"The Magic of Metric" - Repost

>> Friday, November 13, 2009

Nearly a year ago to the day, I posted this about why I think we're not doing ourselves a favor resisting going "metric" - it was a follow-on to a paper I'd presented last fall to an international audience. Since I'm restricted from even viewing any bloggers on the previous site, I'm not going to feel guilty about recreating it here, including the many excellent comments. It was (and is) my most viewed and commented post ever in my blogging experience. I've added some new arguments on Ask Me Anything.

Some time ago I mentioned that (a) I had written a technical paper on the use of SI units and (b) that I should write a blog or two on this topic. Then, I promptly forgot ’cause it’s what I do. I’ve been senile since I was four. Someone asked me today about some comments written back in January. Before the baby? Are you kidding? I do a mindwipe each weekend; I can’t even imagine what I lost when I had a baby. Somehow, though I remember all six wives of Henry VIII and anything else that has absolutely no purpose.

What was I talking about again? Oh right, the metric system.

So here’s the question, why the heck are we still using the English system? What are we, dumb? Now, some of you probably think I’m being harsh or unkind. Yeah, well consider it tough love.

There are a bunch of good reasons to kiss the English system of measurement goodbye, not the least of which is that we’re the last damn country to be using it, including England. Here are a few of them.

*If math makes your eyes roll up into your head, skip to the end.

Units are ambiguous. You know a difference between a pound-force or a pound-mass? Most people don’t. So how much in an ounce? Troy, fluid, standard and, of course, there’s an ounce-force, too. How about a mile? There’s a survey mile, statute mile, Scottish mile, ancient English and Roman miles, Irish mile, international mile and no less that three different nautical miles. Note that the US uses no less than three of these forms of mile. Know how many different kilometers there are? Yep, just the one and they use the same damn one all over the world. The same liters, Newtons, kilograms… One and only one and everyone uses it, even us.

Different units for the same damn parameter. How many units do we have for distance? There’s, of course, all the different flavors of mile, foot and inch. Also furlong, mil, rod, league, yard… In metric there are meters and factors of 1000 of meters. That’s all. In volume, there are cubic inches and cubic feet, also gallons, pints, quarts, barrels, etc. In metric, there are liters and factors of 1000 of liters. The other side of the coin is that, by knowing the unit, you know the parameter. Newtons are force. Kg are mass. Pounds, of course, can be either. Ounces can be a measure of weight or a measure of force or a measure of volume.

Fractions. Whose frickin’ idea was it to use fractions of an inch for measurements? Say you’re fixin’ a car (assuming that even US cars hadn’t gone metric a couple decades ago, which they did). You try your handy dandy 3/8 wrench but it’s too big. So, what’s the next size smaller? 13/32 or 5/16? Or is one of them bigger? You’re sitting there doing conversions in your head. Now which is smaller in metric? 10mm or 9mm? Hmm, tough call.

Side note: One of the arguments still trotted out against metrication is that converting to metric would be prohibitively expensive. A couple of decades ago, the auto industry went metric. One company set up a team to figure out what it was costing them, which they quietly disbanded when they realized that reducing the number of tools required and streamlining spares (# fasteners sizes was reduced drastically) saved them more money than conversion cost them.

Calculations with Fractions. [Math warning for the math squeamish!]: If you think picking a wrench is challenging, try calculating anything, like something simple: area. The room is 12′ 9″ by 15′ 5″ - How big is it? (You go ahead and figure that out. It’s actually faster for me to convert it to metric and do the math: 3.89*4.70=18.283 square meters=196.8 sqf - and no, I’m not converting anything back to fractions). Now, imagine doing calculations on rocket thrust or something complicated with fractions of an inch (I’m trying not to).

Conversion within a unit system. Know how many inches in a foot? Of course you do. How many ounces in a pint? Probably. How about in a gallon? Uh. How many feet in a mile? How about a nautical mile? If you know all those, you have a better memory than I do. Know how many meters in a kilometer? Yep, 1000. How many mm in a meter? Yep, 1000. Know how many grams in a kg? 1000 again. See no memory required. So, how many mm in 5.876 m? 5876. So, how many feet in 756 inches? How many nautical miles in 19, 6758 feet? How easy is it to check to see if your answer is right in metric? And English units? Admit it, you’re going to have to use the calculator twice, assuming you get the same answer both times.

You want to know why European and Asian kids are kicking our children’s butts in math and science? I guarantee this is part of the reason.

Conversion to a different system of units. You know, whenever there’s an issue with metrication, it’s almost always because of conversion. Someone does their calculations in one system of units and then converts it, but makes a mistake along the way. Or someone does calculations in one system of units and doesn’t notice it needs to be converted. We’ve lost spacecraft that way. So, why does that argue for one system over the other. Well everyone but us uses the smart system. If we stop using English units, conversion issues become a thing of the past because, hey, we don’t have to convert any more.

There are, of course, also reasons associated with making us compatible with the rest of the world, improving the appeal of our products overseas. And that it’s the law that we change (which has been there for decades). Tool simplification, drastically reducing long term production costs because of reduced spares and tooling requirements. Lower error rates across the board because it’s so much simpler. There’s the fact that many aspects of life are already effectively 100% metric even in this country, like medicine and real science.

But, the bottom line is that the only reason we’re still doing things the stupid way is because we’re too proud to do otherwise. And our children are paying for it.

*Skipped the math did you?

How’s this for a reason? If you weighed 190 pounds, you’ll mass 86 kg. That’s right, a double digit mass.

# GumbyTheCat on 04 Dec 2008

Well done.

I agree, we should have done this decades ago. I remember learning about the metric system in elementary school and it was a breeze. The only tough part was the conversions back and forth (well, it was tough for dumb fourth grader me, lol). We Americans seem to have an aversion to changing our ways. I think a lot of it is laziness.
# JD at I Do Thingson 04 Dec 2008

I’m proud to say that I did NOT skip the math.

But I may as well have, for all that went completely over my head. It was interesting to learn that there are so many different types of miles, feet, and inches.

You make a compelling argument for the switchover to metrics. Maybe other countries wouldn’t think we were so stupid if we switched.

And I sure like the sound of 86kg more than 190 lbs.
# shakespeareon 05 Dec 2008

I simply HAVE to check out this blog more often. You are brilliant!

I didn’t skip the math, either, but I certainly did enjoy the rant! And even though converting would make gas SEEM cheaper than it really is (Canada was such a shock to me. I’d fill up the tank, and my eyes would bug out at the total), I’d adapt.

