Sorry for the Delay in Posting on the Metric System

It's green chile season in New Mexico and I bought a bushel (64 U.S. quarts) roasted. Yum.

It’s green chile season in New Mexico and I bought a bushel (64 U.S. quarts) roasted. Yum.

Working at a demanding full-time job as well as on this project finally caught up with me after three years and I ran myself a bit past empty.

I found I needed to back off from this work for awhile so I could recharge my batteries.

Fear not, I’ve not given up but did need to take some time off.

I’m going away later this week for a true break.

I’m hoping that after this my energy to work on this will be renewed.

I don’t plan to blog quite as often since my next efforts will be to write a book on this  subject with everything I’ve learned. The whole story is quite extraordinary.

I have some other very positive news to share soon but in the meantime, here’s a picture from this past weekend.

Almost every year I “process” (peel and freeze) some quantity of green chile. I thought you might find the bag interesting as I can’t remember the last time I bought a “bushel” of anything. I don’t think it’s used much outside of the agricultural world.

And, a couple of days ago, I was listening to an old Burns and Allen radio show where they were making fun of Gregory Peck’s name but most people probably don’t even know or remember what a “peck” is (apparently around two gallons, dry volume).

Measures are around us and we use them more than we realize.

Speaking of which, on September 3 this blog had more than 600 pageviews. It’s now at almost 120,000 since I began. That’s promising.

Thanks for your patience.

Linda

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.

My Current Metric System Adoption Efforts

TEDx talks are regional versions of TED talks

TEDx talks are regional versions of TED talks

I apologize for the information blackout but I’ve been terribly busy with the day job for the past couple of months pulling together a corporate TEDx talk (and I think that’s all I should say since it’s internal-only, per our license). It’s the first time we’ve done this sort of thing and certainly the first time that I’ve headed up something like it. That said, the event went well and I’m now wrapping things up. Now that I’ve taken a few moments to rest, I should have more energy to devote to this documentary project again.

Even with that, I was still working on things behind the scenes. Here’s a short list of what’s in progress:

  1. I’m building a website that will have all kinds of information on everything to do with the project including a bibliography, links to information for the media and other educational information. I’m still working on it and will announce once things are further along. If there’s information you’d like to see on it, I’ll do my best to provide it.
  2. I’m building a timeline on history as it relates to measurement and the metric system in this country. It’s coming along well but once I launch it I’ll have to pay extra money on a monthly basis. (So far, everything for this project has come out of my pocket but I’m hoping to change that at some point.)
  3. I’m about to buy my first high-definition video camera. I hope to eventually have two cameras. Right now, I need a “starter” camera to get things going and hope to get a higher-end camera after my fundraising is complete. A lighting kit arrived a couple of weeks ago but haven’t even been able to play with it yet.

    Los Alamos Science Fest is coming is September

    Los Alamos Science Fest is coming is September

  4. I’ll have a booth at the upcoming Los Alamos Science Festival in September. I don’t see my activity listed yet but I’m going to demonstrate the superiority of the metric system over customary units in the kitchen with materials and scales. We don’t really use scales in the kitchen in this country since we don’t use the metric system. I think this is a hurdle we’re going to have to overcome and have felt that way ever since I chatted with the a retired, female scientist who told me she never used the metric system when she cooks though she used it every working day of her life.
  5. In conjunction with the above, I plan to make my first videos with it on how to use the metric system in the kitchen. This will help segue me back into video production. I’m hoping to make them fun and interesting and should be able to leverage them for my eventual fundraising video if not for other things.
  6. Contacts, contacts, contacts. This project is never going to get off the ground without the right people involved. Fortunately, more and more people are interested and want to help so it’s more about finding the time to do those sorts of things in the right way.
  7. Speaking of contacts, I’ve meant to pull together a mailing list for some time but haven’t gotten around to it. I think I’ll move that toward the top of my list of things to do since its size will eventually help me determine whether I’ve gotten critical mass to do some fundraising. The mailing list folks will get shorter, behind-the-scenes news about the project. If interested in joining,  subscribe by sending an email to milebehind@gmail.com.
  8. Other musings…I’ve thought about holding a metric adoption conference call or even meeting (no idea when the last time such a thing happened in this country…Roughly 30 years ago?) That’s going to take some planning to figure out how to best make such a thing happen but it will need to be done at some point. If you are interested in this type of activity, shoot me an email.

