Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Metrication Of America

Conversions Are Not Easy

Watching a TV commercial recently, I noticed Kroger had Kingsford charcoal on sale for $5.00. At first I thought it odd the bag weight was identified as 15.4 pounds.  In my younger days, bags of charcoal briquettes were sold principally in 5# and 10# bags, with even a 20# bag for the serious backyard grillers.  So, as I pondered how someone came up with a 15.4# bag weight, I suddenly remembered that most of the world doesn’t measure weight in pounds (#) but rather uses kilograms (kg).  

Eons ago, I learned a conversion unit for kilograms to pounds so I did a quick bit of mental math. Since 1 kilogram equals 2.2 pounds, it follows that 15.4/2.2 = 7.  Only, I did it in reverse by estimating the answer to the division problem to be 7 and mentally multiplying 7kg times 2.2lb/kg to get 15.4lb. 

I apologize for dragging you through a math lesson involving the metric system, but it’s crucial to my story.  I’ve been a fan of the metric system since I learned of its simplicity in my college days. The metric system is based on the decimal system.  All units of weights and measures are based on powers of 10. You remember, 100 is 1, 101 is 10, 102 is 100, 103 is 1,000, etc.  

Think about it, one meter is a measure of length and is about the same as the length of a yardstick.  While you and I learned a yardstick was made up of fractions of inches, inches, and feet, a meter is made up of millimeters (1/1,000) and centimeters (1/100).  We learned a yardstick was 36 inches long, or three feet long, that a foot was 12 inches, and inches were divided into complex units such as 1/16, 1/8, 3/16 1/4, 5/16, 3/8, 7/16,1/2…etc.

Elementary school teachers had to spend weeks, even months teaching us the complexities of measuring in feet and inches.  Sure, it all sounds simple to those of us who have used it all our lives.  We know about how long a mile is, and a few of us recall a mile is 5,280 feet.

The United States system of units of weights and measures is mind boggling, and I’ve only touched on linear measurements.  What about liquid measurements. That’s easy, right?  One ounce is a small liquid measure.  Four ounces make a half-pint.  Eight ounces comprise a pint, 32 ounces are a quart, 64 ounces are a half-gallon and 128 ounces constitute a gallon.  Cooks and chefs have to know such things and more.

Once someone learning the metric system understands powers of ten and the decimal system, the rest is a breeze.  Compare miles and kilometers (1,000 meters).  If someone asked you how many yards are in a mile, would you be able to recall 1760, or would you have to divide 5,280 by 3.  Yet, a person trained to use the metric system could calculate the number of meters in a kilometer by moving the decimal point for the number 1 to the right three places (1.0 to 1000).  By the way, the prefix kilo means 1000.
The simplicity of the metric system versus the US system is comparable to the days of horse drawn carriages versus travel by airplane.  There’s no contest.

There has been more than one attempt to convert the US to the metric system.  The last serious one was back in 1975 when Congress passed and President Gerald Ford signed into law, the Metric Conversion Act declaring the metric system "the preferred system of weights and measures for United States trade and commerce."  Sadly, it has remained just that, “the preferred system” and the old system remains in widespread use.  

However, global trading agreements and corporations who sell American made products globally have greatly contributed to the metrification (metrication) of America.

My favorite soft drink is Coca Cola.  The plastic bottle Coca Colas I buy are 16.9 ounces.  Care to guess how many liters that is? If I told you it was 500 milliliters would you be able to convert it to .5 liters by moving the decimal three places to the left.  Good! That’s a half-liter. 

I’ll be among the first to admit that moving completely to metric system would be a headache for everyone who grew up under the US customary units.  It’s not easy changing from something you’ve used all your life, but when all things are metric, future generations of young folks will shake their heads at how archaic and primitive, not to mention ridiculous, our present system of weights and measurements really are.

Yes, it would also be extremely costly if the US were to adopt the metric system.  Still, once all the labeling gets changed, the gas pumps converted to liters instead of gallons, and a ton of other changes, it would surely be a lot simpler.  Anyway, we are closer to 100% usage of the metric system than we were back in 1975, and you now know far more than you care to about a 15.4# bag of charcoal.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Little Things

I’ve always found it a bit strange that the fairer sex, generally speaking, is afraid of mice.  Given the size advantage, females should be able to subdue any mouse.  Why then are women afraid of such diminutive creatures? I don’t have a good answer to this question, nor am I able to fully explain my fear of snakes and spiders.

