Return from TED – (Part 2): I made a presentation, albeit to a small audience

As I wrote previously, TED Active certainly was. In fact, it was exhausting. With about 50 different talks during the week (starting as early as 8:15 a.m. and running through 7 p.m.) it was difficult to keep up. I’m fairly sure not everyone managed to catch every talk. A few days I ago I received a link to the unedited talks so I can watch the ones I missed.

Of course, the picture I could find of myself has me resting my eyes. (Really, I remember this talk.)

Of course, the only picture I could find of myself in the Flickr feed has me resting my eyes. (Really, I remember this talk on extending human senses.)

On Tuesday (3/17) there was an opportunity to sign up for a fifteen-minute salon* on Thursday to either give a talk or curate* one. I really hadn’t intended on presenting anything myself but I went ahead and signed up. I wasn’t really sure what I was going to say, but I’ve given talks on our metric system problems before—just not to an international audience—and would need a different take on what message I wanted them to leave the presentation with.

Name badges (with photo) were scrupulously checked every time you entered

Name badges (with photo) were scrupulously checked every time you entered the venue. They included a sensor that was read electronically.

Those who had signed up for the salons (there were five of us in all) received an email late Wednesday that if we wanted to have visuals, we needed to get them to the coordinator by 6 p.m. that evening. By the time I got back to my hotel room, I had about an hour to pull something together.

I was able to grab images I’d used for previous presentations, so I hurriedly pulled together nine slides including a cover slide titled: The United States and Metric System Adoption: What’s the Deal? I managed to submit them with 20 minutes to spare.

From then on, I skipped TED activities so I could rehearse for Thursday afternoon. (More than once I considered I must be nuts to present to people who been watching professionally-coached talks all week.) I had decided I’d talk for 10 minutes and then open it up to questions and comments. I really wanted to hear what people from other countries would have to say on the subject. I didn’t think I’d get a large audience since there were concurrent events taking place, however, I’d have a chance to answer a question I’d had for myself: “What could I say about why the United States wasn’t using the metric system?”

I’d designed the slides before I’d really had a chance to think about what I was going to say so I tried to pull together a cohesive message to go with the visuals. I knew I didn’t have time to get the presentation perfect but I decided to treat it like an audition for a TED talk so I kept at it. I knew the salon talks would be recorded and I might be able to leverage that if there weren’t any restrictions on use. (Oh, and as long as I did a halfway decent job.)

I was the first person to talk during the session and the audience had grown to about 30 people by the time I finished. My final slide was a call to action: If you’re American, please be aware of our situation and help us move toward metric adoption. If you’re not, please stop enabling us. If you are really worried about us “not getting” a weight or measure, don’t include our measures. Instead, use the metric measure and then tell us it’s “about the height of the Eiffel Tower,” or “about the weight of three medium apples,” and take away our crutch so we better realize we’re out of step. When I’d finished, the reception was quite warm.

There were three zones, the auditorium (cell phones off) and area outside of the auditorium (where I spent most of my time) and the lobby where talking was allowed.

There were three zones to watch the streaming  TED talks, the auditorium (cell phones off) and area outside of the auditorium (where I spent most of my time) and the lobby where talking was allowed.

At the end of my presentation I did have time for questions. The first one I got was “How long did you think it would take to convert?” My answer, based on various things I’d seen over the years, was that five years was a reasonable time frame.

Another person mentioned the fact that we destroyed a Mars orbiter back in 1999 due to the confusion of two teams using both metric and U.S. customary measures. It literally crashed into the surface of the planet. I’ve updated the full costs associated with the mission and it comes close to a $1 billion dollar loss.

A news release from the time noted:

The peer review preliminary findings indicate that one team used English units (e.g., inches, feet and pounds) while the other used metric units for a key spacecraft operation. This information was critical to the maneuvers required to place the spacecraft in the proper Mars orbit.

I did specifically ask for feedback from someone who was in the audience for my whole talk. He told me he’d coached people for TEDx talks and the only thing he’d change was the visuals.

Hey, it was the best I could do in less than a hour.

Thanks,

Linda

* TED terminology

Help with my metric system documentary fundraising?

Metric system/customary unit relationships

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

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

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

What my classmates are working on

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

National projects

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

A DIY preamp kit.

