Hiatus, the Book, and the Metric System

Image from Pixabay: https://pixabay.com/users/geralt-9301/

Earlier this year I indicated that I planned to have a draft of the book (America’s Biggest Miscalculation) done by the end of the year.

In July I was able to sit down and generate a pretty solid outline. I’ve been mulling it over ever since.

Now, my dear friends, is the time to act and I need to put a number of other things on hold to meet my deadline of a draft manuscript by December 31.

Part of that is stepping away from my blog to concentrate on writing the book.

However, I plan to continue to monitor and sometimes (maybe) respond to comments on the blog until such time as I can reengage with you in a different way.

Just some of my reading material. I have stacks of reference sources.

I know this will hurt the blog’s “stats” for the coming book proposal, but it’s what I need to do right now to ensure this work is ready by my self-imposed deadline of the end of the year.

I will respond to emails as I can, but if you don’t hear back from me, at least you’ll know why.

The best way to reach me during the next four months is to comment on the blog.

See you in January 2022.

My best until then,

Linda

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 https://www.change.org/ platform on this issue. Feel free to comment and include the words (hopefully in a smart way) “metric system.” Yes, I’m inciting people to “rise and comment.”

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading to the end.

Linda

Note: This blog has been archived by the Library of Congress since 2013. The access page for it is here: https://www.loc.gov/item/lcwaN0009077/. It is housed within the Library’s “Science Blogs Web Archive

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

Historical cooking measures and the metric system

 

Sifter welcome page

“The Sifter” welcome page.

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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


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

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

 

Back when ingredient lists were sequential and basic

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

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

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

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

Snapshot of cookbook

From the above-mentioned cookbook.

That’s old-fashioned cooking for you.

What does this have to do with the metric system?

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

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

3 column cookbook

From a sausage cookbook.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Linda

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

Big News and the Metric System

Kilogram replica

This replica of a kilogram is on  display at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which is part of Department of Commerce. The domes are to protect it from environments that might alter it.

First, the kilogram vote passed on Friday! We now have a scientifically defined kilogram. Second, I was interviewed by Vox News for their daily podcast on Friday, November 16, 2018. I’m in the second half of the interview.

The metric system (or SI as it is known around the world) was first implemented in France back in 1795. Since then, almost every country in the world has adopted this set of measures with the United States being one of the few holdouts from full adoption. (The others are Liberia and Burma/Myanmar.)

Back In 1799 the meter was defined by a prototype meter bar. Later, a scientific standard for the meter was defined in 1960, and was redefined in 1983. It is currently the length of the path that light travels in a vacuum in 1/299,792,458 of a second.

If you have the precision equipment to make that measurement, all those “meters” around the world are exactly the same.

In contrast

To this day, the definition of the kilogram is a carefully protected platinum-iridium prototype that is the kilogram. It is held by the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (or the Bureau International Poids et Mesures) outside of Paris. Should anything happen to that physical standard it could theoretically change what the kilogram is around the world.

Having a physical standard/prototype has inherent problems. There are additional physical standards or “artifacts” that are stored around the world which are periodically compared to the one in France to make sure they all have the same mass. However, over time, the duplicate kilograms have “drifted” away from that the one in France. (Several of these prototypes are held by our own National Institute of Standards and Technology in Maryland.) That’s a problem when things like oils from people’s skin or even dust could impact its mass if it is not perfectly protected. And perfect, in this sense, is impossible.

As a result, a scientifically defined standard has been sought—until recently—without success. Much of this quandary was captured in Robert P. Crease’s book, World in the Balance: The Historic Quest for an Absolute System of Measurement, which was published in 2012.

Crease relates that two different technologies were being applied to solve the problem of creating the kilogram in the laboratory. One was the “Avogadro method” that “…realizes the mass unit using a certain number of atoms…”

(I’m not going to go into a lot of detail here because I’ve yet to understand it myself.)

Crease also relates…

The “watt balance” approach, on the other hand, ties the mass unit to the Planck constant, via a special device that exploits the equality of SI units of mechanical and electrical power. p. 255

(Again, very complicated.)

You can read a Vox News story that explores more of the science here.

Today, on November 16, the International Bureau (of which the U.S. is a member) will vote to determine if the scientific standard for the kilogram will be based on the “watt balance” method.

Should that occur (and it is expected to pass) the new standard, will go into effect on May 20, 2019.

Why May 20 next year? Because May 20 is the 144th anniversary of the signing of the 1875 Treaty of the Meter. That document gave the General Conference on Weights and Measures “…the international authority that ensures wide dissemination of the SI and modifies the SI as necessary to reflect the latest advances in science and technology.”

This is a developing story so stay tuned to this page for further developments.

Linda

Scientific equations and the metric system

Fancy images with cosines and fractions.

A formula with fractions. Can we just decimalize everything?

