Hiatus and the Metric System

Figures with numbers and lines

I’m now working on book with the title “America’s biggest miscalculation.”

It was almost five years ago that I began down this road of working to bring awareness of the harm we are doing to ourselves through our lack of metric system adoption. The plan has been to do it via a documentary on the subject. (I thought it was only four until I looked it up!)

During that time I put quite a few things in my life on hold while I devoted considerable time and resources (including my own money) toward making metric system awareness a reality. I recently took some time off as a greatly needed it for multiple reasons.

That said, I am far from giving up. This is the first time that I’m saying this publicly but I’ve had discussions with a couple of different producers over the years but the funding to make the documentary has yet to materialize. As a result, I’ve decided to take a different tack.

Part of the reason I started this blog in the first place was to give you some “behind the scenes” looks at the process as it evolves. So here’s what I’m thinking…I need money to produce the documentary and, ultimately, the onus to do that falls on my shoulders.

I had originally thought that I would reach more people through a documentary than through a book but now I’m thinking I need the book to raise the money to make the documentary. I had always thought about writing a book but expected it would be more of a companion piece than the catalyst.

The additional research it will take to write the book will be considerable. For instance, something that I could gloss over in a script like, “When early man began to settle down for agriculture, measurement tools became increasing important” now needs a whole chapter that I have to back up with references and notes. At least if I want it to be any good—and I do.

I have already begun work on the book. I even took some time off to do additional work on it a couple of months ago then came down with pneumonia, which put some kinks in that plan. Still, I think (with the help of my boss, Linda Deck), we came up with what I think is the perfect book title. I needed something that would catch people’s attention, be as unique as I could get it but also not mislead anyone.

Its main title will be America’s biggest miscalculation. Not only does it perfectly describe the situation but I was unable to find another item with that exact title. I did find things named America’s biggest mistake and other such titles but the use of “miscalculation” appears to be unique. I’ve already purchased the domain names.

I am writing the book to fit that title. At my daughter’s suggestion, I purchased Scrivener software and am at almost 20,000 words into the book’s contents. Given that the average non-fiction book is around 70,000 words, I still have a ways to go but there is much more subject material to cover.

Given that I’m writing and project managing full time AND writing a major book on the metric system AND still have to do things like laundry, food prep, cleaning and organizing (where I got really far behind—I hate cleaning), etc., I plan in future to only post once a month. But I do plan to continue posting.

Just the make sure I keep my promise, I plan to write a couple more posts today so I have them ready while I work on the book.

If you want to write to me at milebehind@gmail.com to suggest topics for columns, I can’t promise I can immediately address them, but I will consider all comers.

See you in June and thanks for your patience.

Linda

My Mom and the Metric System

My Mom, Anita Anderman (née Jenkins). Circa I have no idea. The 1940s?

My Mom, Anita Anderman (née Jenkins). Circa I have no idea. The 1940s?

My Mom died two days ago on September 15. She was 89 years old and was born in 1926.

It happened relatively quickly. About three weeks ago she went in and out of hospice pretty fast. Then, she went into the Intensive Care Unit a little over a week ago with pneumonia and sepsis. After some additional problems surfaced, the decision was made to take her off oxygen on Thursday and she apparently died 10 minutes later. My younger sister was with her though she had ceased recognizing any of her children some time ago.

I tell you this because, if it wasn’t for her, I would not have taken on anything so ridiculous as trying to get my country to realize our error in not adopting the metric system.

My mother taught me to leave things better than I found them. It’s for that reason that I couldn’t shake the obligation–once I’d realized what a problem we had created for ourselves–to tackle metric system adoption. It wasn’t just that, of course, it was also that I believed I had the skill set in the form of communication and film backgrounds that might enable my success. Once those things came together, I knew what I needed to do and four years later, here I am, still plugging away.

The house in Detroit where I lived from five years old as it looks today. My mother lived  there until I was in college.

The house in Detroit where I lived from five years old as it looks today. My mother lived there until I was in college.

She also showed me that it’s possible to master anything if you put your mind to it. It wasn’t my father who remodeled the basement, it was she. She also built our back patio, tiled the bathroom, designed and maintained our gardens (the hosta plants seen in the photo were hers) and even learned to reupholster our furniture.