I did take three days of vacation in June and went to see my daughter while Jamie Cullum was playing in town. We had a great time!

More on the above shortly. The next column will be about our clinging to our units as some strange nod to our British history.

Thanks for staying tuned,

Linda

The MidSchool Math Conference

The next MidSchool Math conference is already in the planning stages

The next MidSchool Math conference is already in the planning stages

My presentation on Math and the Metric System: Using What’s Easy at the MidSchool Math conference went very well. The session had 50 people registered and while not everyone showed up, most folks did. Since the attendees were mostly math teachers I felt I had an opportunity to get them thinking about the metric system in new ways that they could take back their classrooms and hopefully their lives. The group was receptive and had lots of questions for me. They were also able to interact and ask each other questions about their metric classroom experiences.

Hands-on opportunities

I had scheduled some hands-on exercises using length and mass to help them get used to applying metric units. While length didn’t present much of a problem, only a couple of people used scales in the kitchen. This gave them a chance to play with some of the equipment I brought. (Let’s face it, pretty much every ruler and tape measure today has both U.S. customary and metric units on them but most people are so familiar with measuring cups that it doesn’t occur to them to use a scale in the kitchen though it’s far easier.)

I also brought some metric-only rulers supplied by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (centimeters on one side, millimeters on the other) and they cleaned me out of those—which I consider a good sign.

Avoid conversions!!!

A couple of folks on the U.S. Metric Association (USMA) listserve who communicated with me prior to my talk wanted to make sure that I didn’t encourage conversions during my presentation. Not only was that explicit in my presentation—twice no less—but I also pointed out that I’d gotten that feedback from USMA to try to drive the point home. I think it worked.

After all, the metric system was introduced at a time of widespread illiteracy and even unschooled french farmers and tradesmen learned it easily enough. It should be a cinch for today’s high-tech Americans.

One attendee told me she thought it was the best presentation she’d seen so far (I was in the afternoon on the second day) but I have to say that the keynote speaker on the first day, Dan Meyer, was extremely good. He stressed the need to engage kids studying math in the classroom in three acts and bring them along for a story where they really want to figure out what happens. Let’s face it, everyone gets more interested if there’s a good story involved. I think the audience heard him.

Testing my story structure

For my part, I got a chance to try out part of my story structure for the documentary on an audience, hear questions and find out what parts of the narration were of the most interest by their level of attention. There’s just nothing better than trying out your material on a real audience. I’m very pleased with the results but I will continue to refine and expand.

Since I did attend a couple of sessions other than my own, I also had a chance to engage with additional teachers and all seemed very interested in what I’m trying to do. It was only one of the other presenters who gave me pause when he suggested that the next generation would take care of metric conversion in the United States. (Only other time I’ve heard that before [good idea but not now] was in John Quincy Adams’ report to Congress back in 1821—haunts us every time we get serious about metric adoption by the way…) I quickly realized that there was no point in arguing the issue with him but would have loved to point out that in the 30 years since the U.S. Metric Board was disbanded no “next  generation” has come along so far and perhaps he’s part of the “next generation” that should do something. Ah well, I tried to be as persuasive as possible under the circumstances.

As should always be the case, the teacher and learner roles got reversed during my session and I walked away with some additional things to think about and research.

For instance:

  • I’ve been told the military uniformly uses the metric system but others have told me that’s not true. True status will take some digging.
  • When converting from miles to kilometers, what happens to the mile markers since they’re currently used to help drivers know how many miles to their next exit?
  • What’s the best way to convert existing recipes into metric?

The cost of conversion

Of course, the biggest unanswerable question I get asked is how much would it cost to convert to the metric system in this country. I don’t think anyone has a good grasp on that since it’s been so long since the question was seriously considered.

Aside from the cost of conversion errors, and time savings in schools and elsewhere on an individual basis, imagine how much time it takes to design things for multiple countries with dual labeling—including the use of more ink to print both sets.

