Medicine and the Metric System

Allow me to present my main point upfront: we are endangering our health by not adopting the metric system in this country.

Prescriptions are written in metric units. Conversions (and possible errors) are made at the pharmacy.

Doctors write prescriptions in metric units. Conversions (and potential errors) are made at the pharmacy.

Let me offer up a couple of examples that hopefully makes this clear. It’s important to understand that the medical field depends on metric units (as does most of science, for that matter). If healthcare workers talk in metric units and the public at large rely on U.S. customary units there is bound to be confusion and misunderstandings. That’s best avoided where your heath is concerned since the consequences could be dire.

Metric unit dosing is more precise

Last year Pediatrics (Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics) published an article called “Unit of Measurement Used and Parent Medication Dosing Errors.”1 One of the article’s bottom lines:

Parents who used milliliter-only unit made fewer dosing errors than those who used teaspoon or tablespoon units. Moving to a milliliter-only standard could reduce confusion and decrease medication errors, especially for parents with low health literacy and non-English speakers.

While a minor mistake (whether too much or too little medication) might not make a huge difference for an otherwise healthy adult, these errors can be magnified for babies or those whose health is already compromised.

Most of our teaspoons and tablespoons are meant for eating, not dosing

No on should use "silverware" as substitutes for measuring teaspoons and tablespoons for medicine to avoid dosing errors.

No on should use “silverware” as substitutes for measuring teaspoons and tablespoons for medicine if they want to avoid dosing errors.

Another issue brought up in the piece was that the use of teaspoon and tablespoon employed for liquid medicines “may endorse kitchen spoon use.” I don’t know about you, but I have three sets of measuring spoons and many more spoons that I use for eating commonly referred to as “teaspoons” and “tablespoons.” The problem is, it’s the eating spoons that are often used to measure medicines. (Yes, I used to do that too, without even thinking about it.) If you have a dosing cup with only milliliters, the potential for confusion is greatly reduced.

As if that’s not bad enough

Even your actual measuring spoons aren’t as precise as you think they are. At one point I came across information indicating that up to a 20 percent variance is allowed. Again, that 20 percent could cause dosing errors. In researching this article I came across a page called “Cooking for Engineers” with the post:

I’ve got three sets of measuring spoons, and their measurements differ from each other, up to 1/4 teaspoon! Is there a way to know which (if any), are accurate?

The suggestions that followed involved scales and the temperature at which one should measure the water used to determine volume. Too bad no one suggested going metric.

Additional endorsement of the metric system for health reasons

I also have a document from the Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP) called 2014-15 Targeted Medication Safety Best Practices for Hospitals2 . Two of its best practices mention sole use of metric system units.

Best Practice 3: Measure and express patient weights in metric units only.

The rationale:

Significant medication errors have occurred when the patients’ weight is documented in non-metric units of measure (e.g., pounds) and it has been confused with kilograms (or grams). Numerous mistakes have been reported when practitioners convert weights from one measurement system to another, or weigh a patient in pounds but accidently document the value as kilograms in the medical record, resulting in more than a two-fold error.

Best Practice 5: Purchase oral liquid dosing devices (oral syringes/cups/droppers) that only display the metric scale.

ISMP has received more than 50 reports of mix-ups between milliliter (mL) and household measures such as drops and teaspoonfuls, some leading to injuries requiring hospitalization.

Beware teaspoon and tablespoon instructions on prescriptions

Almost uniformly, prescriptions are written in metric units. However, if you pick up a liquid prescription and the dose on the bottle is not metric (and in reads teaspoon and tablespoons), the pharmacy has had to make a conversion. Where there are conversions, there is the potential for mistakes.

In addition, one of the top six recommendations in the 15th annual report of the National Coordinating Council for Medication Error Reporting and Prevention3 includes a “Statement of support for use of the metric system to dose medications.”

Advocate for the metric system and help make the country a healthy place!

Thanks,

Linda

Notes: The article itself requires a subscription http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/134/2/e354.full.pdf. However, a summary is located here: http://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/Pages/Reducing-Medication-Dosing-Errors-by-Ditching-Teaspoons-and-Tablespoons.aspx.
2 http://www.ismp.org/tools/bestpractices/TMSBP-for-Hospitals.pdf
3  
http://www.nccmerp.org/sites/default/files/fifteen_year_report.pdf

Metric System Temperature in Celsius and Rhyme

[Note: There is a poll at the end of this blog. Please participate!]

