Hot Dogs, Buns, and the Metric System

I’m dropping everything I’m doing right now to highlight something that I think is important.

Hot dogs and buns. No, seriously: hot dogs and buns.

I found out yesterday that Heinz (part of the Kraft-Heinz Corporation [KHC]) has started a campaign called the “Heinz Hot Dog Pact” to get manufacturers (apparently including themselves) to package both hot dogs and buns in counts of 10 each. (Ten each! This just icing on the cake. Yeah, I make puns.) It’s hoping to clean up the mess made by having these mismatched, but usually paired items made equal—finally—and in sets of 10. Even better.

The Kraft-Heinz organization is robust, international, and a huge player in the food and beverage sector.

Why I think this is important

This extremely large organization is calling on others in the “production” end of things to make a change for the better for consumers. Isn’t that what every organization should attempt when it makes sense to do so?

Please also understand that it was revealed to me that one of the problems or “catch points” during our last metric system adoption attempt in the 1970s was grocers who didn’t want to be “on the front lines” if all the labels (and other things) in the stores suddenly changed to metric because consumers might yell at THEM about it. They did not want to put themselves in that position and I don’t blame them.

People visit my blog from all over the world. Chime in folks. (The actual top of my list of visiting countries and Spain has more than 550 views.)

Let’s face it, Heinz could just make the change itself (within its own production lines) but instead, it wants to address and fix the underlying problem: A mismatch of usually paired items.

BRAVO to Heinz for taking such a proactive stand to fix a ridiculous problem that should have been solved decades ago. In my mind, this echoes what needs to be done with the metric system. That’s why I bring this subject up now.

According an Adweek story, the idea originated with a Canadian ad agency

Packages should have 10 buns and 10 wieners, says cheeky campaign from Canadian agency Rethink.

Does “American Heinz” get credit for a campaign that originated with our Northern neighbors? In my opinion, having a great idea is important but only if it is recognized as a great idea once presented. It takes courage and foresight for companies to see a great idea and run with it. Frankly, in my opinion, most of them just F them up. I’ve witnessed the smoldering of good ideas ground down by company “liaisons” during my entire career.


It takes even more courage for a company to stick its neck out and try to change things in a meaningful way FOR A WHOLE BUSINESS SECTOR (food and beverage). I consider this exceptional work toward a good cause and KHC deserves all the good publicity that gets heaped upon it. (Any side issues, notwithstanding.)

What does this mean for this project? I have some thoughts. I need to mull them carefully before I will act. Part of it will be to try to follow the events of this campaign and it’s success rate.

However, this issue prompts new section of the blog:

Cheers and Jeers

Cheers to Heinz, Kraft Heinz and, if you like, you can join the dog/buns campaign on the https://www.change.org/ platform on this issue. Feel free to comment and include the words (hopefully in a smart way) “metric system.” Yes, I’m inciting people to “rise and comment.”

A cropped version of an image for the “Heinz Hot Dog Pact.”

HOWEVER, please don’t start a petition on this site for metric adoption now. It will fail. I can almost guarantee it. I’m asking for a bit of patience while I try to “ramp things up.”

Cheers to Tim Kaine, a democratic Senator and member of the Armed Services Committee. Within the last couple of weeks, he had an interview with Rachael Maddow, (on MSNBC) when he unabashedly used the phrase “square centimeters” without apology or translation. The more people who think and talk using the metric system only, the better for everyone toward metric system adoption. Let Senator Kaine know that you care about this issue (politely please) even if he “doesn’t belong to you” as a Senator. In a way, all elected officials belong to us within a democracy. https://www.kaine.senate.gov/contact.

Oh, and this might be an “American problem.” My wonderful contact in Australia did a quick “scout” for me and relayed that there, buns and hot dogs come in equal numbers. Not a surprise to me.

What about your country? Do your packages of dogs and buns match in number? Hey, that’s what the comments section is for.

Thanks for reading to the end.

Linda

Note: This blog has been archived by the Library of Congress since 2015. The access page for it is here: https://www.loc.gov/item/lcwaN0009077/. It is housed within the Library’s “Science Blogs Web Archive

The Science Blogs Web Archive provides resources for scholars and others conducting research on science writing, research, teaching and communication, as well as scientific discourse in the United States. Science blogs are online journals or diaries and thus enhance the Library’s analog collection of science periodicals and manuscripts by providing content that reflects observations and understanding of science in the 21st century. The archive was created to ensure the preservation and collection of digital materials which produce original thought and observations in all major scientific disciplines (earth sciences, physical sciences, and life sciences) for all audience levels.

The Nonfiction Writers Association and the metric system: Part II

I’m collecting information and writing reports (and lots of other things)

In the works:

  • A communications plan to support my proof of concept (POC)* recapped below
  • A nonfiction book proposal
  • List of reasons people use to reject adoption of the metric system.
  • A situation analysis
  • I’m building out this webpage so I can include additional resources and information

    They are all interrelated.

The importance of the proof of concept

My idea of a proof of concept in this situation is bigger than the book proposal (however, I will need to a book proposal to “sell” the metric system idea to agents/publishers).