Converting to the metric system will have a mostly one-time cost while failure to convert to the metric system continues to cost us, and cost us and cost us…

Linda

The Metric System in the Supermarket — Part 1: A Little History

Proposed new nutritional labeling

Proposed new nutritional labeling

Last Thursday (February 27, 2014) the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced new nutritional labeling standards for packaging in the United States. The original law, called the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act, was put in place in 1990 in an effort:

  1. To clear up consumer’s confusion about food labels
  2. To encourage consumers in making health food choices, and
  3. To encourage product innovation so that manufacturers are given an incentive to improve the quality of the food and make more healthy food choices available to consumers.
                                            Virginia Wilkening
                                            Food and Drug Administration

It was probably less effective on the last point than the first two but let’s examine a little history.

Measurement and trade

Since people have traded with one another, sellers have tried to cheat their customers to their own ends. That’s one of the reasons why throughout history there has been resistance to setting measurement standards (the metric system included). The new  regulations adjust serving sizes (mostly upward) but also highlight the nutritional information on the labels.

Serving sizes

While researching this project, my contact at National Institute of Standards and Technology recommended a book called The Thumb on the Scale or the Supermarket Shell Game by A. Q. Mowbray. With a copyright date of 1967, it relates that after World War II, consumers (quaintly referred to as “housewives” throughout the book) were getting up in arms because, as they purchased more convenience foods, they started having problems figuring out how much product to buy because the serving sizes were not standard. Each company made isolated decisions regarding what an “average” serving size constituted.

To one manufacturer, a serving of peaches might be two halves; to his competitor, it might be one half or three halves. It is like buying by the hat—and using the seller’s hat as a measure. p. 92.

In case the problem with having non-standard serving sizes for food isn’t readily apparent, let’s apply that logic to something we deal differently with today: gasoline.

The scenario goes like this: You need some more fuel and there are two gas stations across the street from each other that have determined their own “serving sizes.” Lo and behold, the price of one of the serving sizes is less expensive than the other. Is it really a better deal or just a smaller serving size? Without further investigation, there is no way for the consumer to know and that’s exactly what was going on in the grocery stores. A glance at two, say, cereal boxes next to each other might seem like the one with more serving sizes for the same price is to be a better deal. But would that impression be accurate? At the time, the answer was “No.” Enter the federal government.

While the serving sizes have been fixed by the federal government since the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act of 1966 (metric units were added to labels in 1992), there was plenty of resistance from the food industry according to the book since deception would become more difficult via that method.

And manufacturers still play games with us

Don’t worry about the food industry. They’re still finding way to take advantage of us today. You don’t have to read many issues of Consumer Reports to see an example where a reader has bought a usual item only to get home and realize the new box or bag contains less than when it was last purchased. Just because the manufacturer has adjusted the weight or volume in print (according to regulations) doesn’t mean they’re not trying to hide something. (When was the last time you saw a box emblazoned with “Now, less for the same price!”?) Yet it downsizes product contents all the time.

Let me tie in the metric system more closely: the labels will continue to be a mishmash of metric and U.S. customary measures (for new readers of the column, we don’t use Imperial units in the country, but our units are derived from them). In the example, the serving size is expressed in both customary and metric units but the nutritional content is only in metric units and thank goodness. If they were in fraction of ounces, you wouldn’t know if they were weight or volume (metric units only express mass—which relate to the gravity of the planet you’re on) or some other incomprehensible subunit. For instance:

Protein = 3 grams = 0.10582oz

If I tell you that a gram is roughly the same mass as a standard (that word again) paperclip, that’s fairly easy to imagine. Now, try to imagine a unit of 0.1 of an ounce. A bit tougher for most people I’d guess.

This post has run as long, or longer, than it should. Stay tuned. There’s more to learn.

Linda

Why measurement systems (including the metric system) are important

Let’s, for a moment, set aside how important it is to get medication doses correct and ask the more basic question “Why does it really matter what measurement system we use?”

My answer to that question might shock you: Fundamentally, it doesn’t.

What really matters is that people working together use the same one. What the metric system has going for it is that it was designed for all of the units logically interrelate to each other. That last point is a big deal.

Metric measuring tape

Metric measuring tape

Back before the world was so integrated it was less of a problem if each little hamlet developed and used its own measures.

