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uncle ebeneezer
05-11-2011, 04:54 PM
Phil Plait on the biggest problem with the metric system (http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2011/05/10/give-him-2-54-centimeters-and-hell-take-1-609344-kilometers/#more-31749).

stephanie
05-11-2011, 05:19 PM
Phil Plait on the biggest problem with the metric system (http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2011/05/10/give-him-2-54-centimeters-and-hell-take-1-609344-kilometers/#more-31749).

Okay, time for my "I'm a complete idiot, or at least an American" metric system story.

Back in '04 I did the Chicago Triathlon for the first time and was super nervous about all the logistics of it. I couldn't really sleep the night before (in part because I was worried about getting up in time to ride my bike down and meet the group I had been training with at 5 am -- I always have trouble sleeping when I'm worried about oversleeping), so I ended up getting up around 3 am and was sitting in front of my TV watching some of the overnight Olympic coverage. (This part is really just an extended excuse for me being an idiot.)

Some running event was on, which seemed fun, but it was a distance that I didn't recognize or at least which didn't initially mean anything to me -- 5000 meters. Now, I'd been doing a lot of swimming and converting my distances in laps (so in yards) to what the tri was (roughly 1 mile), and I also knew a meter is just a little less than a yard, so just to get a rough sense of the distance in terms I'd comprehend, I went through the following calculation in my head -- hmm, 1760 yards in a mile, so that means that 5000 would be a little less than 3, but meters are shorter so it's like 3. Oh, it's a 5 K. Then it hit me -- ah, of course 5000 meters is 5 kilometers, moron.

I figure only an American would try to convert meters to kilometers by going yards to miles and back. None of this sissy tenths for us!

bjkeefe
05-11-2011, 07:02 PM
... and I also knew a meter is just a little less than a yard ...

It's actually a little bit more than a yard. 39.37 inches vs 36 inches.

In case you ever have to convert meters to kilometers again, I mean.

;)

stephanie
05-11-2011, 07:27 PM
It's actually a little bit more than a yard. 39.37 inches vs 36 inches.

In case you ever have to convert meters to kilometers again, I mean.

;)

Oh, whatever. Stupid metric system. :-)

Wonderment
05-11-2011, 07:59 PM
Cool video clip. I'm glad Phil acknowledged the one really hard part of re-learning: Fahrenheit v. Celsius. If you grow up with one as your native temperature language, it's hard to switch to the other. Celsius is way better, of course, but it's difficult to grasp (as an adult) that 80 = 27 and that 90 = 32.

operative
05-11-2011, 08:01 PM
Cool video clip. I'm glad Phil acknowledged the one really hard part of re-learning: Fahrenheit v. Celsius. If you grow up with one as your native temperature language, it's hard to switch to the other. Celsius is way better, of course, but it's difficult to grasp (as an adult) that 80 = 27 and that 90 = 32.

I still mess up the calculation constantly if I try it in my head. You're right that Celsius is way better, but we're unfortunately quite recalcitrant on that front.

handle
05-12-2011, 01:17 AM
Oh, whatever. Stupid metric system. :-)

Google is a great instant converter, just type in 28 inches to meters and bam!
I work in science and engineering and with all the Chinese and euro parts you must go back and forth all the time these days.

rfrobison
05-12-2011, 03:01 AM
Cool video clip. I'm glad Phil acknowledged the one really hard part of re-learning: Fahrenheit v. Celsius. If you grow up with one as your native temperature language, it's hard to switch to the other. Celsius is way better, of course, but it's difficult to grasp (as an adult) that 80 = 27 and that 90 = 32.

I don't know if I agree that Celcius is "way better" than Farenheit, though I will concede that it's a lot more rational that water should freeze at zero degrees and boil at 100, rather than 32 and 212 degrees, respectively. I've been living in Japan for more than 20 years now and I look out my window and think (still): "It's a chilly 65 today."

Who could forget that classic novel (that I never read) Celicius 232.7?

bjkeefe
05-12-2011, 02:53 PM
Cool video clip. I'm glad Phil acknowledged the one really hard part of re-learning: Fahrenheit v. Celsius. If you grow up with one as your native temperature language, it's hard to switch to the other. Celsius is way better, of course, but it's difficult to grasp (as an adult) that 80 = 27 and that 90 = 32.

The thing I realized with temperature (and eventually, for length, mass, energy, and other scales) is that the key is not to try to do conversions back to the scale you grew up with. Rather, just concentrate on learning a few numbers from the new system that relate to your own body. I think, for example, "Below 20, I need more than a T-shirt, below 15, I need a jacket, below zero, I need a winter coat." And I remember that 37 is human body temperature (so anything between 20 and 30 is comfortable, and above 30 is hot), and of course what 0 and 100 mean. For daily living, you don't need the fine granularity of a hundred different numbers, much less 180 or 212 or however many you think of the Fahrenheit scale as having.

It's kind of like learning a second language as an adult: when you can get yourself to stop trying to do on-the-fly translations back to your milk tongue, and start, say, matching up typical responses to typical questions without mentally leaving the new language, it gets a lot easier.

TwinSwords
05-12-2011, 05:34 PM
The thing I realized with temperature (and eventually, for length, mass, energy, and other scales) is that the key is not to try to do conversions back to the scale you grew up with. Rather, just concentrate on learning a few numbers from the new system that relate to your own body. I think, for example, "Below 20, I need more than a T-shirt, below 15, I need a jacket, below zero, I need a winter coat." And I remember that 37 is human body temperature (so anything between 20 and 30 is comfortable, and above 30 is hot), and of course what 0 and 100 mean. For daily living, you don't need the fine granularity of a hundred different numbers, much less 180 or 212 or however many you think of the Fahrenheit scale as having.

Huh. That's a good idea.