I’ve just never been asked to. We learn the stuff in math and science, but then we are never expected to use it. Weird.
# asfasdfon 06 Dec 2008

These foreign kids you mention may be “kicking our butts” for many reasons, but I assure if any of that is verifiably true, it is not because of the metric system
# Enginerdon 06 Dec 2008

As a technical person who has to use wrenches and also perform calculations for design, I of course whole-heartedly agree. I use metric whenever possible, but so many other people use English it makes communication so much more difficult.

I’m not really sure how to accomplish the change, though. Legally, the government has made the metric system acceptable for use. I suppose they could do something like require government entities specify quantities only in metric, and then things would likely follow, but people only ever want to use the system they are used to. There’d be a lot of resistance, and there’s not much benefit for any politician to fit it, so they don’t.
# Guyon 06 Dec 2008

I always thought it was prohibitively expensive to change tools, and that was the one point I could never rebuke…

Can you quote which company did this research so I can brandish this point when I next have this discussion?
# Adamon 06 Dec 2008

You skipped the main argument against metric: thirds are hard. Ten isn’t divisible by three, but twelve is. Twelve inches to a foot and three feet to a yard means you can cut a board to a 1/3 yard (12 inches) or a 1/2 y (18), or a 1/6 or 3/4. A third of a meter is 33.33… cm. Awkward.

There are many more advantages to metric than standard, but there is still one drawback. The solution is obvious: If we’re going to switch anything, we should switch to base 12 arithmetic.
# dhugheson 06 Dec 2008

Nice post, I’m from Canada and we went through this, obviously, in the 1970’s and we survived.

The only exception is people who are used to the old way, it takes time to adjust, certain things like mph and your weight in pounds or height take some getting used to for example if you say a person is 1.8m or 180cm people often say “Hunh?” or a jet can fly 1000km/h will result in “How fast is that?”

After a while you get used to the “feel” of the metric units rather than the actual measurement, a metre is in my brain as a space I can relate to, before it was 3 feet now it’s a metre (yes ‘re’ as we say).

Easier is better, why make something more complicated than it has to be? Even math you break it down to something more simple and proceed from there.

BTW you may want to fix this:

> How many nautical miles in 19, 6758 feet?
# Adam Bardon 06 Dec 2008

Being a Canadian, I’ve noticed we have a bit of a different way of doing things. Between the influence of America and the official policy of metric, some weird exceptions have developed.

Heights of people are always in feet and inches, except sometimes on official government forms, where it’s kind of a pain.

We still use lbs for weights of people.

Recipes come in cups and teaspoons and tablespoons. I think there’s actually less calculation happening there than if metric were used.

Anything that’s just a quick description of linear size, of something less than 1m, is generally referred to in imperial. Anything over 1m is a tossup between meters and feet.

I’ve heard it postulated that imperial units are easier to visualize, something about being based on human measurements. I’m pretty sure we’re just used to it though.

Anything that even resembles a calculation is in metric units, of course.
# Stuon 06 Dec 2008

Well, were not fully metric yet in the UK, some older road signs have yards, most have metres though.

Distance is measured in mm, cm, metres… and miles

Milk is generally bought in Litres, or pints (although it displays the metric amount too).

Beer comes in cans of 330, or 500ml in the pub you buy pints and half pints (bear in mind our pints are slightly bigger than the us ones).
Shots are in ml though.

Weight is in grams and kilos, except for people which are measured in stones and ounces.

Peoples Height is generally in feet and inches.

Fuel is in litres, although miles per gallon is quoted in efficiency standards (again we have different gallons to the us)
# Rayon 06 Dec 2008

You guys *do* realize that it’s essentially a form of trade protectionism, right? It makes it harder to sell stuff here (from a volume perspective), but doesn’t really impact US sales abroad because that market is so huge it’s worth it to support both (and besides most of our manufacturers use metric and convert anyway).
# Steven G. Harmson 06 Dec 2008

While we’re on the topic, could we also use to using SI paper sizes as well, i.e. the A series, like the rest of the civilized world?
# math guyon 06 Dec 2008

Wrong. They should both be taught. Metric has a gross (technical definition) resolution: humans are all between 1-2 meters, kilograms are useless in human measurements, as is Celsius.

Inch: thumb v. 2.54 cm.

Foot: foot v. 30.4 cm.

Yard: Arm. 91.44cm.

100 degrees: Body temperature v. 30 C.

32: freezing v. 0C.

0: really damned v cold don’t even remember, some bloody negative number.

Pound: 1 pint of water.

People do not have an instinct for metric the same way they do not have an instinct for quantum mechanics: it has nothing to do with the human scale. They should both be taught because 9/5+32 and x1.6 are not hard to learn.

I sympathize, however!

# Stephenon 06 Dec 2008

Strictly speaking, litres (liters) are not SI units.

SI units for volume are cubic length measurements:

m3, etc.
# gognaon 06 Dec 2008

I’m from Europe, and all I know about English units is that an inch is about 2.54cm. Oh, and that there are 12 inches in a foot, but 12 feet don’t equals one yard.

I’m.. just read on wikipedia that 1 mile is 5,280 feet! Heck!

I admire your plumbers for being able to work with a cumbersome system like that! I would go crazy for replacing a lamp :P
# Johnon 06 Dec 2008

As an English person, living in England, I have to disagree with some of these points. Imperial (not English, imperial) measures often have the brilliant advantage that despite being difficult to convert, they are useful in every day life. A milk bottle holds 1 pint of milk or 0.568 litres. i know which I’d rather have to remember. Recently, a lot of people have been getting worked up about a forced switch to the metric system because of the European union. The biggest thing I noticed people disagreeing with was measurements of foodstuffs. People know how much a pound of potatoes is but not how much 0.4536 kilograms is. I imagine any kind of forced switch across the pond would provoke the same reaction because it would be just as stupid. For a long time now, the English people have been in a comfortable situation of using imperial measures where sensible and metric the rest of the time. The scientists all use metric measures for our research and everyone’s happy. I also object to calling this the English system. The metric system is also common in England now and so the country is a rubbish way to index it.

Also, we don’t see you as stupid because of the units you use, we see you as stupid because so many of you are so fat. This ain’t gonna change if people start buying a kilogram of potatoes instead of a pound of ‘em.
# jerome barbieron 06 Dec 2008

i always thot that the US of A still used the Imperial system because it was easier to divide. ie. 12 can be divide by 1, 2, 3, 4, 6 and 12. as compared to the metric system where base 10 rule and whitch can only by divided by 1, 2, 5 and 10. me from canada, have been learning the metric system all the way, but because of some close minded neighbors (read Americans from USA) i use imperial system for my weight and height everyday. SCREW THEM!!
# flipon 06 Dec 2008

You may want to remove angstroms from your rant - 1 angstrom = 1e-10 m

Also I thought parsecs were pretty standard in observational astronomy.
# JeromEon 06 Dec 2008

When you’ll be done with that, you could start consider the brilliant (ISO) A4 format for paper. There are compelling arguments to use it (the only compelling argument for not using it being protectionism).

