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Desert Diary


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Scientists don't measure like the rest of us in the United States do. They talk about meters and grams and stuff stuff that is Greek to most of us. We on the border should be a little more used to it, with a few road signs in kilometers, and most prepared foods giving metric equivalents in liters or grams. But really!

Surprisingly, many of our scientists aren't all that more at home than you or me, even when they use metric measurements in their work. Unfortunately, it's one of those things that you have to be brought up with. For example, few scientists have an intuitive feeling for the length of a kilometer. Can't you just visualize the mental processing—let's see, a kilometer is a thousand meters and a meter is 3.28 feet. So a kilometer is 3280 feet and a mile is 5280 feet, so a kilometer must be about three-fifths of a mile. Boy, talk about labored! But deep down, don't you feel gratified that they're almost as bad off as you?
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Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.