My mother is also the reason I use my middle initial. All three girls in the family were given “Anita” as our middle name–after her first name. It’s as a tribute to her that I have always used “A” as a middle initial. Let’s face it, “Anderman” is uncommon enough of a last name that I didn’t need anything additional to distinguish it but I have always used the letter “A” out of respect for her.

The other thing I got from her was the notion that the only limitations I might have would be the ones I placed on myself. In her 20s she got her pilot’s license and wanted to fly airplanes. (To hear my late grandmother tell it, it was an early fascination of hers.) At that  time, women were not allowed to become commercial pilots so she settled for the next best thing: she became a stewardess. At least that way she could be around planes, even if she wasn’t flying them herself. Not only was it odd for a woman to want to fly planes at the time, it was also unusual for a woman to travel all over the country by herself, even if it was for work. Typically, back then, a woman was under her father’s care until such time as she got married and then was under the care of her husband. (That attitude has changed, thank goodness.) Her own father had deserted her family when she was young so maybe that freed her from those constraints. I’ll never know.

I wish I’d learned more about our family’s history prior to her memory decay so, dear readers, I urge you to take time to learn about your background while you still can. Once I began my genealogy research it was too late for her to recall her background.

Still, I’ll always remember her as a good, supportive mother. If you care about the work on this project, and many of you do, I ask that you give her some credit for it. She’s the reason I undertook it in the first place.

Thanks,

Linda

 

 

Powell’s Books and the Metric System

 

 

Powell's_Books

Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon. A book lovers paradise.

Last weekend I was in Portland, Oregon for my daughter’s wedding. I’m happy to say that everything went wonderfully—even the weather—and I am more than pleased with my new son-in-law and his family. I welcome them with open arms.

 

Of course, while in Portland I had to make a pilgrimage to Powell’s Books being the media freak I am. My first day in town, I met with my sister and brother -in-law (also in town for the wedding) and we allotted a short period of time there before heading out for dinner.

It wasn’t enough time so I went back the next day as it was only a few blocks from my hotel.

By the end of the second trip, I had accumulated quite a few books, all of which related to this project and the early history of humankind so I could continue my research regarding our history with measures. I was bemoaning how heavy everything was going to be in my luggage when the cashier pointed out that for a flat rate (about $14, as I recall) Powell’s would ship everything to my house. That was the last thing I needed to hear (too tempting) so during my third trip there in as many days, I hauled back the books I’d already bought and acquired a few more. (Hey, great selection and a lot of used books—a bargain in my “book.”)

I had everything shipped to the house (it all arrived two days ago) with the exception of one book that I decided to take with me despite its heft (at around 1.63 kg or around 3.5 pounds).

 

new-book_001

This book will provide my ancient history dates since they vary greatly depending on the source

That book was The Seventy Great Inventions of the Ancient World, edited by Brian M. Fagan.

 

Why am I telling you this? Uncovering that history of our measures has been quite challenging. I already had a book called The Archaeology of Measurement: Comprehending Heaven, Earth and Time in Ancient Societies, edited by Iain Morley and Colin Renfrew (along with countless other books for my research) but it didn’t contain the information I needed.

The farther you go back in time you go, the sketchier the dates get, which has been causing me problems.

I’ve been working under the hypothesis that routine measures likely arose once people transitioned from hunter-gatherers to agriculture and it made sense to erect permanent or semipermanent buildings. I’ve already illustrated, even one person building a small, grass-type hut immediately needed a measure to make a perfectly round circle for the outer wall. It then stands to reason that multiple people, building a more permanent structure over days, weeks, months or years, would have to have had some agreed upon length or, surely, uneven walls would not have withstood anything very well.

Old_place.png

Gobekli Tepe in Turkey dates to 10,000 BCE

Photo credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:G%C3%B6bekli_Tepe,_Urfa.jpg

 

The trouble is, the earliest cities of which we’re aware (Jericho in Palestine at around 9,000 BCE and Göbekli Tepe in Turkey at about 10,000 BCE) were already quite complex (see photo).

Smaller settlements prior to those were likely built near rivers and lakes for access to both water and the foodstuffs living in the water (fish, etc.). However, as the last ice age ended, water levels around the world rose by roughly 100 meters (300 feet) and those locations would likely be made of more perishable materials (wood vs. stone) and are under water if any evidence of them still exists at all.

Thus, my dilemma reconstructing our measurement history for the book I’m writing to go with the documentary.

