Hot! Can You Convert?


When I was in junior high, every student had to pass 13 competencies – random standards the school thought we would need in the grown up world. I was an overachiever even at 14, so I breezed through the first dozen. It was number 13 that proved unlucky: converting English measurements to metric.

Back in Jimmy Carter days there was talk that the US would join the rest of the “unmodern” world and go metric. We would need to know kilos instead of pounds, meters instead of inches, liters instead of gallons. I could never remember the ratios and failed the test five times. I invoked the classic teenage mantra “When will I ever use this!”

Every freakin’ day, it turns out. Twenty five years later, I have to convert all the time. Climbing routes are all scaled in meters – from the lengths of our ropes to the heights of the routes. When I race, it’s a 5K not a 3.2 miler. And when my foreign friends ask how hot it gets in the desert, I tell them 40C.

Some conversions are easy to ballpark. A meter is about 3 feet, 5 kilometers about 3 miles. But that Celsius one still stumps me. If 40C is 100 degrees, you would think 20C would be about 50 degrees. No, it’s more like 70F. Just check out the formula:

C = (F-32) * 5/9

I thought I was saved when the Regan era nixed US metrics, but of course it would be easier if 20C was just 20C.

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