# ctscon 06 Dec 2008

I may be wrong (famous last words) but I was under the impression that the Angstrom is a metric unit. If it is not, then I’m pretty sure it obeys all of the rules of the metric system, so six of one a half dozen of the other. 1 to the power of minus ten, meters = 1 A (with a halo).
# Just passingon 06 Dec 2008

“But, the bottom line is that the only reason we’re still doing things the stupid way is because we’re too proud to do otherwise.”

Pride/arrogance. Often a very thin and blurred line between the two.

And you are not the only country that has refused to go metric. You are in the fine company of Liberia and Burma (Myanmar).

Yours faithfully
Fully Metric Australia (for over 40 years).
# gwon 06 Dec 2008

couldn’t agree with you more.
# ctscon 06 Dec 2008

Oh, and P.S. I totally and completely agree with your position on switching to metric, a good argument and well put. I deal every day with small things, so units like nanometers and microns are natural to me. It might take me some time though to spatially grasp what “It’s about 10 kilometers up the road” means. But no such barrier would exist for children who grow up with the system!
# JLSon 06 Dec 2008

I can remember back in school in the 1980’s teachers were saying were going to to metric system but it never happened.
# Gregon 06 Dec 2008

I have to disagree, I happen to really like the english system for most of my daily life and things I do in my daily life. While I agree (as a scientist), the metric system is great for being able to calculate things in extremely large scale (distance from sun to jupiter) or small scale (distance between neurons in a synapse), I feel the English system is way more intuitive for the kinds of every-day things we humans do. Lets take cooking, for example. Understanding volume in the english system is simple. 2 cups = pint, 2 pints = 1 quart, and a quart is, you guessed it, a quarter of a gallon. These are measurements that you can make simply, using your head.

And just for good measure, we know that 1 pint of water = 1 pound because….. “the pint’s a pound the world around!’
# Thetruthon 06 Dec 2008

This is by design.

Americans are purposely not educated or mis-educated in the hopes of maintaining the need for immigrants to fill jobs, to justify the business practices of men that should have been deported from this country along with their entire lineage centuries ago.
# stephanieebarron 06 Dec 2008

asfasdf - you are entitled to your opinion, but I heartily disagree. Just looking at geometry, it’s impossible for me not to think our children are at a disadvantage. Include slugs and pounds force into the equation, and it’s no wonder higher level science is almost entirely done in SI. It makes me wonder how many children are defeated by math that is needlessly complex/cumbersome. at a young age that might have contributed to these fields.

Enginerd - the downside to capitalism is that people have to realize it’s to their benefit to make the change - not that it is to their benefit, but that they have to believe it is. That it’s been happening so quietly is a sign of hope to me. Metric’s PR is not so good.

Guy, I have a whole list of references on my paper and I’ll fetch it later if I have it on my jumpdrive. Good places to check, however (and they pointed me to it) are http://www.metricationmatters.com/why_metrication.html and http://lamar.colostate.edu/~hillger/. I will find the reference, though and either add it in a comment or write a new blog with them.

Adam, I don’t think thirds are the “main” reason against metric, though one could make an argument that it’s ONE reason. However, given most accuracies, 3.33 or even 3.3 will work. We’ve been doing it in money for centuries. The advantages for digital (base ten) and simplicity outweigh the advantages of 12 UNLESS we added two more digits and made 12 the new 10. Good luck with that.

dhughes - you’re perfectly right in my poor grammar. I should have. Unfortunately, xxxx.com comes and review these, and, once reviews, I can’t edit it. Naturally, today, I have a gillion comments pointing out my errors, of which there were several. But I appreciate you putting them out. It’s amazing to me that so many people, who have no problem with the notion of a yard stick, get worked up at the notion of meters. I defy most people to see one or the other marked out on the ground and identify which it is.

I will get to all of you. But I have to do it in bits.
# David McCammond-Wattson 06 Dec 2008

Yes, “a pint’s a pound the world around” but a liter is a kilogram, and is 10cm^3 as well, which relates volume, length and mass (of water at STP).
# stephanieebarron 06 Dec 2008

By the way, Gumby, JD and shakespeare, thanks for your comments. I always like seeing you.

Adam Bard - part of that, I suspect, is our sad influence, I think. However, it’s hard for many to visualize thing differently. However, a concentrated effort for kids and education, and that can go away in a generation. More so, an UNMIXED system is far less complex than a mixed system. When people get confused converting one way to the other, they blame the less familiar system instead of the real cause: conversion. That’s why, in my opinion, a clean break is best. Note also that there were many things we said we’d never get used to, yet people by liter and half liter bottles of stuff all the time with, shock, no problem.

Ray - that may well be a factor. I’m not an economic guru. However, I do know that US products don’t necessarily have the same lustre they used to and EU is taking steps to limit products that even in include non-SI units. So that thinking could easily backfire.

Stu - I’d read that. Traditions can die hard (though I didn’t realize stone was still in active use - heck, even I’m double digits in stone). But in the long run, buying half a kilo of cheese or a kilo of apples isn’t so far different than pounds. And, the longer it’s what we see, the more easily everyone communicates in the same units.

Steven Harms - I’m with you.

math guy - You said “They should both be taught. Metric has a gross (technical definition) resolution: humans are all between 1-2 meters, kilograms are useless in human measurements, as is Celsius” - I’m interested how you support that. I use Celsius for my house temperature. All of my characters in my novels are described (generally in cm which is not really considered SI anymore). In fact, for quick calculations, kgs are great for rockets and trajectories since g=~10 m/s^2. Much easier than messing with 32 ft/s^2. I understand the whole “rule of thumb” argument, but that only works if we’re all at the same measurements. We’re not. Some thumbs are at 2.5 cm or 25 mm and 0.98 inches. But SI have non-subjective standards (though English/standard/Imperial units do to, now - and it ain’t someone’s thumb). And, if you think having freezing at 32 degrees is of ANY help in chemistry, testing or conversion, perhaps you need more math education. Absolute zero, by the way, is 0 degrees K, -273.15 C, 0 degree Rankine and -459.37 F - how is F helping?
# Richard Heycockon 06 Dec 2008

So reading through people it would seem the main complaints against the imperial system are:

1. base 12 is easier the base 10
2. imperial system is better suited to everyday life.