Given that early dates for various things are all over the place, depending on the source, I’ve decided that based the vast number of contributors and how the book is laid out; Seventy Great Inventions will form the basis of my historical dates as I lay out that part of the story.

In future, if someone wants to take exception with my hypotheses, they can argue with me (though I’ll likely have evidence to back up my assertions) but if they want to argue dates, they can argue with the book’s authors.

I’ll continue to do research through other sources, of course, but Seventy Great Inventions will be my “go to” for dates.

Or at least that’s what I envision for right now.

Projects this large and complex can test one’s resources but so far, so good.

Thanks for reading this far!

Linda

 

 

 

 

Prehistory and the metric system       

 

First, I’m not implying that the metric system has been around forever—it hasn’t been, more like since around 1790—rather, I’ve been investigating where measurement standards might have come from prior to the development of writing. No one can say for sure when measurements started, all researchers can do is infer information based on archeological evidence.

Uruk

A general view of the Uruk archeological site at Warka in Iraq. Image from the UK government

Most of the sources I’ve come across gloss over the prehistory of measures by pointing to the standards found in Mesopotamia and then move forward from there. Me, I’m more curious than that and thought it might be interesting to cover some ground that others might not have.

So here’s where I’m currently coming from: I believe there is an intersection between agriculture, the development of cities, architecture, astronomy and even the division of labor that related to the development of measures. I’ll go into these points in more detail in future posts while I continue to work on my metric system history book during my off hours from my day job.

Standards needed for permanent buildings

One of the oldest cities that has been documented is Uruk (from around the fourth millennium BCE.)

However, this site is very complex and it is unlikely it was the first attempt at a city but older, smaller, less-complex examples either no longer exist or have yet to be discovered. I posit that before these multi-people, multi-year building projects could begin, everyone had to agree what the standard measure was to be used, such as the much better-known cubit that was used in Egypt from around 3,000 BCE.

But let’s go even further back. In fact, let’s go back to around 9,000 BCE.

I’m starting from this date because it appears this was about the time that the last ice age ended and agriculture began. (The farther you go back in time, the sketchier the dates become so you might come across a source that differs from this. I had to start somewhere and I’m not in a position to argue with scholars who have spent much more time on these issues than I have.)

Back then, people were hunter/gatherers and if they settled anywhere, it wasn’t for very long and permanent structures were not needed. Some research I’ve come across indicates that people may have already domesticated some animals and they might have, for instance, moved sheep or other animals around with them.

I’ve also come across other information that the earliest agriculture may have been less planting of things in rows, as we currently think of such practices today, and more cultivation of helpful things.

Okay, so, it’s 8,500 BCE and near our settlement (likely near a water source) we come across some blueberry bushes. On either side of these food-bearing plants are some other plants that are less helpful since they flower but don’t provide sustenance.

It’s likely we figure out that by cutting back, or eliminating, the plants that weren’t so helpful and tending to the blueberry bush by watering, and possibly fertilizing, it a richer harvest results make the efforts worth our while.

Over time, it likely made sense that people started to transplant the beneficial plants closer to each other for efficiency. (There’s a reason you don’t keep kitchen equipment scattered around the house.)

Once the investment has been made in cultivating plants, it’s reasonable to expect that people kept closer tabs on their efforts and spent more time in one place, they’d want a home that would last more than a couple of seasons.

That got me thinking about how long buildings typically last. Once site I came across indicates that modern buildings can last more than 50 years. But, what about more “primitive” ones?

Modern, but primitive, hut

You too can build a primitive hut with minimal tools but lots of effort.

I found YouTube videos that show how to build circular dwellings from saplings and primitive tools in one case, and another video on how to build a wattle and daub hut, with the roof of the second building showing signs of rot only four months after construction.

Interestingly, in the first case, the builder needed to measure equidistant sides for the hut from a center post. In essence, he created a standard made from a sapling that might only be used for that one hut, but he did need a standard unit to make even a primitive building.

Had two people worked on the sapling hut, they would have both needed to use that same measure for the hut to have properly turned out.

Perhaps, in this case, as Protagoras of Abdera indicated thousands of years ago, man is the measure of all things…

I’ll write more next month and in the meantime, I’ll slog through more research on the ancient world and possibly confuse myself.

Linda

 

 

The Smithsonian and the Metric System

In September, I got a much-needed getaway. During that time, I made a trip to Washington D.C. to visit friends.

