Metric Conversion and “Rational” Sizing

I’m learning lots of new things as a result of this project and a concept I became aware of early on was “rational sizing.” I’m writing about this subject now because there’s been a lot of traffic on this idea on the U.S. Metric Association’s listserve under the name “oddball measurement.”

What it basically means is that when moving from U.S. customary units to metric ones, things might not end up with what some people call “rational” (or rounded) numbers. I was also told by a reliable source (thought I have to admit that I have not yet confirmed this) that rational sizing was one of the points of resistance by the food industry back during our last metric push in the mid 1970s.

I’ll try to explain:

If you have a traditional U.S. eight-ounce container and you want to move to the metric system, you have two options 1) retain the same packaging and “re-label” (though metric units are on most American packaging) the container as 236.588 milliliters (not sure how precise labels need to be), or 2) you resize the package to something that seems more “rational” like up to 250 mL or down to something like 230 mL. Apparently, in some people’s minds numbers that end in zeros or represent commonly used numerical breakdowns such as 25, 75 are more “rational.” I don’t personally have that bias but different minds work in different ways. (I supposed a third option would be to keep the packaging size the same and round down the milliliters it contains to a rounded amount but that doesn’t seem to be the direction most companies take.)

GlueFor example: within my reach (I’ve confessed to my laziness before) is a bottle of Elmer’s Craft Glue. Its label states that it holds “4 FL OZ (118 mL).”

My understanding (and I’ll confess to being overly dramatic here) is that 30 years ago the food industry in this country had two objections to going metric and one related to rational sizing. “Oh my God,” said the food industry, “if we go metric we’re going to have to move to rational sizing, which means we’ll have to change all of our packaging, and that will be expensive, and then nothing will fit correctly on the shelves in the stores, and we’ll have to change the size of the shelves as well. That’s an impossible thing to ask us to do.”

I consider this argument poppycock and not the popcorn kind.

When the time comes (though I don’t expect to have any actual say in the matter), just take the customary units off and let the metric units stand on their own until a redesign dictates new packaging and then make a minor adjustment in the volume if having a “rational number” is all that important (and I’m not convinced it is). Heck, I could see manufacturers use their traditional “sleight of hand” and make the packaging slightly smaller and keep the prices right where they are. This has historically been done many, many times and Consumers Reports magazine highlights these sorts of tricks on a regular basis.

Sutter_labelActually, after a quick look around, I now have in front of me a bottle of Sutter Home Champagne Vinegar and its label reads “12.7 FL. OZ. (375ml).” In this case, it’s the milliliters that are “rational” and yet I bought it even before I started my metric quest. I’m sure at the time, having a less rounded number for ounces didn’t phase me in the slightest.

So, if you hear the “rational sizing” argument thrown around in future in a move to the metric system, at least you’ll have some background on what it’s all about.

As far as I’m concerned, rational sizing is not a rational argument.

Linda

Note: The phrase “rational number” in the above context does not represent its true arithmetic meaning. For more information on that use see http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/492011/rational-number. Be prepared that most definitions I found required an understanding of the words “integer” and “quotient.”

U.S. Sets a Bad International Example—Metrically Speaking

I’ve already mentioned in this blog that I believe that the United States is not only holding itself back with regard to its lack of metric adoption but we serve as a bad example for our sister countries such as the United Kingdom and Canada. While both of the aforementioned countries use the metric system much more in daily life than we do here, the changeover has been less than complete in both. When I asked a metric authority in the U.K. why the conversion was less than 100 percent in his country, the basic answer was “Because you don’t use it.” As I heard the words escape his mouth, I not only knew he was right but I was embarrassed as an American that our country could have had such a backward influence.

Well, we’re apparently striking again.

Newspaper reports started coming out earlier this month saying that there is a move afoot to put a stronger emphasis on imperial units in the U.K. primary school system. [see notes below]

One article included the subhead: “Education minister Elizabeth Truss has announced that the new primary curriculum will put more focus on imperial measurements.”  [note A]

When I contacted the head of the U.K. Metric Association, he indicated that “The current position is that metric is the primary system in schools but a few imperial equivalents are taught to help children with shopping etc. The Department of Education has said there would be no significant change.”

