The Swedish Chef of Metric

By The Metric Maven

I’ve always had a soft spot for Sweden, even though I have never been there. I spent some of my youth living in the American ersatz version called Minnesota. I liked living there enough that a local grocer in my Iowa hometown would say “we don’t allow Minnesota Swedes in here” to rib me about it.

I try not to read too many of the online comments in reaction to my views on the best usage of the metric system from Europeans. Generally I’m told how they are from long-time metric countries, and I, who live in perhaps the last non-metric country, have no standing to discuss metric. Italians tell me they happily use deciliters, and the French embrace centimeters like freshly baked bread. I don’t get that excited, and tend to yawn at their oral gesticulating. I’m only concerned about the US, and should a miracle occur and it become metric, would push it do so with the best metric implementation possible—by 1000. I also have no emotional connection with Italy or France.

Pierre, the master chef, machinist, woodworker and histrionic anti-metric warrior, loves to go for the emotional jugular when amiably pointing out the “difficulties” in using metric to test my mettle, but he did not have good knowledge of an effective European target. Point to the French all you want Pierre, I have no emotional entanglement. But as a stopped watch is right twice a day, Pierre managed to hit an accidental bullseye when he brought up the Swedes in an email:

Next, bad news for you, I’m afraid. But, maybe I can benefit, so it’s really good news.

As you can see from the book “Scandinavian Quilt Style blah blah blah” Scandinavia doesn’t use the metric system! I’ve deleted the part of the book actually related to the contents, except the important page, which I’ve thoughtfully highlighted for you to make it easier to read. You are welcome.

Money quote:

I work with inches. I have used inches for years, my instructions are in inches and the people I sew with all use inches. All the designs in this book were made with inches and the instructions were written while sewing.

Published by a European publisher. For Europeans.

The good news (for me) is that there may be an opening to be an Imperial measurements consultant in Norway. Somebody’s got to help them transition back into the civilized world. Don’t be afraid of inches tour ’18. Yah!

Well, I did my best to remind myself that the clothing and textile industry from the days of Samuel S. Dale onward have done their best to repel any logical implementation of the metric system. Indeed, for some reason woodworking Swedes also hang onto their non-Anglo-Saxon inches, like crayfish at kräftskiva, but I’m also told that woodworkers often don’t bother to measure anything. I kept averting my eyes from Pierre’s prose, as if I was watching Freddy Kruger chasing down teenagers. Then Pierre continued his schadenfreude laden monologue:

This whole metric system thing is soooooo easy, huh?

Here’s a page from noted Swedish food author Erica Palmcrantz Aziz …. In her brand new book Superfood Boost, she presents a lovely voice trying to convince us to eat raw kale as often as possible. Yum! She also has a page on growing your own sprouts.

Here is that page. I call your attention to that first paragraph. The rest makes more sense, if you don’t mind moving your sprouts around from container to container for no reason.

Now, …. I’m sure that you are just like me and measure out precisely 1.5 fluid ounces of mung bean seeds, each time you sprout. But, how handy to know that in Sweden, she would use, and correct me if I’m wrong, one deciliter of seeds. That sounds like about a pound, which would fill my kitchen sink with product.

I’d use a tablespoon or two per quart jar. Apparently, their metric jars must be much bigger in the festive, kale eating world of Stockholm. (Actual quote from her book, “Kale is not just for Christmas anymore” p.27)

Later she says this: “Massage and toss the cabbage (and by this, she means kale) with some olive oil, salt, and lemon, or

add it to a smoothie or juice, or enjoy it with a creamy dressing. “

So, slather that stuff with a traditional Swedish ranch dressing and it’ll help you get it down. You know, for health.

Another time she says a benefit of kale eating is, “To fill up on chlorophyll, which is said to purify and detoxify the blood”

Now, I have a liver for that function, but your shitty cold-weather desperation tundra food “is said” to detoxify my blood?

We’ll let’s have some of that.

Massage your kale, Maven. Embrace the deciliter. Purify your blood. A wealth of wisdom here. You might want to download it.

So 100 mL and 500 mL was too difficult to use in Sweden?—deciliters are a better idea? Oh…the pain “Børk! Børk! Børk!”