The way I like to put it is: “So how tall is it?” one peasant asks another.

“Why, it’s as tall as Larry’s door,” answers the friend. They’ve both been to Larry’s house and can use that as a point of reference.

To say that’s Larry’s door could now become the standard of length/height for that community really isn’t that far off.

Under this scenario, the only people for whom that would really cause a problem would be for the traders who’d have to learn multiple units to deal with multiple localities as they sold their wares. It was also a way of keeping outsiders out since their lack of familiarity with the regional units would immediately make them stand out.

For reasons that I’ll explore in my documentary, we continue to isolate ourselves, and handicap our children, through our lack of metric adoption.

The units we currently use in this country are not only a mishmash of almost totally unrelated units that were cobbled together but we’ve put ourselves totally out of step with the rest of the industrial world.

Metric units are streamlined and basic. Easy to learn and apply. That’s why almost everyone else in the world has adopted them.

While I have enlisted an American culture expert to interview to help address why we’ve been so resistant to such a change, I suspect that there are multiple reasons for our behavior on this issue in the past. The poll that ran on this topic previously to helped identify them.

Recycling our past

As we move toward metric adoption, we’ll find ourselves with items we no longer need. Mostly what comes to my mind are the measuring cups we use for dry ingredients in the kitchen (in a metric world, grams are the necessary and superior way to go). It’s also possible that people might still have liquid measuring cups without milliliters but they’d probably have to be pretty old or rulers (or tape measures) that don’t have metric measures on them. (Not sure what the cutoff date for such items might have been…the 1970s when we had our last metric push? Might need to investigate this some more.) Items like wrenches in U.S. customary units also come to mind.

Great idea to recycle tape measures--hopefully nonmetric ones.

Great idea to recycle tape measures–hopefully nonmetric ones.

Earlier this week I came across the above image of a clutch made from measuring tapes and got to thinking about what we could do with non-metric items we’d longer need. (I know I currently have a tape measure with inches on one side. It looks like the item above uses both metric and nonmetric.)

In the meantime, feel free to share your ideas of what other items we’ll need to try to recycle into something useful or interesting (maybe even beautiful) once we’ve adopted the metric system in this country and even your ideas of how to do it.

I wouldn’t ask you to do anything that I’m not willing to do myself and I have an idea for something to do with my dry measuring cups that just came to me so I’ll try to get that put together up for my next post.

Want to share your ideas of what other things we’ll not need in a fully metric world? Feel free to add them to the comments section.

Want to share an image of possible way to use old, nonmetric items using one of many reputable filesharing sites? (I’d recommend  Imgur http://imgur.com/ or Photobucket http://photobucket.com/ feel free.* Or even post to my twitter account: https://twitter.com/milebehind. Who knows, maybe I’ll add your ideas to my “Hall of Fame.”

I look forward to hearing from you!

Thanks,

Linda (milebehind@gmailcom)

Notes:
* Just please don’t send me image files. I won’t open them for security reasons.

The clutch image from http://www.perpetualkid.com/tape-measure-zippered-bag.aspx

Metric tape measure photo: Simon A. Eugster

Vote for Your Favorite Pro-Metric System Slogans

One idea that came concurrent with the inception of the project was T-shirts. Really. Not only as a way to raise money for production but with the notion that if people are interested enough to wear a pro metric T-shirt it might get other people thinking about the issue and raise awareness. Awareness is the first step to helping prepare for the change that needs to take place.

To back this idea up, allow me to quote the Heath brothers, from their bestselling book Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard: (Had to take some liberties with emphasis from the book due to the blog’s template.)

We all talk about the power of peer pressure, but “pressure” may be overstating the case. Peer perception is plenty. In this entire book, you might not find a single statement that is so rigorously supported by empirical research as this one: You are doing things because you see your peers do them. It’s not only your body-pierced teen who follows the crowd. It’s you, too. Behavior is contagious.

To help perpetuate peer perception, I’ve generated slogans I thought would work to spur metric adoption. I’m sure I’ll come with with more but here are some to start with.

I plan to make products available with them so knowing your favorites would be very helpful. Please take a moment to tell me which ones you like best. (I’ll roll out more as time goes on.)