There are variations but, as far as I can tell, these seem to be main points. So my take on these points:

1. base 12 is only useful for feet and inches. It doesn’t apply to pounds onces etc. Or maybe you should use base 12 for all measuring meants; umm how many ounces in a pound!

2. the imperial system is better suited to everyday life because things are package according to the imperial system. You would never go into a shop and ask for 0.568 litres of milk, you would ask for half a litre of milk because that is how milk is packaged in a metric system. The same goes for everything else. In pre-historic days using your thumb or foor as a measure would have been incedibly useful but I think it’s safe to say we’ve moved on since then.

I can understand why people are reluctant to convert, people know one system and it comes naturally to them. Trust me it really doesn’t take much effort to convert, I’ve done it.

If the imperial system didn’t exist the metric system would seem perfect. And whilst it may not be perfect it’s pretty bloody good.

Nicely writen by the way.
# stephanieebarron 06 Dec 2008

Stephen - you may be right. When I was a kid, it was well used, and I think it’s still in common usage, but they did a good bit of streamlining of the SI units and I might be out of date. Looking at the NIST version of SI explanation (http://physics.nist.gov/Pubs/SP330/sp330.pdf), L is considered an acceptable non-SI unit, but I expect you’re right in thinking that m^3 is the appropriate term. But that’s a lot of milk :) I likely have other errors as well and appreciate them being noted.

gogna - me too. Things are much harder than they have to be and I guess we deserve kudos for managing to work around an awkward system. On the other hand, all that extra energy spent - couldn’t we do something productive with it?

John - here they are called standard or English units (though I could understand why that offends you, it’s not my idea). There are some who call it imperial, but it’s uncommon (though I’m sure that’s perfectly normal for the UK). Again, your argument is part of the story. Easy to remember a pint. Not much harder to remember 1/2 litre or 500 ml and you have the advantage of not trying to have to remember how many ounces in it or how many pints to the gallon. So, I disagree with your point. And measuring food in grams is an excellent way to diet. In the nontechnical world, I might add, the disadvantages to a mixed system are considerably fewer than the technical world where if can cost expensive equipment and lives.

jerome barbier - not entirely sure what you’re trying to say, but, hey, I’m a happily married woman.

flip - you’re right. Angstrom is another non-SI unit that’s general accepted. I’m used to thinking in nm and they were already doing that when I went to college for lasers and quantum physics. So, I didn’t think about it much. As said earlier, however, I can no longer edit this so this must be my mea culpa. I hang my head because I was reaching for different terms from memory instead of finding one of my handy dandy resources that gave me gillions of lengths. Bad me!

JeromE - it would be nice if we could be standard. I went to Rome for a conference and printing things out was complicated by the difference in paper.

ctsc - see flip’s response. I was lazy. Sorry and you’re right. And thanks!

Greg - It’s not that I don’t understand your point, but then, let’s try it. If I have a quadruple batch with 3 tablespoons, how many is that in cups? If I’m, instead, dealing with 50 ml, it’s a no brainer to think” 200 ml. And yes, it’s true about pints and quarts, but many have to sit and think, which is larger, the pint or the quart. If we’re dealing with 10’s of ml, no effort is required. Which pound were you planning to use, by the way? The pound, pound-force, pound (metric) or pound (troy)? :)
# stephanieebarron 06 Dec 2008

Just Passing and gw - Thanks!

JLS - *sigh* me, too.

Thetruth - I don’t know. Heinlein said, “Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.”

Wow, thanks for all the comments. It’s been an interesting discussion!
# Pierreon 06 Dec 2008

Two small mistakes:

“There are a bunch of good reasons to kiss the English system of measurement goodbye, not the least of which is that we’re the last damn country to be using it, including England.”

You forgot Myanmar and Liberia!

“Know how many different kilometers there are? Yep, just the one and they use the same damn one all over the world.”

And yet, all over the world they still use funny units like knots (technically a “non-SI unit accepted for use with the SI”). Switching to metric doesn’t necessarily imply ceasing all use of non-SI units.

But you forgot the most important (to me!) reason to go metric: it’s what all my teachers taught me back in the 1980’s when they said we’d be using metric in 5 years. I have no clue how many ounces in a pint because nobody ever taught me.

Schools are already metric. Industry is already metric. Science is already metric. Only a few consumer products (foodstuffs, gasoline/distances, paper, houses, weather, people) still use imperial units.
# stephanieebarron 06 Dec 2008

David McCammond-Watts - Your reply to Greg was better than mine.

Thank you, Richard Heycock. Nice comment.

Pierre - technically true. I had forgotten we were trying to stay in lockstep with Liberia and Myanmar. I would like to see more of the old Standard/Imperial/English units go by the wayside.
# Michaelon 06 Dec 2008

While I agree the US should switch to the metric system, it’s stupid to say that Asian kids are kicking the USA’s butt at math because they use a simpler system. That’s like saying that weight lifter is so massive because he uses lighter weights that are easier to life.

The fact is, the real reason people don’t know how to convert a slug, furlong, or even a nautical mile is that average people don’t use these measurements on a daily basis. Average people will live their entire life and never encounter these measurements. People that *do* use them know how to convert them very easily.
# stephanieebarron 06 Dec 2008

Michael, I use them on a daily basis, but I have to look them up every time. I know how to convert them, but I would definitely save time if I didn’t have to. And, even if you don’t use it every day, many sometimes need to use an unfamiliar unit. You can waste a lot of time running that to ground. There are fewer and less ambiguous units in SI.
# stephanieebarron 06 Dec 2008

And, of course, whether or not “it’s stupid” to say metrication is a factor - well, that’s an opinion, isn’t it? Just like mine.
# popcornon 06 Dec 2008

For the record, us high-schoolers use the metric system in science and math 99% of the time. God help us if they decide this is a bad idea.
# alfonzon 06 Dec 2008

It’s ironic that imperial units are actually defined in terms of SI units. Thus for example 1 inch = 2.54 cm exactly, by definition. So if you think in inches and feet, you’re really using some very weird multiples of SI units.
# stephanieebarron 06 Dec 2008

I think that’s excellent, popcorn. It hasn’t been quite as often form my daughter, who just started, but I was pleasantly surprised when she told me that track was now running all their races in meters.
# Joseon 06 Dec 2008

As an european, I have been surrounded by decimal system all my life, so for me its so easy (NOW).

Remember how much it took to learn the letters of the alphabet?

I’m sure you don’t, if you want to recall, try with a new simple alphabet like katakana and hiragana. They are as simple(as many symbols) to learn as uppercase and lowercase.

But we find them particularly difficult, why?, because we have to make the effort to learn them so it becomes easy.