I’m okay with any snake or spider that’s a respectable distance away from me.  Still, I walk with trepidation along pond banks or rock lined creeks or levees, as reptiles such as snakes, love to warm themselves in such places.  And, I would add, the early morning deer hunts that once took me deep into pre-dawn woods in mid-October carried the risk of me face-planting a spider in route to a deer stand location. Oh, the horror!

I can count on one hand the number of snakes I’ve seen on the grounds of my current home, but spiders are a different story.  And, just this year, I’ve remarked to family members as to the prevalence of cobwebs in nooks and crannies of our garage, around outside windows, and under the eaves of our house.  I sweep them down and they’re back in less than a week.  Thankfully, our pest control service keeps the inside of our house a relatively spider-free “safe zone.”

My wife was watching TV in our living room/den, last night, and it was not something I cared to hear or see, so I ventured to our guest house, intending to watch some early episodes of The Twilight Zone, via Netflix.

The porch area is not well lit, but I could see well enough to unlock the door.  No sooner had I stepped on the threshold, when I walked face first into a cobweb.  There may have been a spider in the web, I cannot say.  However, in the melee that followed, and it was a melee of flailing arms and hands about my face and head, I dislodged my glasses, knocking them onto the tiled entrance to the living room.

I can see without my glasses, just not very well.  Yet, I could see them lying on the floor in a twisted shape, much like person who just fell from a high precipice.  In that moment, I felt the agony of the Ralphie in A Christmas Story when he stepped on his glasses, breaking them.  I even had empathy for the bank teller in an episode of The Twilight Zone, who loved to read and was the sole survivor of an H-Bomb blast with access to all the books of the now demolished Public Library, who accidentally broke his glasses, and was left anguished and alone at the show’s end.

The clinic that keeps me in eyewear is closed today. I have attempted to straighten and bandage the frames of my glasses.  Presently, they are perched somewhat angly-gogling on the bridge of my nose with one earpiece resting higher than the other earpiece. A thin rubber band, think ponytail holder, keeps one lens in its proper place. None of this is pretty, but it works well enough for me to do most of the things I want to do.

Little animals frighten some people; little arachnids frighten others. Some of us respond to our fears rationally, while others of us may lean toward being irrational. Life, itself, is merely a compilation of little things and events that from a world view are insignificant, but on the personal level are experiences to be remembered, cried over, or laughed at.  I choose to laugh at this one.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Opal Austin ~ Eulogy

At some point, at or near the time of my entrance into this world, my mom and dad lived in a duplex in Pontotoc with Colonel and Opal Austin. This was a milestone in the life of my family and in the relationship between the Carters and the Austins. Perhaps, seeds were planted around that time that would later bring to fruition a business partnership lasting roughly a decade and a half.

Carter & Austin Grocery was formed in the mid-fifties and was a family owned and operated business. There were few workers that were not family members. After school and on Saturdays, both my older brother and I worked in the store, as did the two Austin brothers, Billy Carl and Paul David.

Miss Opal was not a full time employee, but she would often drop by to help "clean up." The woman was a whiz with a feather duster. Dad was not too keen on using a feather duster, claiming it only stirred up the dust. Yet, that didn't stop Miss Opal from her appointed rounds. I can still picture her "flying in" to dust the canned goods or straighten up a work area. She was the human equivalent of the cartoon character named the Tasmanian Devil.

I don't know if Miss Opal's parents gave much thought to the meaning of "Opal," but "opal" comes from the Latin opalus, meaning seeing jewel, and she was definitely a jewel. Maybe they knew that symbolically "opal" expresses "hope, happiness, and truth," all desirable characteristics for their newborn.

With four children to tend, a husband, and all that goes with a household to maintain, I once wondered where she got the energy to do all the things she did.

At age 53, Miss Opal went back to school. As a bright student of Science, she soon earned enough college credits to become a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN), and later worked at the hospital in Pontotoc.

Opal also took in boarders during the natural gas pipeline construction days in the sixties, ran a day-care center in the seventies, and, somewhere along the way, found time to pursue an artistic interest in painting, both in oils and water color.

As long as I knew her, Miss Opal had a thirst for knowledge. She knew the Bible as well as a lot of preachers. If she had not been "died-in-the-wool Church of Christ" she'd have been a lot more fun in the scholarly/ theological sense. I always respected her, though I expect she'll be more surprised to see me in Heaven, than I will to see her.