While there, I took advantage of my proximity to visit my contact at the National Institute for Standards and Technology (or NIST and the keepers of the metric system in the United States).

Artifacts in the museum at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in D.C.

Artifacts in the museum at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in D.C.

The NIST Museum

I was at NIST three years ago when I was just a few weeks into this project. Needless to say, my experience at its museum was radically different now that I had some context for the things that I saw. (Note: the museum is open only to official visitors. Still, there is a lot of information on the organization’s website.)

I also got a chance to meet with Elizabeth Gentry, my NIST contact there, and our country’s finest Metric Coordinator. While I’ve been keeping her up-to-date on the project, I’d yet to meet her in person.

Convert between systems only when necessary

I’m not sure how or why, but the friend I was staying with had some old U.S.-to-metric conversion slide rules imprinted with the Detroit Teachers Credit Union logo and a copyright of 1973.

A conversion "helper" from the 1970s

A conversion “helper” from the 1970s

One of the complaints that I’ve heard while on this project has been that our last attempt to convert to the metric system back in the mid-1970s spent too much time trying to teach people conversion formulas. Transitioning this way is actually quite complicated because there are so many formulas to memorize because we use so many different units (feet, pounds, ounces, gallons, ounces, etc.). The image to the right only captures part of the problem.

Any future plans to adopt the metric system would benefit from just straight measurement using the metric system, rather than trying to teach very complex and lengthy sets of conversion factors. (Only convert when absolutely necessary, like your grandma’s favorite recipes.)

For example: Do you have a space that needs a table? Just measure using the metric side of the ruler and do the same when shopping. I know I’m oversimplifying but it’s a start.

We were early decimal adopters—our coins

Needless to say, now that I’m involved with the metric system, I see its relevance almost everywhere.

Display depicting the different coins in use in colonial America prior to our independence.

A display depicting the different foreign coins in use in colonial America prior to our independence and establishment of our own mint.

I did end up coming across a coin display at the National Museum of American History (part of the Smithsonian museum complex) called “Legendary Coins & Currency.” It reinforced some of my previous research that one of the reasons that the United States ended up with decimalized currency came from the fact that when we landed on this continent, we were not allowed to mint our own money while still part of England.

Note this quote from the History of Colonial Money that I found on the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston site:

By 1652, the problem resulting from a shortage of coins had become extreme. England had turned a deaf ear to the colonists’ plea for specie [gold and silver coin. ed], and the colonial leaders did not believe that the people should have to continue using the mixture of foreign coins, wampum, bullets, and barter objects any longer. In an effort to provide more good coin to further trade and commerce, the Massachusetts Bay Colony established an illegal mint in Boston in 1652.

That meant that we had a total mishmash of currencies, not only from our home country but with all the other countries with which we were trading. And there were many. It made for a difficult time. Thomas Jefferson was more than well aware of the problem as one source notes:

…one of Jefferson’s most troublesome legal clients finally paid him in a motley mixture of silver and gold — half joes and moidores from Portugal, doubloons and pistoles from Spain, and 308 English half crowns.

As a result, our fabulous founding father:

…had the rational idea to create a decimal-based currency system. Meaning that money should be based on the number ten. The word for one hundred in Latin is cent, so Jefferson suggested that the word for a 1/100th of a dollar be “cent.” The Latin word for “one tenth” is dime; so again, Jefferson suggested that as the name for the 1/10th of a dollar coin. The five-cent coin would become known as the half dime and then later, the nickel.

Thus, he was able to move us as a nation to the decimalized currency we still use in the U.S. today.

Jefferson was one of the earliest Americans to consider a decimalized currency. He gave it, in 1784, its most articulate and persuasive expression in his “Notes on Coinage.” Congress, convinced by these arguments, adopted the new coin units with little dissent.

Unfortunately, he has more problems passing a decimalized system for our lenghts. But that’s another post.

[Please note: I am now starting a book on the subject of metric system adoption in the United States. I will post to this blog on occasion but the bulk of work on this project (when not at my full-time job) will focus on writing the book. If you want to keep up with what I’m doing, the best thing will be to follow my Twitter feed and Facebook page. I’m finding those easier to keep up with. I now hope to post here once a month.)

Stay tuned!