The same way for me it’s a pain in the ass to think in inches, miles, pounds, stones, apples or kingdom feets. There is people here that had made the effort so they don’t want to change.

I’m two meters high, is that simple. A centimeter, decimeter, and meter are easy to visualize for me. Today is 0 grades celsius and that means my plants are going to freeze, and I have to be careful when driving.I’m 80 kilos(grams)weight. I can visualize 1, 10 and 100kilos and grams easy too. So no problem for me.
# stephanieebarron 06 Dec 2008

Actually, popcorn, it should have been “for my” daughter.

Alfonz, that’s an excellent point.
# stephanieebarron 06 Dec 2008

Jose, true enough. The thing is, once you learn it, it’s so much simpler. There’s a good analogy with making a home more energy efficient. The money(effort) you spend up front can mean a lifetime of lower utility costs and other benefits. In the long run, it’s counterproductive, but it seems like a good idea at the time. Kinda like being up to one’s eyeballs in debt.
# Wolteron 06 Dec 2008

I really find it comical how so many people think that metric units cannot be visualized the same way imperial units can.

I grew up in Canada, learning to measure people in feet and inches and pounds.

At age 25, I went to Japan, and lived there for 5 years. In about a year I got used to the measurements and was able to visualize them quite well. I am 190cm tall and weigh 82kg. If someone told me they were 170cm tall, I could picture it in my mind. And not only me; ALL Japanese can visualize it perfectly. As can all other Asians, and Europeans, and EVERYONE BUT North Americans.

In the end, the primary reason for keeping the imperial system is fear of change.
# jimon 06 Dec 2008

If metric is superior to imperial, why not apply the same logic to time.

Let 1000 seconds be a minute, 1000 minutes be an hour, 1000 hours be a day, and 1000 days be a year

Why can we use conversion factors of 60, 24 and 365 everday without complaining
# stephanieebarron 06 Dec 2008

Jim - the logic doesn’t necessarily follow any more than assuming, because roses smell better than zucchini, they’d make a better bread. One could make an argument that decimal time is better, but unfortunately, changing our time scheme puts our weeks, months and years out of whack with reality. Also, unlike metric vs. Imperial, everyone uses the same measure of time so now you’re adding conversion headache when there was none before.
# Wolteron 06 Dec 2008


Measuring time in a base 10 system using the rotational period of our planet as the primary unit would work. Indeed, many such systems have been proposed, and then rejected for the same reason that Americans refuse to give up on the imperial measurement system: fear of change.

It’s the same argument made against improving ANY process: It kind of works now, and it would be more work to fix the system as a whole than to just do this one project under the existing, but cumbersome, system.
Nobody looks to the future, and so nobody cares that the total time wasted fiddling around in the current system FAR exceeds the time it would take to overhaul the system in the long run.
# stephanieebarron 06 Dec 2008

Wolter, this is technically true. Changing the time scheme is inconvenient, not impossible. I don’t philosophically have a problem with changing the time scheme, but I don’t see that we should wait to convert to metric until they revamp the time scheme. That’s just crazy talk.
# stephanieebarron 06 Dec 2008

# Jmanon 06 Dec 2008

I think it’s more a generational thing in Canada, anyone younger than 35 or so has no problem with metric and uses it; people around my age (40) are in the middle, pretty comfortable with both since we were in the transition era; people over 45 still stick with Imperial.

It’s actually funny, when I think about a person’s height and mass, I immediately think of ft/in and lbs; when I think of volume, speed, distance, or mass of an object or food, it’s in metric. Odd how the brain works.

Speaking of odd, can anyone tell me why the UK (if it’s only England, please excuse me) still uses stone as a unit of a person’s mass in everyday measurement? For the life of me, I cannot see the logic or practicality in using a unit of measurement that is 14 lbs. Guess you have to grow up with it.
# Wolteron 06 Dec 2008

Actually there is a pressing need for America to go metric: Metric-Imperial conversion errors are not only costing money, they are costing lives when critical parts fail due to a conversion error.

When you are the ONLY country using an archaic measuring system that is different from the rest of the world’s, you should notice a problem.
When all of the smart people in your country are using metric while you continue to use ridiculously cumbersome measures, you should notice a problem.

The world is not going to adapt to your system. You have to adapt to the world’s.
# stephanieebarron 06 Dec 2008

Jman, this was the first I’ve heard that stone was still in common usage. I’m as flummoxed as you are.

Wolter, I’m in complete agreement. Since I’ve spent more than ten years working in space safety, I was very aware of the needless additional risk we include by dancing between two systems of units.

Guy, way the heck up there you asked where I’d read that conversion was either a wash or cost effective. Here’s a list of my references for the original paper; I think it was 13:

1. United States Metric Association Homepage - http://lamar.colostate.edu/~hillger/#metric.
2. Metric Conversion Act of 1975. (http://ts.nist.gov/WeightsAndMeasures/Metric/pub814.cfm)
3. Omnibus Trade and Competitiveness Act of 1988.
4. Executive Order 12270 signed by President Bush in 1991. (http://ts.nist.gov/WeightsAndMeasures/Metric/pub814.cfm#president)
5. Savings in Construction Act of 1996.
6. ES, G-00-21 NASA Public Affairs Policy on NASA’s Use of the Metric System, 2001. (http://nodis3.gsfc.nasa.gov/displayDir.cfm?Internal_ID=N_PD_8010_002D_&page_name=main)
7. Le Système International d’Unités (SI), 2006: The International System of Units (SI), 8th Edition, Bureau International des Poids et Mesures (BIPM), Pavillon de Breteuil, F-92310, Sèvres, France. (http://www.bipm.org/en/si/si_brochure/)
8. “Jan L. A. van de Snepscheut,” Wikiquote. (http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Jan_L._A._van_de_Snepscheut)
9. Eyles, Don. Tales From The Lunar Module Guidance Computer: Apollo 11, AAS 04-064. (http://www.doneyles.com/LM/Tales.html)
10. Kverneland, Knut. ANSI Metric Standards for Worldwide Manufacturing 2005, 5th Edition.
11. Lobrano, Barbara and James B. McCracken. U.S. Manufacturers with Products Conforming to Metric Standards: An Analysis, NIST GCR 99-783. (http://ts.nist.gov/WeightsAndMeasures/Metric/upload/thomas2.pdf)
12. Restriction of the use of certain Hazardous Substances in electrical and electronic equipment (RoHS), 2002 and Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directives. (http://www.rohs.gov.uk/content.aspx?id=9)
13. Webb, Ted, “General Motors Goes Metric,” Elements of Technology, Winter 1976.
14. Naughtin, Pat, “What is the Cost of Not Going Metric?” Metrication Matters website (www.metricationmatters.com), 2005. (http://www.metricationmatters.com/docs/CostOfNonMetrication.pdf )
15. Reif, Rita, “The Quiet Revolution: The United States Goes Metric,” New York Times, December 7, 1975.
# Jmanon 06 Dec 2008

stephanieebarr, I was quite surprised too. I’ve spent the last 8 years working overseas and have worked with quite a few Brits. The first time one of them said they weighed ‘15 stone 3 pounds’, I had to do a head shake. Wasn’t only one guy, either, they all did it (although they were all fluent in kgs). I couldn’t get an explanation from any of them as to why they still used it. Tradition, I guess.
# Wolteron 06 Dec 2008

