Hot Dogs, Buns, and the Metric System

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

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

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

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

Why I think this is important

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

However, this issue prompts new section of the blog:

Cheers and Jeers

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading to the end.


Note: This blog has been archived by the Library of Congress since 2013. The access page for it is here: It is housed within the Library’s “Science Blogs Web Archive

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

If You Can’t Under”stand” the Heat, It’s Probably Celsius

Austalia's metric conversion stamp

Part of Australia’s conversation information

I really like the metric system except for one thing: Celsius. The rest of the day-to-day mental adjustments are pretty easy. A yard plus three inches is a meter, a pound is roughly a half a kilogram and I don’t go that many places that I don’t know how far away they are (plus I can read whatever dial in the car is called for). The one thing I’m having trouble wrapping my head around is the Celsius system. I haven’t talked about temperature measurements much in this blog, now is the time.

Celsius thermometer

Celsius thermometer

When I spoke to my daughter (who spent almost a year in Japan) I asked her how difficult it was to adopt the metric system since that is what’s used there (and 95 percent of the rest of the world, for that matter). She said it very easy with the exception of the temperature system. I’m starting to see what she means.

Try a phone app

A couple of weeks ago I converted my weather phone app over to Celsius and I’m still having a little trouble figuring out just how hot or cold it is outside but I’m getting better.

Under the Fahrenheit system, 32 degrees is freezing and 211 degrees is hot enough to boil water (unless you live at my altitude, in which case it boils at a lower temperature, really). Under the Celsius system (and yes, Celsius should be capitalized, since it’s named after Anders Celsius), 0 degrees is freezing and 100 degrees boils water. (It’s more complicated than that but that’s the easy version.) That’s quite a change for someone who’s grown up with the Fahrenheit system.

Anders Celsius

Anders Celsius

What that means to me that while I find the metric system usually more precise and easy to picture in my head, that all breaks down with temperatures for since one degree in Celsius is equal to approximately 1.8 degrees in Fahrenheit. To me that’s less precise.

Apparently, in some parts of the world (so I’ve been told) to make up somewhat for this lesser specificity, they report the temperature with decimals, as in 22.3 oC. “And where does Centigrade enter into this?,” I hear you ask. The important thing to know is that the word Celsius has pretty much supplanted the older term of Centigrade. If you’re new to all of this, learn the term Celsius and you’ll be golden.

A mnemonic device

Temperature comparisons

Temperature comparisons

A while ago I wrote a blog on the above transitional conversions and David Pearl (aka Metric Pioneer), a metric system advocate, commented with the following to help people (myself included) grasp some temperature context.

Thirty is warm;
twenty is nice;
ten is cold;
zero is ice.

Interestingly, I found the same rhyme (but in reverse order) on the Weather Channel’s site. (Of course, if you go there, it has some “cool” projects, like how to make your own thermometer. Check it out.)

Of course, I can already hear some people advocating that even if we convert our other measures over to metric, we should really hold on to our Fahrenheit units “because they’re easier.” Yeah, I’ll admit that it might be a little more work to make the adjustment but let’s just suck it up and do a full conversion so we’re no longer out of step with the rest of the world. I’m sure we’ll “warm” to it.

With all that said,  I’m willing to bet that most people with more than two I.Q. points to rub together and a little effort can learn the metric system easily—all of it.


Note: The title references the old saying “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” It’s attributed to Harry S. Truman, former president of the United States. Seems appropriate to use it in this context.

Living La vie Mètrique: An Australian’s Take on Metric System Adoption Part II

It’s forty-one years since the metric conversion process began in Australia, and thirty years ago the Metric Conversion Board lowered their flag, produced their last report and said “Mission Accomplished.”

So what has changed? Just about everything, that’s what!


A metric kitchen

Here’s a photo of what’s in my kitchen cupboard: a kilo of flour, a liter of vinegar, a 100 gram jar of coffee. The water bottle is 600 mL, as that size replaced the Imperial pint. You can also get 1 L and 2 L sizes for milk and other liquids. The plastic container of pasta at the back has a capacity of two liters, and that size is stamped on the base; a lot of storage containers are marked like that.

(Note: All the photos in this article, plus a few extra are available here: at a slightly larger size)

A loaf of bread is usually 680 g, as that replaced the 1½ pound loaf, but you find other sizes. The labels on the supermarket shelves include comparison prices (in $ per kilo or $ per 100 g) to make it easy to compare prices of different-sized packets.

All of the products except the tin at the far right are labelled in metric units only. The only ounces or fluid ounces I ever see are on goods intended for the US or UK markets.

