How Pirates Of The Caribbean Hijacked America’s Metric System Joe Palca December 28, 2017 12:34 PM ET

This 1793 grave is an early version of the kilogram. It is possible this object, now owned by the National Institute of Standards and Technology museum, was once pirate treasure.

NIST Museum

If the United States were more like the rest of the world, a McDonald’s Quarter Pounder might be known as the McDonald’s 113-Grammer, John Henry’s 9-pound hammer would be 4.08 kilograms, and any 800-pound gorillas in the room would likely weigh 362 kilos.

One reason this country never adopted the metric system might be pirates. Here’s what happened:

In 1793, the brand new United States of America needed a standard measuring system because the states were using a hodgepodge of systems.

“For example, in New York, they were using Dutch systems, and in New England, they were using English systems,” says Keith Martin, of the research library at the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

This made interstate commerce difficult.

French scientist Joseph Dombey (shown in a bust at left) was dispatched to the U.S. in the mid-1790s to share the early metric system, at the request of Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson.

Keith Martin (Fed)/NIST Museum

The secretary of state at the time was Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson knew about a new French system and thought it was just what America needed. He wrote to his pals in France, and the French sent a scientist named Joseph Dombey off to Jefferson carrying a small copper cylinder with a little handle on top. It was about 3 inches tall and about the same wide.

This object was intended to be a standard for weighing things, part of a weights and measure system being developed in France, now known as the metric system. The object’s weight was 1 kilogram.

Crossing the Atlantic, Dombey ran into a giant storm.

“It blew his ship quite far south into the Caribbean Sea,” says Martin.

And you know who was lurking in Caribbean waters in the late 1700s? Pirates.

“These pirates were British privateers, to be exact,” says Martin. “They were basically water-borne criminals tacitly supported by the British government, and they were tasked with harassing enemy shipping.”

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POTUS builds his 2018 political message by rebranding Obama’s economic legacy – By BEN WHITE and NANCY COOK 12/28/2017 05:03 AM EST`

After disputing economic gains under his predecessor, the president is seizing the same trends as his own.

The White House hopes to boost President Donald Trump’s low approval ratings by using the economy as a centerpiece of its political message in 2018, according to three White House officials, even if many of the president’s successes so far are squarely built on the legacy of former President Barack Obama.

The trends of declining unemployment, coupled with healthy gains in the stock market, began during Obama’s first term, a welcome uptick following the global economic downturn Obama inherited in 2009.

The Trump administration has built on those gains, particularly in recent months. Business confidence has soared on the expectation of sweeping tax cuts as well as the administration’s push to roll back regulations on everything from energy to housing to health care to labor rules.

But hard economic data on growth, job creation and wages look very similar to the last several years under Obama. The pace of job growth actually slowed slightly to 174,000 per month in 2017 through November, compared with 187,000 per month in Obama’s final year.

Even Trump’s stock market performance is similar to or trails Obama’s. In the first 11 months of Obama’s presidency, the Standard & Poor’s 500 rose 37 percent. It rose 18 percent under Trump. The Dow rose 30 percent in Obama’s first 11 months to Trump’s 24 percent.

Despite the underlying similarities to Obama, the White House plans to brand the economy as Trump’s doing in 2018 and sell a message that the nation is actually performing much better now, even before any impact from the tax cut bill. A key piece of the Trump argument will be that economic prospects are even stronger now after a wave of deregulation across federal agencies in 2017.

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10 ways tech will shape your life in 2018, for better and worse – By Geoffrey A. Fowler December 28 at 9:31 AM

Here’s what excites us – and worries us – about tech in 2018

After such a hectic year for tech, here’s what The Post’s Geoffrey A. Fowler expects in 2018. (Jhaan Elker/The Washington Post)

Is the outlook for technology in 2018 exciting — or slightly terrifying? Flip a coin. You’d be right either way.

As I look into my crystal ball at what new technologies are most likely to shape our lives in the next 12 months, I see science-fiction dreams coming to life: glasses that mix reality and imagination, an electric car in my driveway and gadgets that charge without plugs.

But coming out of a year where most Americans were hacked and Silicon Valley got scolded by Congress, there’s plenty to worry about. How many ways will artificial intelligence make decisions without us? And how long should we remain panicked about cybersecurity lapses?

Tech’s not just about shiny new gadgets anymore. So I put together this list of 10 technologies to look out for in 2018, for better and worse.

