Back in the 50’s and 60’s science education was important in the United States. Why? We had to catch up with the Russians who launched Sputnik (or if you prefer Спутник) in 1957. As part of the scientific education, every junior and senior high school in America tried to teach the students the metric system. But they did it wrong, so almost nobody learned.
The metric system is so simple; you’d think everyone would do it, like a computer keyboard in alphabetical order or a telephone key pad in the same order as the keypad on a calculator. Oh, I forgot, sorry.
How many inches in a foot? Good. Feet in a yard? Feet in a mile? Yards in a mile? Got you on at least one of those, didn’t I? Okay, now, how many milliliters in a liter? How many millimeters in a meter? How many kilograms in a metric ton? Do you see a more regular pattern emerging here?
So when we were emphasizing science education, instead of teaching kids how to play video games and download songs to iPods, we tried to teach kids the metric system too. It’s used in most of the rest of the world, so it only made sense.
Here’s how they did it wrong, and why we didn’t learn it, and start using it. They taught us to convert from the old system to the new one. We had to memorize dozens of conversion factors, yet there are very few times when we need to convert. Washington DC is about 400 km from where I live. Richmond VA is about 600. My in-laws lived about 2,100 km from here. My son went to college roughly 1,750 km away. Do you need to know how to convert those figures to miles to tell me which one is closest and which one is farthest away? If I told you it’s possible to average 100 km/hour on the Interstate highways, could you figure out about how long it would take to drive to any of those places? Thought so.
If the 7 mm socket wrench is too small, are you going to try the 6 mm socket? Didn’t think so.
Forty degrees centigrade is warmer than most people care to be, although it’s a temperature I’ve experienced numerous times in various parts of the country. Twenty-five is fine though. I can convert -40 centigrade to Fahrenheit in my head (because that’s the only temperature that’s the same in both systems), but I don”t want to be that cold in either system and I’m proud to say I never have been. Incidentally, Fahrenheit is capitalized and centigrade isn’t because there was no Mr. Centigrade.
Why do I bring this up at this time? The rock slide. According to the website of the Mariposa Gazette, a newspaper published in a community near Yosemite Park, this happened on Wednesday, August 26, 2009: “Several moderately small rockfalls occurred in Yosemite Valley from early yesterday morning through early this afternoon. The rockfalls released from the Royal Arches area directly above the Ahwahnee Hotel. The largest rock that fell is estimated to be 350 cubic meters, about the size of a microwave oven.” I added the emphasis.
I haven’t been an editor in a long time, but if the world’s largest microwave oven fell in my yard, a short distance behind my house, I’d put that in the lede, wouldn’t you? The microwave oven in my kitchen may be about 350 cubic centimeters, I haven’t measured it, but unless I misplaced a decimal point or three, 350 cubic meters is about half the size of my house.