Bah! My car gets 14 rods to the hogshead and that’s the way I likes it!
# stephanieebarron 06 Dec 2008

Wolter, I saw that same comment on reddit. I loved it there, too.
# Nicon 07 Dec 2008 at 12:30 am edit this

For all the “Pint is a Pound” crowd (it has been said before me, but I will reiterate):

1ml is 1cc, which is a cube of water 1cm on each side and weighs 1 gram. 1 litre weighs a kilogram, 1 ton of water is 1 cubic metre.

What calculations do you have to do to work out what a container of water weighs if you measure the dimensions in inches?

Will your decking support a spa pool that holds 1500 litres?

If a river is 10m across and 3m deep in the middle and a stick thrown in moves downstream at 2m a second, can you guesstimate what volume of water moves through every minute? Again, much harder in imperial.

Metric is easier and more elegant by far.
# stephanieebarron 07 Dec 2008

Well, Nic, I’m convinced. Of course, I kinda was already. I mean, if area’s tough, what happens when you have to do something “complicated”?
# mech eon 07 Dec 2008

“Now, imagine doing calculations on rocket thrust or something complicated with fractions of an inch (I’m trying not to).”

Real life calculations do not use integers, so complaining about fractions is useless when you are doing decimal math in a calculator anyway.

Its interesting to consider why the US uses United States Customary System and not metric and it is interesting to consider what the cost would be to switch to all metric.

In the end, we use whatever works. For some people that means both systems. Like when you converted from USCS to metric back to USCS when computing the square footage of a room.
# Galileoon 07 Dec 2008

Americans, get over yourselves and get with the program. Metrics is the way to the future.
# LLon 07 Dec 2008

I think what you’ll find is both sets appearing on products, e.g. soda bottles, produce scales.

This gradual approach sidesteps the ‘massive infrastructure’ problem, and helps the general population get a handle on what the Metric measurements actually are.
# Joe Andersonon 07 Dec 2008

The English don’t use English measurements!
# stephanieebarron 07 Dec 2008

mech e - I respectfully disagree. Every conversion done in software is processing power that can’t be used for something else. Today, processing power is cheap, but it wasn’t always. One could make an argument that conversion could have been a factor if the first moon mission had crashed (as it nearly did): http://www.doneyles.com/LM/Tales.html. Moreover, even with endless processing power, every conversion is an opportunity for error, a place for displaced digits in conversion factors, a place where, if a unit changes later, the conversion factor can be overlooked or used when it shouldn’t be. In my opinion, it’s a copout to address things this way, a way to kick the can down the road in the hopes someone else will clean up the mess, being too lazy to do it now because of a little inconvenience and, thereby, subjecting untold others to increased inconvenience and appreciable risk.

Galileo - agreed. And thanks for that ramp thing. It was fun to teach in Physics lab.

LL - I’m afraid I have to disagree on the gradual thing, too. Perhaps it’s appropriate for the general public, but I’m doubtful. I’m adamantly opposed in technical fields. Von Braun and his team designed and thought in metric then converted it to Imperial units to suit us here. MIT did calculations for the lander in SI then converted them to Imperial units for the pilots. but the excuse for Constellation to use English units again (not the lunar part; they’re planning to go metric) is heritage hardware! WTF? As long as we have mixed units, we provide an excuse to not convert. Those countries that converted quickly and completely did it with considerably less pain that those that have limped along. Like us. Heck, we signed up to metric centuries ago. Why are we still having this discussion?

Joe - I know. They are often called English units (though standard is gaining popularity though the irony of calling “standard” units standard still gets to me). Of course, since England has largely gone metric, it’s pretty ironic they’re called English units.
# Saulo Silvaon 07 Dec 2008

I’m originally from South America and I’ve been living in Canada for 12 years.
The only thing I know is that 6 feet is a really tall person and 2 pints make me a bit tipsy.
# Wolteron 07 Dec 2008

There’s another problem with converting between systems.

In engineering fields, you need to round off your results to a certain number of significant digits at various intervals. If one team works with one unit of measurement, and another team uses a different measure, converting at the end, you end up with two very slightly different answers. That can often mean the difference between it working and it not working.

Imperial units are a dinosaur. Even the British abandoned it for a system devised by the French, whom they dislike.
And today it makes for yet another reason everyone makes fun of America.
# stephanieebarron 07 Dec 2008

Choir: Sing it, Wolter!
# mech eon 07 Dec 2008

To stephanieebarr:

You assume that computationally expensive operations will have many conversions. I think you are looking at this on a different level than me. But like I said, if using two systems works better than one, then use them. If not, then stick to only one.

From your posted article: ” It would have been easy for us to adjust the parameter that controlled how long the delta-V monitor waited before testing the engine — but nobody told us.”

I see an issue of miscommunication here, where a design change in one part of the system (” the propellant had further to travel to reach the engine” necessitated a design change in the software that never happened?

And also for Apollo 11 again: ” The performance of the descent engine had been improved, but the ICD was not modified accordingly. The actual time lag for the descent engine was about 0.075 seconds. It turned out we had overcompensated. As a result the throttle was barely stable.”

Same problems with miscommunication (I believe that ICD stands for Interface Control Document. However, maybe a single units system will improve communications. Possible, but not guaranteed.
# unfinishedrambleron 07 Dec 2008

As a person who weighs 190 pounds, I like the sound of 86 kilograms. Sounds much better. (Yes, I’m one of those who skipped to the end.)
# stephanieebarron 07 Dec 2008

The thing is, mech e, you don’t have to make an adjustment or worry about remembering a conversion factor if it’s not necessary and every time you have an unnecessary conversion factor, change units from one system to the other unnecessarily, you add an opportunity for failure that you didn’t have to have, an opportunity for miscommunication that could lead to disaster. I think you missed a key element in the lunar lander. The pilots were continually distracted with an “alarm issued when the computer was overloaded” as per Neil Armstrong’s comment: “Normally, in this time period, that is, from P64 onward, we’d be evaluating the landing site and starting LPD activity. However, the concern here was not with the landing area we were going into, but rather whether we could continue at all. Consequently, our attention was directed toward clearing the program alarms, keeping the machine flying, and assuring ourselves that control was adequate to continue without requiring an abort. Most of our attention was directed inside the cockpit during this time period and in my view this would account for our inability to study the landing site and final landing location during final descent[14].” This isn’t to say that conversions were THE reason they were distracted, just that, with a very limited computing power, they were functions we could have done without.