My idea of proof of concept is based, in part, on the idea that all good ideas should begin with:

“Don’t tell me, show me.”

In the case of this project, the “tell” is “The United States should switch to the metric system.” The “show me” rests with the potential and demonstrative improvements to our medical and education systems, time and productivity savings, and even things like environment impacts. And then, of course, I have to spell out why these “shows” are important and that the concepts are connected. These ideas will have a substantive place in my book America’s Biggest Miscalculation.

If there is no good “why” behind why an idea/concept is important and relevant, it’s unlikely to move very far forward in a legitimate way.

Is that why, as children, we were invited to “Show and tell” and not just to “Tell” or “Show”? Did we not learn nothing from that early experience? Context matters, history matters, good sources matter.

Science works on proof of concept

Within the science-based environment from which I came (Los Alamos National Laboratory), these concepts could be earth shatteringly important, cost millions or billions of dollars and add to our fundamental understanding of how the universe works. And for the really big stuff (think high-energy physics sorts of things where you have unbelievably expensive and complex custom equipment) it takes more resources, partnerships (national and international), and some of the smartest and most dedicated scientists in the world to pursue their work.

Large Hadron Collider

In my experience, an awful lot of science takes place within custom equipment that’s about a photogenic as an old trash can. For instance, there are only so many ways you can photograph a supercomputer…and then there’s the classic “people talking in front of computer screens.” Ugh.
In this photo we have both things: drab equipment (but well-lit!) AND someone working on a computer. And that, my friends, is the reality of coming up with images for much of science.
Photo: Anna Patelia/CERN

Luckily, my bar is FAR lower than that, but I will still need to compete for funding and attention from agents and publisher to get this work done, and if these folks pick the metric system work, they’re likely passing on other opportunities. To be successful, I have to convince people that this work is important, could contribute to the health and education within our society, but it has be be able to sell copies of the book. That’s last but not least.

Situation analysis

With some new concepts and ideas in mind (from the Nonfiction Authors Association conference, see previous post), I’ve realized just how much the situation analysis feeds into my needs for the book. The better I understand this issue, and from every possible angle I can think of, the better off I will ultimately be.

The purpose of my situation analysis is to coalesce my ideas and observations into a “bite-sized” report that presents the current lay of the land.

Recall, our last real attempt at metric system adoption was in the mid-1970s. The federal government generated thousands and thousands of pages of reports on why switching to the metric system was a good idea or rather “A decision whose time has come [PDF].” (Caution: It’s one of the 1970s documents and it’s 191 pages.) Then came failure—not complete, but in many, many ways.

Fast forward almost 40 years and here we are, but where is that exactly?

That’s what I propose to put on paper in a rudimentary way. I want to illustrate MY understanding of the current environment and how the book project fits into that environment. I need to demonstrate that people (you specifically) care about this issue enough to support it through a book purchase.

Of primary importance for this report is: “Who are the current players and what roles do they fulfill?

It’s all about barriers, opportunities, resources, and the need to make course corrections by monitoring the environment and responding quickly and appropriately.

I’ll also include a “gap analysis” in some form. The point of a gap analysis is to strongly consider where an “entity is” with relation to resources (in any form, human or financial capital, for instance) and a desired end-state. What needs to fill the “gap” between current resources and the goal? Where could those resources come from? Are there assets not being properly leveraged? What are all the interrelations between other organizations in the environment (usually business competitors) and the entity? You get the idea.

I can tell you this now. There is more federal legislation in place than you think there is and I think that’s really, really important to metric system adoption.

This project’s biggest asset is you, dear reader

Me, I’m no one. I’m just someone who happened to realize (because I’m old enough) that we are constantly making our lives more complicated in the United States since we don’t routinely use the metric system for our measurement units. Let’s make things easier for our medical community and our students AND EVERYONE. I think it’s the least we can do.

Thanks for reading down this far.

Linda

The proof of concept I laid out last week:

* “I hope to demonstrate there is enough interest in the United States’ lack of metric system adoption (or there will be once people actually “see” our current mess) to buy a copy of America’s Biggest Miscalculation and make it commercially and financially viable enough for an agent/publisher to favor of THIS project when allocating resources.”

The Nonfiction Authors Association and the metric system

While I have been a professional writer for more than 40 years (including at General Motors Corp. and for more than 25 years at Los Alamos National Laboratory) on hundreds of nonfiction topics, I have never attempted to publish a nonfiction book before.

So, I have approached this situation as I have other professional endeavors in my life: to research the hell out of it. (It’s been my way and it does pay dividends.)

The logo of the Nonfiction Authors Association

I had considered the Nonfiction Authors Association (NFAA) in the past but was a bit hesitant due to the cost of membership. It does have a limited, free membership—but it is limited.

Why I decided to take the NFAA leap now

Book publishing has changed rapidly during the last several decades (and within my lifetime). The market for eBooks and what was once considered vanity publishing is now mainstream, and the “ask” on authors is much greater than it once was. For instance, agents and publishers want to know what YOU are willing to do to promote your books and you have to spell it out in your book proposal. (No marketing background? Good luck. You better be a quick study and knowing your nonfiction subject itself won’t help you.) Plus, the competition for the attention of agents and publishers is fierce (as it probably should be). And let’s not forget timing. Many an idea has tanked because the timing wasn’t right.