To me, the most difficult part of the using the metric system day-to-day is getting used to the Celsius measure of temperature.

I changed the weather app on my phone more than a year ago so it’s much easier for me to use Celsius now, especially when you consider that 0° C is freezing. I know what freezing is, regardless of what system is employed. At the other end, 100° C is boiling instead of our 212° Fahrenheit. Since it’s slightly imprecise (compared to what we use now), some countries compensate by using decimal measures for temperature so it’s sometimes reported as 18.3° C, for example. (In Fahrenheit, 18° C could be anywhere between 64.4° to 66°. Okay granted, now that I look at that it looks pretty silly–the middle 60s are still the middle 60s. The decimal point doesn’t really help me decide how many clothes I should wear when I go outside…)

During my research for this documentary I found several rhymes to help people adjust to the “new” (at the time) metric measures. I used one of them during my previous presentation at the MidSchool Math conference last year but had to apologize since it hit me as a little clunky. I told my audience that I hadn’t had time to write something better.

Given that I’m presenting next month at the same conference (slightly different topic than last year) I decided I needed to do what I said I’d do and try to come with something I thought worked a little bit better.

The poem I presented last year:

I thought this poem to learn degrees Celsius a little awkward

This bothered me a little since the construction is not parallel…that third line throws me off and seems out of sync (not written by a poetry major perhaps?)

On the U.S. Metric Association pages:

USMA

A bit better but I thought I’d take a stab at it as well. Here’s what I came up with (original to the best of my knowledge):

At 30 it’s hot
At 20 it’s pleasing
At 10 it’s cold
And 0 it’s freezing

I think it works because “pleasing” and “freezing” rhymes, “hot” and “cold” in the second and third lines shows a decreasing sense of temperature (as do the rest of the rhymes I came across).

Hey, you tell me. When the U.S. decides to convert to the metric system, which poem is the easiest to remember for you? I’ll leave the poll open a couple of weeks and will use the most popular version as I move forward with my project.

Thanks for your participation!

Linda

Let’s vote:

The Metric System and “How to Change the World”

Coursera offers free online classes on lots of topics by big-name institutions.

Coursera offers free online classes on lots of topics by big-name institutions.

A number of weeks ago I started a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) through Coursera. Its title was “How to Change the World” and was taught by the president of Wesleyan University, Michael Roth.

Briefly, for this class each week you had to watch several videos that included Roth both addressing the camera with the material he wanted to impart as well as interviews he had with people at Wesleyan and elsewhere. There were also readings for each week provided through links from the course’s webpages. (There was quite a lot of reading for this course and each week you also needed to write and submit a 500-word (max) essay on the current topic (poverty, economic development, world health, etc.).

Peer review   

Given that Roth had (as he indicated) more than 20,000 people around the world enrolled in the class, grading papers might be a huge burden. The way around that: peer review. Each week three other students in the class reviewed and graded your work using some clearly spelled out requirements. In turn, you graded the work of three other students.

Given the word limitation, it was a little tough to build cogent responses to one of the two topics offered to write about each week. The only time I received full points was when I mentioned this documentary project. The assignment that week was on “Global disease and health.” Given the medical implications of metric system use, including the misuse of using eating utensils for dosing liquid medicine, it made sense to me to mention it.

While peer reviewers can just assign just a numerical grade they also have the opportunity to include comments.

Interestingly, one reviewer commented on my essay regarding metric adoption:

Thank you for including information about the work you are doing. You are right about dosages not being accurate using teaspoons from your silverware drawer. I remember our doctor making a big point of that fact when our children were young. I had forgotten and now you reminded me how important that is.

No on should use "silverware" as substitutes for measuring teaspoons and tablespoons for medicine to avoid dosing errors.

People should not use “silverware” as substitutes for measuring spoons for medicine if they want to avoid dosing errors. This is particularly important for small children.

All in all, the class was very time consuming but valuable. Maybe less in terms of supporting my attempt to change my part of the world but by broadening my understanding the of problems we face globally and to help me become more sensitive to the fact that suffering anywhere in the world impacts us all.

New Coursera courses

There was no way I was going to be able to follow this level of detail on image processing!

There was no way I was going to be able to follow this level of detail on image processing!

As I mentioned last time, I just started a new class on video and image processing. Having finished watching the third set of videos, I can say that monitoring this class is going to be the best I’m going to be able to do. When the instructor started talking about logarithms and cosines, I realized my most of it was going to be incomprehensible given my background.

