Baby, It’s Cold Outside

January 24, 2003

Where I live it was 7 degrees this morning. People all over the United States will respond to such a statement in various ways, ranging from, "Dern, that’s cold!" around where I live to "Yeah, dat’s kinda nippy," directly North to "You call that cold? I’ll give you cold, buddy," in the Northeast, to "Why aren’t you skiing?" in the West. People in Canada and Europe and, well, pretty much the rest of the world aren’t as fazed by such a remark because, even if we’re speaking English, we’re divided because I’m speaking Fahrenheit and they’re speaking Celsius. When I say, "7" they think I mean "45", which would be a little warm for the time of year around here but not unreasonable. When I say "7" people in Canada think, "I wish it would warm up to that!" What they don’t realize is that, on their terms, I mean -14, although in many places they’d probably be happy with that.

All this results from the United States being unwilling to go along with the metric system. And who can blame us? If we accepted the metric system we’d be giving in to peer pressure, and that would undermine years of our parents telling us not to give in to peer pressure. Not that this ever worked, of course. Most of us realized that, technically, all adults were also our peers, since that’s such a vague term that it could refer to our friends, our parents, or neighboring countries.

But I digress All this dispute got started when a Swedish scientist named Anders Celsius stuck his hand in a snowbank and said, "Ja, dat’s cold, yeah, feels like zero degrees." Then he stuck his hand in a pitcher of boiling water, and since his hand was numb from the snow, said, "Dat’s only about a hundred." Then a German scientist named Daniel Fahrenheit, who was sitting in the same sauna, said, "Vat kind of dumkopf are you that you stick your hand in such things?" And being German, which has a climate that’s not nearly as cold as Sweden, he decided the snow was probably closer to 32 degrees, whereas boiling water had to be pretty hot because you hardly ever see water just boiling by itself, not even in the middle of summer, so that must be closer to something like 212 degrees.

Then in the middle of the 20th Century Germany did a few things that upset the rest of Europe, and people said, "Well, we’ll just use those wacky Swedish thermometers from now on!" And people liked it. On really hot days people could say, "It’s 30 degrees!" and since 30 is a really low number when compared with, say, the price of an apple in Italian lire, people felt cooler just saying it. I sometimes wonder how people in other countries react when they hear us saying things in the middle of summer like, "It’s well over a hundred degrees here." They probably imagine lakes boiling, burning brimstone falling from the sky, books spontaneously bursting into flame (although that really happens at 233 degrees celsius). It probably doesn’t help our tourist business. The United States should at the very least consider switching to the Celsius system, if only to be neighborly.

Enjoy this week’s offerings.

Teaching Math in 1950:
A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is 4/5 of the price. What is his profit?

Teaching Math in 1960: 
A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is 4/5 of the price, or $80. What is his profit? 

Teaching Math in 1970: 
A logger exchanges a set "L" of lumber for a set "M" of money. The cardinality of set "M" is 100. Each element is worth one dollar. Make 100 dots representing the elements of the set "M." The set "C", the cost of production contains 20 fewer points than set "M." Represent the set "C" as a subset of set "M" and answer the following question: What is the cardinality of the set "P" of profits?

Teaching Math in 1980: 
A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is $80 and his profit is $20. Your assignment: Underline the number 20.

Teaching Math in 1990:
By cutting down beautiful forest trees, the logger makes $20. What do you think of this way of making a living? Topic for class participation after answering the question: How did the forest birds and squirrels "feel" as the logger cut down the trees? There are no wrong answers.

Teaching Math in 2002: 
A logger sells a truckload of lumber taken from what was formerly a federally protected wildlife reserve for $100. His cost of production is $120. How does Arthur Andersen determine that his profit margin is $60?

Teaching Math in 2010: 
El hachero vende un camion carga por $100. La cuesta de production es………….

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