A new, handy interlocking USB cable.

Gag gifts for dads

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

Learn Chinese through “coldswitching”

In New Mexico and Los Alamos

Help learn about DNA and biodiversity in New Mexico

A cool, new athletic training facility

Local, indoor playground

Help local babies get a good start

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

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

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

Thanks for your assistance.

Linda

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 in the Media

Vox.com's logo

Vox.com’s logo

A few weeks ago I was interviewed by a science reporter from Vox.com. Frankly, I wasn’t familiar with this site but the reporter sent me a link to a New York Times article regarding its launch in April. Masterminding the enterprise is a former editor of the Washington Post. After I received the notice, I immediately went to check out the Vox.com site to see what kind of reporting I could expect. (Reporting styles can vary from balanced to hatchet jobs and I wanted to see what alley I might be turning into.) I was pleasantly surprised by the Vox.com site itself. A tagline is “Vox Explains: Everything you need to know, in two minutes.”And it turns out she was a former editor of Popular Science magazine. Impressive.

Our interview lasted about 10 minutes and we talked about how I began working on the documentary and various other issues, some of which apparently appeared in the piece. How can I not be sure? Well, she interviewed at least two other people and I have no idea what transpired during those conversations. Frankly, it was laudable that she worked to get at least three interviews. Some reporters don’t like to put that kind of time in when they’re under deadline, as she was.

I was very happy to see that the title of the piece was “It’s time for the US to use the metric system.” I could talk more about what’s in it but I’d recommend that you read it for yourself. While I wasn’t directly quoted, there was a link to this blog at the bottom of the story. I was even MORE happy to see that (as of this writing) there were more than 3,900 Facebook shares and more than 1,100 tweets of the story. The Vox pages don’t allow comments but the reporter’s contact information is on the page. I wrote her a follow-up email inquiring what kind of feedback she’d gotten and she said “Lots of passionate responses from readers from both sides of the aisle.” As of today, there were almost 260 click-throughs to this blog page. Not a huge amount but any publicity on this subject is fine by me.

Metric system undercurrents

I’ve said it before, but there seems to be an undercurrent of interest in the metric system that is on the rise. Not only did this article come out of nowhere (may ask her what prompted her to research this topic) but the number of articles is starting to pick up.

As brought to my attention by the Metric Maven, just recently the Journal of the American Association ran a story called “Group Urges Going Metric to head Off Dosing Mistakes.” A guest blogger and HUGE help to this project, Peter Goodyear wrote about this issue in March of last year.

I plan to write more about this medical turn of events in future but let me point out a few other mentions that have come up lately.

National Public Radio (NPR) “How did the meter get its length?” (June 26, 2014)

Metric system switch is long overdue, as illustrated in Trexlertown” (June 26, 2014)

Coming Soon: The Metric System, Global Cooling, And Soccer Domination” (June 14, 2014)

At 44, metrification still a mess” (June 14, 201)

Update: What If The Common Core Required The Metric System? In Alexander Russo’s This Week in Education” (June 6, 2014)

UK Myth: The Metric System” (June 5, 2014) [Points out that the UK is not metric. When I asked the head of the UK Metric Association some time ago why not, he said “Because you don’t use it…]

NFL Ditches Roman Numerals for Super Bowl 50, But Won’t Switch from Using Yards in Favor of Metric System” (June 4, 2014) [While the article doesn’t really talk about the metric system, just a mention in the headline is remarkable—this is the Slate!]

Also UK: “Give me a centimetre and I’m lost” (June 2, 2014)

Canada: “Metric mixup plays role in Lake Cowichan crash” (June 1, 2014)

Canada: “Parents can keep dignity under questioning” (May 30, 2014)

It’s time for the US to use the metric system” (May 30)

The Metric System, Traffic Circles, and Us” (No direct date but I got the notice on May 31)

The Vox.com story on something called “Real Clear Science.” May 30, 2014

The Vox.com story got picked up by Hacker News and someone expanded on the story’s content. (May 31, 2014)

The accompanying image

The accompanying image

Australia uses the metric system, so this is what I have to think of when someone uses feet and inches” (No date and some of the comments are 11 months old but I was just notified.)

It included this image [Has gotten more than 344 comments so far]

UK: “Great miscalculations: The French railway error and 10 others” (May 22, 2014) [Includes a number (ha) of measurement errors.]