I’ve also started another course called “Time to Reorganize! Understand Organizations, Act, and Build a Meaningful World.” I’m taking it in connection with this project since it looks like it might contain some helpful information. The description says, in part,

It explains that organizations can act strategically to protect and renew the sense of membership and attachment of individuals. So doing, organizations that survive and thrive impose their logics of action onto society, thereby influencing what is legitimate or not.

Metric adoption, not to mention the documentary I’m working on, will need the support of multiple organizations to succeed. If I have a better understanding of how organizations operate on an elemental level it could help with my outreach.

I’ll keep you informed. Thanks for reading to the end.

Linda

Fundraising for the Metric System

(Sorry for the lapse in posting. I’ve been very busy. See below.)

My campaign results. Thanks!

My campaign results. Thanks!

As you may be aware, I was recently involved in a class which required that several projects (mine included) raise a small amount of money through crowdfunding. (You can watch the short intro I made here.) Having heard that Internet fundraising is difficult, I thought I was mentally prepared. Besides, my “ask” was small: $1,500. Since longer campaigns aren’t more successful, all our efforts were capped at about four weeks.

Initially, everyone in the class pledged to everyone so there wasn’t a net gain but these efforts helped “seed” each of our projects.

For me everything pretty much came to a standstill after that.

After a couple of weeks of no activity, I started to wonder if I was trying to sell something that no one wanted to buy. I remembered reading many years ago that Thomas Edison had invented things he thought the world needed but those weren’t always successful. He ultimately changed his philosophy to:

I find out what the world needs. Then, I go ahead and invent it.

Was I trying to sell something that the rest of the world realized it needed but United States wasn’t ready for? If the campaign failed, what then?

After some soul searching, I made a decision that I would not abandon my metric adoption campaign altogether. Sure, making a documentary is terribly expensive but writing isn’t. And while writing can be very time consuming, it’s not expensive if you do it right.

If the campaign did fail, I decided, I’d pull my blogs together and form them into a book and try to sell that. Granted one on the subject just came out (I’ll review it shortly) but I had a very different story to tell. Another possibility would be to go ahead and write the script and spend my money shopping that around. The Westdoc Conference provides one such opportunity.

Then, right before Thanksgiving, I started to get additional pledges. One lovely gentleman (who I didn’t know at the time) even encouraged others on the Reddit metric pages to contribute.

The heartening news was that, in the end, pledges totaled 110% of the goal. And as it turns out, more than a third of those who donated were people who didn’t know me!

I’ve since written to all of them personally to thank them since they cared enough to help fund the project. I’d also love meet more of these sorts of people (regardless of contributions) since they’re the ones who will help spread the word about how our population needs to become aware of this important topic. Ultimately, the documentary is just about raising awareness. Knowledge of our situation needs to happen before any further attempts at political reform can take place. After all, you can’t solve a problem you don’t know you have.

And now for something (almost) completely different

Is WordPress making a projection for 2015? Plan to exceed it.

Is WordPress making a projection for 2015? Here’s hoping the estimate is low.

I recently received my yearly statistics report and I’d like to share it with you. (The full report is here.) It’s amazing to me that people from 151 different countries have viewed this blog to date!

Total pageviews to date is 86,727 which is an increase of 47% over the 2013 numbers.

The most popular post has been “Top 10 Reasons the United States Should Use the Metric System (of SI)” with 32,951 pageviews. The fact that people continue to search for information on this topic and find these posts also helps me to feel I’m not out in left field somewhere.

Getting “more class”

Coursera offers free online classes on lots of topics by big-name institutions.

Coursera offers free online classes on lots of topics by big-name institutions.

I started a new Coursera course today that should continue to build my knowledge base for the project: Image and video processing: From Mars to Hollywood with a stop at the hospital.

Becoming more conversant on image processing could only be a good thing for me. Technology in this area is changing all the time.

Lots more coming in future. Thanks for staying tuned.

Linda

P.S. If you want to help on the metric adoption issue, I’d love to hear from you. Optimally, I’d like to locate contacts in different states/regions to help built support locally. If you’re interested, let me know by writing to me at milebehind@gmail.com. Thanks!

Staying the “Coursera” with the Metric System

Coursera offers free online classes on lots of topics by big-name institutions.

