February 15, 2008
As a student in American classrooms in the 1960s and 1970s I was introduced to the metric system in a failed attempt to join the world standard. (That the United States is one of but three countries on the planet that doesn’t use the metric system speaks volumes.) Personally, I think the reason the metric system failed was making it about converting and not adopting. Countless hours were spent in classrooms adding 32 and dividing by 5 before subtracting 32 and multiplying by 9 to know that 1 centimeter was a 100th of a meter regardless of whether it was freezing in Fahrenheit or Celsius.
So it should come as no surprise that this evening, while working out at our new gym, Sibylle and I discovered something interesting about the weights we’d been using. About 18 months ago I joined another gym and was trained on a set of weight machines. Being a nerd I carefully noted the seat position settings for each machine and the weight I was lifting for each. I made a little card to carry with me so I wouldn’t have to rely on memory. Eventually I was able to remember the numbers without my cheatsheet.
On each of our three visits to the new gym this past week, I have done a few repetitions on the same set of weight machines the other club had. And each time I was somewhat stunned by how heavy the weights were. Could I really have lost that much strength in just a year and a half?
After straining to lift roughly half my prior weight again tonight, I remarked to Sibylle, “These weights are really heavy, I don’t understand it.” Half joking she replied, “You don’t suppose they are kilograms instead of pounds, do you?”
Suddenly a light bulb went off in my head. The little “kilogram to pounds” conversion charts taped to some of the machines took on a whole new meaning. 100 didn’t mean pounds, it meant 100 kilograms or 224 pounds.
Thanks to Sibylle’s remark we now know that our new machines are in fact more than twice as heavy as the ones I’d used before. And that a centimeter is still 100th of a meter, and that -40 F equals -40 C, and both are too cold for me.