Thank goodness.

But still, any shift toward imperial from metric units represents a backslide as far as I’m concerned. This wouldn’t even likely be under discussion if we, as a nation, had moved to a metric system 200 years ago when Thomas Jefferson wanted us to!

While internationally people’s gaze have started to shift from the United States to China as the world’s economic superpower (Yep, you read that right. [note B]) it is quite clear that the U.K. relies on us for revenue from exports as in “The USA has the largest and most technologically powerful economy in the world and is Britain’s largest single export market.” [note C]

As long as the U.K. depends on us for revenue and we continue to ignorantly stumble forward with an antiquated measurement system more backsliding is possible elsewhere in the world. This is, at least until we’re no longer a global economic superpower.

Would converting to the metric system help us economically in the world marketplace? I’m not qualified to answer that question but it seems likely to me that a complete changeover to the metric system might help us better compete.

Do we really want to find out too late that it was something we should have done? Why would we even want to take that chance?

Linda

Notes:

A: http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2013/jan/14/imperial-measurements-maths-lessons

B: http://www.pewglobal.org/2011/07/13/china-seen-overtaking-us-as-global-superpower/

C: http://www.ukti.gov.uk/export/countries/americas/northamerica/unitedstates.html

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2259314/Imperial-weights-measures-classroom-radical-shake-maths-lessons.html

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationopinion/9790670/Modern-schools-must-teach-imperial-measurements.html

Metric Resources (A World to Share)

In the half year that I’ve been working on this project, it has been my pleasure to come in contact with a number of metric like-minded folks who have been moving in this direction far longer than I. I’d like to take this opportunity to share their sites with you in case you find them of interest. (I sure hope so or else why are you reading this thing?)

National Institute for Standards and Technology—U.S. Department of Commerce
There is tons of information on the main website at http://www.nist.gov/index.html, If you want to drill down to the metric system resources, they’re under the Physical Measurement Laboratory (http://www.nist.gov/pml/wmd/index.cfm) and then you get down to the resources for the metric system: http://www.nist.gov/pml/wmd/metric/metric-program.cfm.

U.S. Metric Association
There is a phenomenal amount of information on this organization’s pages and it’s been around since 1916. (I love people who don’t give up the good fight.) It was the extremely sad litany of information on this page (http://lamar.colostate.edu/~hillger/dates.htm) that led me to embark on my current quest. Feel free to look around and join the organization. I’m sure they’d love for you to sign on as a member and it’s only $30 a year (see page for multi-year discounts) to help along its fine work. http://lamar.colostate.edu/~hillger/.

The Reddit Metric Pages
Reddit, which refers to itself as “The frontpage of the Internet,” has its own metric posting pages. The metric section already has more than 5,000 members and it’s free to join in: http://www.reddit.com/r/metric. There are also now subpages devoted to metric cooking: http://www.reddit.com/r/MetricCooking. Come on in and look around. You might decide to stay for awhile.

The Metric Maven
The Maven has spent considerable thought on metric issues and shares his insights on his blog, which he adds to on a regular basis. Yes, we cross promote because we’re both heading in the same direction. Just makes sense to me. Go to http://themetricmaven.com/ to read more.

Metric Pioneer
Another advocate, this site describes itself as “MetricPioneer.com is dedicated to United States President Andrew Johnson and to Metric Pioneer Antoine Lavoisier (1743–1794 CE) Father of Modern Chemistry, who helps construct the metric system during the French Revolution while working alongside Benjamin Franklin in France.” Metric products are for sale here. As far as I know, he’s currently got this market cornered. Check it out: http://metricpioneer.com/.

M Power
One of the first people to reach out to me, the lady behind this site states: “Our goal is to empower K-12 students to succeed in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, and Military (STEMM) by preparing them to think in STEMM’s occupational language.” Find out more at http://www.helpmpower.org/. Another nonprofit organization, help out if you can.