Coursera offers free online classes on lots of topics by major educational institutions

Being the masochist I am (at least if you ask some people) by working at a demanding full-time job, spending my “spare time” on this documentary project and  finishing up a class on funding entrepreneurial ventures, I also recently took on another obligation.

A couple of Sundays ago, I was having a cup of tea at about 11 a.m. and glanced at one of my email accounts noticing that Coursera had a new class called How to Change the World. Glancing at the course’s contents, it looked interesting and included a section titled “Women, Education and Social Change.” Hey, I’m a woman, I consider our teaching two measurement system to our children a real waste of time in schools and it’s all about social change for me—even if I’m not trying to change the whole world—just one thing in my country.

What the heck is Coursera?

I had loaded the Coursera app on my phone several months ago (don’t remember how I first came across it) and, while it looked interesting, I wasn’t sure how I’d find the time for anything else right now. It must have looked interesting enough for me to install the app though.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with it, Coursera says of itself:

Coursera is an education platform that partners with top universities and organizations worldwide, to offer courses online for anyone to take, for free.

We envision a future where everyone has access to a world-class education. We aim to empower people with education that will improve their lives, the lives of their families, and the communities they live in.

That’s pretty high-minded and admirable. It’s also a nonprofit organization.

The course in question was being given by the president of Wesleyan University no less. Impressive.

“Okay,” I decided, “I’ll bite.” It was difficult to know exactly how it might help with the project but it was worth a try as far as I was concerned. I immediately realized that I was behind since the course had started several days earlier. For the rest of the day I hunkered down, finished the considerable amount of reading, watched almost three hours of video lectures and prepared my first 500-word paper that I had to submit before I went to bed as the deadline was 8 a.m. the following morning. As a professional writer, I figured I had a slight advantage with writing the essay and could generate it pretty quickly. At least I had that going for me.

Took a survey about my interests. This question really got my attention. Hope some people were kidding.

Took a survey about my Coursera interests. This question near the end really got my attention. Hope 37% of people were kidding and good to know the Coursera folks have a sense of humor.

Coursera correction

I had realized that the essays would be graded by my peers, and I’d need to review some as well, but for some reason I thought I’d get an email letting me know when they were available. Wrong. By the time I figured out I hadn’t been notified I had “papers to grade,” I’d missed the deadline and lost 20% from my score for that week. Drats. I’m being much more careful about all the deadlines now.

Not only am I writing about this since you might be interested in this resource but I noticed something in the course itself that bothered me a bit since it relates to the metric system.

In viewing the videos on climate change, in one instance Michael S. Roth, Wesleyan’s president, mentioned the predicted range of increased global temperature in Celsius with no mention of Fahrenheit. That made immediate sense to me since he had said previously that more than 30,000 people worldwide were taking the course. Most of them would use the metric measure for heat, after all. I myself had graded papers from people who wouldn’t use the Fahrenheit scale, as they had mentioned they were from Croatia and India.

That pleasure turned to disappointment when, during the next video, he mentioned how much sea level was predicted to rise in feet with no mention of metric measures.

He’s probably never thought about which units he should use consistently but I’d prefer he use SI units (how the rest of the world refers to the metric system) exclusively.

Maybe if Americans are exposed to metric units enough (with no translation) and have to go “Huh, what does that mean?” they’ll realize that it’s time to join with the rest of the world.

A girl can hope…

I need to go finish this week’s homework now.

Linda

Taos Middle School and the Metric System

Taos Middle School where I paid a recent visit

Taos Middle School where I paid a recent visit

(PLEASE NOTE: I ONLY HAVE A COUPLE OF MORE DAYS TO REACH MY MODEST INITIAL FUNDRAISING GOAL. PLEASE ASSIST IF YOU CAN. IT WOULD REALLY HELP IF I KNEW YOU SUPPORT THESE EFFORTS. THANKS!)

Awhile back I was invited to speak at Taos Middle School as a result of my presentation at the MidSchool Math Conference earlier this year. The teacher, James Spevacek, had been in my session and thought my story was one his students should hear.

I tried to think back to when my daughter was in middle school and her comprehension level to try to figure out what might be of interest to his students. I took two of my previous presentations, selected the parts I thought they might find interesting and added some additional slides just for them. Since I was there as part of Career Day, I also included a slide on jobs in metrology. I also reached out to my contact at the National Institute of Standards, Elizabeth Gentry, for some more metric-only rulers to make sure I had one for each pupil. I gave a lot of them to participants during my recent event at the Los Alamos Science Fest.

