I have lived in a variety of countries, and one thing that I have noticed is that, even with the language barriers, it is easier to find out how tax dollars are being spent and what the government is doing. Partly this is because some governments put more effort into communicating with their citizens.

And partly it is because the math is easier elsewhere.

I was originally going to start my first post by comparing irrigation calculations. They are easy using metric measures and insanely hard in US customary. But I can't find the U.S. calculations. Neither the US Department of Agriculture nor the Colorado Agriculture Extension office have any basic information on irrigation. Large parts of Colorado, especially in the south east, are currently experiencing severe drought conditions. And farmers have no easily available source of information about how they are using water.

This unwillingness to believe that some basic things can be understood has deep roots in our history. Evidence (via The Metric Maven) comes from hearings on the metric system that Congress held from 1904-1906. Herbert Davidson, a metrication supporter, represented a company that made library supplies, and he had the following exchange with Rep. John W. Gaines of Tennessee:

Mr. Gaines. ….when I went to school my teacher very properly, I think, skipped me over the metric system, and they did not teach it then. Would we not all have to go to school and learn the metric system before we could know whether or not we were getting true measure according to the old standard?

Mr. Davidson. I think that a person of ordinary intelligence who gave five minutes to the subject of the metric system would be able to comprehend it. [Laughter.]

Mr. Gaines. How long have you studied it?

Mr. Davidson. I must say that I never spent fifteen consecutive minutes over it.

Mr. Gaines. Well, you are an expert by nature.

(Mr Davidson then attempts to explain the metric system to Mr. Gaines)

———————————————

Mr. Davidson. Why, I chose to use the metric system is because it impressed me as being simpler.

Mr. Gaines. When did you first undertake to study the metric system?

Mr. Davidson. I say I never studied it.

———————————————–

Mr. Gaines. ….. The people of the United States, at all events would have to first learn the metric system before they could use it. Now, this is what I am trying to find out—they would have to learn the difference between a foot and a meter and a yard and a meter and a pound and a meter, and so on. They would have to do that certainly.

Mr. Davidson. They would have to gain some knowledge of the metric system; but it all appeals [appears?] to me, sir, as being so exceedingly simple that I cannot comprehend the intelligence that can not understand what a meter is, what a liter is, and what a kilo is.

Mr. Gains. But you must remember that we are not all college graduates, unfortunately for us; and I take it that you are.

Mr. Davidson. Neither am I.

I think that fact that Rep. Gains thought you had to go to college to understand metric and that basic information about irrigation is hard to find are related. If you believe that ordinary people cannot understand ordinary things, then it does not matter if basic information is not available to those people.

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#### Comment Preferences

• ##### Back in the 1970s,(13+ / 0-)

Highway signs began to appear in the US that displayed both English and metric distances. The Know Nothings went crazy, and raised such a big fuss that the signs were taken down. Four decades later, the kilometer is still a puzzling concept to many Americans.

• ##### I always wondered why the US (11+ / 0-)

switched to liter drink bottles and no one raised a fuss. Maybe because they are a little bigger than the old quart bottles. And a lot of guns are measured in mm and the wingers think that's nifty.

Cars are all metric. Trucks are changing over. Computers are all metric. The US is halfway to being metric already!

I once read an essay that said the inch and foot were better units for craft work because they related to the human hand and arm. Maybe, but the ease of base ten math will always give the edge to metric IMO.

• ##### Lots of beautiful craft work done worldwide(9+ / 0-)

Lots of woodwork in the US is metric.

Lots of small craft workshops do beautiful work in metric worldwide. I have been told that complex latticework is much easier in metric. And craft unions headed metrication in Australia.

• ##### funny you mention computers(2+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
RiveroftheWest, penguins4peace

Computers are the ones that have bastardized all the prefixes so that no one knows for sure where for instance mega is supposed to be 2^20 or 10^6.

• ##### It depends(1+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
RiveroftheWest

In the case of computers (HDD. RAM):
2^20

In the case of networking (Mbs):
10^6

• ##### Whats fascinating to me(2+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
RUNDOWN, elfling

Is that all of our measures go back about three thousand years and are not only commensurable between systems, periods, countries, languages, and dimensions of time and space but also geo-commensurable

The proportion of foot to remen can be either 4:5 making it the hypotenuse or 3:4 making it the side of a right triangle. If the remen is the hypotenuse of a 3:4:5 triangle then the foot is one side and the quarter another so the proportions are 3:4 quarter to foot, 4:5 foot to remen and 3:5 quarter to Remen. The quarter is 1/4 yard. The foot is 1/3 yard. The remen is

The remen may also be the side of a square whose diagonal is a cubit The proportion of remen to cubit is 4:5

The proportion of palm to remen is 1:5
The proportion of hand to remen is 1:4
The proportion of palm to foot is 1:4
The proportion of hand to foot is 1:3

in addition to similarities between body measures and agricultural measures and between the system used in Mesopotamia four thousand years ago, the systems also allow measures of length, area, and volume to be commensurable so that "A pint's a pound the world around"
The table below demonstrates a harmonious system of proportion much like the musical scales, with fourths and fifths, and other scales based on geometric divisions, diameters, circumferences, diagonals, powers, and series coordinated with the canons of architectural proportion, Pi, phi and other constants..
Go to the link for the table
In Mesopotamia and Egypt the Remen could be divided into different proportions as a similar triangle with sides as fingers, palms, or hands. The Egyptians thought of the Remen as proportionate to the cubit or mh foot and palm.

