanks.
> Paul
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