Having working on this project for two years, (anniversary of its conception was June 15 BTW), that’s quite a bit of media coverage in a short period of time. If my predictions are correct, it’s going to pick up from here.

We’ll have to see where it leads us.

Linda

[Note: I’m moving to a new phase of this project and will likely post to this blog less often, however, if you wants short snippets of what’s going on behind the scenes, send me your email (to milebehind@gmail.com) as I’m now planning to employ a mailing list to keep people up to date. Do what works for you. I know I am since I have lots of other aspects to this work that need to move higher on my list to keep everything moving forward.]

My Recent Metric System History Presentation

Low turnout, poor messaging?

Interior of Mesa Public Library

Interior of Mesa Public Library, Los Alamos, NM

Despite my full session on using the metric system a couple of months ago at the MidSchool Math conference and decent publicity for my talk, my turnout on Wednesday at Mesa Public Library was eight people, five of whom know me.

This somewhat surprised me since this is both a “science” and “history” town. Plus, I had a fair amount of interest when I participated in a science event here a couple of years ago and most people I talk to express some level of interest.

Thus, I find myself disappointed at this particular turn of events but not discouraged.

Still, the three people I didn’t know asked lots of questions and were quite engaged. So there’s that. One of them wanted to know if there was a form letter he could send to his elected representatives. I love that he was willing to take action. (I plan to have a website down the road that will contain that information along with many other resources but I haven’t gotten there yet.)

Was it a bad day (right before a long weekend)? A bad day of the week (someone mentioned other clubs meet on Wednesdays)? Or just general apathy from a county that might take the metric system for granted due to our high percent of scientists who use it every day for work?

It could be a bit of any of those things but it’s made me think I need to do more to get my messaging right. I think what I’ve been doing is good and I’ve got the right points but they need to “pop” more if I want to break through all the communications noise out there in the world.

Honing my story

If nothing else my 40+ hours of work on the presentation forced me to construct the entire timeline for the documentary. It also forced me to go in depth in some areas I really hadn’t before (see upcoming blogs on some of the Americans who worked to block metric adoption, for instance) and raised some additional questions that I’ll need to look into. Of course, now that I’m not under an immediate deadline, I need to pare the information down (though I came in at a respectable 55 minutes).

It brings to mind a quotation loved by so many writers:

Not that the story need be long,
but it will take a long while to make it short
Henry David Thoreau*

Of course, a timeline with some interesting information does not a compelling story make. I still need to think a lot more about my “plot” and how the story needs to unfold to keep my audience engaged and prepared to take action as the credits roll.

Can there be a happy ending? I’m sure counting on it

Over time I’ve come to realize that one of issues I’ve got is I’ve got a kind of negative story due to our lack of metric adoption in this country. Americans as a group don’t like to be told they’re behind in things, even if they are. I have to worry about a potential immediate turnoff because I need to make people look into a mirror and see an image that’s not very flattering. It makes a more difficult story than one with a “happy ending” but not insurmountable.

On the positive side, while our metric system history has been pretty dismal up until this point, all is not over and there exists the potential for positive change. That’s why I’m putting in all this work on top of my full-time job.

Learning from TED

For those of you unfamiliar with TED talks (if so, that’s a shame, I encourage you to change that), they’ve become world famous for their format: 20 minutes or less, minimal overheads and compelling storytelling. I’ve been charged with pulling together some TED-type talks for work so it’s given me time to learn more about their construction. I plan to takes the lessons I can glean from them and apply some to the project, including developing a catchphrase. I’ve been hoping I’d be inspired with one but that hasn’t happened so far so I’m just going to have to sit down and brainstorm.

In future, I’ll probably share my ideas with you to get your input on a possible favorite.

In the meantime, allow me to share one of my favorite TED talks. It bears no relation to the project with the possible exception of showing that one person’s efforts can influence many others: The game that can give you 10 extra years of life. Please enjoy.

Linda

Note:
* Apparently that quote has seen many variations over the years. If you want to learn more, go to The Quotation Investigator.

