Unilateral Metrication

As you may already be aware, I have a particular dislike for the system of units used in the United States, and a great love for the International System (SI, for Système International) Units. It is a great pain to me that my home country is stubbornly holding out against its inevitable adoption of units that simply make sense.

There are plenty of benefits to doing this, but these have all been argued before. And, more importantly, the argument has been settled: 95.6% of humanity lives in countries where SI units, or some variant thereof, are or shortly will become the standard and the norm. This is perhaps the only social construct which we as a species have ever really agreed on and used in exactly the same way.

The meter and the gram, two of seven base units in the metric system, were defined in a law passed by the First Republic of France on April 7, 1795, nearly 220 years ago. Since then the metric system’s progress towards universal human adoption has been direct and linear. The United States is the only country that is both large enough and stupid enough to hold on to an archaic and poorly designed system of units whose obsolescence has long been clear. This has left it with an unfortunate and often confusing mix of archaic US “Imperial” units and metric units. Basically, it boils down to this: Any time measurement accuracy is important, measurement will be done in metric units. This holds for the fields of science, engineering, construction, and medicine. Whenever it is necessary that people who may or may not have graduated high school understand what you’re doing, US units are used in preference to a quick explanation of the metric system.

As on many other issues, American politicians and cultural leaders are united against the tide of logic. This goes beyond the two-party system. While both Democrats and Republicans are opposed to metrication, so is the Constitution party, the Libertarian party, and the Green party. Actually, so far as I can tell, there is no political party in the United States, no matter how minor, that supports metrication as an element of their platform. This is a disgrace.

But I digress. What can we do about this? Well, there are two answers. The first is that we can and should start a metrication party, and we should lobby all parties, major and minor, to add metrication to their platform. I suspect the Greens would be most amenable, but more on this later.

What I propose is that we begin metrication with ourselves. Each of us has the power to measure our height in meters and our mass in kilograms. We can all tell our weather widgets to give us the temperature in Celsius, and we can tell our navigation units to give us the distance to our destination in kilometers.

I believe strongly that society is the sum of its members. For every person who metricates, we push back the tide of Imperial units and bring their inevitable obsolescence closer. Within the US, this amounts to a unilateral decision to metricate. From a global perspective, however, it is simply a recognition that it is time to give up on the idea of American Exceptionalism, and join humanity in a species-wide pursuit of progress.

Layers

In the abandoned cliffs of a faraway land

There is a steep, rocky path which one can take through treacherous territory

To a small ledge which sits high above the surrounding forest and empty countryside

Sitting upon this stone outcropping all the noises of humanity are infinitely far

Not just over the horizon but over the next one, and the one after

As if in a dream, an empty world stretches on forever

The noises of man fall away.

Unmuffled, birds chirp.

Bushes rustle in the breeze. The breeze itself brushes upon my ears, its ethereal rumbling the only sure way to know I am here

My world is green and gray and blue and white

Moss grows and dies; the rocks themselves are as people, staring imperiously down on all that lies below

Loudest of all is the silence.

 

In this world without man, uncompromising silence is the bedrock to which reality is anchored.

Listening in, there is no buzz and no hum.

Man’s works serve only to hide and obscure.

What then, is truly the dream?

Stationary upon silence eternal,

Value and worth themselves

Fall away.

Leaving only

The barest

Essence:

I am.

On Idealism

My politics are not comparable to those of a great majority of Americans’.  I identify as a Socialist because I don’t want to give false impression of moderation.  While I don’t believe in the most common conception of socialism, an economy administered by the government, I believe that my core principles put me far outside the norm for an American and are similarly divergent from most major ideologies in the Western world.  These are:

1) Society has no purpose other than to aid its members

2) Social structures should be changed wherever this is not the case

3) 1 and 2 taken together imply a society with drastically different order than exists anywhere on Earth

I believe that there is something deeply wrong with a world in which one billion go hungry while another billion suffer from an excess of food.  I think that it’s atrocious that at a time when technology allows some to live in unprecedented excess while they, through action and inaction make it hard to even begin to effect the changes that could create a better world.

It is unfortunate that people focus on money and possessions more than learning for its own sake, than on love and satisfaction and fraternity.  Where biological need has been eliminated, I don’t see a quest for enlightenment, but simply for more items.

I don’t know the solutions to these problems.  I know many don’t think that they’re problems.  I know many more don’t see their importance compared to more immediate concerns.  I know that, no matter what I say or do for the rest of my life, there will be people who disagree with me.  This puts us in a situation where, to use Machiavelli’s terminology, we have hard questions to answer about ends and means.

