10.17.2005

metric

I was just answering a question in comments, when I realized I might as well make it a post. Sassycat asked:
PS: have you had trouble converting temperatures/ measurements/currency yet? I know when I moved south of the border, it messed me up a lot ("what the hell is a yard?").
I'm trying to go cold-turkey - to not convert, but to think in metric. Litres and metres are easy. Centimetres and millilitres, not so much. I don't know them at all.

Kilometres are easy, especially if you don't convert, just drive. Kilometres per hour is even easier, once you're driving a Canadian car with the KpH more prominent in the dashboard.

Celsius is still tough! Every morning I look at the local weather, then try to associate how it feels outside with the number. I often go to my convert anything to anything link to see the Fahrenheit equivalent.

And these Canadian spellings are still killing me. Did I get them all?

* * * *

Lone Primate's comment below made me think of a few more. Like grams! Ordering deli at the Loblaws was tricky at first - we had to ask the counterperson how to order. But now I have it. 500 grams is the rough equivalent of a pound, in deli terms.

Yesterday we wondered about the word "mileage". You put mileage on a car, figure out the mileage from one place to the next. So what do you say, kilometrage? Just plain distance? Or do you use mileage, the way we say "dial a phone," even though phones don't have dials anymore?

36 comments:

Lone Primate said...

Celcius is dead easy. Really! 0, ice cubes. 10, jacket. 20, shorts. 30, bikini. Err... well, not for me, of course, I'm just sayin'. :)

The one I still can't get into is kilograms. I don't know why, but for me, pounds is just the way I think. Kilos are just... too big or something.

I remember when my folks sold their house a few years ago, and the Metro Real Estate Board wanted the square footage of the rooms in square metres. And I thought, who the hell wants to know the square METREAGE of a room? But we did it anyway. And I quickly figured out why. Every try to multiply feet and inches by feet and inches? You nearly need a doctorate. Metres, though -- zip zip zip. Easy as pi. Then I suppose they have a quick, one-time-only calculation to turn square metres conveniently back into square feet. :)

L-girl said...

Every try to multiply feet and inches by feet and inches? You nearly need a doctorate.

I convert everything to inches, multiply, then divide back to get the feet. Clumsy at best. Alternatively I would convert to decimals - 1.5 feet x 2.75 feet, etc.

Easy as pi.

Hee hee.

L-girl said...

0, ice cubes. 10, jacket. 20, shorts. 30, bikini

Hey, this is very useful! Thanks.

James said...

I can't remember if it was John Alan Paulos's Innumeracy or A.K. Dewdney's 200% Of Nothing, but one of those two books had a story about Americans in the Great Lakes area who believed that Canada was much colder than the US (even though they were just across the lake) because of local weather maps: they'd say 90 degrees for (say) Buffalo, but below freezing -- 30 degrees -- for Canada!

Of course, what was happening was the map makers were putting temperatures in Fahrenheit in the US areas and Celsius in the Canadian areas...

So what do you say, kilometrage? Just plain distance? Or do you use mileage, the way we say "dial a phone," even though phones don't have dials anymore?

I say "distance" for distance and "mileage" for fuel efficiency, even though that's ususally stated in litres per 100 kilometers (which is a reciprocal measure from the US version: volume/distance instead of distance/volume).

Oh, and "area" for "square footage".

RobfromAlberta said...

The tricky thing is that we in Canada haven't fully converted to metric ourselves. You would be hard-pressed to find anyone who knows their height in centimetres, for instance. Also, you can still buy some things by the pound (i.e. lobster) or the foot (i.e. lumber). The best thing about metric is it's rational, everything is interrelated and it's all multiples of 10. In science, you really begin to recognize the elegance of the system.

And yes, we still use the word mileage. If there is one clumsy change in going metric, it would be going from "miles-per-gallon" to "litres-per-hundred-kilometres", but what can you do?

