In eleventh grade chemistry, our teacher introduced the metric system. I’d heard about it all the way back in elementary school, but I had never been taught it. Really our chemistry teacher, whom we called “Thusly” because he used that word so much, didn’t insist on us memorizing it, though we had to use it. But I have always remembered one little formula he mentioned – how to change pounds to kilograms. I probably remember it because it was so easy: divide pounds by 2.2 and there you go. (Actually, 2.205 is more accurate, but unless you’re dealing with tons, it’s unnecessary.)
For instance, I just weighed myself and I’m 190 pounds. Divide that by 2.2 and I’m 86.18 kilograms. Divide it by 2.205 and I’m 86.16 kilograms. Very little difference.
While in Germany, I went on a 10-kilometer run (at some kind of local function) and someone mentioned that it was about six miles. So from then on I always calculated by sixes and tens. If six miles is ten kilometers, then twelve is twenty, and twenty-four is forty, all the way up to sixty, which should be one hundred, but it isn’t. It’s 96.84 kilometers. You may think, hey the difference is barely more than three kilometers – but that can get you thoroughly lost. It didn’t occur to me to research the formula until I was watching a Cricket game and they were showing how fast, in both kilometers and miles, the bowler (pitcher) had thrown the ball. Well, simple math and the answer is miles x 1.614 = kilometers. Kilometers ÷ 1.614 = miles.
Later I became curious about other measurements: How long is a mile? It’s 5,280 feet. So now you know that when a pilot announces that you’re cursing at 30,000 feet, you’re 5.68 miles above the ground.
How big is an acre? I’ve wondered about that since I was a kid. It’s 43,560 square feet, or 208.71 feet a side, or very near it. The best way to visualize an acre is to think of it as 96 yards down on a football field – American football, not soccer – and that’s measuring 50 yards from side to side.
How many centimeters in an inch? 2.54. Twelve inches times 2.54 equals 30.48 centimeters, the length of a foot.
That yardstick you have in your garage? It’s about three and a third inches shorter than a meter, so never use it as a meterstick. If you need to know how many feet are in a bunch of meters, multiply the meters by 3.28.
Confused about Celsius? (Sometimes it’s called centigrade.) Well, that’s a little more complicated. It’s °F = (°C x 1.8) + 32. So if you’re watching TV from another country and that channel’s weather report predicts a high of 30 in your part of the world, don’t be alarmed; that’s a balmy 86 degrees Fahrenheit. Should you have the sudden urge to find out what Fahrenheit is in Celsius, it’s °C = (°F – 32) ÷1.8, or pretty close to it. And by the way, our measurement of temperature was created by Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit, a German scientist born in 1686.
So there you are; follow the math thusly. Good thing your phone has a calculator.
P.S. My favorite measurement is the speed of light. I’ve known that since I was eleven. Light travels at 186,000 miles per second, or thereabouts, and it’s a measurement of distance, not time. Why light travels at the speed it does, no one knows. And there’s not much use for it when I’m driving cross-country. But I do secretly calculate, while bored upon the road, how quickly I would arrive in another state if my shifter looked like this: P R N D 2 1 L; by shifting all the way down I could get to my mother’s house in less than .0062 seconds. I’d certainly visit more often, practically every day.