Lincoln Chaffee’s Big Idea


Lincoln Chaffee wants us to adopt the Metric System.

Because it’s European, I guess.  And because it’s already been officially “adopted” since the late 1800s.

When I was in elementary school, we learned the Metric System, because we had to, and because we were all solemnly and sincerely told that English units were on their way out.  And we promptly forgot about it.

In college, where I majored in physics, we did all our calculations in metric, because of exponents.  But that’s what it was – the system you did calculations in.  In real life, I don’t think I ever measured anything other than Imperial units.

I vividly remember a conversation with a co-worker where we discussed why we hadn’t gone Metric yet.

Cory: Because nobody knows how far a kilometer is.
Me: Sure, I do.
Cory: OK, how far is a kilometer?
Me: Six-tenths of a mile.

There’s a famous post out there about Fahrenheit vs. Centigrade vs. Kelvin, showing that 0F is pretty cold, and 100F is pretty hot, but people can survive in both.  0C is pretty cold, but 100C is dead, and 0K and 100K are both dead, so Fahrenheit is more useful for temperatures we’re likely to encounter.  The same is true with all the other Imperial units.

Then, there’s the layout of our cities.  Here in Denver, north-south blocks are 8 to a mile, east-west blocks are 16 to a mile, and most other western cities are laid out on some variation of that.  You can approximate that with 5 and 10 to a kilometer for a little while, I guess, but it doesn’t take long before the approximation breaks down, and anyway, why do I want to bother with re-adjusting my sense of scale to make Lincoln Chaffee happy?  There needs to be a bigger payoff than that for that kind of work.

Also, the distance that light travels in a nanosecond is almost exactly a foot. So there’s that.