METRIC SYSTEM – How Far to Swim


This week on, we will pull together in one week some of the posts that were written to inform and to promote the metric system, an incredibly obviously superior system of measurement to the one we here in the United States use. This post was written during the first week of the summer Olympic games this year.

Hoping you all are sensible, intelligent, insightful, and reasonable thinkers. Then you all would be pro-metric…

Well, as an engineer, and an avowed supporter of the metric system, watching the Olympics is much less difficult to do than most spectator events. All the distances are in metric. Next week, when track and field cranks up, the distances people run will obviously be in metric, and even the distances people jump or throw objects are announced in metric, until the announcers convert it to feet and inches for the non-engineering, American audience.

I did figure out some people who would have like the Olympics in the archaic English system of measurements – the men’s swim team. I have tried to avoid comments about specific athletes, but will have to break with that norm for once. So, think about this: if the distance Michael Phelps would have swam in the butterfly would have been in the English system instead of metric, he would have gone 200 yards, not 200 meters. 200 yards is 182.88 feet. At that point in the race, Phelps was another meter or so, make that a few feet, ahead and would not have gotten barely beat out at the end.

Here is something to consider. A few nights before, the Americans were beat out in the last few meters, make that feet, for a first place in a relay. If the race had been in English, and not metric, the Americans may have won. But, they got beat out by the French team. Where did the metric system get introduced in 1799? In France.

It is a good thing that engineers are not, by and large, conspiracy theorists, and that they are supporters of the metric system. Otherwise, we couldn’t enjoy the Olympics. The rest of the USA can fret and watch gymnastics.

METRIC WEEK – Signature Block for an Engineer

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This week on, we will pull together in one week some of the posts that were written to inform and to promote the metric system, an incredibly obviously superior system of measurement to the one we here in the United States use.

Hoping you all aren’t like my friend, John, who thinks I have a “problem” with being pro-metric, when clearly, it is the “pro-English” with the problem…

Signature blocks say something about the person. Many people put inspiring quotes after their names on e-mails. Some make up quotes themselves. Some of these add-ons may be educational, informative, or something meaningful the person would like the reader of the e-mail to remember.

For an engineer, this may also be true. I ran across a great signature block from an engineer recently:

43,560 square feet in an acre
5280 feet in a mile
16 ounces in a pound
128 ounces in a gallon

23 confused kids in a class

What could be simpler?

It was great! The engineer promoting the metric system in an educational, informative, and inspiring way.

METRIC WEEK – You Might Be an Engineer If…

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– you convert all the distances in the Olympic events to the English System of measurements and use them in every day conversation about the Olympics, just to show how senseless it is for the USA not join the 98% of the world’s countries who use the metric system.

This week on, we will pull together in one week some of the posts that were written to inform and to promote the metric system, an incredibly obviously superior system of measurement to the one we here in the United States use.

Hoping you all aren’t my friend, Dave, who has not idea how many feet are in a mile, but still thinks the rest of the world should be converted to the English System…


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This week on, we will pull together in one week some of the posts that were written to inform and to promote the metric system, an incredibly obviously superior system of measurement to the one we here in the United States use.

Hoping you are not like my coworker, “Wade”, who says that the problem with the English System is that it does have a metric…


Some may know that the number 5280 represents the number of feet in a mile. Many people don’t remember that. Why such a strange number? Who knows.

But because it is so strange and difficult to understand and remember, the engineer considers this a great number. It’s like a politician who doesn’t have to use negative advertising because his or her opponent keeps saying stupid things. 5280 is a great number because it represents the failure of the system of measurement we use in the USA. Who wants to or can remember numbers like that?

Instead, go with the metric system. With numbers like 10 and 1000, trust me, it’s much easier. It’s much easier than remembering numbers like 5280.

METRIC WEEK – A Simple Bar Chart

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This week on, we will pull together in one week some of the posts that were written to inform and to promote the metric system, an incredibly obviously superior system of measurement to the one we here in the United States use.

Hoping you all are not like my coworker, “Wade”, who understands that the metric system is a decimal system, but doesn’t get the point of decimals…


Here is a simple bar chart that says it all from the perspective of most engineers.

The Number of Countries that Use the Metric System vs. the Number of Countries that Do Not Use the Metric System

If you didn’t know, the USA is represented on the right, one of the three countries that does not use the metric system. There are approximately 193 countries (depending on how one counts countries) that do use the metric system.

It’s us, and our friends in Liberia and Myanmar.

Nuff said.

Algorithms To-Do List

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All engineers have, whether in their head or written down somewhere, a to-do list of algorithms. This is a list of things that will make life easier, more efficient, and, well, just plain fun to live, if he, the engineer, would only be able to develop an algorithm to explain and better understand that thing on the list. The key is to use his engineering skills to improve his life.

Here are five of them that are common to engineers. Listed are the topics and then some haphazard notes that the engineer has made to help get this algorithm running smoothly.

In no particular order:
Algorithm To-Do List

1. Optimize commute to and from work – need to collect traffic and signal timing data for all streets within 10-mile corridor or normal commute route; have to purchase and run traffic modeling software

2. Efficient car packing for vacation – measure all luggage to .1 cm; get accurate height and weight measurements of all family members; need precise measurements of interior of car, model in 3-D software and optimize packing

3. Temperature of house vs. complaint level/rebellion of family – get more thermometers; create measurement scale for family member axis; conduct summer and winter temperature trials; plot

4. Efficiency of excuses to avoid time with relatives – brainstorm and/or google list of excuses; rate; utilize top 5 excuses with promise at least 3 times each; chart results

5. Understand wife – what does she want; clueless here; move to long range algorithm goal

The Height of a Child

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To measure the height of a child as he or she grows, the engineer will make sure it is accurate. That is his job.