I’ve been told (as in second-hand information) that many countries that have switched to the metric system don’t really need to teach fractions anymore because pretty much every fraction can be decimalized. Additionally, I’ve had first-hand conversations with middle school teachers and students who find teaching and learning fractions is a nightmare. Do we really need fractions or, once we switch to the metric system, can we just lay them aside? Over time, I’ve come to question that and here’s my current thinking…

Ultimately, a fraction is part of a thing

We will always need the concept of a less than a full measurement unit. Just as a pound cake was known for its ease because it was based on the ratio of a pound each of butter, sugar, eggs, and flour, it was pretty crude in terms its result. Whether we only need part of a measure of fabric or a piece of wood that is less than a meter long, it is important that children learn (and adults understand) the notion of something that is less than “one” of something.

A fraction has a built-in “math problem”

Maybe some of the resistance to fractions is the inherent idea that it is, as its heart, a “math problem.” (Would we think about things differently if they were called “math challenges” rather than “math problems”? Let’s see…) A fraction is a division “quest.” It can ask a practical question, as in “If I have a half a cup of flour left in this bag and I need a whole cup for my recipe, how much more do I need to borrow from my neighbor to get the full amount needed?” It is a division “question” that needs to be solved if we pair it with anything else (as in add, subtract, divide…).

Consider the following two math “dares”:

combined

A traditional math “problem” on the left that includes fractions with uncommon denominators. On the right is the same math problem decimalized. The top number in the decimalized addition has only been carried two places to the decimal point, otherwise, it would go on forever.

When I hold up “flash cards” side by side with both types of problems shown above during my metric system demonstrations, almost invariably, people choose the one that has been decimalized because it eliminates the issue of uncommon denominators that are such a stumbling block for both children and adults. It also eliminates the steps to get to common denominators because all decimals already have common denominators in the form of 10s, 100s, 1,000s etc.

For the decimalized addition, just add up the columns as you would any math “action,” just making sure you keep track of where the decimal point goes in the final result. Pretty easy if the original equation is properly aligned as above.

In answer to the question “Can we get rid of fractions altogether?”

No. While most things will work just fine if you even go two or three numbers to the right of the decimal point, for some things it just won’t work since many decimals are frequently “rounded” and don’t fully express a numerical concept. While I am not a scientist, I do work with quite a few and when I posed the question of just decimals, “No” was the answer that came back to me. That’s because many fractions just don’t work as decimals for scientific formulas. Consider the fraction in the second math image. If you try to convert it to a decimal you have a problem because, technically, it trails on forever as in .3333333333333333333….

Scientists and mathematicians can’t work like that and need the compactness of fractions to visualize and express their work. (See the graphic at the top of this page for equation fractions.)

That said, let’s keep them where we really need them and stop needlessly torturing students, teachers and our population in general.

Even U.S. stock markets no longer report losses and gains with fractions down to the 16th. It changed a few years ago when the Securities and Exchange Commission ordered that all stock reports convert to the decimal system prior to April 9, 2001.

Why did it use fractions of quarters, eighths, halves, and sixteenths? According to the article from Investopedia, it dates back to the “pieces of eight” that Spain used some 400 years ago when it decided to exclude the thumbs for the purposes of counting…

Thanks for reading,

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

 

 

 

 

New book: “The Dimensions of the Cosmos”

Comos

This book is now available from Amazon for $19.95

As well as myself, another staunch supporter of metric system adoption in the United States is Randy Bancroft, who writes a blog as “The Metric Maven.” He has a new book available called The Dimensions of the Cosmos: Tales From Sixteen Metric Worlds. It sells through Amazon for $19.95.

In the preface, the author states his intent as:

This books exists to address a problem most people don’t recognize: understanding the magnitudes of the world around us. This problem is almost invisible in countries which have used the metric system from the earliest days of its earliest days of inception. (p. iii)

He then goes on to point out that our lack of metric system adoption has left us with a mishmash (my word) of measures that make it difficult to gauge their comparative sizes between one unit and another. I couldn’t agree more.

The book itself includes a section on the metric system, and it includes references to both microscopes (and really small things) and astronomy (and really, really large things) and talks about the units themselves before starting to break down the relative sizes of the measures.

They run from the section Uniworld:

Uniworld is where we define the size of the metric units which are used as a basis. These basic units will be magnified or reduced to describe the Cosmos.  (p.22)

to Yoctoworld:

Protons and neutrons, which make up the nuclei of atoms, are near one yoctogram in mass. (p.177)

He covers the metric units in all their various sizes.

For instance, in Uniworld, he points out that the section:

…is about the world from 1 meter to 1000 meters but by using human dimensions as a lower end reference, we end up comparing values which are often less than one meter for context. (p.23)

He also includes a number of examples to try to help the reader grasp the various units such as:

The largest known meteorite is the Hoba meteorite in Nambia [sic] in southwestern Africa…The meteorite remains where it fell because of its large mass, 60 Megagrams. (p. 57)

and

The Baobab tree stores up to 100 Kiloliters of water in its trunk, which it uses to survive droughts. The volume of water stored is about four times the displacement of the diesel engine. (p. 57)

baobab-1222166_640

A Baobab tree

Ultimately, I’m not sure how helpful some of these references are since I doubt many people can immediately imagine what a Baobab tree looks like so the liter citation has a context.

