The True History of Measurement and the Metric System

Dear Kid,

Once upon a time, the standard unit of measurement was an Ugn. As in

Mrs. Neanderthal: How much mammoth did you bring home?
Joe Neanderthal: Ugn.


Lots of cultures tried their own measurement systems. The Egyptians tried the mummy hand and later the pyramid brick as the basis of measurement. The Greeks opted for the olive and then the laurel. The Italians tried various types of pasta. None of these (including the pasta that was thrown at the wall) stuck.The History of Metric Measurement. Sort of.

Royalty decided to get involved in the measurement game and (being Royalty) whatever they said was the way things got measured. Given the high turnover in the world of monarchs, measurement systems changed frequently.

In the 16th century, Simon Stevin came up with a decimal notation system and in the 17th century John Wilkins came up with a different decimal system. Pretty much everyone ignored them except Wilkins’ cat who didn’t really care about a decimal system but was quite attached to the idea of being fed.

Then came the French Revolution. Many people think the French Revolution had to do with lack of food, inequality, and the need for a new flag. In fact, the French Revolution had everything to do with a new way to count (this was the original New Math).

This was the era of Humanism (Pi studied that in World History which makes me an expert) which means that Humans Thought Things Up. In this case, humans based the system of measurement on the natural world: the meter (or metre as it was then known) was based on the dimensions of the earth, the kilogram was based on water volume, and the 2-litre was based on a reasonable unit of Caffeine Free Diet Coke.

In the United States, the standard unit of measurement continued to be Anything that Wasn’t Metric. As I understand it, chickens were quite a popular unit of measurement.

July 28, 1866 (you now know why I’m talking about this today), the metric system became a legal measurement system in the United States. Absolutely no one cared.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the metric system became very chic (and by “very chic” I mean everyone (and by “everyone” I mean school administrators and the government) was convinced that the metric system would take over the US and become the most only recognized unit of measurement in the country). This translated into a lot of extra homework and not much else, since (hindsight being what it is) we still pretty much ignore everything metric (except when it comes to bottled soda).

Give an inch, take a meter?

Love, Mom

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Puppy Conversations | What’s in a Name?

Dear Kid,

Puppy: Tell me a story

Me: I just told you a story

Puppy: More?

Me: What kind of a story?

Puppy: My name, tell me about my name

When the puppy was first adopted DearKidLoveMom.comMe: Well, let’s see. When we got you from the shelter, your name was Pluto

Puppy: I had the wrong name

Me: Well, we thought it was the wrong name

Puppy: So you gave me the right name

Me: Not right away. We knew we had to find the right name, but we weren’t sure what it was.

Puppy: What did you call me?

Me: Sometimes we called you Puppy, sometimes I called you Baby.

Puppy: Because I’m your baby

Me: You will always be my baby

Puppy: Yes

Me: Then we started thinking about names. We came up with lots of names, but we just couldn’t agree. We made lists and we talked about it and thought about it and just couldn’t come up with the right name.

Puppy: Then what happened?

Me: After about three weeks, we finally decided that no one could leave the dinner table until we’d figured out your name

Puppy: And you named me Booker

Me: and we named you Booker

Puppy: And we lived Happily Ever After

Me: Absolutely

Puppy: I love you

Me: I love you too, Puppy

Puppy: Now scratch my tummy

Love, Mom

For more puppy conversations see Puppy Conversations and Food Observations, Spring Puppy Conversations, New Puppy Conversations, Winter WonderPuppy | Baby It’s Cold Outside, Puppy Conversations Translated for the College Kid, Puppy Conversations and FIFA World Cup SoccerPuppy Conversations and the Joy of Quirkiness, and Puppy Conversations| In the Beginning

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Puppy Conversations | In the Beginning

Dear Kid,

Puppy: Tell me a story

Me: What kind of a story?

Puppy: About me

Me: Ah, that kind of a story. Ok. Once upon a time there was a little girl

Puppy: I’m not a girl!

Me: No, the little girl was Pi

Puppy: Oh

Me: And a boy

Puppy: That was me

Me: No, that was the Kid

Puppy: Where am I?

Me: Listen to the story

Puppy: Sigh….

First day with the new dog DearKidLoveMom.comMe: And a Mommy and a Daddy. And they wanted a dog to be part of their family too

Puppy: That’s me!

Me: Listen to the story. And they visited lots of shelters and met lots of nice dogs, but none of the dogs they met were their dog

Puppy: Because that’s me

Me: Sometimes the whole family would go and sometimes just the Mommy and the little girl would go on their own. Then one day the little girl and the Mommy visited a shelter they’d been to before. The little girl saw a tiny, little dog

Puppy: Me:

Me: Yes you, but listen to the story. “Can we visit with that dog?” asked the little girl. “We can meet that dog,” said the Mommy, “but I think he’s going to be too small for Dad.” The Mommy and the little girl asked the Very Nice Volunteer if they could meet the little dog. The Very Nice Volunteer brought the little dog outside so they could meet each other. The little dog turned out not to be quite as little as they had thought and he trotted onto the grass and brought something back to the Very Nice Volunteer. “You can have it,” she told the little dog who promptly chomped up the treat he’d found.