Beer is sold in 750 mL “long necks” or 375 mL “stubbies.” Wine is also in 750mL bottles, or in casks (Americans call it box wine) of two or three liters.

Metric road sign

Metric road sign

Traffic signs are all metric. Speed limits are in kilometers per hour (abbreviated km/h), distances in kilometers and  height clearances in meters. Speed limits are usually 40 or 50 km/h around built-up areas, 60 km/h on arterial roads, 80 or 100 km/h (sometimes 110) on highways.

Walking and cycle tracks have distances marked in kilometres or meters on signposts. In fact, unless the distance is meters the unit is omitted, so if you see a sign saying “City 5.3” you can correctly assume it is kilometers.

Cars have had metric nuts and bolts for years, the same as the US, and we buy gas and oil by the litre. Engine capacity is in litres and power is in kilowatts instead of horsepower.

My gas meter reads in cubic meters and my water meter clicks over a notch every time a liter flows through it. Electricity bills have always been in kilowatt-hours, and on gas bills they convert the cubic meters into the energy consumption in megajoules (MJ) where it used to be in therms. (1 therm = 100 000 BTU)

At the hardware store, what you would call a “2 by 4” and we used to call a “4 by 2” is now sometimes advertized as 100 x 50 mm and sometimes as 90 x 45 mm. Timber is sold by the metre or in lengths which are multiples of 1200 mm to match the standard 1200 x 2400 mm plywood and plasterboard. (2 x 4s are actually a bit smaller than the advertized size, the metric dimension is the finished size.)

Nails and screws are listed with descriptions like “Nails, Bullet Head, Galvanised, 75 x 3.75 mm” and you can buy them in packs of 2 kg or more if you are building something big. Wood screws and self-tapping screws are described by length in millimeters but their thickness is by gauge. Some old measures keep hanging on.

Plumbing fittings, electrical conduits, switches: all their sizes are in millimeters, but I think the British Standard Pipe Thread might outlast civilization itself. I used to install water-saving showerheads and their flow was listed as 9.5 liters per minute.

The standard ceiling height for houses is 2400 mm (7ft 10½ ins) which was dropped from 8ft to accommodate a rational metric size. A standard door is 2040 mm high, about 6ft 8in. The builders do everything in millimeters; there are no centimeters and no misplaced decimal points.

Buying an appliance? Airconditioners, heaters and stoves all do their cooking in degrees Celsius. The capacity of your refrigerator is measured in liters. It’s easy to envision an array of milk cartons that the fridge will hold when making comparisons. The capacity of a washing machine or dryer is in kilograms.

TVs (and computer monitors) are usually measured in centimeters, but you still see a lot of them advertised in inches for the screen size. The dimensions of all products, appliances, furniture, curtains, bedsheets, is always in millimeters or centimeters and their weight is in kilograms.

Paper sizes changed, too. Australia previously used the British sizes with strange names like Octavo and Foolscap, and odd ratios of height to width. Now, ISO 216 sizes are used everywhere. Standard writing paper is A4, 210 x 297 mm; two of them side by side are an A3 poster-sized sheet if you turn it through 90º, and an A4 folded in half is an A5 which is suitable for a pocket notebook.

This makes things easy for enlarging and reducing on a photocopier; you scale the original up by 41% or down to 71% to get to the next size. You see fliers, bills, newsletters, posters, catalogs, brochures; all of them based on the A-series paper size.

Weather forecasts are all metric, as is information in the news. Temperatures are in degrees Celsius, rainfall in millimeters and wave heights in meters at sea, but wind speed is in knots for shipping and km/h on land.

When they were discussing irrigation and river flows on the news a while ago, (a hot topic on a continent that is mostly desert,) we heard about megaliters and gigaliters. That’s a thousand and a million metric tons of water. A serious amount of water.

The language hasn’t changed a lot. People still use terms like footage, mileage and say “going the extra mile,” but in describing metric measurements people will say so many ‘mil’ for millimeters or milliliters, and say ‘kilos’ for kilograms. The next pub might be a few ‘kays’ down the road.

There are still a few minor problems. Clothing sizes for one. For mens’ trousers and shirts it’s just a matter of measuring the neck or waist in centimeters. For womens’ clothing there is a supposedly standard set of sizes, but no two manufacturers are alike. Also, sizes have inflated over the years, as we have become a nation with a larger waistline. (I remember seeing a cartoon of a woman telling her husband “Size twelve? No, much too big. Get me a size ten, and make sure it’s the biggest size ten they’ve got.”)

