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."
Maybe so, but it can't be divided by 3.
It makes no difference to me personally, but have you ever considered the overwhelmingly gargantuan task it would be to convert the legal description of every miniscule plot of land in America to the metric system? Our entire country has been surveyed based upon a 5280 foot mile.
Think about it!
This article doesn't even get 10 words in before it makes the first mistake. Weight in the metric system is measured in newtons. Mass is measured in kilograms. Mass and weight are not the same thing.
Odds are the reporter screwed it up.
"Our entire country has been surveyed based upon a 5280 foot mile."
Are you sure none of it was surveyed in Statute miles (whatever they are?) Or Nautical miles? At least there's only one variety of metre, and one kind of hectare.
I've often wondered if some of the standard measurements would eventually port over to metric. I can see metric gallons, and I'm told there is a metric mile (1500 meters).
Obviously I am not an engineer or I imagine the metric system would be very important to me. I was mad when they started using metrics for car engine sizes.
I'll have to disagree with you there. I don't see everything "International" as a conspiracy against the U.S.
There's only two kinds of miles today. The regular one and the nautical one. The regular one is aka "statute mile" because:
In 1592, Parliament settled the question in England by defining the statute mile to be 8 furlongs, 80 chains, 320 rods, 1760 yards or 5280 feet. The statute mile is exactly 1609.344 meters.
But a baker's dozen is 13.
This is beginning to sound like a bad spy movie.
The extra mile or extra kilometer?
I dunno. When my wife is buying stuff over the internet the weights are given in grams and not Newtons.
We'd be in for a peck of trouble if we tried changing such a wonderfully functional system.
No, the masses are given in grams (or kilograms), by definition. In a zero-G environment things weigh nothing, but their masses do not change.
I always wondered how we got more commies...
The great thing about America is we use both systems as we see fit.
Originally, the meter was designed to be one ten-millionth of a quadrant, the distance between the Equator and the North Pole. (The Earth is difficult to measure, and a small error was made in correcting for the flattening caused by the Earth's rotation. As a result, the meter is too short by about 0.013%. That's not bad for a measurement made in the 1790's.) For a long time, the meter was precisely defined as the length of an actual object, a bar kept at the International Bureau of Weights and Measures in Paris. In recent years, however, the SI base units (with one exception) have been redefined in abstract terms so they can be reproduced to any desired level of accuracy in a well-equipped laboratory. The 17th General Conference on Weights and Measures in 1983 defined the meter as that distance that makes the speed of light in a vacuum equal to exactly 299 792 458 meters per second.
These things are about precision and repeatability, not about practicality. Having a literal measuring stick for the meter locked away in a Bureau of Weights and Measures is rather primitive. Materials change with age. A bar of a metal will grow and contract with temperature. It will corrode, etc.
You can't make this stuff up.
Personally, I got a kick out of the midwesterners who used to use the metric highway signs for target practice.
And if the things are not being weighed at sea level, some one is getting ripped off. Maybe not perceptively, but in theory.