Linda

 

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

Odds and Ends…and the Metric System

A thermometer in Celsius and Kelvin (By Martinvl (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)

A thermometer in Celsius and Kelvin (By Martinvl (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons)

Sorry for the delay in posting. The truth of the matter is I started this project in addition to a demanding full-time job and have been juggling the two for almost three years now. My body and mind told me I needed some downtime and I’ve taken a few weekends off.

The good news: I’m back on track and making progress toward some goals. As some of you know, I recently held a new logo design contest that will tie into work I have planned for the future. The whole project took a turn that I hadn’t anticipated so I had to retool a bit. More on that in a later post.

New, recent presentation

Okay, not brand-spanking new but I recently made a presentation on the 140th anniversary (May 20) of the United States as one of the original signatory countries on the Treaty of the Meter. It gave the International Bureau of Weights and Measures the authority to set metric standards (or SI as it is known elsewhere) for the rest of the world. It’s still active on various fronts including efforts to define the kilogram scientifically (currently the kilogram is defined by a piece of metal that resides in its care with several other mass “standards” residing around the world).

The presentation wasn’t completely new as I gave it to a smattering (okay, smatterin’ is being generous…) of people last spring.

My audience this time was a group of doctors and health-care workers at our county hospital. It has a lecture series every Tuesday and I offered myself up. As our lack of metric adoption has health implications every single day (see this previous blog), I could really see a future where health-care professionals could help propel the issue forward. I was paid the compliment afterward of being told “It was like watching something on the history channel.” I took that as a compliment.

Metric system in the news

Many days I get an alert from Google if “metric system” pops up on the web somewhere. Granted, sometimes it references “bio-metric systems” or goes a little off track in some ways, but it does capture most everything I want to see (except for lines in comic strips, since it can’t read those words).

Here are a few recent media pieces regarding the metric system:

[Note: The Chaffee presidential campaign news just broke last night. Expect more from me on his metric system adoption position shortly. In the meantime…]

Child Medications Should Be Dosed In Metric Units–Not Spoonfuls (Forbes, March 30)

Pediatricians prescribe metric measures for doling out meds (Newsworks, April 7)

Parents Warned To Use Metric System When Giving Medicine To Kids (CBS Boston, March 30)

This is the tip of a growing iceberg.

The second question in the quiz referenced the metric system

The second question in the quiz referenced the metric system

Interestingly, it also found a trivia quiz from Macleans.ca, that included a second question based on metric system knowledge.

Capturing the kids’ attention

I recently received some cards aimed at helping children here in the U.S. learn basic metric units. The bottom line as far as I’m concerned, is the more children are familiar with the concepts of metric measures, the more likely they’ll be to accept and use them.

SuperheroesInterestingly, the temperature unit used on the cards is Kelvin rather than Celsius. This hit me as odd since I’ve taught myself Celsius as my primary temperature reference. Meanwhile, Kelvin is an absolute measure where 0 is the temperature at which atomic motion stops (I’m glossing over the details here) or  −273.15 °C. According to my research both temperature Kelvin (or K) and Celsius are often reported together for scientific purposes.

In fact, according the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) pages state:

The unit of Celsius temperature is the degree Celsius, symbol °C, which is by definition equal in magnitude to the kelvin. A difference or interval of temperature may be expressed in kelvins or in degrees Celsius (13th CGPM*, 1967).

To be honest, some of the associated information is way over my head such as its reference to the “triple point of water.” I’m sure I can look it up if it turns out that I need to know that particular tidbit of information.

If you’d like more information on the superhero cards pictured above, go to the NIST kid’s pages that also include videos with the associated superheroes.

Linda

* General Conference on Weights and Measures

Return from TED (Part 3): Networking, Canada and the Metric System

American product, metric-only label

American product in Canadian  market, metric-only label

I want to acknowledge how wonderful all the TED Active attendees and staff were. Given the TED philosophy of “Ideas worth spreading,” it’s not surprising that everyone I talked to about metric system adoption in the U.S. were either sympathetic (if not from the U.S.) or interested (if they were Americans). I met a lot of friendly and interesting people and hope to keep in touch with many of them.

Metric system observations in Canada

I hadn’t been to Canada for a long time (though I used to live across river from it when I grew up in Detroit) so I was curious what I’d see in person with my metric system radar on. My understanding was that Canada (like the U.K.) was a “soft adoption” county.

American company, dual labeling and use of French

American company and dual labeling  Don’t know that I’ve ever seen “liq” before. I’m told that it’s the French “onces liquides’ or fluid ounces.