Shoe sizes are much the same. My feet are the English size 9 but I wonder, 9 what? Why can’t they just measure the length from toe to heel? That’s how they do it for the flip-flops (thongs) you wear on the beach.

You can’t get incandescent light bulbs any more, they are all compact fluorescents, so instead of bulbs being described in watts, which is a measure of the power they consume, the output is described in lumens, and I have yet to learn how many lumens my living room needs.

There are still a few Imperial holdovers: some pubs serve craft beers in pints, people still ask about the weight of new-born babies in pounds, and computer typography is 72 (and a tiny bit) points to the inch. But on the whole, metric conversion is complete. Of course, there are lots of older buildings and a lot of industrial machinery, railway track, roads, bridges and dams built in Imperial measurements which will need maintaining for a long time, but they aren’t a major problem, and everything new is in metric measurements.

We have an entire generation of adults who have grown up using metric measures, and I don’t know anyone who would want to change back. And kids at school don’t need to wonder why there are sixteen ounces to the pound, fourteen pounds to the stone, and twelve inches to the foot.

Peter Goodyear

You can download a copy of the Metric Conversion Board’s final report, Metrication in Australia if you click on this link:

It’s a PDF document, fairly short, (127 pages,) but quite comprehensive in covering the background of the decision to change to metric, how the change  was accomplished and the notable successes and failures encountered on the way.

The story of how it came to be publicly available is interesting, and is documented here:

An Australian’s Take on Metric System Adoption

Dear Readers: Two things. 1) I’m updating the look of this blog. I’m not quite done yet so please be patient. 2) For the next two weeks I’m running a guest blog written by a contact I have in Australia. (He’s graciously written for this blog before). Since Australia is the most metric of any of the former British colonies, I thought it would be interesting to hear his perspective. I’ll be back in two weeks. Enjoy!

Australia – A new start, a new measure

In 1972 my family emigrated to Melbourne, Australia. The seasons had moved six months away from where they used to be. You spent dollars instead of pounds and caught trams instead of buses. Everybody spoke with a funny accent and they thought I had a funny accent.

That year the Australian government began the changes that would lead the country into metric territory.Stamps

In 1966, Australia had changed their currency from pounds shillings and pence to the Australian dollar of 100 cents, worth ten shillings of the old money. (Robert Menzies, a very Anglophilic prime minister had wanted to call the new currency the ‘Royal’ but there was an amazing amount of protest after he announced that, and so we got the dollar instead.)

The ease with which business found they could calculate wages, taxes, commissions and discounts (in an era before spreadsheets, desktop computers and calculators) was a major factor for metric conversion.

A lot of people were against it, of course. It was asserted that it was going to cost a fortune, baffle everyone for no good reason and thousands would die in car crashes caused by confusion over metric speed limits.

I thought it was a good idea because I had been puzzled as a six-year old, learning that there were16 ounces to a pound, 14 pounds to a stone, 12 inches to a foot.

Mom believed that the government shouldn’t change things like measurements because older people didn’t understand what was going on, which was true, but not a wholly valid reason, I thought. During the time that Mom had run a village post office in England, the British changed their currency. It was too difficult for one lady in her eighties. She would give Mom her purse and tell her to take whatever she needed to pay for her purchases.redheads LP record

In Australia Mom ran a shop that sold wool and knitting needles and she was forever explaining to customers that the  the 50 g size replaced the 1-ounce, the 100 g size replace the 2-ounce, and the 4-ounce had been discontinued. Yes, they do cost a bit more, that’s because they are a bit bigger. No, she didn’t know why they changed things. Yes, that’s what you can expect from a Labor Party government.

One of the first things to go metric that affected the general public was weather reporting. I can remember a TV news advert telling us that weather forecasts were going metric: rainfall in millimeters, temperatures in Celsius. Some people grumbled that 38º Celsius didn’t sound as hot as 100º Fahrenheit. True, but it still felt as hot.

In 1972 sports began to change to metric, and sport is something most Aussies are passionate about. That year the Melbourne Cup was run over 3200 meters instead of two miles, as the racing industry had adopted 200 meter increments to replace furlongs. A lot of racing fans were miffed because a centuries’ worth of records for some classic races could not be compared with modern results.

The football field stayed the same size but commentators had to describe throws and distances in meters instead of yards.

Some of the media found metric units a bit of a challenge, like the golf commentator who told us “He missed that putt by a millimeter of an inch.”

