Measure This!

When I went to work on the old 1994 Chevy pick-up that I bought to use as a commuter “rat car,” I was amazed to find that it employed metric fasteners exclusively. This was the first domestic vehicle I’d ever owned, so I’d thought that only foreign cars used this simpler system. Now my question is, if the US auto industry could make the switch, why haven’t the rest of us also abandoned our current, cockamamie system of weights and measures?

While putting the finishing touches on a home improvement project that involved cutting a lot of pieces of wood to varying sizes I realized that while I can add and subtract fractions with the best of them, I’m sick of having to convert eighths of an inch to sixteenths and halves to quarters when it would be so much easier to use meters and centimeters and millimeters, all based on multiples of 10. If God had wanted us to use sixteenths, he would have given us sixteen fingers. We are definitely decimal creatures.

Same goes for cooking, or measuring liquids. I don’t cook that often, but when I do I generally have to scramble around trying to figure out how many teaspoons are in a tablespoon and how many fluid ounces are in a quart…which, by the way are different than the ounces of weight that are in a pound. Oh yeah, do you remember how many feet are in a mile

Having lived abroad I can tell you it takes about two seconds to get used to the metric system and to wish you’d never heard of anything else. It’s so simple and so functional. If you can count to ten that’s about all you need to know to measure things, weigh things and calculate distance and speed. The simplicity of decimal-based metrics is so overwhelmingly advantageous, it just doesn’t make any sense for us to resist the conversion, no matter the short-term pain.

We already use a decimal-based system of currency. Engineers and machinists long ago converted the division of inches into decimals, to make their calculations easier and now all computer-based measurements use decimal conversions. But, why do we have to continue to get out our calculators to divide five by eight to be able to enter a decimal equivalent into a program.

Perhaps the only exception is the Celsius temperature scale. That’s something I never was able to adapt to. But, even though it’s integrated into the metric system, it’s really a stand-alone. So let’s forget about that, just as the English have omitted the Euro from their conversion to metric.

Speaking of the English, they provide true inspiration Anyone who ever owned a vintage English car knows that there was yet another system of measurement, Whitworth, often mixed with standard inch-measurement components on their cars, necessitating auto mechanics who had to work on that old stuff to maintain three sets of tools. Which makes my point: If the tradition-bound English were able to throw off the yoke of oppression that is a system where the units are based on the length of some king’s body part or the weight of a single barleycorn, certainly we, in all of our modernity, can make the sensible change to a system that uses 10 as its universal constant.

I fix a lot of things, so my mechanical adventures …like replacing the rechargeable batteries in a Norelco shaver or the impeller in a Hoover vacuum cleaner…inform me that, in fact, many manufactured items we commonly use, in addition to my pickup, have already gone over to the bright side of metrics. But most people I talk to don’t know this and seem adamantly opposed to adopting this “foreign” system.

But wait a minute. There are eight billion people in the world and about 330 million of us. According to WikiPedia, there are only two other countries on the planet that don’t use the metric system (I’ll let you find out which they are.) That brings the total of outliers to about 390 million. So if the overwhelming majority of the earth’s folks, slightly more  than 95%, have bought into something, what’s “foreign” and what’s just plain out of step?

Aren’t we the foremost advocates of democracy on the planet? Maybe the majority should rule! Join the cause. Fight for your rights! Buy a meter stick! Not only will you be getting a superior way to measure, you’ll get more length for your money than if you buy a yard stick.

©2022 David B Bucher

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