The day came and I took the beautiful drive from Los Alamos to Taos (about an hour and a half drive or 100 kilometers, and no, I won’t convert that) arriving there pretty much right on time. The instructor had wonderfully prepped the students so they already had some information on the metric units.

During the course of the day I gave my 45-minute presentation five times and ended each session with the hands-on demonstration with the scales and various materials in volumetric cups compared to the accuracy of the mass measures, much as I had done at the Science Fest.

For the most part, the students were reasonably engaged with the older classes a bit more attentive. I had hoped to spark a little more discussion about our current lack of metric adoption and why we are in the situation in which we find ourselves. I got a comment here and there but there wasn’t really the level of interaction I had hoped for. (It must have been their age, the setting or I didn’t properly set the stage.)

Was it a good use of a vacation day?

Absolutely. While not my main demographic from a lobbying perspective, it was a chance to engage with an audience with which I’d had little interaction previously. I welcomed the opportunity to hear their comments and questions.

I had never had to give the same presentation over and over, and I learned I was a bit inconsistent with my timing: some of the sessions were a little short and one ran a little long and I had to cut it. There was also a class that adjourned for lunch and I had to figure where to break in the presentation so that it made sense so I could pick it back up again.

After a very nice lunch provided by the teachers, we headed back to the classroom for a couple more sessions to finish out the day. For me, the highlight of the experience was when I was introduced at the next afternoon session and one of the students said, “They were talking about this at lunch.” Was this a success or had they been complaining about the woman who had droned on and on about the metric system? I had to know for sure. “In a good way?” I asked. “Yes,” he said. Thank goodness. I didn’t ask about the specifics, I was just happy it was positive.

Mr. Spevacek, was a great help and offered some of his perspectives throughout the day as well as helped fill in as my voice started to strain later in the day.

In retrospect, I could have done better in connecting with the younger age groups and probably should have tailored the presentations to each age level. Still, all I can do is move forward and learn for the next time. Lifelong learning should hopefully be the goal of us all.

I thank Mr. Spevacek and his students for the opportunity to meet with them and for warm reception I received.

On another positive note, I’ve been selected to present at the MidSchool Math Conference again next year. More on that later.

Linda

Help with my metric system documentary fundraising?

Metric system/customary unit relationships

People say our customary units are easier…they’re wrong. They’re just more familiar.

In my last post I wrote about the class I’m taking to help learn how to raise capital for businesses. As part of the homework, some of us are trying to raise funds for our various projects. In a few cases, the full amount of money people are looking for is less than $2,000. In other cases, such as mine, it’s kind of a crash course in crowdfunding.

While my current estimated budget for the entire documentary is more than $200,000, for the class project I’m just asking for funding to help with my travel to Washington D.C. where the bulk of my interviews will take place. I’ve set up a separate bank account where the money will go (providing I at least meet my goal; it’s an all or nothing situation) once overhead and taxes are paid.

What my classmates are working on

While I’m putting my project first on the list, if my work doesn’t interest you, please feel free to take a look at the work of my fellow students. (It’s really a nice group of people, I must say. They could all use your support though the local ones would probably be of less interest.)

National projects

Mine (includes a two-minute background video on what I’m trying to do).

A DIY preamp kit.

A new, handy interlocking USB cable.

Gag gifts for dads

Short film for heathcare workers (and others) to support adopting families

Learn Chinese through “coldswitching”

In New Mexico and Los Alamos

Help learn about DNA and biodiversity in New Mexico

A cool, new athletic training facility

Local, indoor playground

Help local babies get a good start

If you look around, you’ll notice that the preamp kit has already met its goal. (Go Jason!)

If you could pledge a few dollars or just help spread the word of what we’re trying to do, that would be greatly appreciated!

More soon, I promise. Lots of interesting stuff in the near future.

Thanks for your assistance.

Linda

Back to School for the Metric System

One of the supporters of my documentary project is Nicholas Seet and as a result of my contact with him, I started a class a month ago called “Financing the Entrepreneurial Enterprise.”

During the first class we did briefs on the various projects we wanted to launch. The reaction to this documentary by the class members was very positive. In fact, one of the other students told me she’d worked in international trade and conversions had caused problems because sometimes people got them wrong and the company received less money than they should have.