Hey, and unfinishedrambler, anything that gets the public to convert is OK by me.
# kynefskion 07 Dec 2008

I submit that metric is superior for everything except air temperature.

In the laboratory, degrees Celsius make great sense. 100 degrees between freezing and boiling of water, etc.

When talking about the weather, though, not so much. In Fahrenheit, 0 degrees is really cold and 100 degrees is really hot. Plus, there’s just something cool about having the difference between freezing and boiling be 180 degrees, like it’s on a protractor.
# stephanieebarron 08 Dec 2008

kynefski, I submit that that’s an opinion. In the lab, degrees C is important. Ditto for boiling water or making ice cream or maintaining plants in the right environment. People intuitively knowing what 32 deg F feels like or 68 or -10 is a matter of conditioning, not intuition. Go a generation using C (or a few months as I do in my own house) and sure enough, the temperature becomes just as intuitive.
# Why stop there?on 08 Dec 2008

Try teaching your non-military educated citizens the 24-hour clock! :-)
# stephanieebarron 08 Dec 2008

Why stop there, you have me because I don’t have a military background myself. I am learning to adapt because my husband came from a military family so everything at my house is in military 2400 format (which I can see the logic behind) - but I struggle. Even after more than five years, it’s not natural to me. My daughter refuses to learn it, but that may just be a teenage thing.
# Wolteron 08 Dec 2008

> Try teaching your non-military educated citizens the 24-hour clock!

The Japanese use a 24-hour clock and have no trouble with it.
# Thiagoon 11 Dec 2008

Many “imperials” talk about how they don’t feel “natural” with the metric measures. It’s obvious that it would be the case, since (unlike people in the rest of the world) you have been taught to think with imperial units since you were born.

Well, that’s sad, but it’s part of living in a highly integrated world: many things have to be learned again, some changes seem awkward, but they may be (and in this case, ARE) needed. The imperial system is expensive to maintain and error-prone, and there’s NO real argument supporting it (10 not being divisible by 3? Come on! Grow up.).
# Canada ruleson 12 Dec 2008

Ok now I may not be a genius but if that went over your head than you probably cannot use the imperial system you use now. Also i guess known as the English system??

Now maybe people in the US think it would be a big deal to switch but hear in Canada most big name tool makers and companies also make metric products as well.

And I went for a 10km run sounds way better than a 6.2137119 mile long run.
# Klaueon 21 Dec 2008

I must say, as an european I find many of the counterpoints quite laughable.
So, your milk bottle holds a pint, which would be an awkward mesurement in litres? So what, ours hold 1 litre. Just make your bottles larger or smaller accordingly.
Or the one about how thirds are so much easyer in your measurements.. I just have to ask, how many times do you really need a third of something so that this does matter? I can’t remember the last time I needed the third of something. But OK, let’s assume one thirs is often used, then how about stuff like 20%? Percents are absolutely easy to use in the metric system but are really awkward in the imperial one.
Or the one about how teaspoons work better for baking recipes - we use them here too. Baking recipes were always something special.
Or the one about how the metric system doesn’t feel natural. Well guess what, it does for us who grew up with it but measuring stuff in finger length seems unnatural to us because everybodies finger is different.

The only thing I disagree with here is that everything in metric units is a multiple or fraction of 1000. tenths are far more common in everyday life, for example, 1 m = 10 dm = 1000 cm = 1000 mm. Also, for littres it’s 1 hl = 100 l, not 1000.
Oh, and you forgot to mention the easy conversions. 1 l = 1 dm^3 = 1 kg. Or that it sometimes makes more sense, like the temperature: 0° C = water freezes, 100° C = water boils.

And when you’re at it, also use the 24h clock. We around here use both but most of us prefer the 24h clock (and most clocks, especially digital ones, are, in fact, 24h ones) because if you say 7 o’clock, it’s 7 in the morning, not in the evening (19 o’clock). But I think that one’s just a matter of preference. But again, people above are arguing that it’s not natural. A 12h clock is not natural either, it just depends on what you’ve learned when you were a kid. By the way, the 24h clock here is nothing militarial.

By the way, sorry for any misspellings, especially in the measurements, I’m not used to use litres or metres etc. in english.
# stephanieebarron 22 Dec 2008

For all of you who have recently commented, thanks. I don’t find most of the anti-metric arguments particularly compelling myself and don’t have a an issue with the 24 hour clock either (except that it’s still not second nature, which is only a matter of familiarity).

While I don’t disagree with much of what you say, Klaus, and agree that factors of ten are readily used in reality, SI technically is actively discouraging the use of many of the 10 values such as the centimeter. Not sure how that will go in the long run. But, using/restricting something in theory and practice are two separate things.


  • Jeff King

    The topic looks to be covered from top to bottom.

    The only thing i can add is keep our system. Why, because it is ours. The good old USA attitude, our way is the better way. Even if you have so called evidence it is flawed...


  • Stephanie B

    Jeff, I have no idea what you were saying. Are you arguing that no amount of evidence matters because it's ours? Or are you joking?

  • Project Savior

    The only slight grip (and a reason we haven't converted) I have with the metric system is in construction. The standard sizes are based around 4' X 8' construction material. You quickly get used to working in fractions of 96".
    If when the metric system was set up they had set the meter equal to 96" or 48" or even 32" the construction industry would have embraced it immediately as a standard.
    Working with 1.2192m X 2.4384m (or even 1.25 x 2.5) is actually harder mentally than 48" X 96" when you are dividing by 3 and 6.
    Unfortunately the 4' X 8' standard can't be modified much as it takes the human's size into consideration.

  • Stephanie B

    Project Savior, everyone's got their little beef, where they want to have their little part of the world use the old stuff (because it's "natural"). I understand wanting to use what you know. I do, really. My house has been degrees C so long, I know where I'm comfortable, but I stumble if I have to tell someone, in F what temp it is.

    SI was first mandated, in the US, in 1866. That's more than a hundred years the US has had converting to metric legally the plan. Special interests, though (those that thought it was a good idea for everyone but them) kept it from beign mandatory, though, so we're still not doing it, though we've reupped those laws repeatedly (A useful chronology for those who think this is a recent development)

    You mentioned construction, which uses inches and feet. There's a good argument for this, if everything was like it once was in Japan - where every room was once designed to fit an even number of tatami mats, truly standard (or so I once read). Unless every room is going to match a factor of 4x8 feet, where's the benefit in using "standard" measurements?