How I’m Promoting My Metric System History Talk This Week (Or publicity 101)

You need a news hook

To get the media’s attention, first you need a “news hook” as in: “Why should I care about The news releasethis now?” This is a concept some people have trouble grasping and I’ve had various conversations where people think the media will pick up things without a hook. As a totally made up example: “Oh, little Sally has gotten really good with her hula hoop. That would make a good news story.”

No, no it wouldn’t. Now, if little Sally just got an award for her hula hooping, or she was about to break a record for longest consecutive time swinging that circle around or the youngest person ever to try to break a record, then you’ve got a news hook.

You need a strong lead

The first paragraph or two is/are the lead of the story. The “who, what, when, where, why and how” (the five Ws) need to be there along with some, hopefully, compelling language or storytelling. It should contain the most important part of your story. Failure to do so is called “burying your lead.”

In particular, newspapers want stories told in an “inverted pyramid” style. Let’s say you sprinkle your Ws throughout the story and the editor needs a shorter piece–you could end up with some vital facts in the trash. By front loading all the important pieces of information and then elaborating on them in later paragraphs, editors can run the entire piece or just those first couple of paragraphs without having to rewrite the article, (some of them hate doing the extra work) and can trim it to what fits their needs.

Proximity also matters, with local outlets more likely to pick up a story than one further away, depending an a story’s importance, of course. A case in point, I had an interview with our local radio station on Monday (see below)  and I may have another one in Santa Fe on Tuesday. The LA Daily Post has run the story but I’m not sure if the Los Alamos Monitor will.

Will an Albuquerque outlet pick up the story? Less likely but you never know when a slow news day will hit (if there’s less to chose from on a particular day, they’ll run with things they’d normally pass over) so I sent it to them as well. You never know.

Advertising vs publicity

Advertising and publicity are two very different animals. Something might appear in the same outlet, say, a newspaper, so they might look like the same thing to those on the outside but there is a different dynamic at work on the inside.

Advertising is a contractual agreement with the media outlet where money changes hands and the advertiser has control over the content, how big or small that content is, how many times it’s run and (usually for additional money) where the ad is placed. (Full, back-page ads on magazines are more expensive than most internal full-page ads for reasons of visibility, for instance.)

Publicity, on the other hand, is completely voluntary on part of the media outlet, they can run or not, edit it down to the lead or run the whole thing–and sometimes more. It’s up to them. Publicity is “free” that is, I don’t pay to get my article printed, but I lose all control over it.

You can view the news release here: PR5_16_14Metric pdf.

I’ve got to continue refining my presentation for Wednesday, so I’m going to go work on that now.

Stay tuned.

You can hear my radio interview from Monday. It's about 18 minutes

You can hear my radio interview from Monday. It’s about 18 minutes long.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

American Metric System Hypocrisy?

Start planning your World Metrology Day celebration now!

Start planning your World Metrology Day celebration now!

May 20 will be the 139th anniversary of the United States as one of the original signatory nations of the Convention of the Meter also known as the Treaty of the Meter. On that day the world took a leap forward and officially recognized the need to protect and improve the metric system (or SI as it is known on the rest of the planet), through the creation of the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM). It is an intergovernmental organization that comes under the authority of the General Conference on Weights and Measures (CGPM) and the supervision of the International Committee for Weights and Measures (CIPM). On that day in Paris there was agreement on how the organization would be financed and managed, with member governments acting in common accord on all matters.

Ahem, then there’s the United States saying one thing and doing another

Despite:

yet, I’m still buying my hamburger by the pound, gasoline by the gallon and fabric by the yard. What’s wrong with this picture?

Plenty and that’s why I’ve been researching his topic for almost two years. I trust the documentary I plan to make will raise awareness of how far behind the rest of the world we’ve gotten and we’ll want to do something about it.

To commemorate this 139th anniversary, also known as World Metrology Day, I’ll give a talk at Mesa Public Library in Los Alamos, New Mexico on May 21 (Wednesday) at 6 p.m. The talk is free and open to the public. If you’re in the neighborhood, I hope you’ll drop by. I’ll try to be both informative and entertaining.

Just so you know, the theme for this year’s World Metrology Day is “Measurements and the global energy challenge” and is sponsored by the BIPM and the International Organization of Legal Metrology (BIML).

According to Stephen Patoray, the current director of the BIML:

While measurements are central to most basic decisions on energy usage, there are many other aspects of the global energy challenge which are much more complex:

  • global population growth;
  • emerging economies;
  • complex technologies;
  • increasing consumer demands;
  • higher quality of life;
  • etc.

