Another pet peeve of mine is when people refer to their cell phone reception in bars. What the fuck is that? Is bar an IEEE standard? There are three possibilities that I see.
First, bars have a standard meaning in decibels. In this instance, saying your bars is a perfectly valid method of stating reception. I highly doubt this is the case. Different phones have different numbers of bars, so this is unlikely.
Second, the max receptions on all phones are equal and represented by full bars. I don't believe this is the case. However, if this is how it works, then comparing bars is still completely useless unless you state your reception as a fraction, including the total number of bars. This would let others know that 3/5 bars means 60% reception.
The third and most likely explanation is that bars mean jack shit and are only valid for people using the same model of phone (and same software/firmware revision).
However, there is one valid definition of bar as a unit–which Chris pointed out during our discussions today–and that is a unit of pressure. I don't think cell phones measure reception in terms of pressure, but I can play along. From now on I'll say, "I'm getting approximately two atmospheres of reception." Or, even better "My reception rocks, I'm getting over than 2250 mm Hg."
Well, that is the end of my rant. I should leave now because the coffee shop I'm sitting in has horrible reception, I'm not even getting 100 kilopascals of signal!