Here’s an example of one of them translated into a design: (thanks to my multitalented daughter Laura):

What the slogans might look like

A slogan example

(Please note: For right now, please don’t send me your suggestions for new ones. There are legal implications and intellectual property considerations. May run a contest in the future once I’ve gotten the details sorted out so hold on to them until that time. In fact, try to think up more than the one that just popped into you head and write them down for future use. Thanks!)

May also have to change some a bit since Burma has now announced its intent to convert  to the metric system. But, hasn’t happened yet so I’m taking a wait-and-see attitude.

Layout also gets complicated so I used colons where I thought some of the line breaks should be. Some are also a bit of an “inside joke” so ignore them if they don’t work for you.

I’ll leave the poll open for a few weeks since I would like lots of input. Feel free to share this with folks you know. Thanks, Linda

Note: Heath, Chip, and Dan Heath. Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard. New York: Broadway, 2010. Print. Page 227.

Guest Blog from the Metric Maven: Metric Metaphors

Shakespear

Shakespeare

In the 1970s, during the world-wide metric conversion frenzy, there were those in the US who bemoaned the possible coming of the metric system to America. They were depressed by the possible loss of literary aphorisms and metaphors:

A miss is as good as a mile.

I wouldn’t touch him with a ten foot pole.

Give him an inch and he’ll take a mile.

They would convert the old aphorisms directly as if they were actual technical relationships to lampoon the metric system, and perhaps to claim the metric system is unsuitable for literary expression. Here are LM Boyds offerings from 1973:

Quote
You of course use “He’s all wool and a yard wide” in your everyday conversation these days—right? How could you get along without it? I never even heard it used back then. How about: “Don’t hide your light under a bushel basket.” “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” does still appear to be in the vernacular, but is not used that often. It is worth converting, so indeed a gram of prevention is worth a kilogram of cure. This actually makes the aphorism more cogent as we don’t need to wonder just what type of ounce is used. “I would not touch him with a ten foot pole” is a curious statement as a pole is 16.5 feet long. Why would you shorten it? What should be done about the ten gallon hat? Well it only holds about 3 quarts first of all so it might be better metrology to just drop the name. Boyd really shows his metrological barbarism by using centimeters to convert:
“give her an inch and she’ll take a mile.” At least say Give her 25 millimeters and she’ll take a kilometer. He clearly has no respect for the language.

Now and then the mismatched set of Ye Olde English units we are forced to use comes up short for metaphor. The biggest problem for Olde English is that no one recalls that three barleycorn make up an inch, so any metaphors with barleycorns would fall flat. A barleycorn is only about 8.5 mm anyway, so it really doesn’t help for small metaphoric quantities. One night I was watching Ken Burn’s documentary on Prohibition when I heard my first “mixed unit aphorism/metaphor” Catherine Gilbert Murdock made this statement:

By 1928 when The Drys, who are may I say the most inflexible people I have ever come across. It is completely their fault that Prohibition failed, they refused to give an inch—a millimeter.

She had no Olde English Unit that was quite suitably small for a proper literary comparison apparently. Ms. Murdock tried to shoehorn in the barleycorn inch, but it was just too big of a metaphor, and so quickly switched to millimeters. The lack of metric in the US is stifling our metaphors and aphorisms!

PicoWhile examples of metric units in US aphorisms and metaphors are still somewhat rare, there has been a complete embracement by  Americans of perhaps the most important idea introduced by the metric system. I speak of course, about the metric prefixes. We live in a world where one can wet one’s whistle at microbreweries, and now even nanobreweries if you want.

Remember, they’re not moonshiner’s they’re nanobrewers. We have MegaGoods.com and attend MegaPlex theaters. We can play the Mega Millions lottery at the convenience store near the Mega Mall. We hear jokes that question Bill Gates potency and need for male enhancement when he named his company Microsoft. Authorities shut down MegaUpload, because it had Petabyes of the wrong kind of files. I purchase hardware from Microplastics and obtain computer parts at Microcenter. Milli Vanilli is infamous in music world and the Ipod Nano is a necessity if you want to listen to a collection of music. One no longer owns a salt water aquarium, they have a nano reef (I’m not making this up!). For those who like smaller marine environments a pico reef might be best. If you need to use your cell phone, be sure you are near a femtocell. I spray my hair in the morning with MegaSpritz.
Mega

Shriner’s now have a name for the cars they drive in parades. They are nano cars. Now if they will just use Liters/100 Km for fuel efficiency. If they are in Colorado they can tune their car radio to 94.3 Megahertz and listen to KILO, but probably not hear Kilo Ali or Kilo Kish.

