Sunday, May 28, 2006

Understanding Celsius

Since we're moving into the hot part of the year, I thought I'd take a moment to talk about temperature. Celsius, in particular.

I know a lot of people who are otherwise happy with the idea of going to metric (and don't get me started on the irrational stubborness of my country with respect to this subject) who are, however, adverse to Celsius.

Generally the reasons fall into the category of vague objections that it's too imprecise or something like that. Certainly those were the excuses that I used to give. I think that the real reason is that it's simply not intuitive for someone raised with Fahrenheit. When you're accustomed to 80 degreed being hot, 30 degrees just doesn't sound right. This is compounded by the fact that there's no good rule of thumb for conversions. It's one thing to say that a meter is about a yard, that a kilogram is about 2 pounds, that a kilometer is a little over half a mile, and so forth, but to get from C to F you have to add 32 and then multiply by 1.8 (and do the inverse, of course, to get from F to C).

Fortunately, I came across the following conversion that doesn't bother with degrees. The temperatures are in Celsius:

    40   - Very Hot
30 - Hot
20 - Warm
10 - Cool
0 - Chilly
-10 - Cold
-20 - Very cold
-30 - Frostbite weather
As you can see, every 10 degrees Celsium represents one perceptual shift in temperature.
Not only is this nicely intuitive but, once you start to think in these terms, it becomes obvious that Fahrenheit really isn't that intuitive after all.

That said, it's about 25 degrees outside, so I think that I'm going to go out and enjoy the beautiful weather we're having. Have a good Memorial Day weekend, everyone.

1 comment:

Chris said...

i like this!!! i live in the US too, and i agree...degrees F isn't intuitive whatsoever. I like being able to have a perception in both degrees F and C just makes me feel smarter.

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