A point I have made over the years is that countries that adopted the metric system in the 19th century are at a disadvantage over those who waited until the late 20th century to convert. Sweden, showing their progressive nature, embraced the metric system in 1876, after ignoring it for 9 years of their 10 year conversion, but like most metric countries, they adopted it, and then never thought about upgrading its use. This lack of introspection really cuts me to the quick. The happy Sven jokes I heard in Minnesota, are not as fun when I think of this fact. The use of deciliters and such by the Swedes indicates they are Mormons Making Coffee when it comes to the metric system. New Zealand (1969), Australia (1970) and South Africa (1971) use millimeters in their housing construction. They fearlessly use milliliters and grams without the prefix cluster around unity to cook.

Please Sweden, don’t leave me bereft, measure your meatballs in grams, measure their diameter in millimeters, and express their volume in milliliters. Until you do, it will perennially feel as uncomfortable as a warm winter for me. Don’t make me wait until Fimbulwinter freezes hell over, although that might still happen before the US becomes metric.

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The War On Measurement

By The Metric Maven

If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.

– W.C. Fields

There is much hype these days surrounding big data. Massive amounts of information can be sifted and searched. Large amounts of data by themselves are of little use without an organizing idea. In the case of climate data, it is generally large, complex and evaluated by specialists who study the Earth’s climate. It can be proxy data that is found in rocks or elsewhere, it can be satellite data that provides information on temperature, pressure, wind speeds and so on. To the average person, this data provides little information they can directly evaluate. In the US, it is believed that the opinion of someone as ignorant as a politician on a particular subject, has the same validity as the consensus of a scientific community, which dedicates itself full-time to the subject under discussion. As Charles Pierce points out in Idiot America “[they offer] The potent narcotic of reassuring simplicity.” It is hard to overcome that.

The fact that the scientific theory and data involved is complex, allows those who dislike a particular scientific consensus, to simply deny it is valid, offer a simple and reassuring ad hoc explanation, and bask in the glow of approval from those who want to believe the same.

Sea level rise is reported to have already begun to encroach on Venice Italy and coastal Florida, but the number of people who live within a Kilometer or two of a coastline are the only one’s who are most likely see the immediate evidence that sea level is rising. Twenty seven US states are landlocked, so their populations will not currently experience sea level rise directly. About 3.7 million Americans live within a meter or so of high tide, and have significant risk of sea level becoming a problem in the future, but with about 325 million or so people in the US one can guesstimate that only one in one 88 people are currently in danger should this eventually happen. Even then it would be possible for a large majority of the nation to simply say “why should I believe it? I’ve never seen it.” There are lots of measurements that are being taken that show that sea level is rising. Satellite data from 1993 to 2017 show a rate of sea level increase of about 3.4 millimeters per year (+/- 0.4 mm) with a total increase from 1993 to the present of 88.2 mm.

Using tidal gauge records, sea level change from 1870 to 2000 is estimated to be almost 200 mm.

A male human hand is about 100 mm wide, so the ocean has been measured to have
increased by about two male hand-widths from 1870-2000. A female human hand is about 80 mm in width for about 2.5 hand-widths. A little over a single female hand-width is how far sea level has risen from 1993 to 2017.

The majority of the US population is not involved in those measurements, and so if a politician does not like the measurement outcome computed by scientists, it is easy to just argue the researchers are just a bunch of long hairs that can be dismissed. After all, can anyone really see this change? When a person goes to the beach it looks just the same. Those scientists just aren’t as smart as they think! A regular person can clearly see that the ocean is fine, and that 80 millimeters is so small it doesn’t matter anyway. This is all so abstract, and so it is easy to rationalize that the persons involved are thought to be “alarmist” and only want to “preserve their jobs by showing there is a problem.” Very few people are directly exposed to science in this country, and so its operation is very removed from their intuition. Before Sputnik only 25% of high school students took a class in physics, now it has rocketed to about 30% or so. Seventy percent of US high school students have never even been exposed to the concepts that are used to obtain the measured data that could severely impact their future. Beyond the simple information they lack, critical thinking skills are also not encouraged in US education—or in US social interaction. This tsunami of ignorance among the US populace, makes it easy for those with a predilection to believe whatever is convenient, to do so.

About 15 years ago a new local weatherman began to host the 10 o’clock weather each night, and I noticed something interesting. He began emphasizing how many years back record highs were. One night he sort of slipped and said something on the order of “back then I’m sure President Garfield was concerned about global warming.” There it was, my weatherman was spouting off about his belief that global warming is a bunch of hot air.

