The engineers who designed the dashboard controls for our VW Eurovan must have loved fractions. The tachometer (a questionably useful feature on a van equipped with an automatic transmission) is marked in large increments labeled “10”, “20”, ‘”30”, etc. In the lower-left corner, this system is explained by the legend: “1/minute x 100”.
If they had simply marked each increment “1000”, “2000”, etc. then they could have simplified the legend to “1/minute” or even the generally recognized “RPM”. And if the extra zeroes were deemed inefficient, then why not label them “1”, “2”, etc., and change the legend to “1/minute x 1000”?
Perhaps an appreciation for this feat of German engineering lies beyond my lights.
One day, my wife called home on her mobile phone while driving (which is now illegal in Washington) to tell me that the Eurovan was almost out of fuel. “But I just filled it up!” I cried.
“Well, the needle is right on the line now, so someone must have siphoned off our gas,” replied my wife.
I didn’t have much time to worry about who might have come onto our property to steal fuel, because I needed to catch a ferry as soon as my wife returned – and now I had to worry about taking enough time to fill up the tank en route. As soon as my wife drove up, we exchanged a hurried greeting and I took off. Worried that I might run out of gas before I got to the station, I glanced down at the gauge. It was full.
But I can’t fault my wife too much. The gauge does not sport the helpful letters “E” and “F” that have become so familiar to American motorists. No, the VW engineers decided that since they needed to label the midpoint “1/2”, it made perfect sense to be consistent and mark the full end of the spectrum with “1/1”. They did not label the empty end, however.
I would have expected “1/∞”, or something equally well defined.