Puppy: Can I have a treat now?

Me: It was the only time I’ve seen you offer to share a treat. And no, I’m telling a story, so no treats. The Mommy and the little girl and the little dog had a very nice visit.

Puppy: Yes

Me: At one point, the little dog trotted off to the end of the enclosure. “Should I go get him?” asked the little girl. “If you want to,” said the Mommy, “but he’s not going anywhere.” The little girl went to the dog, picked him up, and brought him back. The dog didn’t exactly look comfortable, but he let the little girl (who was a very strong child) carry him back without fussing at all.

Puppy: That’s when you knew

Me: That’s when we knew you were Ours. The Mommy called the boy and the Dad to come meet the dog, but the boy and the Dad were kayaking and they couldn’t get to the shelter in time.

Puppy: Which is why you didn’t take me home

Me: That’s right.

Puppy: Then what happened?

Me: The next day, after the family went to the boy’s school to see where his classes would be that year, they went to the shelter. They visited with the little dog. Then the Dad wanted to meet another dog. The Other Dog took one look at the family and hid under the picnic table. “No,” said the Mommy. “We are not getting a dog that doesn’t want anything to do with us.” And the family decided to get the first dog.

Puppy: Me

Me: Yes, you. The family went to the front desk and began filling out the paperwork. As they were getting everything done and waiting for their dog, a man came in who wanted to adopt the very same dog.

Puppy: Me

Me: Yes, you. But the family had made the decision first, so they got the dog. And they all went home together and lived

Puppy: Happily Ever After

Me: Right

Puppy: Good story

Me: Good puppy

Love, Mom

For more puppy conversations see Puppy Conversations and Food Observations, Spring Puppy Conversations, New Puppy Conversations, Winter WonderPuppy | Baby It’s Cold Outside, Puppy Conversations Translated for the College Kid, Puppy Conversations and FIFA World Cup Soccer, and Puppy Conversations and the Joy of Quirkiness

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For the Love of French Fries

Dear Kid,

french-friesOnce upon a time, there was no such thing as French fries. This was a sad state of affairs and all the little Neanderthal children would have been unhappy if they had known what they were missing. Mrs. Neanderthal thought about inventing fries, but decided she was too busy to be bothered.

Fast forward through the Incas (who worshiped potatoes), the Europeans (who thought potatoes were poisonous), the invention of the French fry (by either the French or the Belgians—no one’s quite sure), and we arrive at the McDonald’s French fry.

The golden arches boys loved the idea of French fries (as did their customers). But they had all kinds of difficulties trying to get consistency of fry. And McD’s is all about consistency. Many potatoes gave their lives (and their skins) in the pursuit of the perfect French fry.

The McDonald’s researchers eventually discovered that potatoes had to cure (and by “cure” I mean “sit”) for three weeks before being cooked. Three weeks turns out to be the right amount of time to let the perfect amount of sugar convert to starch. (Potatoes cooked sooner have too much sugar and turn brown too quickly.)

In the pursuit of French fry perfection, McD’s researched which variety of spud to use, which type of shortening to use, and which hat looked best for fry cooks. They eventually even created a potato computer (which sounds like a 5th grade science project) to monitor the frying oil.

Many people consider French fries to be a vegetable. This is the same logic that says chess is a sport. By which I mean “not so much.”

Americans eat about 140 lbs of potatoes per person each year. About 35 pounds (yup, pounds) of those potatoes are in the form of French fries.

Love, Mom

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Malware and The New Words

Dear Kid,

Today we learn new words. Unfortunately, none of them are printable. My Friend the Internet has let me down.

Somehow, I managed to install some malware on my computer. My computer is not amused about this and neither am I.

I took my computer in to my friend Sean yesterday. Sean joined us in being unamused. Then Sean started teaching me the New Words.

The New Words did not impress my computer which explained to Sean where it hurt and that the malware had gotten its hooks in deeper than anyone should need to know about.

I suggested using Carbonite (I love Carbonite) to back up to before I installed the Ick. Sean found this to be the funniest statement of the day and almost choked on his pancakes. Then he explained that what I’d suggested was the digital equivalent of changing the bed linens to cure a broken leg. Won’t make things worse, but won’t do anything to help solve the problem.

We went back to the New Words.

Sean, who is a good guy (I’m being super nice because I still need his help) found the Detailed Directions for removing the bad files and then the bad stuff that went Deeper than Deep.

Last night I tried to follow the Detailed Directions. Find the Control Panel: Check. Find the Bad Files: Check. Uninstall files: chec—oops. I was able to uninstall all the files—except the Biggest, Baddest, Nastiest, Spawn-spewing file.

Go directly to jail, do not pass go, do not collect a clean computer.

I’m taking my computer back to My Good Friend Sean today. I have no doubt his genius will be able to fix this problem before you can say Hot Dog Eating Contest.

(Yes, I’m sucking up—I need help.)

Meanwhile, the malware is making me Absolutely Crazy.

Please feel free to send get-well emails to my computer baby and keep yourself malware-free.

Love, Mom

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Lighthouses Part II | Which Light Is Which?