Given that I’m ramping up for the book America’s Biggest Miscalculation (as promised), I decided to take the plunge and join NFAA at a higher level than free to see what it had to offer—including accessing an online writers’ conference (for not much more than the yearly membership fee) that took place during three days in May.

[Since I’m now paying for all of these efforts out of my retirement pocket, I’ve have had to allocate my funds carefully. (Just so you know. I spend $100/year alone so you don’t have to see advertisements on this blog. I respect you and don’t want to waste your time with ads popping up in ways I can’t control.)]

NFAA has lots to offer. I will also say that Stephanie and her staff are outstanding. [For the record: I paid my money just like anybody else (no quid pro quo), but I am happy to promote people and organizations that I’ve found helpful with no strings attached.]

A metric system podcast?

A subject that came up several times throughout May via NFAA was podcasts. I’ve done lots of interviews so potentially recording one isn’t that big of an issue (I also have a professional AV background, so I know it’s lots and lots of work on the “production” end to do it seamlessly and well) but given the metric system project’s unique footprint, I question the ROI (return on investment) of such an endeavor.

Moving forward, I think my better bet is to try to get interviews on preexisting podcasts and see if I can get away with not having to hire someone to place me in those venues. (But it’s good to know those services are out there.)

One potential podcast that comes to mind is 99% Invisible. I don’t know if it’s considered a “gold standard,” but it sure is fascinating and I might be able to get my foot in the door.

Dear readers: Can you help identify appropriate podcasts for me to reach out to?

Are you aware of other podcasts I should engage with that are based on science or care about “breakthroughs” (even though we stare at this problem every day without seeing it)? If so, please send your ideas to milebehind@gmail.com and help me by telling me why you think it might be a good fit for the project. (I can’t promise I’ll respond individually, but I’ll consider every submission.)

Lots of ideas flowed from the Conference

Frankly, I found talking to folks in the field during NFAA’s “Ask A Professional,” with one-on-one conversations, almost priceless.

Speaking with Jenn T. Grace was amazingly helpful. It’s important that you understand that these conversations don’t necessary lead to sales for the professionals involved (though some will pitch their services—be advised) so they are primarily volunteering to help new book authors and/or make sure they don’t miss a stellar opportunity that might present itself. I consider that a fair exchange.

Not only did Jenn offer insights during our, 15-minute-limited call, but she was kind enough to brainstorm with me for an additional 30+ minutes after the conference was over.
Big kudos to her.

These discussions prompted an astounding number of of ideas for me to mentally absorb, brainstorm about, and then try figure out how to leverage them to further the book project. If I want to do it right (and not piss my time or money away—or yours) I have to think about a lot of things in the right way.

Proof of concept

The thing that dawned on me is that I have to develop a “proof of concept” for the project. Frankly, that should be true for ANYTHING that’s big/important and you want others to buy into.

The problem I’m confronting is: Just how do I get buy in for a concept that basically shut down in this country back in 1982 when the federally appointed U.S. Metric Board dissolved after its funding was pulled under Reagan?

So, this is how I encapsulate my proof of concept for this project at this time*:

“I hope to demonstrate there is enough interest in the United States’ lack of metric system adoption (or there will be once people actually “see” our current mess) to buy a copy of America’s Biggest Miscalculation and make it commercially and financially viable enough for an agent/publisher to favor of THIS project when allocating resources.

Linda Anderman

I’m competing for resources (time, money, attention) so that’s what I need to do—but with your help. None of this works without your help.

Part II of this entry (that I’ll post next week) will include how I view my work on the project’s proof of concept and why I think “Show me, don’t tell me,” is so vital to understanding, well, pretty much anything legitimate, and how important it is to base your work on substantive, verifiable, and external/independent sources.

I hope you’ll sign up for notices of new posts and share this information as you feel appropriate.

The more interest I can show in this subject, the easier it will be to “sell” to the publishing gatekeepers and you can help me in that way, right now. Thanks!

Linda

* 6/12/21 Note: Based on a comment I received after posting, I wanted to better explain what I mean by a “proof of concept” for this project at this phase. (See the big quote above.) I am not questioning the use of the metric system as viable for the U.S. Just whether there might be a large enough, receptive audience to get to the stage mentioned above. This is an initial, but massive step forward.

Project Titles and the Metric System

I love it when people ask me relevant questions
and make comments.

After my post last month, someone wrote to me via the comments section of this blog to ask about my having two different titles for two different parts of my metric-system-awareness work. First, I thank him for taking the time to ask the question. I’m pretty sure other people had the same question. So, let me say this: I LOVE questions (so long as they are civil) because it lets me know what you are thinking.

Allow me to share I answer I gave to him (already in the comments section of the blog) with just a couple of minor tweaks to try to make my writing clearer:

In reply to: “Good work Linda! I look forward to following your progress. I am curious about the book’s main title. Why not use “More Than A Mile Behind” to match the name of this blog and (I assume) the documentary title?”

