In Case You've Wondered

My blog is where my wandering thoughts are interspersed with stuff I made up. So, if while reading you find yourself confused about the context, don't feel alone. I get confused, too.

If you're here for the stories, I started another blog:

One other thing: sometimes I write words you refuse to use in front of children, or polite company, unless you have a flat tire, or hit your thumb with a hammer.

I don't use them to offend; I use them to embellish.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

When We Went to Metrics, But Didn't

About a decade ago, TxDot made a big push to go to all metric measurements. It started with a new specification book (Bible) and the unit of measurement was forced by mandating all contractors submit all information in Metric terminology. Otherwise, feet became meters, pounds became kilograms. etc....

It was a mess. Not only were the contractors struggling with the mandate, many suppliers, such as those that fabricated reinforcement bar, more or less said "kiss my ass". They weren't going to spend millions to re-tool all of their equipment to the required measurements. I don't blame them. I would have done the same thing. We ended up with "soft measurements" which meant metrics weren't really metrics and English weren't really English.

My problem was that the devices we had for measuring, which amounted to substantial amounts of money, were in English units. The "fix" was converting everything from metric, to English, to metric. This made every thing work and I didn't have to go through the headache of teaching metric units, or verifying the right equipment was used for measuring.

It was tedious, to say the least. I had to take measurements from plans, change them to metric and record the results on plan sheets. I had a good project inspector who was suffering with many of the same problems. His mandate of carrying measurements out to three decimal points meant long hours of calculating and writing. I helped him; he helped me. We both had too many things to do and not enough of the time required. Skewed measurements, with the necessary trigonometry, could be nightmares to handle. I was constantly worried I busted a conversion and was putting something in the wrong place.

Eventually, since many other states in the U.S. decided not to follow the example, TxDot went back to English measurements, which meant a new specification book, new forms, new software, and millions of dollars for the changes. Meanwhile, I breathed a sigh of relief, although I had finally reached the point that my mind automatically knew (and knows) that 3.28084 feet (39-3/8") is a meter, 25.4 millimeters is an inch and a guardrail section is 7.62 meters (25 feet) in length.

So, another great experiment ended with an expensive whimper. I'm glad it did, but wish they'd had just said no and put the money in an account for my retirement.


  1. I remember back in the 70's, when Jimmah Carter was prez, we were all supposed to go metric. I was in high school at the time, and Sr. Tarcilia, the physics teacher, was all excited about going metric. She gleefully informed all of us that her new meter-stick (which she carried with her always) gave her more reach than her old yardstick had.

  2. Working with metrics is simpler - in theory. I guess it's like learning a foreign language.

  3. I remember a story many years ago about an airliner in Canada running out of fuel in midair due to a colossal mixup in conversions between metrics and English, resulting in less than half the required fuel load onboard. Only the exceptional skill of the pilots in gliding the plane to an unpowered emergency landing averted a tragedy.

  4. I remember a metric conversion uh-oh which caused a space probe to crash. I don't remember the details, but the final loss had a substantial cost.

  5. I-19 between Tucson and Nogales AZ uses metric signage. I used to live in Tucson, and had to work in Nogales sometimes. I still don't know how far it is in miles. I just know I was getting close when I saw the "WARNING: Firearms are prohibited in Mexico" sign.