SouthernAlbertaPeter said...

I had trouble thinking about mileage at first in l/100Km but now I don't have a problem with it at all... Makes more sense to look at it from that side of the coin. because when highway driving you generally can average about 100Kph and therefore can calculate your fuel cost into /hour which coming from the aeronatical side of things is something I quite like...

Rob:
Young people tend to know their height and weight in metric now, I actually can do both on the fly (I went to school just as the switch was occuring in ernest). I think of myself as 185cm tall... not 6'1". What I found really cool was that last time I was at the lumber yard I noticed that dimensional lumber is now listed in metric below the imperial measurement... and some construction projects I have dealt with through work (even some in the states) now list certain items in metric!

The change is continuing.

L-girl said...

You would be hard-pressed to find anyone who knows their height in centimetres, for instance.

Of course, you're setting yourself up for it here... But I know what you mean.

The best thing about metric is it's rational, everything is interrelated and it's all multiples of 10. In science, you really begin to recognize the elegance of the system.

I think it's much easier for every day life, for the reasons you say - rational, and everything related.

And yes, we still use the word mileage.

Good to know. Language is usually slow to catch up. I have a lot of examples similar to "dialing" the phone.

RobfromAlberta said...

Young people tend to know their height and weight in metric now, I actually can do both on the fly

Probably true, although you notice stores often have a height chart on the inside of the door so people can make a quick estimate of the height of a fleeing thief and it is always in feet and inches.

RobfromAlberta said...

...and my bathroom scale at home has pounds more prominently displayed than kilos.

James said...

You would be hard-pressed to find anyone who knows their height in centimetres, for instance.

175. :)

Lumber is going to be stuck with Imperial for a long time, at least partially, because of the nominal sizes of 2x4s (which are, of course, not 2" x 4", but are 1.5" x 3.5"), etc.

Kyle_From_Ottawa said...

Young people tend to know their height and weight in metric now, I actually can do both on the fly

Still, generally Imperial is still used for height and weight.

Canada has very inconsistent metric coverage.

Pools, and often indoor temperatures, are usually measured in Farenheit. Outside temperatures are always in Celsius.

At the grocery store, you'll see banannas for .49 cents a pound, but the scales are all in kilos, and the deli counter is always in grams.

Many people prefer to use miles-per-gallon instead of litres-per-100 km, but otherwise everything is metric.

The main reason the conversion was never fully completed is because Americans never converted. Because of cultural and economic links, it kinda halted the progress in English Canada.

French Canada, on the other hand, was able to make the conversion almost completely.

Kyle_From_Ottawa said...

Young people tend to know their height and weight in metric now, I actually can do both on the fly

Still, generally Imperial is still used for height and weight.

Canada has very inconsistent metric coverage.

Pools, and often indoor temperatures, are usually measured in Farenheit. Outside temperatures are always in Celsius.

At the grocery store, you'll see banannas for .49 cents a pound, but the scales are all in kilos, and the deli counter is always in grams.

Many people prefer to use miles-per-gallon instead of litres-per-100 km, but otherwise everything is metric.

The main reason the conversion was never fully completed is because Americans never converted. Because of cultural and economic links, it kinda halted the progress in English Canada.

French Canada, on the other hand, was able to make the conversion almost completely.

Marnie said...

People usually say "mileage," but at one point the term "clickage" was decided on for the metric equivalent. I don't know how official that was -- maybe it was just a contest or something. It never really caught on, anyway.

Lone Primate said...

If there is one clumsy change in going metric, it would be going from "miles-per-gallon" to "litres-per-hundred-kilometres", but what can you do?

Yeah, I've always hated that paradigm shift. I wanna know how far I can get on a tank of gas, not what percentage of a tank of gas will get me such and such a distance. Tell me how far I can go on a litre, and I'll multiply it by 50 and do the rest. :/

Marnie said...