He also uses the opportunity of the book to make a case for working only in millimeters.

 

 

 

The reason for this retreat from centimeters, is that for most practical everyday purposes, millimeters allow people to use integers without the need for any decimal arithmetic. (p.13)

 

The upper and lower casing of the metric units is not convention.

The upper and lower casing of the metric units used in the book is not convention.

Throughout the book he also begins “larger” metric units with uppercase letters and “smaller” units begin with lowercase letters (see image). The only problem with that is IT IS NOT the current naming convention. I worry that readers less familiar with the metric system might be misled into thinking that his use is accepted but it is not. I’d hate for anyone to get led down the wrong path unknowingly.

In any case, if you have any interest in the subject matter, I encourage you to purchase the book in an effort to support another person who has devoted considerable time helping our country figure out the error of our ways.

Thanks,

Linda

A compromise between the metric system and U.S. customary units? A modest proposal

This April Fools’ post was supplied by Peter Goodyear, a staunch help to yours truly, Reddit metric system moderator and Australian supporter of our leaving our foolish measurement ways behind us. LA

astronomy_001

Peter advocates for the adoption of centimeter-gramme-second  (cgs) system since it “combines the least advantageous features of both metric and US Customary measures, so both sides will have an equality of dissatisfaction with its introduction.” Apparently it’s used in the astronomical sciences.

 

 

Friday MMXVI-IV-I

Introduction
Some Americans are concerned that their measurement system (still in use from when America was a collection of British colonies,) is unnecessarily complicated. They argue that it is difficult to learn and to use, and in these modern times it is difficult to programme into computer applications. (It is also used only by Americans, however this is seen as an expression of American Exceptionalism™ and is therefore not regarded as a disadvantage.)
Radically progressive Americans believe that adopting the French, or metric, system of measurements would solve the problems caused by learning and using measurements inherited from Colonial times. Opposing them, American Traditionalists claim that what was good enough for their forefathers is obviously good enough for everyone today.
No American since Thomas Jefferson has proposed a logical and simple system of measurements, thus the available choices are either to retain a British system which is slowly being abandoned, even by the British themselves, or to adopt a French system which has, in recent years, gained a modicum of acceptance in several corners of the globe.
To satisfy both American Traditionalists, who want to retain long-established British weights and measures, and Metric Radicals who want them swept away and replaced with SI† metric units, I propose a compromise: the centimetre-gram-second system.*
The centimeter-gramme-second system (cgs) combines the least advantageous features of both metric and US Customary measures, so both sides will have an equality of dissatisfaction with its introduction.
(*As this is a British measurement system I will use the British, or proper, spelling of “meter”, to wit: ’metre’.)
Discussion
The features of the CGS system:
1) It’s metric. Obviously.
The centimetre-gram-second system is obviously based on metric units, the centimeter, the gramme and the second. Supporters of traditional units will claim that this is a massive strike against it, but this is balanced by several other features which will be welcomed by American supporters of traditional British units, namely:
B) It’s a traditional British system.
Cgs was developed by the British Association for the Advancement of Science (usually abbreviated to BA,) and introduced in 1874. Undeniably British.
At more than 140 years old, it’s older than a lot of American traditions such as the Super Bowl, (first Super Bowl was in 1967,) Veterans Day, (started11/11/19, American style, or 11/11/19 in the world-wide dating system,) the Oscars (first awarded in 1929) or Mother’s Day (dating from Mother’s Day 1914).
iii) It’s difficult to use.
Conversion factors between cgs and SI units are awkward because there are 100 centimetres in a meter and 1000 grams in a kilogramme, which promises the possibility of introducing order-of-magnitude errors everywhere. In addition, there are odd conversion factors between some of the units in the electrostatic, electrodynamic and Gaussian systems of CGS. (Didn’t I mention that there are three different systems of cgs? I know you Americans just love to have a choice!)
Whilst the CGS system is useful for fine measurements such as one finds in atomic physics or engineering, it is difficult to use with the extremely large order-of-magnitude quantities encountered in engineering or astrophysics.
Fifthly) Nobody else uses it.
The BIPM‡ recommended using the SI system, a refinement of the Metre-Kilogram-Second system, in 1960, and since then SI has supplanted the cgs. This allows for the perpetuation of American Exceptionalism™ in employing a measurement system no-one else uses, or would want to use.
Bonus: In addition to the CGS units there is an obsolete BA metric screw thread which could be introduced (with some inconvenience, no doubt,) to replace SAE fasteners.
Conclusion
I am confident that both metric advocates and adherents of US traditional standards will have equal measures of support for this proposition. Your comments are welcome and I will give them the attention they deserve.
Stop Press: Last-minute research has shown that cgs units are still used in the astronomical sciences. This will no doubt make CGS adoption easier due to the massive influence that astronomy has in everyday life through astrology, the calendar, tides, etc.
Thank you,
Peter Goodyear
Notes
SI – International System of Weights and Measures
BIPM – International Bureau of Weights and Measures

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

 

 

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