    Some people can calculate 1/3 and 1/6 of 96 in their heads easily, true. Most can't. Now, tell me 1/3 and 1/6 of board 1.2x2.4 meters (1200x2400 board). (same size as a 4x8 with 2 cm shaved off one side and 4cm shaved off the other - still fairly human friendly, I'd presume). I don't know. I think most people could get .4 (or 400 mm) and .2 (200 mm) at least as fast as they can get 32" and 16" respectively. And, with mm/m, there's no ambiguousness when you move beyond 8' (as one has to do repeatedly in construction). There's no conversion to figuring floor or wall are in a room that's 7.2mx6mx3m high but how long will it take you to figure that out in a room that's 23' 7"x19'8"x9'11' (as the room I'm in is). I calculate the one once - done. The others all have to be converted into inches or feet, then multiplied, and, if I used inches, converted again.

    You do that.

    Many industries have balked at the notion of changing. Most have realized savings when they've actually embraced the change, not even counting the increased simplicity (labor time) with fewer errors. Errors, of course=money wasted. Check this out.

  • Project Savior

    Where the human friendliness really comes in is the counters and desks and other objects you use every day.
    Imagine everything shaved down, your desk .75 cm shorter and thinner with 2cm taken off the end. It doesn't sound like much it would be really noticed in the leg room.
    Or your kitchen counter tops 9cm shorter to round to a meter (I suppose you could go with 1.1 and just add a centimeter, leaving 200cm of waste material.)
    I'm just saying the meter would have been better if it had been calculated out to use the human dimensions instead of the flawed estimates of the distance from the equator to the North Pole.

  • The Mother

    As a homeschooler, I taught my kids to think in metric.

    That's something I had to train myself to do, when I was in the lab. I had to give measures in metric, and I had a choice--learn to estimate in metric or measure every damn thing.

    Guess what I picked?

    Ask me how big four inches is, and I'll probably hedge. As me how big four centimeters is, and I'll be within a fraction of a millimeter.

    Weights, too, up to a couple of kilos.

    I've lost some of it, being out of practice. But my kids grew up with it, so I hope they'll be better off.

  • Stephanie B

    Project Savior, you're worried because you think going metric will make everything too small. Get a ruler with metric (if you can find one) and look at how huge a difference that's going to make.

    And I just used 1.2/2.4 m as an example of easily used measurements that were all but indistinguishable from current measurements as far as human factors were concerned - especially given that we vary in height by far more than a few cm)it for an example. I can as easily make the wood 1.5 (gasp devisible by 3 and 6 quite readily)x3m and adjust accordingly. Since metric construction is often performed in mm (and a mm is generally far more precision than construction needs), I just don't see the issue.

    What seems the "norm" today can be adjusted slightly (as food packaging has almost without notice) and we'll learn new "standards" often without even thinking about it. Only, if we have to do anything clever with the new ones, the math becomes desperately simple.

    By the way, our Founding Fathers were deeply involved in the creation of the SI units and they'r as useful as a foot that's a half an inch longer than my own (unless I'm in heels). But I have unusually large feet. For my father, a "foot" was a good 2 or so inches shorter. Truthfully, it doesn't matter where a unit came from. We just need to understand it. It needs to always mean the same thing no matter who's using it. It needs to be ambiguous. And, in this high tech world, it would be nice if it could manipulated via calculation effectively.

    Truly, the standard system of units doesn't accomplish any of those things. And SI does.

  • Stephanie B

    Yay, the Mother! Smart thinking! You saved your boys some irksome, complicated, needlessly tiresome math problems that serve no purpose even when faced with "standard unit" problems since all but the simplest activities can be done faster (and with fewer errors) by converting to SI, calculating, and converting back. Funny how that is, isn't it?

  • Relax Max

    I don't know where to begin. I read this last night and slept on it. It is a fine post. You have said everybody else in the world uses it and you have said it is more precise and easier to use. I think you probably agree scientists like it. You have added your opinion that anyone who doesn't use it is stupid. But you have been very thorough in supporting your case, and I enjoyed your post.

    I did start taking notes about the things I didn't agree with you on, but then stopped because there is no way I would ever persuade you that people should use whatever they like, any more than you are going to persuade me that everyone should logically use the metric system for all things - and that is at the core of this discussion.

    I did like your post a lot. And I will bring up my notes to you later, simply because it is fun to debate. But thank you for this. I also enjoyed all the comments.

  • Stephanie B

    I enjoy this topic myself (even though I disagree that units are a measure of personal choice. Really, why use a unit at all if it doesn't mean anything to someone else?)

    Feel free to debate more in the future. And I'm glad you enjoyed it. I know I love learning stuff. I hope you do, too.

  • Jeff King

    All I am saying is our system works just fine. It is the system we use every day. I don't see it being flawed at all.
    I guess it is just the way your mind works...

    And my previous statement meant. It is the USA way of measuring and that is good enough for me.

    I can build anything you want using our system without any problems. In fact it works better than metric because every person in the civilian construction field is on the same page and communications is conveyed better using a system we know rather than try and convert to.

    It probably works better for you and that is fine. But if I disagree doesn’t make me wrong, just not on your side.

    I just prefer my inch broke down into 32 parts.
    Works perfect for me, and that is all that matters to me. Use whatever system you want, but don’t say my way is wrong if the end result is the same…

  • Gilda

    I think we all need a world standard. We can learn a new way to measure things. We're not that stupid. When I was a kid we had metric signs on our roads in Southern California. I remember being so excited we were going to join the rest of the modern world. And then those signs were taken down. What hubris. The signs were up, paid for, posted. They had miles and Km. We were going to learn to use both. That would put us *ahead* of so many. Oh well, then this happened in 1999.

    Metric mishap caused loss of NASA orbiter

  • Stephanie Barr

    GIlda, you touch on something critical - units do two things - they allow you to figure out how much or how big something will be, but they also convey that measurement to someone else.

    When people say it's all a matter of choice, that's like saying, I can go through life using only pig latin. You could conceivably do that, but it probably won't get you a job as an orator or any job where you need to communicate effectively. Units are how we communicate between producer and consumer, from systems working together, etc. Any fuzz on that, or extra work to make it so, and the communication - the WHOLE PURPOSE OF THE UNIT - is lost.

    In some cases, it means large costs, mismatched hardware, even lives lost. That doesn't make it sound too smart.

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