My answer

Here’s the primary reason: I like the title of the book as a title for a book and I like the title of the documentary as a title for a documentary.

Four years into the project (once I realized that the two different producers weren’t going to “produce,” for lack of better words), I recognized that the best path to gain attention for our metric system plight was within a book. A very time-consuming, but relatively inexpensive path to go down.

So, did I want to carry the documentary title forward as a title for a book or was there a better path?

After many thought exercises, I decided that, while I like the name for the documentary, a book would appeal to a different audience, need to take a more scholarly approach, and face much fiercer competition (There are 600,000 to 1 million books published each year compared with far, far fewer documentaries.) and, therefore, a book needed a stronger, more controversial title.

If I picked a new title for a book version, would the documentary be left behind? Nope. Nothing about writing the book would keep the documentary from being made with or without the same title. If the book is successful, it could carry the title to the documentary like most—if not all— print to “film” projects.

And, unlike the documentary title, while some people countered that the title should be “More Than a METER Behind.” (I rejected that since Americans would immediately assume something with “meter” in the title wasn’t meant for them. So, I stuck with the word “mile.”)

On the other hand, the overwhelming response (maybe 100 percent) to the book’s working title America’s Biggest Miscalculation is along the lines of “Nice,” “Perfect,” and “Great title.”

I think I made the right decision. And this was the short answer!

Request for assistance coming soon

Valued reader: In preparation for some of the content for the book, I’m compiling a list of every possible reason people have given to me (or that I can get my hands on) to reject/not adopt the metric system.

No matter how many different reasons I’ve heard for rejecting the metric system, I’m sure there are more out there.

I ask that you not send me anything just yet, but start to think about some responses you may have mentally collected over the years that you’d like to share.

Allow me to print as complete a list as I can compile (without rebuttal at this point). And then, if you can add to the list with things I’ve missed, please feel free to make your voice heard. Not only is this work important for the book but it could also start to form the basis for a metric system advocates’ handbook. (Let’s face it, you can’t be ready for opposition if you don’t understand the arguments they extend.) And granted, there isn’t much opposition right now, but if we get traction, I can guarantee the naysayers will push back…HARD. History says so.

From the book’s back cover.
Just substitute “U.S. Customary Units” for “the metric system” to help illustrate the pointlessness of this argument.

Other than direct experience from research and face-to-face interactions, right now I’m going back through a book from 1981 (roughly the end of our last metric push in this country. (Recall the 1975 metrication act) called Metric Madness: Over 150 Reasons for NOT Converting to the Metric System by James William Batchelder.

To me, one of the amazing things about this book is the illustration on the back of it. A book’s back cover is “prime real estate” for messaging. You would think the author would make an important and hopefully irrefutable argument against the metric system there. However, instead, it presents what I think is one of the least effective counterarguments: Blame the tools and not the users.

I was speaking to a friend the other day and I mentioned that one of the reasons given to oppose the metric system in this country is that “The metric system units are too small.”

She burst out laughing.

May that attitude spread. You can help. Please contribute your thoughts and observations. Milebehind@gmail.com.

Let’s face it, if most of the rest of the world can get this thing done, we can too.

More soon.

Linda

2021, My Book, and the Metric System

Well folks, it’s 2021 and I have an announcement to make: Before the end of the year, I plan to have a draft of my book on the metric system done. Main title: America’s Biggest Miscalculation.

That means a couple of things for this blog:

A visual refresh of the website to show the work’s new direction. It should be up by the next blog post in a couple of weeks;
– A change in the content on these pages. I will still write about the metric system, but I’ll also write about the journey of working on the book and getting it into the right hands. In fact, my next post will talk about what I’m doing now to prepare to construct the book’s pitch proposal;
– However, I do have blogs in the cue on subjects such as the fact that we’re losing a foot in this country starting this year [Which one? In what direction? You’ll have to check back.] and the unbelievable number of references to the metric system and measurement in The Simpsons in its more than 30 years on the air and;
– Posts will be shorter, but I’ll post more often.

I had to buy a new bookcase just to store all of my research materials.

To all my faithful readers, I wanted you to be the first to know of the new direction the project is taking. In the eight-plus years since I started working on this metric system project I’ve had two different producers, but neither came up with the (then projected) $300,000 needed for the documentary.

Since writing a book is much less expensive (but—alternately—extremely labor intensive at the front end), it’s my hope that the book will drum up the interest needed to finance the documentary. If the book gets enough interest to ignite a real discussion toward metric system adoption [which has always been my goal], then we’ll have take it from there given that implementation is a whole different issue and beyond my scope of work…for right now.

This also means I’m going to become slightly more urgent about getting traction on this blog and other social media. It’s really important because the more views, comments, and subscribers the subject garners, the easier it will be to pitch agents and publishers. [I’ll talk more about this shortly.]

I think most authors want to see their books in print…not just electronically.

Consider that I’m already pushing a rock uphill since I’ve got to convince agents and publishers that there is the need for a book on a subject that has been mostly ignored for ~30-40 years in this country.