Many times over the next few years, I would hear him say “and the record high for this date was way back in……” It began appearing to me that a larger number of record highs were occurring in the 21st century, and fewer and fewer were from the 19th or before the late 20th century. Of course this was just what I seemed to be seeing each night as I watched the local weather. I had not done any formal analysis, it could just have been confirmation bias on my part.

The winter of 2013-2014 saw a sudden stratospheric warming, this caused the stable polar vortex to become unstable and move southward into the US. It was bone-chillingly cold. Water pipes installed below the street in front my father’s house in 1973 froze solid. This had never happened before. For over a month he had to bring water to his house by hand. The longhairs had said that this crazy change in temperature had been the result of arctic warming! Yet again it was very easy for those who don’t have any respect for science to dismiss climate change with a quick look outside. Senator James Inhofe stated “we keep hearing that 2014 has been the warmest year on record.” and then produced a snowball “It’s a snowball, and that’s just from outside here, so it’s very, very cold out, very unseasonable.” The Senator then famously tossed the snowball at the chair.

My weatherman now had a new mantra during his weather report. When record highs were shown around the same time as the early 2014 North American cold wave had taken place, he would point out that just last year a record low was set on the same date. See! they cancel each other out and so there is no such thing as global warming! This semi-regular chortling from my weatherman became a bit grating, but I had watched this channel for years, and it looked like he just might be on his way to retirement soon.

This year (2017) I began to notice a sudden quiescence. My weatherman seemed to almost skip over the record highs and lows. It appeared that a very, very large number of record highs were all well within the 21st century, and others occurred after the 1980s or so. Still, I realized that it was my perception, and I had not done any analysis. The data I viewed was for but one US city.

Then on 2017-03-09 Phil Plait provided actual data analysis. If the number of record highs and record lows were random, then they should average out to zero, which implies their ratio would be one. In other words, the number of new record highs should statistically be about the same as record lows. From Plait’s essay:

The University Corporation for Atmospheric Research collated data from 1800 stations across the US and binned the data by decade — by decade, which is a huge sample; any deviation from a 1:1 ratio would be extraordinary over that timescale. They found this:

And making this more global, a pair of Australian scientists looked at their country’s data, and found that their ratios were about even…until the 1960s.  After that, highs always outnumber lows. From 2000-2014, record highs outnumbered lows there by 12:1.”

How does one deal with eggheaded scientists who are measuring temperatures and sea levels with satellites? It’s simple, you just stop them from measuring. If you are a politician who wants to continue business as usual, then it’s simple, defund the annoying measurement devices that are being used to quantify atmospheric
information. To deal with it, you begin a war on measurement. The current administration has, so far, not made a single political appointment who is a scientist, or has a scientific background. These are the soldiers you employ for this war on measurement. These are the same people who have made war on the metric system in the past, and will continue to eschew it from political discourse, or in their ignorance, continue to make sport of it with their granfalloon praising their wishful assertions.

Long ago, temperatures in Celsius were defeated by these reactionary warriors, but information in Fahrenheit continued to remain publicly available. Temperatures are the common commodity of small talk in the US. Unlike satellite data, they are “little data.” They are not data that require esoteric instruments to make measurements. Every citizen of the US probably has a thermometer. Most new cars have a thermometer to measure the outside temperature. Those who don’t like the interpretations of everyday temperature data find themselves in a predicament, they can wage a further war on measurement, or the very idea of measurement, and expect the public to accept that even the most basic science is faulty, or they can simply state that the obviously
increasing number of record highs is natural, and somehow not caused by humans. This relies on a war on the measurements and quantification concerning the amount of CO2 that is belched into our atmosphere each year (10 Petagrams of carbon or 36.67 Pg of CO2). The use of pigfish such as millions or billions of tonnes, without a population that is numerate enough to know the difference between Mega, Giga, Tera or Peta is an extension of the US war on measurements which began with a US war on the metric system.

If you liked this essay and wish to support the work of The Metric Maven, please visit his Patreon Page


The Metric Maven has published a book titled The Dimensions of The Cosmos. It examines the basic quantities of the world from yocto to Yotta with a mixture of scientific anecdotes and may be purchased here.

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