Tuesday, January 06, 2009

The Metric System

Two and a half years in, I'm still kind of a dope about the metric system. It's not converting within the system - that is so mercifully easy and makes me sort of hate the imperial system. It's just having an idea of the sizes. I know what a centimeter looks like thanks to having it on the other side of all my rulers growing up. I have a good idea of one meter, since it's so close to one yard. And thanks to all the drinks I've had at restaurants, I'm pretty clear on 0.2 and 0.5 liters! I've also successfully revamped the way I think about temperatures and centigrade weather temperatures are good enough for me now without having to make any conversions in my head. Still have to whip out the converter feature on my cell phone for oven temperatures, though.

But when it comes to other things I have big problems! The restaurant is 200 meters that way? God help me - you might as well say how many miles it is, both are too abstract for me. Please tell me number of blocks or landmarks! People have also asked me how many meters away something is. Not a clue unless it's 3 or fewer meters away. I still can't remember my height in centimeters, either, although I've got my weight in kilograms down. I've got no idea about kilometers per hour, although I know that 300 km/h is a fast train! My grasp on grams - for instance, being able to say how many grams an apple weighs - is still sketchy.

This week xkcd.com has a cute metrics guide for those with similar problems:

Go here to see the whole thing, since it's cutting off on the side of my blog.

And, who loves Atom? We (the US) should use metrics because "Canadians will think we're smart! Or, at least, they will think we are not as dumb!"

Atom and His Package, "(Lord It's Hard to Be Happy When You're Not) Using the Metric System":

And speaking of the US, and while I'm on YouTube, I think you should watch this! :)


  1. Some of my personal references, as a metric-born are:

    5 m - distance to walk in the next room
    10 m - height of a 2-storied building
    100 m - distance between 2 crossings in most residental areas (or what I walk in one minute)
    1 km - distance I walk in 10 min (I'm quite speedy)

    15 kmh - "gemütlich" bike speed
    25 kmh - easy long-distance bike speed
    40-50 kmh - biking a long downhill road (causing tears from the air stream ;) )
    or using trains: 100 kmh S-Bahn maximum, 200 kmh IC-maximum, 300 kmh ICE-maximum

  2. 1 km - distance I walk in 10 min

    That's sorta my standard too. I know i need 5 mins over there? K, it's 500m - roundabouts.

    And yeah, blocks in Germany are usually 80-120m wide. Where there are blocks anyway.

  3. HAHAHAHA I hear you. I so hear you I have the same problems to convert into american sizes or heat and heights. I get the LBS thingy but other than that I am pretty much lost.

  4. Gotta make an amendment to your temperature list... -20C is an Edmonton heat wave.

  5. Good find! The desire to hear my spit go "clink" is almost enough to wish for -40 C weather.


  6. Anon & Kato: Thanks; the 100-meter one is especially helpful!

    Nelly: I think it's worse for you because the American system is hard to convert within - I still have to look up to be sure how many whatevers are in a whatever else.

    Ian: Brrrr....

    K.Rae: We had some temps like that when I was a kid, but no one went outside to try spitting. Damn.

  7. Ha ha! Love the XKCD charts (particularly the ultra-mature 'your mom' references). Plus, thanks for making me aware of Atom. I've been playing 'Happy Birthday General' repeatedly for the last few days and shouting 'Happy Birthday...to your face!' at random intervals.

  8. Funny, I have a similar problem, just from the other side: I can't judge how fast x mph or how warm/cold y F is without doing the math. In case of doubt, ask google with, for example, '5 ft in m' or '350 F in C'... :-)

  9. Sarah: I go through Atom stages where I can't get enough of him!

    Sandy: Don't you love that Google feature? :D

  10. So funny! I kind of got used to the US-system. I have a feeling if something's really hot or cold or I can imagine the pounds. I just can't transfer them back to metrics in my head. The only hard time is about feet. 200 feet doesn't say anything to me, as an example.

  11. I do the math just for kicks ... it's even more fun when flying, when I have to convert nautical miles, knots, and feet to km, kmh, & m.


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