Hiatus and the Metric System

Figures with numbers and lines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See you in June and thanks for your patience.


Kid in a U.S. Metric System History Candy Store

[Continued from column last week on researching at the Library of Congress]

Some of my Library of Congress resources

Some of my Library of Congress resources

Since my plane didn’t leave until 6 p.m. on Monday I ended up asking for some materials on our U.S. metric system history be collected from their storage location and delivered to the Adams building so I could take a look at them.

• The library gets two deliveries a day, one in the late morning and another in the afternoon (that was going to be too late for me). My great appreciation to those folks who helped me get the materials in the morning delivery.

• When you submit the electronic request (the only way you can get materials from off-site) you get an email notifying you the request for the publication has been received, another when it has left the storage facility and another when it arrives at your specified delivery location.

When I arrived, I was thrilled to see so much material and set about going through it and noting in which of three “bins” the items should reside: not useful for my purposes, ask my library to acquire so I could spend more time with them and, finally, seek to acquire for my collection.

Metric excitement and legislative aftermath
As I went through the books, some of which were self-published in an attempt to jump on the metric adoption bandwagon back in the 1970s, one thing that struck me was the excitement the authors had over the notion that the U.S. was finally adopting the metric system.

For instance, the introduction to the book Let’s Cook it Metric by Elizabeth Read, 1975, begins with:

For the past thirty years I have worked as a dietitian or nutritionist and have been amazed and appalled at the lack of knowledge of measurements of most people. Then I realized that our standard system of measurement is really a mish-mash of archaic terms based on parts of the human body. This year, 1975, will undoubtedly be the year that Congress will pass metric legislation.

Well, she was right about the legislation passing. Too bad it was too weak to really have propelled us forward and another 30 years later we’re still buying things in pounds, yards and gallons.

Expanding my research collection
Upon arriving home, I began looking for the publications I wanted to buy and since I had done most of my primary research almost a year ago, I did a cursory search on the term “metric system” on Amazon.

Slated for publication May 27, 2014

Slated for publication May 27, 2014

To my shock, I came across a yet-to-be-published book titled: Whatever Happened to the Metric System: How America Became the Last County on Earth to Keep Its Feet. The publication date is listed as May 27, 2014 and the author is John Bemelmans Marciano.

While Amazon lists him as the author and illustrator of quite of few the children’s books in the Madeline series, he has also written Anonyponymous: The Forgotten People Behind Everyday Words  and Toponymity: An Atlas of Words.

I have a call in to his publisher since I couldn’t find any other straightforward way to contact him. I’m very interested in what prompted him to work on this subject as well as what it might contain.

How much research is too much?
While I could research on this topic endlessly, what I’m most interested in is enough and correct information to inform the script for my documentary.

Due to my communications/research background, I even have an information gathering philosophy: I don’t need to see everything that was ever produced on my subject but enough so, as new information on the subject might come to light, nothing contradicts what I’ve asserted and hopefully only supports or expands upon it.

At least that’s what I’m aiming for. You never know…

Honored and archived
I also must say that I was extremely honored on Monday when I received word that this blog will be archived by the Library of Congress. The notification read in part:

To Whom It May Concern:

The United States Library of Congress has selected your website for inclusion in the Library’s historic collection of Science Blogs. We consider your website to be an important part of this collection and the historical record.

The Library of Congress preserves the Nation’s cultural artifacts and provides enduring access to them. The Library’s traditional functions, acquiring, cataloging, preserving and serving collection materials of historical importance to the Congress and the American people to foster education and scholarship, extend to digital materials, including websites.

My many thanks to Jennifer Harbster with the Library of Congress for taking the time to submit my blog for consideration. I truly appreciated her helping me with these efforts in multiple ways.

I will continue to do everything I can to make this blog interesting and useful.

Thank you for your kind attention,