Skip to comments.Connecticut Educator Hooked on Metrics
Posted on 05/15/2006 10:41:02 AM PDT by Junior
NORWICH, Conn. - Brent Maynard says he weighs 74 kilograms and is 169 centimeters tall. And if you ask him for directions, he'll give them in kilometers.
Maynard, a chemistry professor at Three Rivers Community College, is a champion for the metric system, a man who helped erect distance and speed signs in kilometers and whose goal in life is to see America ditch the standard system.
But in a country that's hooked on pounds, gallons and miles, it is a lonely cause. Last October during National Metric Week he sat alone in front of Norwich City Hall wearing a pro-metric placard and asking for signatures on a petition to get the U.S. Postal Service to weigh and measure packages in metric. Six people signed it.
Maynard, 52, a metrics fanatic since the age of 14, is used to the tepid response. He founded two metric associations in 1993 in Plainfield and in York, Maine. Each has about six members.
"They're not as passionate about it as I am," he said. "They kind of just go along with it."
Like most American youth, Maynard learned metrics in high school but unlike others, he has embraced it. He's even special ordered his truck with an odometer that reads distance in kilometers and writes congratulatory letters to companies that convert to dual labeling on products.
Maynard argues metrics is simpler because it's based on powers of 10 and more effective because the rest of the world uses it in business and in the military.
But despite several laws recognizing metric as the preferred system of measurement in the U.S., it's been slow to gain footing. The U.S. remains the only industrialized nation in the world to predominantly use the standard system, also known as the English system.
That doesn't mean metric measurements haven't crept into daily life in America. Soda comes in liters, film is in millimeters and electricity power is based on watts. Most food products use grams on their labels.
The hodgepodge of units has led to problems. In 1999, the Mars Climate Orbiter burned up in the Martian atmosphere because NASA navigators mistakenly thought a contractor used metric measurements when standard units were actually used.
"It's confusing to use two systems even for rocket scientists," said Lorelle Young, president of the U.S. Metric Association.
In Plainfield, where Maynard's association put up distance signs in kilometers, residents aren't even aware of the signs, even when they're right down the street.
Marlene Chenail, 70, lives up the street from one of Maynard's signs. She says she doesn't know the meaning behind "RI state border 8 km."
"We've never really looked at it but we know that it's there," Chenail said.
Maynard attributes the unfamiliarity to America's resistance to change and the perception that it's a foreign system.
"We seem, in our culture, awfully afraid to challenge people to think," he said.
While Maynard is one of the few adamantly promoting the system, there are others who speak out against metrication.
Seaver Leslie, president of Americans for Customary Weight and Measure in Wiscasset, Maine, said Americans shouldn't be forced to use either and argues that standard units are superior because the units are human-based and has history. The furlong an eighth of a mile is the distance a farmer could plow in a field and still be in earshot of his house if there was danger, Leslie said. Etymologists believe the word represents the distance a team of oxen could plow without needing a rest.
"They're very practical and very poetic," Leslie said. "They have worked for the farmer in the field, the carpenter in the shop and large contractors in industry and for our aerospace industry."
I remember our teachers telling us in the 60s that the US was going to begin using nothing but the metric system very soon so we had better learn it. With the exception of two or three liter soda bottles, I've done fine without it.
see America ditch the standard system.
Sorry, ditches are a mile apart
I guess by biggest reaction to this is relief that we are prosperous and contented enough to have people organizing groups like this.
Having said that, it's probably true that everyone who needs to be fluent in the metric system (scientists, as you say, and also people trading internationally) is. And thus despite our having inherited them from the Brits, I think our measures make for a charming piece of American exceptionalism.
There's no excuse for this. In science the international system should be used for all measurements.
i've known Brent for a lot of years. he's a real hoot. a bit of a gadfly and folks just look upon him as a bit of an eccentric. he often wears a kilt.
he also has a heart of gold and will go the extra mile to help a friend and do the right thing.
can be annoying as hell tho, but what a guy!
As I pointed out above, I started using it regularly because of one of my hobbies -- I'm an amateur paleozoologist, and nearly all publications dealing in the subject use the International system for measurements.
The metric system would be better. The trick is to get people to have the same intuitive feel for metric measurements that they now have for the standard system. We're getting there, but it will take another generation or two.
Seems to me we used inches, feet, gallons, miles, etc to get to the moon in 1969.
I was trained as an engineer in the SI/Metric system. Newton Meters. Kilowatts. kcmils. I started to work as an engineer. I get foot-pounds, kips, horsepower, and AWG tables. Thanks a lot.
Ahem. The extra 1.6 km, you mean. ;-)
that's exactly what he would say - with that maniacal grin of his.
he used to run the annual christmas bonfire. he had a wonderful time running around getting things ready, etc. took him all year to amass enough wood to suit him. big pile. safety issues preculdes him from continuation, something we're all sorry for.
he never got anything extra for it, but he did so love making things work.
he tried an alcoholfree oktoberfest once. goe me hooked on bratwurst, but there were only a few people who attended.
I wouldn't mind IF we use the best most appropriate units for whatever it is you're measuring.
I'm sorry, but "cm" for people height just doesn't cut it. I don't want to say "one-hundred seventy-nine centimeters" when it could simply be "seventeen point nine decimeters".
And another thing - PLEASE let us never spell the English way - "Rs" switched with "Es". To wit, "centimetre" - BLAH!
I wonder what metric system he is going to use. His choice of centimeters doesn't seem to be in line with current usage. On the other hand he can go off any way he wants and it probably won't be noticed by most.
Well, my teachers were saying the same thing you are and I'm still waiting. Actually I am quite surprised the US hasn't converted to metric yet but I guess we are a stubborn lot.
Meters for Yards, Kilometers for Miles, Kilograms for Pounds.......next thing you know, it will be Esperanto for English.
This has to stop.
That's 0.6 decamembers.
I recall we were pretty much set to change in 76' or so and at the last minute couldn't pull the trigger. Canada I heard was a little miffed we balked as they had put everything in place and made the conversion. Since probably 90 or maybe even 95% of Americans can't tell you how long a mile is or how many square feet in an acre I'd say our system is just too difficult to remember to be worth the trouble. Doubt me? How many TBLS in a cup?gallon? About the only thing I have been sure of for a long time is the ton. 2000lbs and that is only because it is an easy number. Not like 128oz in a gal.
Yeah, that "metric" system is real standard:
but do you mean ISO metric, DIN metric, or JIS metric?
Where we've adopted the metric system in this country, it's been the ISO system, in which the fasteners, for example are generally incompatible with DIN (German) and JIS (Japanese) metric fasteners.
As an engineer and a scientist, I use the Imperial system exclusively, and whenever I need to convert, why, there's always a calculator handy.
Having to remember all the 64'ths is a bigger problem than metric conversion ever will be. If we went to decimal for everything instead of fractions we could convert a lot easier.