2017.06.20 Inside out, Upside down, In a box

Beautiful day. We are cruising down a lightly trafficked Interstate 280 where the outer lane is driving slightly faster than the inner lane.

If you are from where I come from, your thought may be "and so what? The outer lane is always faster than the inner lane". In this case I was cruising in the slow lane on this nice, wide freeway.

Any possible confusion stems from that I and most other Danes right up to the Danish equivalent of AAA see the lane closest to the curb as the inner or first lane. As one person commented "One goes out and around when taking over another car." But the Americans count from the center of the road: Inner as in "middle", outer as in "edge". I think the difference stems from whether standard is walking and thus seeing the road from a pedestrian view or seeing the road from - hmm, an construction engineer's view?

It has taken me years after having gotten a Californian drivers license and putting two offspring though driver's education for me to even stop myself when I refer to the inner or outer lanes and accept that first can be fifth - or fourth or third but seldom second lane because the freeways are wiiiide - and it can still make sense. It is like the rabbit-duck: You see one and it can be hard to see the other.

I know I am a tad biased. Part of the reason is that the U.S. also switches the port and starboard colors on their ocean markings, and to an old viking like me that is just plain anarchy. One could argue that exactly because of stupid vikings it makes a lot of sense to confuse foreigners with opposite markings. Not that I have ever invaded the U.S. by sea.

What is it with the U.S. and insisting on doing things in their own way? Let us leave the 110V and the Fahrenheit/Celsius discussion for another day and focus on the metric system.

I know, this is old. But to most newcomers this question keeps popping up: Whatever happened to the metric system? Well, a treaty to convert to the metric system was gutted last time somebody wanted to "make America great again" according to the book Whatever happened to the Metric System? (that answers quite a few questions you may never have thought to ask.)

The argument that people walk around with measuring "sticks" in the form of their thumb (the inch), their foot (duh), and their arm-reach (the fathom=two yards) seems very much aligned with a wish to return to a time where the majority of people were fishermen, farmers, or in the trades. There is nothing wrong with being a farmer or a fisherman but, according to the CIA, they only represent 0.7% of the people employed. From this "measuring stick perspective" you could argue that very small people could legally sell you very small sandwiches under the "footlong" banner without it being lack of truth in advertising.

As far as I am concerned, the U.S. can have any measurement systems they like, but then they can't complain that their students are not interested enough in science.

Who in their right mind would think of competing in at Wimbledon match using your non-dominant hand to hold the racket when everybody else plays normally?

Isn't this what the American measurement system asks of American youth when it requires them to learn twice as many measurement systems as other children have to deal with. 12 inches to a foot. 16 ounces to a pound. 8 ounces to a cup (actually 1 Cups (US) = 7.99765121 Fluid Ounces (US) !?! ) One could even argue that this is four times as many rules since they also have to learn metric.

Throw almost any big number of inches at an American adult - they are the people hanging on to the Imperial System with the most ardor - and ask how much this is in feet. Or give them a big number of ounces and ask for the equivalent in pounds - or quarts or gallons. Note that I didn't ask for them to convert into centimeters or meters or kilograms or liters - just to convert up and down their own measurements. They will then tell you these are not very easy systems.

Now take these systems into third or fourth grade when the students still have a hard time with their multiplication tables and see if they get really exited by the idea that they should know how to multiply and divide by 8, 12, and 16. Little wonder they have to use quarts and pints because otherwise the children had to know their 64s when converting from ounces to gallons.

I would argue that if the students learned metric first and inches and ounces later, they would probably do OK. But inches and ounces wouldn't survive for one more generation because nobody would want to keep using them.

In the rest of the world, students move the decimal point right and left one, two, three positions to convert. The decimal system and the measurement system follow the same principles. When the number system we all use is Base 10, why would anybody teach anything else for measurements? (The link will show you why Base 8 doesn't make anything easier).

You tell the butcher to weigh you out half a pound of ground beef and your sticker won't read 8 oz and a bit but 0.514 lbs. See, computers and butchers like the decimal system, too.

When other students put the measurements together: one cubic centimeter water (cm3) equals one milliliter (ml) - that happens to weigh one gram (g) you can see the light turns on. This makes sense. 10cm x 10cm x 10cm equals one liter. One m3 equals one metric ton of water. But few lights really turn on when some stupid science teacher want to introduce yet another measurement system to math-tired American preteens.

The issue is not if an American adult thinks metric makes sense. The issue is if it makes so much more sense to a third grader that he or she is not deterred from exploring math and the sciences.

One might get the idea that these measurement are really for the purpose of being a trade barrier. But who does it handicap the most? Those on the inside or anybody else? Perhaps the rest of the world secretly rejoices that Uncle Sam keeps handicapping his own students this way?

As for the title of this blog, we fortunately agree on up and down - I think - and as for the graph, 1 is the worst and 5 is the best score.