Since 2000, my mother-in-law has been in the same nursing home with Miss Opal. And each time I visited my mother-in-law I would also visit Miss Opal. I was always impressed with Miss Opal’s positive attitude and sense of humor, and I never left her room feeling worse than when I entered.

Many of her Nursing Home days were spent limited by a nerve/ muscle dysfunction, that left her unable to walk and wheel-chair bound. Her Common sense and her medical knowledge stimulated her to maintain a modest exercise regime. She extended her exercise program to her mind, too, reading as she would say, "anything I can get my hands on."

Even in the confining atmosphere of a nursing home, Miss Opal continued to express herself in various forms.

• She was once President of the Resident Council at the Pontotoc Hospital Nursing Home.
• As a church member, she attended the Church Of Christ as often as possible.
• As an encourager, she visited with other residents in the nursing home, talking with them, and sharing unabashedly her good humor with all.
• As a seamstress, she sewed for other nursing home residents and even made a few christening gowns to be passed from her grandchildren to the generations that follow.

At a time when most folks in their upper eighties might have thought of slowing down, Miss Opal, like the Energizer Bunny, just kept going and going.

In fact she kept going right up to 95. The big difference between the Energizer Bunny and Miss Opal is she didn’t have replaceable batteries to keep her going. Her earthly batteries just ran down. However, the Miss Opal that we have known has been made NEW, and she now dwells in a new body that will never grow old and never wear out.

I doubt she’s using a feather duster today, but I’m confident she’s busy doing whatever it is folks do in GLORY LAND and looking forward to the day when she will help welcome us there.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

The Day I Died

Not Current Issue
June 27, 2012, started like a typical day.  I was up and preparing breakfast before seven o’clock. I had already checked to see if there were two hummingbirds at my feeders or just one. The bacon was done, my egg was ready, and just as the biscuits were being taken out of the oven I heard Barbara’s phone ringing in the bedroom.  Moments later Barbara came into the kitchen where I was busy buttering biscuits and handed me the phone.

The caller was Floyd McCullough, a long-time friend, who enjoys ribbing me whenever possible.  He told me he saw my obituary in Pontotoc’s weekly newspaper, The Pontotoc Progress, and was calling to confirm it wasn’t really mine.  Of course, the age listed was a dead give-away (no pun intended) that the deceased wasn’t me, as I don’t yet appear to be an eighty-nine year old, but that didn’t stop Floyd from kidding me.

After breakfast, I set about tossing my neighbor’s kudzu back down the hill after pulling it from my shrubbery.  It’s a task I repeat about five times during the warm months until a killing frost stops the dreadful vine in its tracks, where it lies dormant until spring. Having satisfied myself that the kudzu would wallow around for a few weeks before seeking higher ground, I cut some tall hedges at the rear of our house and used my riding mower to pull the limbs to the road to await pick-up by city employees later in the week.

The unseasonable cool morning air coaxed me to start mowing. Yet, mindful of the need to stay hydrated, I went inside to get some water around eleven a.m. and saw I had a missed call from another friend, Kenneth Prewett.

It seems Floyd wasn’t the only person who wanted to confirm the Wayne Carter in the obituary section of the paper wasn’t me. Kenneth shared the deceased was a resident of Arkansas but had a daughter who worked at a bank in Pontotoc.

It was Kenneth’s call that prompted me to post a notice on Facebook so that friends would know I was still around. Within minutes, several friends responded with “likes” or comments thanking me for letting them know my situation. One friend commented her husband reads the obituaries each morning to see if he should go to work.

One of the comments posed the question as to had the obit really been mine, “what would [I] have wanted to get done, said, etc., before kicking the proverbial bucket(list)?” 
The comment was sufficient to remind me that I wrote my own obituary about a year ago.  I doubt anyone will use it, but perhaps, it will serve as a guide for whatever my family chooses to submit to the newspaper.

There are many things I’d like to do before the grim reaper comes calling, but there’s not enough money for me to do them all.  I don’t have a bucket list, per se, but I’ve a short list of things of things I’d like to see and/or do while time permits.  If I’m able to check them off, I’ll start another short list…no sense in rushing myself to complete a lengthy list for fear of dying before completing all the tasks.

I don’t know how many Wayne L. Carters are left, and while I don’t expect to outlive all of them, I hope it’s a while before the name that pops up in the obituaries of the Pontotoc Progress is really mine.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Problem Solver ~ That’s Me :-)

For most of my career with SUPERVALU I was a problem solver. Oh, “problem solver” was never part of my job title, but it certainly was part of my job in Retail Technology and during my supervisory years as a meat specialist.