Every person who wants to change society has a fundamental question to answer with regards to strategy:  Do you act as a part of the society you seek to change or do you attack it as an outsider?  Depending on your choice, you are guilty either of appeasement or a willingness to fail.

The difficulty of formulating a coherent answer to this question only becomes harder when the realities of electoral politics are taken into consideration.  By placing your ideology on the ballot, you are putting yourself in a process which pushes back strongly against original thought and meaningful change.  Minority parties are often powerless, and achieving majority status usually means sacrificing your beliefs along the way.  My response to such realities is as follows:

Never compromise on your ideology or beliefs.  Never.

Always compromise on strategy.  Do everything you can to do something.  If your beliefs are important, partial successes matter, and a good compromise is success.

Eliminate the bourgeois capitalist system, one compromise at a time.

See wikified version at http://gammafactor.wikia.com/wiki/On_Idealism.

Metric Base Units

The seven “Base” units in the SI (International System in French) Units are: The meter, the second, the kilogram, the kelvin, the ampere, the candela, and the mole.

I think that this might be a bit much– for example, the candela describes luminous intensity as visible to the human eye. It is nearly impossible to measure precisely (and technically, would be different for colorblind people and slightly different even between different eyes or sets of eyes), and IMO could simply be measured with the Watt per square meter, while denoting that a luminous intensity is being measured in the same way that we differentiate between thermal and electrical power in the energy generation industry.

It is also my feeling that there are issues with the mole as a unit. It is the SI base unit for the “number of substance”. It is defined such that one mole of Carbon 12 masses 12 grams. But why is that grams and not kilograms, if the kilogram is a metric base unit? Beyond that, why is this necessary when we could simply say that there are some number times Avogadro’s Number of atoms/molecules participating in a reaction? Beyond this, I have issues with what the mole is described as measuring: The base unit for “number of substance” is one. This is the only logical value and any number other than precisely one would be a contradiction.

Finally, I quibble with the choice of the Ampere as a base unit instead of the Coulomb. We can measure charge quite precisely and therefore it seems rather silly to choose current as a base unit when a current is a moving charge. Especially because the definition of the Ampere (“the constant current that will produce an attractive force of 2 \times 10^{-7} newton per meter of length between two straight, parallel conductors of infinite length and negligible circular cross section placed one meter apart in a vacuum”) is impossible to realize in physical reality.

There are of course various counterarguments to be made here, all grounded in various scientific or pragmatic considerations. I think that, most importantly, the fact that one can debate the scientific justifications for the definitions of metric units serves to highlight that these units have justifications; and not just justifications but logical reasons that can be argued over because they are supposed to make sense.

Wikified version at http://gammafactor.wikia.com/wiki/Metric_Base_Units.

The Gamma Factor

The Gamma factor, also known as the Lorentz factor, describes time dilation and spatial contraction in special and general relativity.  Mathematically, this factor is given by:

\gamma=\frac{1}{\sqrt{1-\frac{v^2}{c^2}}}

Where v is the object’s speed relative to the observer, and c is the speed of light.  Because the meter is defined in terms of the speed of light, the speed of light is known exactly.  It is 299,792,458 m/s.

This factor relates the progression of time for someone moving at speed v to someone who is not moving.  According to these equations, time will actually move slower for someone who is moving faster.  This is neither the place nor the time for me to explain Relativity (there are other, more qualified, people who can do that much better than I can; Wikipedia is as always a great place to start).  In any case, I think that it’s an apt metaphor for the content of a good blog post: In a format that is quick to read, a post should say something new and insightful about something.  It should help you to separate yourself from the mundane information surrounding any given topic by addressing something more general and permanent.

Thus, slowing down by speeding up.

In addition to enabling comments, I am experimenting with letting readers edit my post.  Therefore, I also created a wiki where I will put up a copy of these posts which anyone can modify as they wish.  If you have a comment, put it in the comments.  If you have a change that you would like to see incorporated into the post, head over to the wiki.

This is a free speech zone, and I am a very opinionated person.  I will be posting about pretty much whatever I want.  I’m naturally inclined towards math and science, and Space Colonization is a lifelong interest.  I know that not everyone will be able to follow if I am discussing more technical subjects, but if I think any special knowledge is needed to understand what I’m writing I will be sure to say so.  Otherwise you can skip any equations with no loss of continuity.  I will also probably make some political posts.  Finally, I am a strong proponent of converting to SI “metric” units wherever they are not in use, so I expect to write metrication posts as well.  Beyond that, I can’t say much about topics, so make sure you check in periodically!

-Isaac

Wikified version at http://gammafactor.wikia.com/wiki/The_Gamma_Factor.