Monday, December 21, 2009

Metridiplomacy: I'm A Celsius Man

Canada began implementing the metric system in 1970, the year after I was born. Metrification, as carried out by a special government body, the Metric Commission, was not welcomed by all Canadians, no sir. It was a long process, and stuff like speed limit signs were in MPH well into the 70s. As such, most Canadians my age are quite fluent in both US and Canadian units of measurement. This is particularly true when it comes to measures of length, since most people here still refer to things like height and weight in feet, inches and pounds.

I have never heard anybody say "wow, it was like getting hit over the head by a 5X10!" (2"= 5.08cm, and 4"= 10.16cm). I wasn't planning on ranting in this post, but that last sentence reminds me of a pet peeve of mine. Why the hell do we and the lumber industry refer to cut lumber in its pre-planed dimensions? After the first time you figure out that a 2X4 is really a 1.5X3.5 it is not that big a deal, but when you are using materials to build or design something, why should you have to remember something like that, huh? I'm really glad bikes aren't made of wood; well, not usually anyway:

Speaking of bikes, American cyclists are probably among the more metriliterate US Citizens, since metric units on bikes and bike components are common. Most Americans, including cyclists, however, are not very likely to use metric in referring to temperature. Temperature is pretty much the only area in which I have been completely metrified. I have difficulty thinking in Fahrenheit. I know that 100F is a stinkin' hot day, and that 32F is freezing point, but otherwise I have to stop and use a converter or table when I write about how cold it was.

The lion's share of visitors to this blog are American, and I want the measurements to be relevant to them, but it is a pain in the butt to do the conversions because math is not a strong suit of mine and I can't do them on the fly in my head. I am no longer going to stop and convert the temps I write about into Fahrenheit, because I am lazy. So: What to do?

I have added the little table on the right so everybody can arrive at a ballpark understanding without having to do conversions. I tried some conversion javascripts out, but then my page warns about scripts when you load it (at least in IE), and I hate that. I only bothered with cold weather temps for now, since I don't refer to temperature much in summer.

C you later,



Steve A said...

Stay in a hotel room at Whistler a few times and you quckly learn not to turn the thermostat up to 30. Remember, if Hitler had won, we'd all have adopted Metric units much earlier. Actually, in winter, celsius (whatever happened to centigrade anyway?) makes sense. It's just that their degrees are a little too big. There's a LOT of difference between 20 & 30.

PS: Figuring out your weird French units is part of the fun of stopping by here. Don't make it TOO easy!

jeff said...

I have a travel alarm clock in a bag that I take with if I'm camping or on a bike tour. Somehow the temperature got changed to centigrade, and I would wake up in the morning and have to do some cipherin' in my head just to know how cold it was!

Big Oak said...

If you think lumber measurements are confusing, it's much more confusing before it becomes lumber - tree scale (about 12 different rules), log scale (about 6 different rules), and rough lumber scale.

Anyway, I think somebody somewhere profits from the confusion in measurements. In 1976 we (the US) were going to switch to the metric system, and I was disappointed when we didn't switch - all that time spent in school learning about centigrade (celsius was too exotic for us Hoosier kids to handle) and other units that just seem to make sense when you try to add them or multiply or divide them.

What grinds my gizzard is when a mechanical contraption uses both metric and standard sizes.

cafiend said...

Give 'em a millimeter and they take a furlong.

Can you pace off meters with your feet?

Speaking of feet, ever sell footwear, especially XC ski boots? You got your UK size (numbers like US but no difference for men and women, so it's a half size off from US for men and a full size for women) your Euro size (26-50) and American children's, women's and men's sizes. Different boot makers make different systems their basis -- usually Euro or UK.

Oh yeah: UK to Euro gets you sizes like 42 2/3. Once you know the system it's not too hard: Odd number Euro sizes don't line up with UK. You get things like 45 1/3. Even sizes line up (38, 40, 42), but the next increment is "and 2/3." You have to explain to someone who KNOWS they're a 43 that they have to be a 42 2/3 or 43 1/3.

Fanky Fank said...

I am almost completely metric now, except for the following: lumber, screws/nuts/bolts (except in cycling applications), persons height and weight. Perhaps someday we will arrive at a common standard for everything. But probably not in my lifetime.

Regarding temperature, I use the following three reference points: 32F = 0C (freezing point); 82F = 28C (note that you just reverse the digits); -40F = -40C. With those in mind, you can fudge it pretty well.

Cycle on.

James D. Schwartz said...

I like the neat little feature that Google has to do conversions. Do a search for "-10C to F" and Google will return a line that says:

(-10) degrees Celsius = 14 degrees Fahrenheit

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