The Metric System

I came across this tweet from Ali Veslhi of a segment he did for Canada Day talking about the Metric System.

He summarizes with “Canada made the switch about 40 years-ago. And Canadians survived.” Well, yes; but in typically Canadian fashion, it’s really more of a blend of the best parts of both systems.

In school we were taught in metric. At home, it was Imperial measure.  The result: I know air temperatures in Celsius (30 degrees is hot, not cold) but know a fever is 102 degrees in Fahrenheit.  I buy milk in litres but cook with cups and tablespoons. I know my height in feet and inches but my driving speed is measured in kilometres per hour. The fact that I can not estimate distance in either kilometres or miles I believe is more a lack of the concept of distance on my part than a fault of either of the two systems.

Personally I think the metric system makes sense: water boils at 100 degrees and freezes at 0; -40 is just cold either way. One litre of water weighs one kilogram. Learn the prefixes and converting centimetres to kilometres is as easy as moving a decimal place. The transition hasn’t been without hiccups, but it is slowly happening.  I remember as a teenager weighing hamburger in my grandfather’s store: people would come in and ask for a pound; we’d weigh out .454 kilograms because the scales had to weigh in grams.

Oddly enough, fishermen still report their catch to the government through dockside monitors in pounds. However, the government reports total landings in kilograms. I got caught in a conversion misunderstanding about this a month or so ago when I made a slightly embarrassing call to the DFO Stats Division over what I thought was the a grossly overstated price per pound but was actually a very realistic price per kilogram. I expect that the continued use of pounds in reporting has a lot to do with the significant exports to the United States, but there is some irony that one of the last bastions of the usage of Imperial measure, one of the few places that didn’t make the transition is the fishery. Some groups are harder to change than others… 😉 …or maybe it is a true example of using the best of both systems.

Happy Fourth of July however you choose to measure it!

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