5 reasons to be excited

Tesla’s Model 3 has been preordered by 450,000 people. Will 2018 be the year Tesla’s able to deliver them in mass? (Tesla)

1) Tesla moves the car forward
Whether you’re an Elon Musk skeptic or true believer, it’s hard to deny the Tesla Model 3 has generated iPhone-level buzz about electric cars. Since this “affordable luxury” $35,000-and-up sedan was unveiled in 2016, roughly 450,000 people have preordered one. Now if only Tesla could make them. Significant manufacturing issues keep pushing back the Model 3 delivery timeline, but there’s a good chance you’ll see some on the road in 2018. What’s the big deal? Tesla is forcing all car companies to act more like consumer tech companies, pushing into electric and making standard such capabilities as accident prevention and connectivity. My favorite Model 3 idea: It comes with the cameras, sensors and computing power it needs to eventually allow the car to drive itself.

The HomePod, seen here from on top, will bring a Siri-powered speaker into living rooms in 2018. (Apple)

2) The HomePod gets Apple talking
Hey Siri, glad you’re finally joining the house party. First introduced in summer 2017 and then delayed, the $350 HomePod is Apple’s first talking speaker. For people who buy Apple everything, the HomePod has the potential to tie together music, the TV and the smart home in a way that the iPhone alone hasn’t. But there are huge doubts: Apple missed two holiday seasons that ushered competing Amazon Echo and Google Home products into many homes. Apple has mostly been touting the HomePod’s sound quality, but in my experience many people can’t actually tell the difference — or at least aren’t willing to pay extra for it.

Magic Leap says its long-promised augmented reality hardware, the Magic Leap One, will debut in 2018. (Magic Leap)

3) Augmented reality is going places
Pokémon Go introduced the world to augmented reality, a fancy term for mixing the real world with digital information. In the year ahead, we’ll test whether that idea is more than a gimmick. Thanks to new AR-enabling tech in smartphones, the camera can be a search engine, interior design tool or teacher. We’ll also finally get our hands on an AR headset from Magic Leap, a much-hyped start-up that has raised $1.9 billion in funding. They call their forthcoming Magic Leap One gadget a “lightweight, wearable computer that enriches your experience in the real world with digital content” — though to me it looks like a prop from “Max Max: Fury Road.”

The iPhone at last supports wireless charging. The Apple Watch 3 and AirPods will also charge without plugs on Apple’s AirPower pad, expected to debut in 2018. (Apple)

4) Wireless charging gets a much-needed jolt
Soon you might be able to leave the house without a rat’s nest of power cords. The tech to charge gadgets without plugs has been a non-starter for years because one very important brand was missing: Apple. But the iPhone maker just added wireless charging to the X and 8, putting its stamp of approval on a charging standard called Qi. Now coffee shops, furniture makers and car companies might be more confident about building wireless charging pads into everyday things. Let’s hope they do, because phone battery life isn’t improving nearly fast enough to keep up with how much we use them.

5) Digital subscriptions as the new norm
In 2018, paying for online video, music, games and (yes) news subscriptions will feel as normal as a $4 latte. Deloitte predicts that by the end of the year, 50 percent of adults in developed countries will have at least two online-only media subscriptions. Expect Apple to redouble its subscription video efforts, as well as big battles over streaming rights for sports. The shift to subscriptions is good for high-quality content creators who can’t make it with advertising alone, but consumers may start to feel the pain of too many $10-per-month subscriptions. Here’s to hoping we see more bundle options, like a recent $5 a month combo deal of Hulu and Spotify for college students.

5 reasons to worry

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How Baker Mayfield Exposed College Football’s Quarterback Problem – Andrew Beaton Dec. 28, 2017 11:55 a.m. ET

Oklahoma’s quarterback won the Heisman Trophy, but only after walking on at two schools. Why does football struggle to identify the sport’s most important players?

Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield was this season’s runaway Heisman Trophy winner.

There is no more important talent evaluation in football than figuring out whether a quarterback is good or bad. The coaches who spot good quarterbacks get to keep their jobs. The coaches who pick bad quarterbacks get fired.

But coaches are still wrong an unfathomable amount for all the energy and resources they dedicate to finding quarterbacks of the future. And they were incredibly wrong this year about the best player in college football.

Baker Mayfield, this season’s runaway Heisman Trophy winner, is one of the most accomplished college football players in memory. The only thing missing on his résumé is a national championship, but that may be coming soon. He’s the reason that No. 2 Oklahoma is playing No. 3 Georgia in the College Football Playoff semifinal here on Monday.

And every school in college football could’ve had Mayfield. He was a walk-on. Twice.

Even the schools that took a chance on Mayfield can’t bask in the glory of recognizing the potential that everyone overlooked. Texas Tech, where he started his career as a walk-on, let him transfer after his freshman season. Oklahoma, where he was also a walk-on and has been the starter for three seasons, only found out he was enrolling at the same time as the campus registrar.