National Council of Teachers of Mathematics
While this might seem like a niche organization, these are the folks are the keepers of National Metric Week (the week in which November 10 falls [as in 10/10]). Its mission: “The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics is the public voice of mathematics education, supporting teachers to ensure equitable mathematics learning of the highest quality for all students through vision, leadership, professional development, and research.” More at http://www.nctm.org/.

U.K. Metric Association
This organization has been supportive of my efforts from early on. While the U.K. is mostly metric, it’s not all the way there and we’re holding them back. Let’s stop that. For more information, go to http://ukma.org.uk/.

National Measurement Institute
I have it on good authority that Australia has embraced the metric system and Imperial units are difficult (if not impossible) to find—which is a sign of real success. This is a country we may want to emulate when our time comes. For more information, go to http://www.measurement.gov.au/.

I know less about these folks, but they’re out there so let’s cheer them on:

Go Metric USA
Its pages state: “GO metricUSATM is an organization dedicating to promoting the adoption of the metric system in the United States of America and to help industries cut costs.” http://www.gometricusa.org/default.html.

Go Metric America
Don’t know much about this either, but it follows me on Twitter and frequently retweets me. Its Facebook page states that its cause is to “Educate, promote and encourage daily usage of the Metric System. Make SI the only measurement standard of science, math, industry, trade, and education in the USA.” Here is its link on Twitter https://twitter.com/GoMetricAmerica and Facebook http://www.facebook.com/GoMetricAmerica.

Metricate America (Metric8America)
Don’t see a website for this one, but the Twitter page is https://twitter.com/Metric8America.

If I’ve missed you, I apologize. Let me know. Relevant ones can always go into another blog on the subject.

Linda

Introducing Millicent (my snail)

Once I had selected the snail you see at the top of this page as the mascot for this project (for more on how that process worked, go to my previous post), I knew that I would eventually want to name it.

I had thought about holding a contest at some point but when I mentioned that idea to a few people, two of them immediately suggested “Miles.” Both times I couldn’t help but cringe at the idea of naming my “metric snail” Miles. (Still makes me twitch.)

Still, I had not totally discarded the idea of a contest but then one day “Millicent” popped into my head. (Get it? “Milli” as in millimeter and “cent” as in centimeter.) It immediately felt perfect.

As I thought about it some more, it made even more “cents” to me (sorry, couldn’t resist). After all, a changeover to metric will mean adjustments in the grocery store and kitchen (yeah, another post reference) and since women are still the ones who spend the majority of time in the kitchen (love you guys who are doing the shopping and chopping, wish there were more of you), a feminine mascot made even more sense to me. So the snail’s name is now Millicent.

Then, a couple of weeks ago during a moment of boredom, I ended up researching snails. Turns out snails are just slugs with nicer packaging. (Really, the difference between snails and slugs is the shell.) While many people associate snails with slowness (as I do for this project), to leave them with only that connotation does them a disservice. Apparently, the Aztecs viewed them as a symbol of rebirth (works for this project too) and Jung saw them as representative of both the conscious (the shell) and the unconscious (the soft animal part). Some are also food and not just for fancy folks. Yeah, they can be pests in the garden but I’ll take a snail over a slug any day.

What really surprised me was that a broad search for “snail” on Amazon brought up a host of beauty products that include “snail gel” or “snail cream” in their ingredients. Like I could leave that alone. Upon further Internet poking around, I found a site that relays, “The mucus was found to be rich in glycolic acid, collagen, vitamins A, C and E, and elastane. Each of these ingredients is already well known to contribute to healthy skin and is manufactured into many beauty products on the market.” Okay. I’m not going to run out and buy a big tub of snail mucous for my beauty regimen but apparently it’s the aloe vera of the gastropod world. Who knew? (For more information, go to http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-snail-gel.htm.)

I also got some of my information from a site called snail-world.com. At the beginning of the last paragraph on the snail culture page (http://www.snail-world.com/Snails-in-Culture.html) it states: “I mean, when was the last time you saw a business using a snail as their logo?”

Ironically, that’s exactly what I have on my business cards.

Linda