So, the more you can help bring attention to these efforts, the easier it will be to get to publication.

It’s going to take a huge awareness campaign so the American public knows just how much our lack of metric system adoption is hurting us—every…single…day. I’m trying to do my part with the book and now and I thank those folks who encourage me on. You are much appreciated.

You’ll hear more soon.

Linda

To those few, but wonderful people who donated to my MainStreet campaign several years ago: I paid the taxes on the money out of my pocket so I could deposit the full amount into a savings account where it will reside until such time as I make the documentary. My hope is that you will eventually get a special copy of both the book AND the documentary when the times come. Thanks for your patience.

Math, the pandemic, and the metric system

Masks and social distancing are the current way of the world. Photo source: Pixabay.

Schools are back in session—both in person and remotely (due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the necessary social distancing). And while the long-term effects of what this will do to our elementary-children’s education is still up in the air, there is a way to make math education easier: stop teaching U.S. customary and metric units in favor of the metric system alone.

Common Core Standards Revisited

Common Core Standards were an attempt to get some uniform education goals implemented across the country for Language Arts and Mathematics. Problematically, states are allowed to teach whatever subjects they want whenever they want to teach them. To make my point in an exaggerated way—one state could teach pre-calculus in kindergarten while another could opt to only teach the alphabet all the way through high school. While it’s not that bad, there really were/are not unified standards. Common core attempted to remedy that at a grassroots level. (More from me here.) Of course, while several states refused to adopt the Common Core, a majority of states and territories continue to use them. Here is the current situation today from the Common Core website.

States that do and don’t use Common Core standards.

Common Core and math

Common Core math standards calls for teaching U.S. customary and metric units side by side in grades 2, 3, 4, and, 5 under the category of “Measurement & Data.”

For instance, in grade 2, the standards state:

Measure the length of an object by selecting and using appropriate tools such as rulers, yardsticks, meter sticks, and measuring tapes. (CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.2.MD.A.1)

For grade 5, they include:

Convert among different-sized standard measurement units within a given measurement system (e.g., convert 5 cm to 0.05 m), and use these conversions in solving multi-step, real world problems. (CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.5.MD.A.1)

Why teach everything in the graphic below when we could only need to teach the units on the right? It’s the “right” way to go.

We should teach only the easy half of this diagram. And these are just volume measures. Lengths are a whole other graphic.

By teaching the two sets of units at the same time, we are not doing our children any favors. Given the math and science test scores in this country, wasting time teaching an efficient set of units plus our clumsy, complicated ones is, at best a disservice, and during times like these, a potential travesty.

Our most recent Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) scores

The PISA scores are a worldwide measure of areas of learning across the globe, which include math and science. The most recent PISA scores were released in December 2019. The news regarding mathematical progress for U.S. students is not promising.

The data was collected from about 600,000 students in 79 countries and economies and is administered by the Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation. The bottom line for the U.S.? I think the accompanying title of an early 2020 USA Today article pretty well sums it up:

To be fair, this article says we stress teaching process ahead of logic but it could just as easily be about teaching two measurement systems at once.

Our PISA scores

Overall, the mean score was 492 for math across all countries, while the U.S. scored 485. So, not only did the U.S. score near the middle of pack, it scored less than the mean.

In contrast, Japanese boys scored 532, and Korea’s scored 528 so the U.S. scored around 50 points less than those countries!

This image shows just how underperforming we are.

(Data released December 2019) I added the highlight to show just how far behind we are. https://www.oecd.org/pisa/PISA%202018%20Insights%20and%20Interpretations%20FINAL%20PDF.pdf

Why are faltering math scores a big deal?

One issue is income. The highest paying jobs all require proficiency at numbers, whether they are for doctors or CEOs. Math skills are a must. And according to Investopedia, the highest paying occupations in the U.S. for 2019 were predominately centered around healthcare jobs—such jobs all requires not only math but fluency with the metric system.

As I’ve pointed out before (2013 post), it not so much that our country’s math scores are getting worse, it’s that other countries are surpassing us.

Our flat scores in the area of math are, in fact, putting us behind.

We can do something about this. Advocate teaching only metric units in our schools.

You can start that ball rolling by responding to the following. To make easier, I’ve put together a draft that you can cut and paste or modify as works for you, but please help. I’ve referenced sources to keep everything transparent.

Action: Notice of Request for Information on STEM Education

On behalf of the National Science and Technology Council’s (NSTC’s) Committee on STEM Education (CoSTEM) and in coordination with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), the National Science Foundation (NSF) requests input related to the implementation of the Federal STEM Education Strategic Plan, “Charting a Course For Success: America’s Strategy for STEM Education.”

DATES: Interested persons are invited to submit comments on or before 11:59 p.m. ET, October 19, 2020.

ADDRESSES:
Comments submitted in response to this notice may be submitted online to: CoSTEM@nsf.gov. Email submissions should be machine-readable [PDF, Word] and not copy-protected. Submissions in the subject line of the email message should include “Individual/Organization Name: STEM RFI Response” (e.g., Johnson High School: STEM RFI Response).