According to the site’s press release:

World Metrology Day is an annual event during which more than 80 countries celebrate the impact of measurement on our daily lives.

Feel free to join in to spread the word about all the advantages the metric system has versus our cumbersome U.S. customary units.

While not new, I found an interview where Rachel Maddow celebrated World Metrology Day back in 2010. You can view the seven minute clip here.

I hadn’t come across this before and was surprised to learn that several scientists with the National Institute of Standards were awarded Nobel Prizes for their work with time and temperatures during the past few years including: David J. Wineland (2012), John (Jan) L. Hall (2005) and William D. Phillips (1997) (More on them here.)

It’s not too early to start planning for next year

I don’t know that we’ll be in a better position to participate in World Metrology Day by the 140th anniversary (2015) but hopefully we will by the 150th anniversary, or sooner, if enough people in this country decide to do something about it.

Thanks,

Linda

Metric System Presentation at March 2014 National Math Conference

The conference hopes to reverse the trend of declining math score in mid school

The conference hopes to reverse the trend of declining math score in mid school

Next month (March 28 to be exact) I’m making a presentation on the metric system at a national conference in Santa Fe called MidSchool Math thanks to project supporters with Imagine Education. The theme of the entire conference is Stop the Drop and refers to international testing standards that show in 4th grade, American kids are slightly above their cohorts in other countries in math but by 8th grade, they score slightly below. It’s the hope of the conference’s organizers to start to reverse this trend. During the three-day conference, sessions will cover a variety of topics from Mathematical Icebreakers to a keynote session on How to Make Kids Hate Math. My session: Math the Metric System: Using What’s Easy. So far, eight people have registered but there’s more than a month to go.

The cost of the conference is $475 or $525 (that whole early bird thing) and if you’re a teacher in New Mexico, you could be eligible for a stipend of up to $1,000 to cover the conference and its associated costs. Check it out or spread the word.

Having written on the subject of education and the metric system, I have a place to start to build my presentation content, particularly on the subject of Common Core State Standards for math as they relate to the metric system. My session will be an hour and fifteen minutes long so I’ll have time to cover lots of material and, with the assistance of our federal government in the form of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (thanks Elizabeth!), I’ll be able to supply attendees with some modest metric supplies and games to take back to their classrooms.

Total side note: I was just looking for meter sticks on Amazon and came across “One Meter (39-1/2″) Wood Stick Ruler.” Really? You’d think if you were looking for a meter stick (and not a yardstick), you wouldn’t need to have the inches spelled out for you. How much time is wasted in this country having to continually include both metric and U.S. customary numbers? Then I found this in a description: “Meterstick is lightweight and ideal for the classroom. It measures 1 inch wide and 1/4 inch thick.” Pathetic. Let’s please get our metric act together.

I plan to devote quite a bit of time to developing the presentation. When people walk out the door, I want them to say “Wow” but in a good way. That will take time, research, rehearsal and matching my subject matter to my audience. I realize that public speaking frightens a lot of people (some studies rate it as the number one human fear!) but I don’t currently have that problem. I say currently because at one point in my career I wasn’t making a lot of presentations but once I needed to again, I was able to relax pretty quickly. My largest audience to date: more than 500 people. The only caveat to my being relaxed is I have to know my subject matter. That shouldn’t be a problem in this case.

Luckily, I also have some teaching background and found that I’m pretty accurate about being able to estimate how much material I can cover within a particular time period. Of course, it’s always a good idea to have a little extra, so in case you find yourself running short, you can continue a little longer if needed. As the saying goes, “Always leave them wanting more,” but you also want to make sure people walk away feeling like their time was well spent.

I’m also hoping there will be a method for people to feedback on how I did. I find constructive criticism very helpful. While it’s unlikely that I’ll give this exact talk again, who knows what parts of it could come in handy as the project progresses.

It will be nice to get out and interact with the attendees and the other presenters. I’m sure I’ll learn things that will benefit the documentary in ways that won’t seem obvious watching the end product but if you follow this blog, you may see how they ultimately inform me.

I’ll be sure to share what I find out that’s interesting and fun…stay tuned.

Linda