INSIDE VOICE #3: “liter’s a kilogram, metric doesn’t rhyme”

With work shifting to video conferencing, rather than in-person meetings, we’ve lost the signaling of accessories – fountain pens, fancy bags, stickered laptops. So, inspired by the back of my iPad (that no one sees any more) and NASCAR paint-jobs, I created my own fake background for Zoom.

Unfortunately, without a physical green screen, the MacBook doesn’t have enough reality distortion to keep me from disappearing into the matrix (yes, I’m the black smudges in the above image).


Day and night

are in equilibrium

along the equator.

Further north, clocks

were invented

to continually remind us of long summer days.


“OK, it’s a line-by-line reboot of Good Neighbours, but instead of suburban London, it’s set on the 97th floor of Central Park Tower.”

“Didn’t Tom plow the front yard under in the opening scene?”

“Good point. We’ll need to move it to the penthouse floors so we have enough space.”


Jelle's marble runs

Until quarantine is over, Jelle’s dirt track marble racing is the only sport that matters.


Despite all the 5Ks I’ve run, I’m against adopting the metric system for a single reason:

The metric system is completely devoid of a personality.

It’s key feature is scaling (“watch me as I only move the decimal point!”, “ooooh ahhhh”).

The metric system is the thing of science fiction – a perfectly engineered utopia confidently asserting every imperfection can be perfectly traced with pixels. If only we could scale the pixels small enough.

Measuring is a human-centric practice and the US system is full of human-centricity:

  • inch
  • hand
  • foot
  • Smoot
  • mile
  • anything base-12 (hint, count knuckles)

It’s also full of units rich with human culture;

  • yard (how stuff is taxed)
  • bushel (how grain is sold)
  • stone (how potatoes and animals were sold)
  • gallon (how wine and beer is sold)
  • barrel (how everything is sold from cranberries to butter to oil)

I’m pretty sure one reason we care about oil is that it’s still traded in barrels. We understand a barrel. Every time the news mentions oil, we imagine millions of literal barrels of oil packed tightly together somewhere. It’s one small way we convince ourselves we understand that world, even though our experience is only with far smaller quantities.

Like the gallon.

In the United States, two kinds of pint are used: a liquid pint and a less-common dry pint. Each of these pints is one eighth of its respective gallon, but the gallons differ. — Wikipedia

Wait. Whut? How can the gallons differ? I thought I knew and understood…you know…gallon. Milk and gas and all.

Turns out, there’s a corn gallon or dry gallon that well, I’ll let Wikipedia continue to explain (emphasis mine):

The dry gallon is not used in the US customary system – though it implicitly exists since the US dry measures of bushel, peck, quart, and pint are still used.

I hope you feel a sense of calm.

Finding out there’s an invisible unit of measure that many common units are derived from but is not itself used, this can be unsettling. Or it can be calming like a puzzle piece sliding into place, expanding our understanding of the world. I hope you found the latter.

Oh, there’s also a 40 ounce French Canadian pint.

I’m off to drink in Montreal. Later milliliter.


minimialism is officially over.

it’s too much fun (by fun I mean a blend of delight and relief) to realize the tools and supplies needed for your latest project are already in your possession.


  • having an inventory of malt, hops, and yeast means I don’t need to wait for a delivery. Boom start brewing.
  • both fountain pens ran out of ink today. Right before I hit re-order on Amazon, I found a box of cartridges. Boom back to work.
  • one of the teenagers wanted to bake a carrot cake, we had all the ingredients. No grocery list or trip to the store required. Boom start mixing.

minimialism (defined for these contexts as: not having unused surplus lying around) is great when transaction costs are extraordinarily low. Getting stuff you don’t have is easy in that environment.

right now, transaction costs have spiked to all-time highs.

as have chest freezer sales.