History of the "Metric" System

Bah! Humbug!

Maybe in 18th c. France but not in 20th c. Canada.

There have been well established definitions of the units of the English and American systems for a century or so. Now that we all have calculators and computers, conversion between systems is a trivial exercise. The following points are relevant:

- The system imposed in Canada is
*not*the "scientific" or MKS system. The*kilogram*is a unit of mass (corresponding to the SLUG in the US engineering system), not a unit of force (or weight). To make the system comprehensible to novices, someone cobbled up the bastardized notion of the*weight-kilogram*. The weight-kilogram is a unit of force equal to the force exerted on a kilogram by standard gravity. The MKS unit of force (and thus weight) is the*newton*and, in the MKS system, a kilogram weighs 9.8 newtons, not 1 "weight-kilogram". And I weigh 935 N, an embarassingly large number, much less palatable than 95 pseudo-kilograms. - Because the newton is ignored in the politically imposed system,
the unit of pressure becomes practically incomprehensible because
the
*pascal*is defined in terms of newtons per square meter, not in terms of weight-kilograms. No non-techie has ever heard of a newton or has any intuitive notion of the magnitude of a kilopascal. - The pronouncement that the imposed system would bring Canada
into line with "global standards" is simply fraudulent. Ask any
versatile mechanic about using a 8mm bolt from a French car to
fix a German one. They both use the same units of measure but the
industrial standards are different and the bolts aren't
interchangeable with each other any more that with a US 5/16"
bolt. Similar deviations in standards exist in numerous domains.
A system of measures in
*not*a system of industrial standards! - The role of long-established measures as an element of culture
is significant. Where measures appear in song, colloquialism or
aphorism, the culture is robbed of somthing intangible and the
generation schooled only in MKS is kidnapped from its past by
insensitive fiat.
Moreover, and predictably, the imposition of metric measure in public discourse (the media, for example) has exacerbated already epidemic innumeracy. An intuitive grasp of the culturally established units formerly compensated for a poor grasp of numbers. People now say, with a straight face, that it's "about 748.2 kilometers from Calgary to Dawson Creek".

- There's no excuse to have tried to impose the pseudo-metric
system exclusively. There is economic reason for embracing a
single set of industrial manufacturing standards but that is a
different issue, it hasn't happened and it will happen only very
gradually if ever. There is no reason why both measurement
standards can't operate simultaneously in commerce. Anyone who
need both systems simply learns both systems, which is what
engineers, scientists, physicians, mechanics and many
construction workers do now.

**< Paranoid rant mode on > **

What was the first domain of mandatory application for the new, pseudo-metric standard in Canada and what was the political context?

The very first place where the new system was made mandatory was on
road signs and at the *GAS PUMPS*! This occurred when the federal
goverenment was artificially forcing the price of gasoline upward by
10 cents a gallon every few weeks. The public was outraged because
they could see the numbers on big signs at the pumps. After the
change, a 10-cent per Imperial gallon price increase appeared on the
pumps as a mere 2-cent per liter increase. Indeed, a 4-cent/liter
increase *looked* better than a 10-cent/gallon increase even
though it was twice as big. At the same time, the change in road signs
to kilometers made it more difficult for novices to compute their
dollars/mile cost for comparison.

I submit that the whole exercise was undertaken explicitly as a distraction to relieve the government from the heat of gas-pump tax revolt!

**< Paranoid rant mode off > **

** < Megalomaniac rant mode on > **

I propose that, in order to make palatable the forthcoming increase in the federal sales tax to 20%, required to cover carrying costs on the national debt, we criminalize decimal aritmetic, impose the HEXADECIMAL number system and absolutely require it for all public numerical communications!

This can be justified by baldly asserting that all computers and computer programmers use base-16 calcualtions and that this is absolutely necessary to put us in the forefront of the Information Age and establish Canada as a dominant presence on the Information Highway.

An item that costs, say $120 now, and $128.40 with 7% tax will then cost $144.00 expressed in decimal notation but will be attractively priced at $90.0 in the new, salubrious, globally up-to-date system.

Better yet, a new car that sells now for $12,998, tax included, will carry a tag that says $38F.0 in base-16, totally confusing everyone and making palatable not only the newly inflated tax but a lot of profitable price jiggering by vendors and manufacturers.

Note, moreover, the single hexadecimal place after the hexpoint (as it will come to be called): A 1 in this place represents 1/16 of a dollar, or about 6 cents. With this numerical convention, pennies, nickels and dimes can be removed from circulation and the existing quarter established as the QQARTER (quarter of a quarter, or 1/16, of a dollar), thus saving the mint, well... a mint in manufacturing costs and deflating the purchasing power of outstanding quarters by 75%.

Young ladies will be spoken of as being "sweet 10", we can take early retirement at 3C, eggs will be sold by the C and the next $12.2 million government boondoggle will cost the taxpayers a mere $BADFED.

If, by some chance, this fails to keep the public sufficiently distracted from thorny issues such as NAFTA, globalization and unemployment, we can make the popular move to roll back the "metric system". But we'll replace it with the Firkin-Furlong-Fortnight system, the only shortcoming of which is that there is not yet any international standard for a firkin. While a microfortnight is comfortably close to the customary units (1.2 seconds), calculating your gasoline consumption in furlongs per firkin while driving at the posted speed in furlongs per fortnight and doing it all in base-16 arithmetic will ensure that no one has any excess time to frivol away on scrutinizing what the folks in Ottawa are doing.

** < Megalomaniac rant mode off > **

I suggest that the imposition of a non-standard simulacrum of the Meter-Kilogram-Second system on Canadian commercial transactions and public usage was, contrary to Ideas' theme, a triumph of political deviousness and coercive social policy over both public interest, public will and rational standards.

1. MEGACITY (meh GASS ih tee) n.; MEGACIOUS (meh GAY shuss), adj.

Updated: Wed Nov 15 03:20:02 AST 2000