You can view the notice here: https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2020/09/04/2020-19681/notice-of-request-for-information-on-stem-education

Here is a draft response to get you started on a comment. Feel free to adapt.

THANKS!

My radio interview on the metric system

A few months I had an interview about the metric system with a local public radio station KSFR in Santa Fe.

The interview was performed by Carly Newfeld as part of her program “The Last Word.” It runs about 23 minutes and you can listen to it here: http://traffic.libsyn.com/thelastword/lw022020.mp3?dest-id=351241

Apparently, it’s still being played so I don’t think this notice is too out of date.

Sorry, this post is long but there was a lot to share.

As usual, your comments are noticed and appreciated.

Linda

(P.S. Happy birthday Peter G.)

Historical cooking measures and the metric system

 

Sifter welcome page

“The Sifter” welcome page.

I recently came across an article in Atlas Obscura that highlighted a new site, called The Sifter which, according to the article:

 

 

 

 …is a catalogue of more than a thousand years of European and U.S. cookbooks, from the medieval Latin De Re Culinaria, published in 800, to The Romance of Candy, a 1938 treatise on British sweets.

This got me thinking about how we take precise measures for granted in our current cookbooks. If we look back, specific amounts of ingredients are a more recent development.

Based on my preliminary research, even by 1796 recipes had some measurement references. However, when I started looking at older recipes, the “amount” gaps became apparent. For instance, from The Commonplace Book of Countess Katherine Seymour Hertford (1567), you get things like:

Take a quantitie of barlei well rubbed & clensed wth a faire cloth from all dust & boile the same o[n] the fyar wth a good quantitie of faire water in a new earthen pot lettinge it seath till the barlei…


But even in this 1567 reference, there is mention of pint and gallon units:

Distel a pint of the water of everie of these by them selves and put to them a gallon and a pynt of good malmesei… [Note]

 

Back when ingredient lists were sequential and basic

While I didn’t research exhaustively enough to find the exact dates of when measures were routinely included, I can tell you one of earliest sources (1340) referenced on medievalcookery.com, has ingredients, sans units, listed succinctly as:

Almond milk, rice flour, capon meat, sifted ginger, white sugar, white wine; each one in part to be boiled in a clean pot, and then put in the vessel in which it will be done, a little light powder; pomegranates planted thereon.

How much of each? Who knows? According to a 2017 article in The Atlantic, cookbooks from the 1400 and 1500s were more memory aids for chefs in the world of the royals, rather than “how-tos” for common folk so measures weren’t missed.

Out of curiosity, I started poking around in The Sifter database for some recipes and when I typed in “measures,” I came across, for instance, Seventy-five Recipes for Pastry, Cakes, and Sweetmeats from 1832. Clearly, measures needed some definition at even this late.

Snapshot of cookbook

From the above-mentioned cookbook.

That’s old-fashioned cooking for you.

What does this have to do with the metric system?

I dare you to try to sell a cookbook today without including measures. People would go crazy.

The trouble is 95 percent of the world doesn’t know what our U.S. customary units are. Therefore, drawback number one: Our cookbooks will only sell overseas to people willing to take the time to convert units to the metric system. (A poor strategy from an international distribution standpoint for any printed versions.)

3 column cookbook

From a sausage cookbook.

Some cookbooks try to get around this by printing ingredients down a center column with quantities to the left and right. While that works, why do it at all?

If everyone was using the same units (metric) it would make it our lives much easier and people wouldn’t have to worry about the current differences between the U.S. and U.K ounce units, for instance. (See photo below.)

Baby bottle with metric units and U.S. customary and U.K. ounces

Note the difference in volume between the U.S customary and U.K. ounces. Ours is bigger!

Drawback number two: Scaling recipes up and down becomes MUCH more difficult with our three teaspoons to a tablespoon and eight ounces to a cup business. Since the metric system is based on tens, scaling up and down is much easier.

Drawback number three (of those that immediately jump to mind): We use volumetric measures in this country, with our teaspoons, tablespoons, cups, and so on, and these can cause all kinds of problems as I cite in an earlier post. With the metric system, you use a liquid measure for liters (and fractions thereof) and a scale for mass in kilograms and its fractions. That’s it.

Let’s consider just how difficult we’re making things for ourselves and pick a more sane path moving foward.

More exciting posts are in the works. Please stay tuned.

Linda

Note: While I couldn’t find a definition for “malmesei,” it turns out “malmsey” is a sweet, fortified wine. That would make sense in this context with a liquid measure cited. I’ll leave it to you to look up the other confusing ingredients.

Things That Set Us Apart and the Metric System

tape-measure-3859795_640

Image from Pixabay

As you might expect, I use Google to do a daily search for new “metric system” items to ensure I don’t miss anything relevant to my research. And while I do get some searches that don’t quite hit the mark (“metrics” also refer to other kinds of measures as in “My sales metrics went up again last month”), most of them are right on topic.

A recent piece in an online publication called “The Travel” had an article called “25 Things About America We All Can’t Stand (Even The Locals). What was the number one “annoyance”? Our measurements:

Most of the world abides by the metric system when it comes to measurements, however, believe it or not, the United States is the only industrialized country in the world that does not use the metric system as its predominant system of measurement, says Britannica.