This may involve some whining from the child and a few smart comments from his wife, but to get a measure in which one can be confident takes a little work. This means don’t rely on those doctor office contraptions. I have never trusted them. The nurse has the kid stand up on them, may tell them to stand up straight, may not, and then flops this metal arm on their head that may or may not be horizontal. Engineers do not appreciate flippant approaches to measurement.

The way to do this correctly is to get a straightedge that is also a level, the kind with the bubble in the glass cylinder. Have the kid stand straight as they can against a wall and place the level on their head, making sure it is, well, level. But how straight the kid stands and where the level hits on their uneven heads, along with possibly a few other variables, will not assure this to be an accurate measurement. So, here is the key. Take the measurement numerous times. I will not tell you how many, but it is more than two. Have the kid step away from the wall, then back against it, and place the level on his or her head and make a mark – and do this many, many times. You will then see that the field of measurement, particularly when a variable like a child is involved, is not an exact science. But at least with a number of measurements, you will see that their may be a few outliers, but many of the marks will be bunched together very closely and the average of those can be taken as the best measurement of the child’s height.

By the eighth time or so, the child may complain about stepping away and standing up again. Remind them that is only done once a year, or if you really like tracking height progression, once every month, and also remind them of the confidence he or she can have in “knowing” how tall you are (in English and metric units), rather than a sloppy, “Yeah, I’m about 4 feet 8 inches that friends who rely on that doctor office measurement can only say.

I think I’ve proved my point here.


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The number 3 is a hidden number of importance for the engineer. That means that the engineer may or may not consciously think of it as an important number, but it is important, nonetheless. I say that mostly to be able to use the word, “nonetheless”.

Anyway, 3 is the minimum number of estimates an engineer will want to be “comfortable” with a decision on buying an item. The item may be a new car, a computer, or a sandwich. The word “comfortable” is in quotes because we need to remember that this is not an emotional “comfortable”, rather one of having a sense that things are right. In that way, it is a logical “comfortable”.

The way an engineer thinks of this concept of 3 is the following: Getting one quote is just plain wrong. The seller can raise the price and you would never know, thus ripping you off. Having two quotes, well, that is better, but if they are quite different from each other, it is difficult to know what the true value is. Having 3, and here I should say at least 3, the engineer has a great chance of seeing either all three estimates bunch up together, or two be close and the third be the outlier. Outliers are bad. Consider the word itself, a combination of “out” which is negative, and “lier” which sounds like “liar”, also negative.

Having 4 or 5 or 6 estimates is better, but running around getting all those quotes gets somewhat wasteful at some point, and making sure it is the same product with the same features gets more difficult the more comparisons one makes. So the engineer is “content” (a logical content) with getting 3 quotes. This is helpful if shopping with an engineer, particularly if you are a spouse who thinks just walking into one car dealership and buying the first car you like (especially if color is one major factor) is the way to go…

a = dv/dt

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Engineers love equations. Whether for understanding women or understanding laws of motion, equations are incredibly useful for making sense of the world. Another fabulous equation (this more from the laws of motions rather than understanding women) is:

a = dv/dt


a = acceleration

dv = change in velocity

dt = change in time

Acceleration should be broken down into its vector components for a typical x-y-z coordinate system. This means that each direction of the coordinate space has its own acceleration, as well as its own velocity and distance.

Here is where teaching children is fun. Drive down the road and keep the car going at a constant speed of say, 40 mph. Keep the speedometer saying 40 while you take a curve and then ask your child if you are accelerating. Most children will fall for the trap and will say no. They think that since the speed is 40 mph and that stays constant, then the car is not accelerating. But acceleration is a measure, not of a change in speed, but of a change in velocity in a direction. So, if the car stays at a a speed of 40 mph, on a curve it is actually increasing its velocity in the direction perpendicular to the original direction. The original velocity in that direction was zero. Now it is something. Acceleration has occurred. At the same time the velocity in the same original direction has actually gone down, so we have negative acceleration, commonly called deceleration, happening in that direction.

Trust me, I could go on. But, as a parent, I wish not to embarrass my kids any more than I have to. They should know how the world really works, but not be humiliated – completely.

The Interview

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I am not changing jobs, or even considering it. But I had an interview the other day.

I was interviewed by a high school kid who was taking a class where he was given the assignment of interviewing an engineer in order to find out what engineering was all about. This was to give the students some ideas about what areas of engineering exist and whether they may want to go into engineering themselves.

I wish to report that I did not disappoint the engineering community. I regaled him with stories of engineering – standards, spreadsheets, design issues, and statistics. Anyone would have been in awe.

This student had the wonderful opportunity that few school kids get, but many should experience, that of sitting down with an engineer and hearing about the wonderful world of engineering. All students should be able to learn that bridges are beautiful, electrical circuitry is exciting, HVAC systems are cool, and wastewater treatment plants simply rock.

He left with an amazed look in his eyes. Or it could possibly have been a disbelieving-crazed-bored look in his eyes. I can never tell those two apart.

I guess we will see how successful I was as a spokesperson for engineers in a year or so when it is time for him to apply for college. Then we will see if he puts in his application to fine engineering school, or some place that’s all fru-fru and artsy.

I can’t wait.

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