Dual labeling can cause mistakes for employees at the register

Dual labeling can cause mistakes for employees at the register

In another case, a local business owner told how dual labeling was causing her problems. She owns a pet accessories store and sometimes employees in a hurry charge the kilogram price rather than the pound price. Thus, they’re charging less than half of what they should and she loses money every time that happens.

Back to class

One of the big pushes of the class is to raise a small amount of money ($2,000 or less) to help finance our projects (or small parts of them). For the class, we’re working through something called Main Street Crowd that focuses on community-based fundraising efforts. Within this context, it’s to give us successful crowdfunding experience to help prepare some of us to finance larger amounts through sites such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo.

My project ask will be $1,500 and will be earmarked for my travel and time in Washington D.C. where I plan to have a number of on-camera interviews. Some of the folks I hope to meet with include the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the Smithsonian Institution, Center for Science in the Public Interest and others since they’re all based in the D.C. area.

I'll use Main  Street Crowd to raise money within my class

I’ll use Main Street Crowd to raise money within my class

I’ve already drafted and gotten feedback on my campaign content for the project’s Main Street Crowd page and yesterday we were supposed to have draft scripts ready. In addition to my script, I showed a Prezi presentation while I read the script as kind of a storyboard. Since Prezi allows you to animate your content (kind of like PowerPoint on steroids) it had a pretty good flow.

I received a couple of comments for improvement but the instructor said I could basically record that presentation, add the narration, begin with some live video of myself and I’d have a pretty compelling video for the campaign. What I was planning for was much more time consuming so that came as a welcome relief. I still need to clean it up since it was intended to just give the class an idea of what the images would look like. Once it’s ready, it will be part of my Main Street Crowd page and you can take a look. I know I have a larger number of international readers of this blog and, yes, you can contribute if you’d like.

In other news

– Because of my presentation at the MidSchool Math Conference earlier this year (the conference is already slated for next year) I was approached to take part in a career fair later this month in Taos, about 80 km from where I live. I need to pull together a 45-minute presentation for middle school students that I’ll repeat five times during the sessions. Will probably lose my voice by the end of the day but the more I can get the word out on this project, the better. Not sure if I’ll present at the conference next year. I have an application in.

– Last month was my busiest month of all time. Thanks for helping this happen!

The highest bar represents almost 9,000 pageviews for September

The highest bar represents almost 9,000 pageviews for September. The dark blue bar is for unique pageviews. Most visitors click on two of my pages.

My Metric System Demo at the Los Alamos Science Fest

Los Alamos Science Fest was Saturday

Los Alamos Science Fest was Saturday

On Saturday I spent four hours talking up the metric system at the Science Festival here in Los Alamos. Specifically, I was trying to help people understand how much easier the metric system is to use in the kitchen. Rather than having all those volumetric cups (and a half, and third and quarter) and tablespoons and teaspoons (and all those fractions down to an eighth) you really just need two things: a liquid measuring cup and a scale that measures in grams (most electronic ones can convert between different units).

Not only is a scale a more precise and consistent measure in the kitchen, it’s also easier than what we’re used to in this country. Since we don’t use the metric system here, most people have no idea how handy a scale can be in the kitchen. I wanted to show them.

Here’s what I did:

I asked if people were willing to take a metric challenge. (There were a lot of children there and almost all of them were game to give it a try.)

Toy coins worked well for the demo since they don't fit neatly into the cup

Toy coins worked well for the demo since they don’t fit neatly into the cup

I then gave two participants each a one-cup measuring cup and had them measure a cup of toy coins (I wanted objects that would not fit neatly within its area). When they were done, we put the cups on scales to how closely they measured in grams. In some cases, even when the cups looked like they had the same amount in them, the mass varied usually by around 5-7 grams but throughout the day I saw measures all the way from 30 grams up to more than 100. That’s quite a difference!

While the they were measuring, I told the adults, or other observers, some of my points about wasting our kids’ time in schools by teaching them a complicated system that no one else uses. I also pointed out only needing two things to measure with saves space and hassle in the kitchen.

Using the metric system, all you need is something to measure wet and dry ingredients (left) instead of the stuff we have to keep track of now (right)

Using the metric system, all you need is something to measure wet and dry ingredients (left) instead of the stuff we have to keep track of now (right)

Once that was done, I showed the parents how easy it is to measure ingredients right into the bowl and bypass dirtying all those other measuring cups and tablespoons we currently have to deal with.