Ironically, the publisher of this list is an organization that had its address listed in Quebec, Canada. In case you are not aware, Canada is a “soft adoption” country that uses both Imperial and metric system units on many things, so this is somewhat of a situation of “the pot calling the kettle black.”

This got me looking for other articles that might mention our lack of metric system adoption as an American inconsistency. Of course, I found some.

American “quirks”

Another recent article, dated from November 15 of last year was called “24 things that are considered ‘normal’ in the US but the rest of the world finds weird.”

One of those items is “Using the imperial system of measurement instead of the metric system.”*

The United States is one of only three countries that still use the imperial system of measurement, and everyone out there thinks we’re strange for doing so.

A piece from Redbook dated June 25, 2018, was called “37 Things Americans Do That Confuse the Rest of the World: There’s the American way…and then there’s everybody else.

Number 25 of the 37 lists “Measure in miles, feet, and inches:

This is an obvious one, and, yet, it’s still a constant source of bewilderment for most of the world. Instead of following the metric system, America is one of just three countries to follow the imperial system of measurement. (The others are Liberia and Myanmar.)

So, aside from our lack of metric system adoption, what do others find strange about us? A smattering:

  • Take-out boxes and drink refills
  • Huge portion sizes (which probably leads to the take-out boxes)
  • Walking around with large cups of coffee
  • Using ice in everything

Just in case you think them all food-related, also included are:

  • Working too much
  • Baby showers
  • Talking to strangers
  • Being too sensitive (as well as too insensitive to others)
  • Having flags everywhere
  • Not enough privacy in public bathroom stalls
  • We’re loud and smile too much
  • Tipping
  • Sales tax

This last one is likely because some 140 countries have a Value Added Tax (known as VAT) that is seen on the item itself. However, in the United States, sales tax is not known until you’re at the sales register. And that’s because sales tax can differ from state to state and even region to region. As an example, the sales tax in Los Alamos, NM (where I live) is 7.3125% but the sales tax in Santa Fe, NM is 8.44% (that’s just 54 km or 44 minutes away).

United states?

And that goes back to one of my arguments that one of the reasons we’ve found metric system adoption difficult in this country is because we are less the UNITED States of American than the United STATES of America (As in states’ rights). Still, it’s written into the Constitution that Congress can set weights and measures for our country so at least that’s one less hurdle to overcome.

Let’s get with the global program and switch to the metric system (or S.I. as it is known in the rest of the world.)

Thanks for tuning in.

Linda

Action Requested Regarding the Metric System (by October 30 [Wednesday])

Eliminate2

The federal government is about to take a step backward regarding labeling with the metric system. Comments are needed by October 30.

It seems the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB)—which is part of the Department of the Treasury—has proposed adding U.S. customary measures in addition to metric system measures on some booze. This would be a regressive action as most alcohol volumes are currently listed with only metric measures, as in 750 mL and 1.75 liters of wine and distilled spirits.

composite

Most current alcohol labels only include metric system units. The government is trying to change that to include U.S. customary units. Please make your voice heard.

The only exception I’ve found by personal observation is beer. (Maybe because we don’t export much beer to countries that require metric units—which is most of them.)

Of course, trying to coax this “bottom-line” information out of the rulemaking documents is almost impossible unless you know what you’re looking for. I certainly struggled.

I read the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) so you don’t have to

The relevant documents are:

27 CFR Part 4: Elimination of Certain Standard of Fill for Wine

(If you really want to get twisted around, also see this entry called “Labeling and Advertising of Wine.”)

Yikes.

And…

27 CFR Parts 5, 7, 26, and 27: Elimination of Certain Standards of Fill for Distilled Spirits; Amendment of Malt Beverage Net Contents Labeling Regulation

Both documents were incredibly difficult for me to decipher, but it looks like it comes down to this (from the webpage for the “Fill of Wine” information):

TTB is also proposing to amend the labeling regulations for distilled spirits and malt beverages to specifically provide that distilled spirits may be labeled with the equivalent standard United States (U.S.) measure in addition to the mandatory metric measure, and that malt beverages may be labeled with the equivalent metric measure in addition to the mandatory U.S. measure. Such labeling is currently allowed, but that is not explicitly stated in current regulations. This revision will align the distilled spirits and malt beverage labeling regulations with current policy and also with the wine labeling regulations. The wine labeling regulations state that wine may be labeled with the equivalent standard U.S. measure in addition to the mandatory metric measure. (Emphasis mine.)

While the proposed rule for both were made on July 1, 2019, with a deadline for comments by August 30, 2019, the deadline was extended to Wednesday, October 30.

big-revisedThe extension document for the revised October 30 document deadline (left)

(Why they didn’t update the new comment date on the actual documents, I don’t know. A revision issue?)

The bottom line?

Right now, most liquor has just metric measures but these proposed changes apparently want to add U.S. customary units. In addition, neither proposed rulemaking mentions which units would be listed first and second on labels. This makes a huge difference in what gets people’s attention. I consider this a big step backward in metric system adoption regardless of the order eventually listed.