As perhaps the most successful player ever to fall through the cracks of the sport’s powerful recruiting machine, Mayfield is the latest example of a strange phenomenon: Football isn’t very good at identifying the most talented quarterbacks.

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When Stalin Faced Hitler – By Stephen Kotkin ESSAY November/December 2017 Issue

Through the first four decades of his life, Joseph Stalin achieved little. He was born in 1878 to a poor family in Gori, Georgia, then part of the Russian empire. His father was a cobbler; his mother, a cleaning lady and seamstress. Stalin’s childhood, illnesses and mishaps included, was largely normal for the time. He received good marks in school and, as a teenager, got his poems published in well-regarded Georgian periodicals. (“To this day his beautiful, sonorous lyrics echo in my ears,” one reader would later recall.) But he did not sit for his final-year exams at the Tiflis Seminary and failed to graduate. Instead of becoming a priest, he became an underground revolutionary fighting tsarist oppression, spending the next 20 years hiding, organizing, and serving time in prison and internal exile in Siberia.

Stalin’s life was altered forever by the outbreak of total war in 1914, which helped precipitate the Russian tsar’s abdication in February 1917 and, later that year, a putsch by radical leftists led by Vladimir Lenin. Suddenly, the 39-year-old Stalin was a leading member of the new Bolshevik regime.

He played a central role in the Russian Civil War and the creation of the Soviet Union. In 1922, Lenin appointed him head of the Communist Party. A month later, Lenin was incapacitated by a stroke, and Stalin seized his chance to create his own personal dictatorship inside the larger Bolshevik one. Beginning in the late 1920s, he forced through the building of a socialist state, herding 120 million peasants onto collective farms or into the gulag and arresting and murdering immense numbers of loyal people in the officer corps, the secret police, embassies, spy networks, scientific and artistic circles, and party organizations.

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Hypothermia and frostbite warnings as Arctic freeze spreads across northern US – Associated Press Last modified on Thu 28 Dec ‘17 00.30 EST

After record snow comes record cold, with the mercury in one Minnesota city plunging to minus 37C

Birds take flight over the frigid waters below the Rum River Dam in Anoka, Minnesota.
Birds take flight over the frigid waters below the Rum River Dam in Anoka, Minnesota. Photograph: David Joles/AP

Freezing temperatures and below-zero wind chills have swept across much of the northern United States, breaking records in a Minnesota city so cold it’s called the Icebox of the Nation.

Forecasters warned of hypothermia and frostbite from Arctic air settling in over the central US and spreading east.

The National Weather Service reported International Falls and Hibbing, Minnesota, set record low temperatures on Wednesday morning. International Falls, the self-proclaimed Icebox of the Nation, plunged to minus 37C, breaking the old record of minus 32C set in 1924. Hibbing bottomed out at minus 28C, breaking the old record of minus 27C set in 1964.

Wind chill advisories or warnings were in effect for much of New England, northern Pennsylvania and New York. Those places and states in the northern Plains and Great Lakes were projected to see highs in the teens or single digits and lows below zero for the rest of the week and into the new year.

Pedestrians try to keep warm while walking in New York’s Times Square.
Pedestrians try to keep warm while walking in New York’s Times Square. Photograph: Seth Wenig/AP

The National Weather Service said wind chills in many areas on Thursday could make temperatures feel below zero.

Meanwhile, Erie was recovering from a storm that brought 34in of snow on Christmas Day, smashing the daily snowfall record for the Great Lakes city of 8in , and 26.5 more inches on Tuesday. More than 65in have fallen on the city since Christmas Eve, with several more inches falling Wednesday as residents dug out in frigid temperatures.

Strong westerly winds over Lake Erie picked up moisture, developed into snow and converged with opposing winds, dumping snow in a band along the shore from Ohio to New York, said Zach Sefcovic, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Cleveland.

Sabrina Ram drove into Erie on Christmas Eve to visit her parents just as the snow began to fall. Ram, who lives in suburban Washington, D.C., and her father spent five hours on Christmas and two hours on Tuesday clearing the driveway.

“In DC, we’d be out of commission for weeks,” Ram said.

“Things here are pretty much back to normal now.”She said she was going to build a snowman but didn’t know where to start — “where do you put it?” — and she went outside to clear off the satellite dish before falling face first into the snow because she couldn’t figure out where the porch ended. “I totally just flew forward while my dad laughed at me,” Ram said.

In New York, communities near Lake Ontario’s eastern end, including Redfield and Boylston, also saw around 5ft of snow this week.

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