In this case, soft adoption refers to countries that use solely metric units in some instances but both Imperial and metric units for other applications. It’s one of the reasons that the “Turn the UK Fully Metric Now” exists in Great Britan. Sure enough, on the bus ride up to Whistler, B.C. from Vancouver, B.C. I saw nothing but kilometer signs on the roads. However, I did make it a point to visit the little store near my hotel and snapped a couple of shots on my cell phone to confirm my suspicions about the use of both units. Yes, some food products had only metric mentions (or SI as it is known to the rest of the world for “Système International d’Unités ) but many items had dual labeling (plus French, of course).

Another American product with metric-only labeling

Another American product with metric-only labeling

According to a Canadian history site:

Metric units steadily became normal for most products and services. However, certain areas of business did hold out against conversion, such as real estate.

As I related in a previous blog, when I had a phone interview with the head of the U.K. Metric Association, and I asked him why Britain wasn’t fully metric, his reply was along the lines of “Because you’re not.” That comment prompted my piece on how our country sets a bad international example.

Successes and failures

I found out a few weeks ago that I wasn’t accepted for the Women’s Salon for the TEDxABQ event but that didn’t stop me from applying for the big TEDxABQ event that will be held this fall. If I can get in, that would be great because it has an audience of about 2,000 people. I’ve had quite a few successes recently. Getting turned down for one presentation doesn’t faze me much these days.

Thanks for staying tuned!

Linda

Return from TED (Part 1)

I recently spent almost a week at TED Active and it was pretty amazing. Not just the talks but also the people who attended. If you’re not familiar with the TED format, visit TED.com or check your Netflix listings. In essence, they are short talks (mostly under 18 minutes) that emphasize communicating directly with the audience with the use of minimal “slides.” The subjects can be almost anything, but “ideas worth spreading” is the main thrust. The new and innovative are the order of the day for attendee/presenters like Bill Gates and other leaders.

Prepping for the TED event to start the next day

Prepping for the TED event to start the next day

I was able to go to TEDActive as a previous TEDx (an independently licensed TED) event organizer. As such, myself and a couple of hundred TEDx-ers arrived on Saturday, went to workshops on Sunday and were then transported from Vancouver (where the main TED event was slated to begin the next day) up to Whistler, B.C. Canada for our parallel activities.

Chris Anderson (TED curator) addresses us in Vancouver on March 15.

Chris Anderson (TED curator) addresses us in Vancouver on March 15.

During our Sunday in Vancouver, Chris Anderson (the curator of TED) gave us a presentation on various aspects of TEDx in the auditorium where the TED event would kick off the next day. He had asked for feedback on the venue and I had an observation I was going to email him. Then, lo and behold, I saw him a meter away from me so I stopped to share my comment in person (the observation itself had to do with the side screens behind the speakers). I then introduced myself and gave him the More Than a Mile Behind business card, saying that I was working on a history of the metric system in the United States. “Does it have a history?” or words to that effect, was his response. I started to give my Thomas Jefferson line about our dimes and pennies, but some other people came up and his attention went elsewhere.

Where TED Active met in Whistler, B.C.

Where TED Active met in Whistler, B.C.

TEDActive had its own venue in the conference center, complete with giveaways, food and a live stream of the talks from Vancouver with periodic shout outs by Anderson.

Activities were scheduled every day from break of dawn to 10-11 p.m. with the talks starting around 8 a.m. While I was there, I met people from all over the planet.

TED had a wonderful app to keep track of everything and communicate with each other

TED had a wonderful app to keep track of everything and communicate with each other

Later in the week, there were presentations about potentially great things on the horizon but that might eventually lead to our doom. He asked the audience to respond.

Just for the heck of it, I went ahead and sent in an email. I figured the chance of mine seeing the light of day was slim since, in total, there were about 1,000 people watching at that moment. How wrong I was! Right before the break for lunch he read three emails, and mine was one of them along with the mention of my name.  My response:

Subject:  Change is neither all good or bad

Every time there is change on the horizon there is talk of the doom it will bring.

This has been going on for centuries.

As in the past, progress will bring the negative with it but overall it will be for the good.

I wouldn’t want to go back prior to the industrial revolution (for one example).

Would you?

There’s more but it will need to wait until next week.

Stay tuned.

Thanks,

Linda

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