You can purchase Giga Pets, but beware of Giga Bowser. You can make Giga Pudding and eat it inside of a Giga Ball. If you want to hang out with other over achieving test-takers you can join the Giga Society. Mensa is so old school without a metric prefix.
I think I’ve made my point and I’m Mega tired now, so I think I’ll end this essay and take a nano-nap to refresh myself. We have the prefixes down, now let’s get down with the metric system.

[For more posts from the Metric Maven, go to http://themetricmaven.com/ and subscribe. I have!]

America Needs Movement Toward the Metric System and You Can Help

October 6, 2013 begins Nation Metric Week as recognized by the Nation Council of Teachers of Mathematics. (Yes, an organization of math teachers thinks we should be metric. And they have good reason to do so.)

Just note the convoluted relationships between our current system versus metric units (abbreviated SI from French: Le Système international d’unités to the rest of the world) per factfeed.me.

We use convoluted measures that were not designed to interrelate to each other, unlike the metric system..

We use convoluted measures that were not designed to interrelate to each other, unlike the metric system.

How can people continue to think our U.S. customary units are a good idea? Of course, we don’t actually use imperial units in this country as the graphic might imply. Sure, we brought them over with us but  then futzed with them so in total  they no longer perfectly align with any other country in the world.

reddit’s helps spur interest in our lack of metric adoption

Peter, a friend of the project, recently became moderator of the metric board on reddit.

For those of you not familiar with reddit, it defines itself (in its FAQs) as:

reddit is a source for what’s new and popular on the web.

Users like you provide all of the content and decide, through voting, what’s good and what’s junk.

Links that receive community approval bubble up towards #1, so the front page is constantly in motion and (hopefully) filled with fresh, interesting links.

The readers of reddit are a wonderful source of interest in my blog and project (though people actively searching in Google for answers about the U.S.’s lack of metric adoption outstrip everything else).

Not too long ago, he posted a piece about our need to talk metrication outside of the site and made some very concrete suggestions. The intro goes as follows:

If America is to complete its transition to the metric system we need to convince people that it is to their advantage (or to their children’s).

To do this we will need to do more than give upvotes to posts we like on Reddit. We need to reach out to the general public and show them that the metric system makes sense, and that America should adopt it for domestic use in the same way that it has been adopted by science, the medical industry, a lot of manufacturing industry, the armed forces, international athletics and almost every other country around the world.

I was pleasantly surprised two weeks ago when Redditors read a post I had made about a writer criticising the metric system, followed the link and posted comments on his blog. This is the sort of thing we need to do to improve the mostly negative image it as among the general community.

What follows is a proposed list of actions people can follow to help move metrication in the U.S. forward (I’ll admit upfront that my project is mentioned in his list).

Additional comments (110 as of this writing) yield even more ideas and perspectives. Take a look.

Let’s expand reddit’s reach when it comes to metrication

Currently, about six percent of online adults are reddit users according to a recent Pew Research Center study, and most of them are young males.

Current reddit users

Current reddit users per the Pew Research Center

Of course, it doesn’t have to stay that way and you can join in the conversation regardless of your age, sex or other demographic background. Let’s get the discussion of our lack of metric adoption back on the table after a pitiful 30-year absence.

As the saying goes, “many hands make light work” and it will take a grassroots effort for politicians and media to get interested in this topic. It also needs to be a national effort but that doesn’t mean we can’t start with our own local representatives.

Awareness of the issue is the first step

Let’s not continue to handicap our children and future generations by a system that really isn’t a “system” at all but a collection of antiquated measures that trip up our children and anyone from another country who happen to set foot on our soil.

Enjoy National Metric Week with someone you can measure!

Linda