Whoops, of course it should be spelled "klickage." I've just browsed around and haven't located the word's creator, but it does seem to be in use still. I do hear people use "klicks" for speed -- going 80 klicks an hour, winds gusting to 60 klicks, that kind of thing -- but haven't heard anyone actually say "klickage."

Amateur said...

Temperature C --> F multiply by 2 and add 30
30 C = 2*30 + 30 = 90F
10 C = 2*10 + 30 = 50F
Not exact, but good enough for rough work usually.

I agree with robfromalberta. To function in Canada, you still have to know both systems.

Also the physicist has to point out that almost nobody in Canada could tell you their weight in metric units, although many could tell you their mass in kilograms.

Kyle_From_Ottawa said...

Also the physicist has to point out that almost nobody in Canada could tell you their weight in metric units, although many could tell you their mass in kilograms.

For the non-scientists, he's talking about weight is supposed to be in Newtons, mass is in kilograms. In Imperial/American units mass is usually measured in a unit called slugs (or in lb-mass). I never heard of either outside my second-year dynamics class.

RobfromAlberta said...

Also the physicist has to point out that almost nobody in Canada could tell you their weight in metric units, although many could tell you their mass in kilograms.

A challenge indeed, in light of the fact that gravitational acceleration varies depending upon where you are in Canada. I may weigh 882 N in Halifax and 886 N in Calgary.

L-girl said...

Temperature C --> F multiply by 2 and add 30
30 C = 2*30 + 30 = 90F
10 C = 2*10 + 30 = 50F
Not exact, but good enough for rough work usually.


This is easy enough, and I've known it - but I find doing a calculation to gauge the weather not very useful or efficient.

It's better just to know how 3 or 10 or 30 feels and how you need to dress. Thus my attempt at cold-turkey conversion.

L-girl said...

Also the physicist has to point out that almost nobody in Canada could tell you their weight in metric units, although many could tell you their mass in kilograms.

And the writer has to roll her eyes.

Scientists, I promise I won't correct your grammar and spelling if you don't correct my commonly accepted use of words like weight.

I never heard of either outside my second-year dynamics class.

:-)

James said...

Scientists, I promise I won't correct your grammar and spelling if you don't correct my commonly accepted use of words like weight.

Ah, but Amateur wasn't correcting the use of "weight", but the use of "kilograms", which don't measure weight. ;)

I may weigh 882 N in Halifax and 886 N in Calgary.

When you get down to differences of less than 10N, the actual number will often depend more on your last meal than your location.

Michelle in TO said...

All I can say is I'd rather live in Halifax than Calgary! .. you know, if i'm going to weigh less there. :-)

Kyahgirl said...

This is a hilarious post l-girl. And the comments are great!
Lone primate has a great system for understanding the weather-love that.

I'm a scientist so love working in metric for so many things. But, much of my schooling was 'before metric' so I still have stirrings of farenheit longing. Also, my beloved Mom is 88 and only talks in imperial measurements so I have to keep up on both systems.

Got quite a kick out of the disgruntled scientist comments on this post. People will scrap about anything eh? :-)

RobfromAlberta said...

It seems there are a lot of science types frequenting this blog. What are your specialities? I am a geochemist.

James said...

I've got a Masters in Computer Science, though my interest is broader (as you can tell from my reading list, plug plug). I started in Physics but couldn't keep up with the calculus.

L-girl said...

Ah, but Amateur wasn't correcting the use of "weight", but the use of "kilograms", which don't measure weight. ;)

Go figure. I don't know enough to know what I don't know! :)

the actual number will often depend more on your last meal than your location.

A general truth. :)

All I can say is I'd rather live in Halifax than Calgary! .. you know, if i'm going to weigh less there. :-)

ROFL! Oh that's hilarious.

It seems there are a lot of science types frequenting this blog.

That is certainly true! Coincidence, I'm sure. Or maybe the arts & letters types are all off writing their own blogs.