 

 

 

 

Please weigh in on this issue

To comment, go to the respective pages below and hit the “Submit a formal comment” button on the top of the page.

submit-comment

Note that the page says:

You are filing a document into an official docket. Any personal information included in your comment text and/or uploaded attachment(s) may be publicly viewable on the web.

Thus, be careful about what you include in your text if you don’t want it to be public.

I encourage you to IMMEDIATELY comment on these proposed changes in the comment sections and make your voice heard.

Will it make a difference?

I can’t promise it will, but at least we can let “the powers that be” know that people care about this issue and we don’t want to backslide.

Why did I wait so long to post this? Let’s face it, most of us wait until a deadline looms before we respond. The deadline looms. Please take a couple of minutes and respond.

It could make all the difference in the world. Only history will tell.

Thanks for your attention.

Linda

Boxes of butter and the metric system

Box of Kroger butter

How much butter in a “box” according to the Department of Agriculture? More than you might think. Keep reading.

It’s fall again here in sunny New Mexico. It’s also time for the annual selling of massive amounts of green chile for which my state is famous. I wrote back in 2015 about the fact that you can still buy green chile by the bushel here.

Apparently, it’s not the only agriculturally based measure still used within the farming community when it goes almost directly to the consumer without repackaging. Not long ago I stopped at the local farmer’s market and bought some peaches. It wasn’t until I got home that I saw the paper bag contained the produce quantity that was labeled as ½ peck.

1/2 Peck on a bag

Notation on a bag of recently purchased peaches at a farmer’s market.

Had I not been able to see for myself how many peaches I was buying at the time, I would have had no idea what the volume of a peck could have been. A few days later I realized that the large boxes of chiles the grocery store were selling was also only listed by the bushel. (For the record, a “general” bushel is equivalent to 64 U.S. pints while a peck is the equivalent of 8 U.S. quarts. Ironically, the source I got this information from, Leico.com [which is a new collaboration between Dictionary.com and Oxford University Press], doesn’t even use the same base measurements so you also have to know that there are two pints in a quart so there are 64 pints in a bushel and 16 pints in a peck…) Confusing.

When I go to the grocery store, I normally only buy produce by the item, ounce, or pound. Bushels and pecks aren’t volumetric measures I normally use at Kroger or elsewhere.

pamphletThat got me curious about other agricultural products that I might not normally use. After a bit of research, I came across a publication put out by the Department of Agriculture called “Weights, Measures, and Conversion Factors for Agricultural Commodities and Their Products.” (Agricultural Handbook Number 697). The 71-page document is dated 1992, but it was the most recent one I could find, so I used it for this post.

The document numerous lists of units described in all their gory detail. Sure, some are familiar to most of us, but it also includes long tons (1.016 947 metric tons) and short tons (0.907 185 metric tons).

But it gets even more fun since bushels are different sizes depending on the commodities measured.

  • Wheat, white potatoes, and soybeans use a 60-pound bushel;
  • Shelled corn, rye, sorghum grain, and flaxseed use a 56-pound bushel;
  • Barley, buckwheat, and apples use a 48-pound bushel.

Not only that but for some reason, there are both 32- and 38-pounds bushels of oats!

oats

Huh? Two different bushels of oats?

Plus, once you wrap your head around that there is also a carton of artichokes (23 pounds/10.4 kg), the sack of topped beets (25 pounds/11.3 kg)—unless you’re talking about a sack of beans, which then contains 100 pounds or 45.4 kg.

Broomcorn (and it notes there are 6 bales per ton) is 333 pounds per bale or 151 kg. However, don’t get this confused with Broomcorn seed which is sold by the bushel and can be anywhere from 44-50 pounds (20-22.7 kg) according to the brochure. I love precision, don’t you?

Let’s not forget butter, which is sold by the box, of 68 pounds or 30.9 kg.

Gallons aren’t treated much better. A gallon of castor oil is 8 pounds (3.6 kg), but a gallon of corn syrup is 11.72 pounds (5.3 kg).

Then there is the lug, which for Western grapes 28 pounds or 12.7 kg, but if you are measuring avocados, that lug is 12-15 pounds or 5.4-6.8 kg.

There are more complications, of course, like the 7/10-bushel carton of Texas oranges (40 pounds), while Florida oranges are sold by the 4/5-bushel carton (40 pounds). But the California and Arizona oranges are sold by the carton of 38 pounds.

I can only imagine the politics of how this came to be.

Hopefully, I’ve now made my point which is: our current system of gallons, bales, bushels, pecks, boxes, cartons, and lugs, plus our ounces, pounds, cups, quartsteaspoons, tablespoons, and pints, (and I didn’t even get to the bag, barrel, pocket/bag, hogshead, case, crate, and bin) is just crazy and the fact that some argue our current system is easier can only be offered by someone who is unaware of our current, deeply flawed units.

That said, just made sure if you send someone to the store for a box of butter, the person won’t return with 30.9 kg (69 pounds) of it.

See you next month when I’ll have a call to action regarding our government and the metric system. Maybe you can help.

Thanks for staying tuned.

Linda