I also talked about something that happened to me not too long ago when I had a recipe that called for a cup and a half of brown sugar. Not only do you have to pack the brown sugar to get the right amount, I also debated whether I wanted to wash a spoon (to dish out the sugar) and two measuring cups or a spoon and one measuring cup but have to pack it three times. In the end I decided I didn’t want to do either and looked up how much brown sugar that would be in grams. Then I put the bowl I was using on my scale, zeroed it out using the tare function, and then measured that amount directly into the bowl. In the end I only had to wash a single spoon.

In addition to the demo, I had a primer (Cooking in a metric kitchen (pdf)) on using scales in the kitchen. While many sites don’t include metric measures, several do including the wonderful allrecipes.com (though it takes an extra click to make the conversion). I also had a hard copy of the Metric Maven’s metric cookbook along with its link and the source for a metric chocolate chip cookie recipe from the National Institute of Standards and Technology. If you have additional sites or references to assist with metric cooking, send them to me at milebehind@gmail.com and I’ll share as appropriate.

Also had an opportunity to reconnect with Dave Schwellenbach who had the booth next to me with his Kraz-E-Science demo. You can check out his website here.

More blogs are in the works. Thanks for checking in.

Linda

The Metric System and Our English Roots

When I mention converting to the metric system in this country, aside from its immediate rejection by some because it represents change and change is almost automatically considered bad for our survival (see my previous post on “The Metric System as Predator”), one of the reasons brought up to reject it is our English past.

President Obama addressing British Parliament in 2011

President Obama addressing British Parliament in 2011 (White House.gov)

As Americans we tend to identify strongly with our British history even though we wouldn’t be a country today unless we’d fought so hard against English rule. We like our association with our Anglo-Saxon roots but we tend to like them on our own terms. It’s one of the reasons we follow the royal family’s every move in the tabloids even while we hold a love/hate relationship in everything from British music to international politics.(There’s contrasting dislike of the French but I’ll save that for another column.)

In his book Blood, Class and Empire: the Enduring Anglo-American Relationship, Christopher Hitchens sums it up as:

The odd combination of rivalry and alliance, collusion and suspicion, was to be the pattern of Anglo-American relations for many years—until the entente of 1898 in fact—and in some reminiscent forms even after that.1

(Yeah, I admit it, I had to look up entente.)

It wasn’t that long ago that President Obama also spoke of our strong kinship while addressing the British Parliament (4:27 into clip):

I’ve come here today to reaffirm one of the oldest, one of the strongest alliances the world has ever known. It’s long been said that the United States and the United Kingdom share a special relationship.

Ironically, it was that break with our royal past that opened the door for us to become the first country in the world with decimalized currency (Thank Thomas Jefferson for our 10 dimes and 100 pennies) even while we still struggle to integrate the rest of a measurement system that no other country would think to give up. (No country that switched to the metric system has ever switched back.)

When people raise this idea of embracing our imperial past two things immediately jump into my mind.

  • The metric system was officially adopted in the U.K. in 1965 but its adoption remains “soft” and there are some imperial units still in use. When I asked the head of the U.K. Metric Association about this state of affairs, Robin Pace responded “Because you don’t use it. ”So, Britain is more metric than we are and it’s reasonable to say that we’re holding back both England and Canada from full adoption. That prompted my column on our bad international example for both the U.K. and Canada.
  • If people want to argue that giving up our current units is somehow abandoning our legacy, then I say let’s embrace it all the way and recover our lost measurement history and bring back the hogshead, chaldron, scruple, minim and perch to name a few. If we want to be ridiculous let’s be ridiculously ridiculous.

This grasping at our history seems somewhat ironic to me since we no longer use the “Imperial” units in this country we originally brought over; we currently use “U.S. Customary” units. Thus, our units don’t perfectly align with any other country in the world. The Imperial liquid ounce is 28.4131 mL, while the U.S. fluid ounce is 29.5735 mL.

It doesn’t initially sound like a lot but with large amounts it can really add up, particularly if we’re talking about prescriptions.

Came out earlier this month

Came out earlier this month

By the way, just got a copy of John Marciano’s new book: Whatever happened to the metric system. I’ve just started it but it’s getting some attention in the media. Based on previous communication with the author, I knew it wasn’t going to be pro-metric but frankly, anything that gets the discussion back on the table after 30 years works for me.

Thanks,

Linda

Notes: 1Location 1798 on my Kindle.