October is a month of celebration. I'm not talking about tailgating, Columbus Day, or Halloween. I'm talking about two special events dear to the hearts of engineers everywhere — Metric Week, beginning 10-10-10, and World Standards Day on October 14. Founded by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics on May 10, 1976, Metric Week is an opportunity for people to learn about and celebrate the metric system, also known as the international system of units, or SI. Try to avoid expressions like “penny wise and pound foolish” or “give them an inch and they'll take a mile” during this week.
World Standards Day is celebrated every year on October 14 to honor the thousands of experts who collaborate within the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), International Organization for Standardization (ISO), and International Telecommunication Union (ITU). These tireless folks work on developing standards that facilitate trade and make our lives more convenient. This year's theme is accessibility. With 650 million people affected by a disability, and 25% of Earth's citizens age 60 or older (according to the United Nations), accessibility to products and services is vital. International standards give manufacturers guidelines on how to design accommodating products.
Engineers also concern themselves with safety, interoperability, and increasingly, environmental issues. Be sure to check out “The Gold Standard,” beginning on page 26, for several important updates. As products and production methods evolve, so do standards. For example, new wireless compliance standards aim to make components work seamlessly over wireless networks — not an easy task in industrial environments. Environmental standards are another emerging area: ISO 50001, forecast to be complete by early 2011, will establish an energy management framework for industrial plants and commercial facilities.
But where are the ISO folks when you need them most? If you've ever forgotten your cell-phone charger, forget about borrowing one. Every make and model has its own uniquely shaped charging port. Look inside any junk drawer and you'll find a wiry mess of old chargers, guaranteed to never, ever work with any other device. Digital camera ports and chargers are just as pathetic. Hello ISO: If you're listening, we need help. While you're at it, one more plea: Establish rules to make point-of-sale systems more consistent. Why is each device unique? Why no “credit” button? It's always, “Credit or debit? Press cancel for credit.” And about those self-checkout lines: They don't work. How ‘bout some standards to get point-of-sale manufacturers to make their interfaces and conveyors function harmoniously? Just asking.