RobfromAlberta said...

I started in Physics but couldn't keep up with the calculus.

I hear that. I started in astrophysics, but ran into that same Great Wall of Calculus. So I switched to geology. I have an M.Sc. and a Ph.D. in geochemistry.

Kyle_From_Ottawa said...

Great Wall of Calculus

That's certainly a good term for it. Is there a reason calculus has to be so painful?

I have a B.Eng in computers, and have zero-interest in going on to get a Masters. It's not really necessary in my career (i.e. it wouldn't get me promoted), and if anything I'd get an MBA over another technical degree.

RobfromAlberta said...

Is there a reason calculus has to be so painful?

To make people feel inadequate? It certainly worked on me.

L-girl said...

Is there a reason calculus has to be so painful?

To make people feel inadequate? It certainly worked on me.


This is nice to hear, really. I hung out with engineering types in university (called college in the US), and were intimidated just hearing about calculus and thermodynamics. I don't have a clue.

Of course, I would proofread their English papers, then I could feel superior. ;-)

have a B.Eng in computers, and have zero-interest in going on to get a Masters.

I never felt it was worth going into debt over. If someone dropped a bag of money on my head, I'd go for another B.A. and take all different courses this time.

RobfromAlberta said...

This is nice to hear, really. I hung out with engineering types in university (called college in the US), and were intimidated just hearing about calculus and thermodynamics. I don't have a clue.

I actually thought I was pretty good in math at one time. I always took honours math in high school and got pretty good marks. I got through my first year of university calculus with a decent mark. But then in second year calculus, things really started to get tough and I still had two more years of calculus courses to take after that. I saw the writing on the wall at that point.

I never felt it was worth going into debt over.

In my experience, graduate degrees are cheaper than undergrad degrees. I was always getting some sort of scholarship or teaching assistantship during my grad program. I never had to borrow a dime. I'm still paying off my loan from my bachelor's degree though.

L-girl said...

I was always getting some sort of scholarship or teaching assistantship during my grad program. I never had to borrow a dime.

Yes, that's true - had I gone to grad school for Brit Lit (which I seriously considered for a time), I would have taught and gotten stipends. I guess I didn't want it badly enough. Or, I wanted only the fun parts. I wanted to read and write and study, but I didn't want to be in school anymore, and I definitely didn't want to teach at the university level.

James said...

Is there a reason calculus has to be so painful?

It wasn't so much that it was painful as it was simply beyond my skillset. Sort of like how I love cycling but am not good enough at it to race.

I actually thought I was pretty good in math at one time. I always took honours math in high school and got pretty good marks. I got through my first year of university calculus with a decent mark. But then in second year calculus, things really started to get tough and I still had two more years of calculus courses to take after that.

Likewise. I just didn't have the right sort of mental dexterity to handle partial differential equations in more than two dimensions with any grace. I could bull through them, but not fast enough to be competitive with the skilled students.

However, it turned out I did have the right mindset for computer programming, so the change worked nicely.

teflonjedi said...

Scientists, I promise I won't correct your grammar and spelling if you don't correct my commonly accepted use of words like weight.

Hey, c'mon, if you're going to convert, you might as well go all the way! ;)

It seems there are a lot of science types frequenting this blog. What are your specialities?

Bachelor's and Master's in physics. Specialized in applied magnetics for my Master's research. Now, I design speakers for a living, so I end up having to worry about a lot of disciplines.


Having worked in the automotive industry for a number of years (speakers go in cars, after all), I am pleased to report that big US businesses are going metric...because their supply base is in the 95% of the world which is already metric.

/end metric rant of the day

Melissa (don't have a blog) said...

Metric is also the name of a really cool Canadian band. :D

Sorry that was random.

L-girl said...

Sorry that was random.

As is everything. Never any need to apologize.

Also Melissa, you can register at Blogger without having a blog, if you want.

Thanks for stopping by!