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talk about tiliting at windmills!

Connecticut Educator Hooked on Metrics

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published: May 13, 2006
Filed at 11:45 p.m. ET

NORWICH, Conn. (AP) -- Brent Maynard says he weighs 74 kilograms and is 169 centimeters tall. And if you ask him for directions, he'll give them in kilometers.

Maynard, a chemistry professor at Three Rivers Community College, is a champion for the metric system, a man who helped erect distance and speed signs in kilometers and whose goal in life is to see America ditch the standard system.

But in a country that's hooked on pounds, gallons and miles, it is a lonely cause. Last October during National Metric Week he sat alone in front of Norwich City Hall wearing a pro-metric placard and asking for signatures on a petition to get the U.S. Postal Service to weigh and measure packages in metric. Six people signed it.

Maynard, 52, a metrics fanatic since the age of 14, is used to the tepid response. He founded two metric associations in 1993 in Plainfield and in York, Maine. Each has about six members.

''They're not as passionate about it as I am,'' he said. ''They kind of just go along with it.''

Like most American youth, Maynard learned metrics in high school but unlike others, he has embraced it. He's even special ordered his truck with an odometer that reads distance in kilometers and writes congratulatory letters to companies that convert to dual labeling on products.

Maynard argues metrics is simpler because it's based on powers of 10 and more effective because the rest of the world uses it in business and in the military.

But despite several laws recognizing metric as the preferred system of measurement in the U.S., it's been slow to gain footing. The U.S. remains the only industrialized nation in the world to predominantly use the standard system, also known as the English system.

That doesn't mean metric measurements haven't crept into daily life in America. Soda comes in liters, film is in millimeters and electricity power is based on watts. Most food products use grams on their labels.

The hodgepodge of units has led to problems. In 1999, the Mars Climate Orbiter burned up in the Martian atmosphere because NASA navigators mistakenly thought a contractor used metric measurements when standard units were actually used.

''It's confusing to use two systems -- even for rocket scientists,'' said Lorelle Young, president of the U.S. Metric Association.

In Plainfield, where Maynard's association put up distance signs in kilometers, residents aren't even aware of the signs, even when they're right down the street.

Marlene Chenail, 70, lives up the street from one of Maynard's signs. She says she doesn't know the meaning behind ''RI state border 8 km.''

''We've never really looked at it but we know that it's there,'' Chenail said.

Maynard attributes the unfamiliarity to America's resistance to change and the perception that it's a foreign system.

''We seem, in our culture, awfully afraid to challenge people to think,'' he said.

While Maynard is one of the few adamantly promoting the system, there are others who speak out against metrication.

Seaver Leslie, president of Americans for Customary Weight and Measure in Wiscasset, Maine, said Americans shouldn't be forced to use either and argues that standard units are superior because the units are human-based and has history. The furlong -- an eighth of a mile -- is the distance a farmer could plow in a field and still be in earshot of his house if there was danger, Leslie said. Etymologists believe the word represents the distance a team of oxen could plow without needing a rest.

''They're very practical and very poetic,'' Leslie said. ''They have worked for the farmer in the field, the carpenter in the shop and large contractors in industry and for our aerospace industry.''

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