Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The Metric System - What's The Hold Up?

Every once in awhile I run out of things to post about. But not this time. I just simply need to take a break from politics for a bit.

What is it about Americans that we can't convert our system of weights and measures to the metric system? Every year about this time I have a whole new bunch of students who pretend that they have never heard of the metric system. And they don't know how to measure in its various levels of units. And all they want to know, when you mention a 3 kilometer distance, is "what's that in miles?"

They always ask things like that. The way you don't go metric is try and convert from english to metric at every step. If you want to know how far a kilometer is, walk it. If you want to know how much 700 grams "weighs" heft 700 grams in your hand. If you want to know how much a liter of beer is drink it (all in one quaff).

Here is why we need to measure in metric:

The basic unit of lengths In English:

12 Inches to the Foot
3 Feet to the Yard
1760 Yards to the Mile

The basic unit of lengths In Metric:

1000 Meters to the Kilometer
1/100 of a Meter to the Centimeter
1/1000 of a Meter to the Millimeter

It goes on and on. Metric is based on a decimal system. English is based on a nonexistent system.

And you can do fun things. In metric, what do you call 2000 Mockingbirds? Answer - Two Kilomockingbird. (tee hee).

Three countries in the world have refused to "go metric". Which ones besides the US? Liberia and Myanmar (Burma). I know there are issues like retooling, but every once in awhile you save some money. Like when NASA lost a Mars orbiter because all of the contractors but one Lockheed-Martin (American) used the metric system in their work, but Lockheed-Martin, used the english system, and the orbiter burnd up in Martian atmosphere. That's a true story.

And I found this in an interesting Go Metric website. I kind of liked it, so I stole it.

Top 10 reasons we should convert to the Metric System (with apologies to David Letterman)

10. People will finally understand my joke about driving attoparsecs per nanocenturies.
9. Gas will seem cheaper at 50 cents a liter.
8. Being 22 kilos overweight does not sound as bad as 50 lbs.
7. Defense will be easier if the offense has to drive 10 meters for a first down.
6. Arizona summers will not seem as bad when its only 40 degrees outside.
5. Its not "metric", its "Digital"!
4. Imagine all the exciting math you will do converting your favorite recipes to milliliters.
3. Less fractions to deal with like, "Do I need a five eighths socket or a nine sixteenths to loosen this nut?"
2. The boy band 98º will not be as popular calling themselves 36.7º.

And the number 1 reason to go metric?

1. Half a liter is more than a pint, which means, MORE BEER FOR EVERYBODY!


Mark said...

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot...

I always knew you were secretly French. And your puns are useless on me.

I'll ignore this propaganda and continue measure length by furlongs, temperature in Kelvin, and volume by "boatloads."

Hal said...

OK Mark

Hotel Echo Foxtrot November

(Had Enough For Now)

I'm back tomorrow, but I just got blown away today by massive resistance to learning.

And thanks for the reference to Kelvin (the true SI unit of temperature). Can you imagine it? Weather reports. "Temperatures in the 300's today, falling to the low 290's tonight, 22 millimeters of rain expected for tomorrow."

Van said...

I just don't want to be treading the earth when they convert weight to Newtons (as it should be). For the uninformed, if 1 N = approximately the weight of 1 medium apple, I'd rather go by pounds thank you very much.

Drug companies calculate dosages for 160lb adults or 400N adults. That means that tall, brawny guy your daughter or sister is dating can be 675N! On the other hand, announcing to the world at a Weight Watchers meeting that you have lost 15N sounds so much better than 6 lbs. I don't even want to think about how many Newtons a Sumo wrestler must consume a day. That would be a good Dimensional Analysis problem: if a Sumo wrestler must comsume 12 lbs of carbohydrates a day, and a gram of carbs yields 4 Calories, and it is estimated that is costs the wrestling company 16 yen per calorie, how much does it cost to feed a sumo wrestler carbohydrates every 30 days in dollars if 3 yen equals 5 dollars? Bonus: How many grams of water are produced each day if the wrestlers' metabolic systems work perfectly?

il bent said...

I definitely agree with the metric system conversion proposal. Why do people of the United States insist on being different from the rest of the world?

Thomas said...

I have long favored metric. I first used metric in 1975, the year of the Metric Conversion Act, which caused great confusion. The first sign was gasoline being sold by the liter, necessitated by the oil crisis, which sent gas prices beyond what the price dials can accommodate. this was soon followed by metric rulers, conversion tables, etc. This practice was soon forgotten. In 1983, my body measurements went metric, in 1984, weather reports for Boy Scout campouts went metric, and in 1992, my weight went metric. When I use the GPS on bike rides, it is set to read in metric.