Dear Kid,

There are two ways of spreading light; to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it. ~Edith Wharton DearKidLoveMom.comThe thing about lighthouses (that I didn’t get to yesterday) is that they are quite distinctive during the day, but fairly uniform at night. Daytime: different heights, different shapes, different architecture, different colors. Nighttime: light beam. This was all fine and dandy if you just wanted to go out for a brief sail in the harbor. But it wasn’t such a great success for True Travelers. Should you be in the business of long sea voyages, understanding where you are is pretty important.

Joe The Sailor (who in an odd twist of fate was a direct descendent of Joe Neanderthal) tended to get lost a lot which annoyed Mrs. Joe The Sailor. Since Mrs. JTS tended to express her displeasure, and Joe did not enjoy those particular expressions, Joe decided to Do Something About The Situation.

Joe (did I mention that he was a direct descendant of the none-too-bright Joe Neanderthal?) had several ideas for solving the problem. His first thought was to train lightning bugs to blink in unique patterns near the shore. The bugs were quite willing to blink, but tended to stay in their own (random) pattern rather than in Joe’s steady, predictable pattern.

Joe’s second idea was to collect stars and put different stars in each lighthouse. Can you say colossal fail? Can you say “genetics will show”?

Finally, Joe decided to put different numbers of lights in each lighthouse. This wasn’t a terrible idea, but by the 10th lighthouse (which according to Joe’s system should have had 214 lights), the lighthouse keepers revolted and the idea (and Joe) went out the window.

Fortunately, Joe was not left to solve the problem alone.

Augustin-Jean Fresnel (pronounced Frey-nel) was up late one night in 1822 and invented the Fresnel (pronounced Frey-nel) lens. The Fresnel lens is made of hundreds of pieces of specially cut glass which surrounds the bulb. The lens brightens the light from the bulb and focuses it into a directional beam (also known as the Hey!-It’s-A-Lighthouse beam). The Fresnel (still pronounced Frey-nel) lens allows the lighthouse keeper to create an unlimited number of flashing combinations. Unlimited is a big number. Go ahead and count. I’ll wait.

Love, Mom

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Lighthouses Part I | The History (Sort of) of Lighthouses and Old Jokes

Dear Kid,

Once upon a time, there were no lighthouses. This was very bad for the shipping trade but very good for plunder-the-wrecked-ship trade, because there are always tradeoffs.

Americans: “Please divert your course 15 degrees to the North to avoid a collision.”
Canadians: “Recommend you divert YOUR course 15 degrees to the South to avoid a collision.”
Americans: “This is the captain of a US Navy ship. I say again, divert YOUR course.”
Canadians: “No, I say again, you divert YOUR course.”
Canadians: “This is a lighthouse. Your call.”**

Not only were there no lighthouses, there was no GPS (can you imagine!?) so people built fires on top of hills to guide ships. Unfortunately, it can be hard to distinguish ship-guiding-fires from s’more-making-fires, and more than one Girl Scout Troop inadvertently caused ships to take a wrong turn.

Lighthouses don't go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining. DearKidLoveMom.comThen people decided maybe fires could be used to warn ships of dangerous areas and lighthouses were invented. To make sure there were no problems, the Girl Scouts were sent off to sell cookies.

The Egyptians—who were generally first to the engineering party—built Pharos of Alexandria in 280 BCE. This First of All Lighthouses stood until an earthquake destroyed it in the 1300s. Which just goes to show that the Egyptians could have benefited from following the California building codes.

The most important person in the lighthouse was the lighthouse keeper whose job it was to keep the lighthouse. He generally had assistants whose job it was to help keep the lighthouse. The assistants were often paid in Girl Scout cookies and glasses of milk. When they weren’t busy having cookies and milk the keeper and his assistants made sure the light shone out into the night. This worked best when there was night to shine the light into. (See tomorrow’s blog for more information about this.)

Most of the early lighthouses in the US were made of wood. Most of the early lights were made of fire. This made for a somewhat unstable relationship. It was considered “job security” for lighthouse builders.

Eventually someone got the bright idea to build lighthouses out of stone and brick. The rebuilding industry slowed down considerably. This is generally known as the Great Lighthouse Recession of Sometime in the Past.

The world’s most famous lighthouse is (wait. This requires A Moment. It requires A Moment for you to think about what the World’s Most Famous Lighthouse might be. It requires A Moment for you to appreciate the gravity of “World’s Most Famous Lighthouse.” It requires A Moment for us to pause and respect the palpable awe that “World’s Most Famous” inspires. It requires—fine, fine, I’m getting to it.). The World’s Most Famous Lighthouse is the Statue of Liberty. Didn’t see that one coming, did you?

The Statue of Liberty was illuminated in 1886 and was an active lighthouse until 1902 when tourism and huddled masses yearning to breathe free took precedence. TSoL’s light was its torch which used an electric light that was visible for 24 miles.

Hope today lights up your world.

Love, Mom

**Some people claim this exchange really happened. Not so. It is a joke. A very old joke.

PS. Pharos of Alexandria is considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World. This is important in case you are asked about Wonders of the World.

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