The press was generally supportive of the metric conversion. In the Reader’s Digest for example, they included metric dimensions in parentheses in their stories, and later gave the metric units prominence and put the Imperial units in parentheses:

“…while Joe’s lifeline hung out of reach, only 2 metres (6 feet) away…”

and after a couple of years they stopped including the conversion. A lot of magazines published articles about metric conversions and how it was going to affect the reader, especially magazines covering specialist subjects like hobbies or motoring.

The occasional humorous metric mix-up got printed. I read of a builder struggling with some drawings he had been sent. He phoned up the architect and was told the plans were metric: 1 centimeter to the foot.

redheads average-fridgeNone of the newspapers started a campaign against the metric conversion the way some of the British papers have. Some journalists wrote the occasional column criticizing the conversion and there were quite a few letters to the editor from people who disapproved. I particularly remember one columnist quoting the chorus of an old World War II song, telling us that feet and inches would always be the measure of “The long and the short and the tall…”

I was in the air force while the metric conversion was happening and I didn’t notice a lot of it. My service ID card showed my height in centimetres but most of the equipment I worked on was Imperial. Aircraft fuel gauges read in pounds and wingspans were still in feet. I lived in the barracks and ate in the Airmen’s Mess so I don’t remember when metric sizes made their way onto the supermarket shelves.

The big change everyone noticed was in motoring. In July 1974, almost overnight, all the road signs and signposts sprouted a little yellow tag with the letters “km” to tell you that the distance was metric, and all the speed limit signs changed from the US style to the European model.

This announcement was on TV in the weeks leading up to the changeover. (Note that the announcer is trying to sound very posh, and that television was black-and-white back then.)

One of my co-workers was let off a speeding fine because he claimed to be confused by metric speeds and the judge agreed with him. Happily, the hundreds of additional road deaths critics had told us to expect never happened.

A related metric change was gas pumps. The price of gas had increased to more than 99 cents per gallon and the old electro-mechanical pumps couldn’t display the high prices. I suppose some optimist never expected gas to get past $1 per gallon when they designed the pump.

They got around this problem by putting a sticker on the pump saying that the amount dispensed by the pump was actually twice the amount displayed and that is what you would be charged for. The weights and measures inspection people weren’t happy with this state of affairs and metric conversion allowed gas pumps to become honest again.

To ensure that shopkeepers didn’t take advantage of the change to metric to boost their profits two precautions were taken:

First, prices were carefully monitored and the public was asked to report what they thought might be profiteering.

Secondly, shops like butchers and greengrocers who sold produce by the pound all converted to metric one district at a time. This meant that if your favorite butcher started selling meat by the kilogram you couldn’t go to the next one down the street and ask for a pound of steak because he would also be metric. The organizations representing small businesses had asked for the conversion to be done this way so that none of them would be disadvantaged by one shop in a street or shopping center refusing to change and thus attracting customers who didn’t want to use metric units.redheads metric-cup

Pint and half-pint cartons for milk and soft drinks were replaced by 600 mL and 300 mL sizes. The British (or Imperial) pint, which Australia used is 568 mL, so its metric replacement was slightly larger, to stop people’s suspicions that they were being sold short measure. Those sizes are still in use, nearly forty years later (The US pint is smaller than the Imperial: 473mL.)

In December 1972 there was a Federal election and the Labor Party was elected to power for the first time in twenty-three years, just after the process of metrication had started. By the time the 1975 election was held a lot of people had come to believe that the metric conversion was all the fault of the Labor Party. I can remember a letter in the newspaper saying that Labor had given Australia nothing but inflation and “the metric muddle.”

In one area it was a muddle: public information. A lot of people learned about the metric system from training related to their work and children at school were taught the metric system as part of the curriculum. There was some information distributed to particular sections of the population such as motorists or housewives and things like postage stamps and labels on matchboxes had metric information but there was little education for the general population. That meant they had no overview of the whole metric system and no explanation of why it was being done. I think that was the major shortcoming of the Australian metric conversion: a lot of people didn’t understand the need for metric conversion and it felt like an imposition.

There was an Australian Anti-Metric Association. They were very vocal in their opposition to metrication, but they never got a lot support and just faded away after a while. The Metric Conversion Board believed that the outrageous claims of their opponents often defeated their own case. The Board used to invite representatives from the Association along with the press whenever they held information sessions, to ensure they would never run out of ammunition.

The opposition faded eventually. Prices didn’t inflate out of proportion, people got used to the new measures and eventually people started filling up their car by the litre and asking for half a kilo of steak instead of a pound.

Forty years after Australia started its metric conversion if you ask people about the changeover they can hardly remember what the fuss was about.

Peter Goodyear