Saturday, December 3, 2011

HOW CHANGE HAPPENS (or doesn't happen)

Preamble 
     During my some four decades working in  the educational system in Manitoba I have often wondered how major changes in teaching methods and philosophy kept suddenly happening . For example, in teaching reading the swing to and away from various methodologies ("sight word",  phonics , "whole language", etc) occurred on a 10 year cycle. Now I realize that I understand how very few of the major changes in the world come about.

      I do know how VHS succeeded over the cheaper and technically superior BETA format, but I am not telling you.
      I have also been bewildered as to how obvious changes do not seem to happen. For example, financial institutes do not seem to notice that the order of digits in dates can be confusing.  Unless you know the format used by the institution, 01/12/10 can be either Jan 12 or Dec 1 (assuming most institutions always have the year last). There has recently been a move by the printers of cheque blanks to take initiative by indicating "20yy/mm/dd" on each cheque. So much for the idea that the year is always the last two digits, but it is a set toward consistency and it does make sense.

      Another widespread annoyance is the confusion between a capital "O" and the numeral zero "0". The use of a slashed zero (Ø) actually existed in the 12th century and was in common on the very early home computers and printers.  It even exists on your own computer (use ALT 0216 on keypad).  Why isn't it shown on the modern keyboards and used? 
     Have you ever had an airline reservation number or software code like "M10Qbl0"? The letter "l" and numeral "1" and "V" and "U" are also confusing depending on the font. Have you noticed telephone operators refer to an number like "401" as four-oh-one" even though "oh" is number 6 on the keypad?


The Metric System in Canada
    Up until a few weeks ago when I was researching for his blog I thought that Napoleon made France officially metric in 1840 by saying something like: I am the emperor and we will now change to the metric system. It appears that in fact he had less trouble in implementing the Napoleonic Code than he had with getting acceptance for the metric system (maybe because he voted against it once), but it did happen.
    In 1971 the Canadian government appointed the Metric Commission Canada with a mandate of implementing metric measurements in every aspect of national life by 1980. Metric measurements were to be required (usually with imperial measurement subtitles) in an increasing number of goods. The conversion process was well under way until the Progressive Conservative government of Brian Mulroney brought it to an abrupt halt by abolishing the commission in 1985. Many regulations requiring metric measurements were either repealed or no longer enforced. As a result, we Canadians today use a confusing and inefficient mix of metric and imperial measurements with no hope of a single system being developed.
     As Grampa of the Simpsons show said: "Metric is the work of the devil! My car gets 82 rods to the hogshead and that's the way I likes it! " If you work out the conversion to miles per gallon (either Canadian or US), you will see he has a very inefficient car.



The Ozone Layer Study (an example of how something happened and is now being killed)

     The year 1957-58 was designated by the scientific community as the International Geophysical Year. A worldwide network of observation centres was set up to measure the thickness of the ozone layer, based on the inference that the heating of the stratosphere was caused by the absorption of ultraviolet solar radiation by ozone. 
     As luck would have it, I was hired as a relief person in Moosonee, Ontario at one of Canada's newly established Dobson Spectrophotometer observation stations as part of its contribution to the ozone layer study which is still going on.  For my personal experience there see pages 97-102  of my autobiographical stories, “It’s Not Where You’re Going”. 
     In 1979, after much resistance from industry interests, the US, Canada, and Norway banned CFC-containing aerosol cans in 1979. But when scientists discovered an ozone hole over Antarctica in the mid-1980s, countries around the world began phasing out the ozone-destroying chemicals. A new class of ozone-friendly molecules called hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) replaced them. This just one of the benefits to the world of this type of research which has been going on for some 54 years with Canada as one of the original and continuing contributors. BTW - if you have been reading the recent spate of arguments against even the existence of the ozone layer you might like to check some referenced information on a few of the recent myths.
    It is now 2011, and Canada will be discontinuing its contribution to the environment. This will happen with no discussion - not even a statement that it will happen - or how it happened.  It will be done by simply laying off staff at Environment Canada. The only way to find the deliberate sabotage of this ozone research project is to read between the lines of the fine print in the 2011-12 Budget.
  
     I guess that is how some changes happen in our Canada these days.


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