Problem solving has been so much a part of my adult life (perhaps all of my life) that I find myself solving problems almost subconsciously. Before one thinks I’m boasting, I should point out that all solutions to the problems I encounter aren’t necessarily the best solutions, and sometimes I’m not satisfied with the solution that I come up with.

Still, that doesn’t discourage me from trying to solve whatever problem I face. With respect to a given task, I’m always interested in finding a better way to complete it. Even when writing, I often rephrase a thought to better suit me. I’d like to think I’ve gotten better at communicating my thoughts over the past fifteen years that I’ve penned and shared my thoughts and deeds with others, but I’m probably not the best judge.

Since volunteering practically full time with Habitat for Humanity, I’ve been challenged to keep up with the tools I use on the job site. I’ve been known to lay down my hammer, only to discover it’s not where I put it when I went to pick it up again. I have a tool belt that helps with this sort of problem, but it only helps when I wear the tool belt, which is not all the time I use a hammer.

For the past two months, I’ve worked mostly toward creating office space and a board room in an old warehouse. Along with that goes plumbing and electrical work, so it’s a lot like remodeling an old house. With other volunteers working alongside me, it makes tool and equipment organization more difficult because we’re basically using “company” equipment and each person has a much right-of-use as the next person.

In the past week, two utility knives that I “carry” at work have gone missing; I don’t have a clue where my speed square is, or, for that matter, the location of my personal screwdriver.

A month ago, I had two carpenter pencils in my tool belt; today there’s not even one. I did find a used carpenter pencil the other day that had once been sharpened at both ends. It must be getting old, because the lead was pulling loose from the wood that secures it. I discovered this while trying to sharpen it. The utility knife I was using to shave off the wood would grab the lead and pull it out the end of the pencil.

I found a solution that I believe illustrates my problem-solving abilities. No, I didn’t find a way to stop the lead from getting inadvertently pulled out of the pencil while sharpening it. But, I did find a way to continue using the pencil for several more days without sharpening the lead. No, no, I didn’t find a hardener to keep the soft lead from dulling when scribing lumber for cutting or marking starting and ending points for a chalk-line on wallboard or sheetrock.

Are you ready for the solution? I fashioned it into a mechanical pencil, one where the barrel is fixed but the lead moves back and forth inside the barrel.

I know, I know, you want to know how I did that. Okay. I put a sheetrock screw in the other end of the pencil. The diameter of the screw is slightly larger than the hole in the pencil filled by the lead. The screw is about an inch and one-fourth long, so I can “hand” screw it deeper into the hole to push more lead out the other end. Eventually, I’ll have to cut more wood from one end of the pencil to continue using it for whatever purpose a carpenter pencil is needed.

Barbara, my wife and Executive Director of Pontotoc County Habitat for Humanity, has since supplied us with a new box of carpenter pencils, but I’m kind of fond of the one I’m using, and nobody else has asked to borrow it.

Before ~

After ~

Monday, December 19, 2011

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Choir

Dressing for our recent Christmas Music program, presented by the Adult Choir of FBC, Pontotoc, I picked a white shirt from those in my closet and the bright red tie our choir director gave me to wear with my white shirt and black pants. Once I completed tying the fore-in-hand knot and was satisfied with the length (a man’s tie should hang no lower and no higher than the top of his belt buckle), I noticed the tips of the collar seemed to be missing the stiffness I expect from my shirts.
I didn’t want to be late for the six o’clock mandate to be IN the choir room and seated, and I was somewhat fearful I’d be tardy if I could not quickly locate a pair of collar staves. Finding them, I rushed into the living room where Barbara was seated and asked her to insert the staves into the sleeves underneath the collar. I did so because my hand to eye coordination while looking in a mirror is not my best attribute.
Barbara had trouble seeing where to slip the stave into the underside of the collar and told me she needed better light. I began to back away from her with her still hanging onto my collar and had almost reached the light switch when she said she could then see better.
“It went through!” she exclaimed.
“What are you talking about?”
“It came out the button hole,” she stated.
‘What button hole?”
“The one at the end of your collar.”
“Oh, good grief! I put on a button-down collar. Just fasten my collar to the buttons,” I sighed.
If this is the start of our growing old together, the two of us may be in for a bumpy ride.