They used it as the diagonal of a unit rise or run like a modern framing square. Their relatedseked gives a slope. Its convenient to think of remen as intermediate to both large and small scale elements.

Even before the Greeks like Solon, Herodotus, Pythagorus, Plato, Ptolomy, Aristotle, Eratosthenes, and the Romans like Vitruvius, there seems to be a concept that all things should be related to one another proportionally.

Its not certain whether the ideas of proportionality begin with studies of the elements of the body as they relate to scaling architecture to the needs of humans, or the divisions of urban planning laying out cities and fields to the needs of surveyors.

In all cultures the canons of proportion are proportional to reproducable standards.

There are twice as many seconds in a century as there are inches in the circumference of the earth at the equator, as nearly as can be measured allowing for things like tides and the rise of sea levels due to global warming.
In ancient cultures the standards are divisions of a degree of the earths circumference into mia chillioi, mille passus, and stadia.

Stadia, are used to lay out city blocks, roads, large public buildings and fields

Fields are divided into acres using as their sides, furlongs, perches, cords, rods, fathoms, paces, yards, cubits, and remen which are proportional to miles and stadia

Buildings are divided into feet, hands, palms and fingers, which are also systematized to the sides of agricultural units.

Inside buildings the elements of the architectural design follow the canons of proportion of the the inscription grids based on body measures and the orders of architectural components.

In manufacturing the same unit fraction proportions are systematized to the length and width of boards, cloth and manufactured goods.

The unit fractions used are generally the best sexigesimal factors, three quarters, halves, 3rds, fourths, fifths, sixths, sevenths, eighths, tenths, unidecimals, sixteenths and their inverses used as a doubling system

Greek Remen generally have long, median and short forms with their sides related geometrically as arithmetric or geometric series based on hands and feet.

Whats interesting about this is that you can look at modern European measures and tell whether it was the Greeks or the Romans to whom they owe their standards of measure.
The Egyptian bd is 300 mm and its remen is 375 mm. the proportion is 1:1.25
The Ionian pous and Roman pes are a short foot measuring 296 mm their remen is 370 mm
the Old English foot is 3 hands (15 digits of 20.32 mm) = 304.8 mm and its remen is 381 mm
The Modern English foot is 12 inches of 25.4 mm = 304.8 mm and its remen is 381 mm (15")
The Attic pous measures 308.4 mm its remen is 385.5
The Athenian pous measures 316 mm and is considered of median length its remen is 395 mm
Long pous are actually Remen (4 hands) and pygons
See cubit for the discussion of the choice of division into hands or palms
See the table below for proportions relative to other ancient Mediterranean units

Roman Remen generally have long, and short forms with their sides related geometrically as arithmetric or geometric series based on fingers palms and feet.

By Roman times the Remen is standardized as the diagonal of a 3:4:5 triangle with one side a palmus and another a pes. The Remen and similar forms of sacred geometry formed the basis of the later system of Roman architectural proportions as described by Vitruvius.

Generally the sexagesimal (base-six) or decimal (base-ten) multiples have Mesopotamian origins while the septenary (base-seven) multiples have Egyptian origins.

Live Free or Die --- Investigate, Incarcerate

[ Parent ]

• ##### Metric looks macho on speedometers! You get to do(1+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
foresterbob

40 (kph) in residential areas, and over 100, legally, on an average US freeway.

We all understand that freedom isn't free. What Romney and Ryan don't understand is that neither is opportunity. We have to invest in it.
Julian Castro, DNC 4 Sept 2012

[ Parent ]

• ##### I Build Stuff That I Sell Internationally and It(6+ / 0-)

is crazy easier to map detail using metric for certain dimensions and components.

There are parts or raw materials I need to buy in the US so I have to measure those in furlongs.

So after 15 years of bilingualism I know how to guess a centimeter and an inch. It's a pain though having to have both sets of drill bits.

We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

• ##### Dual measures is hard(5+ / 0-)

And we can't go backwards to when we did not have to know what the rest of the world is doing.

• ##### Math Class is tough.(2+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
RiveroftheWest, TrueBlueMajority

Party dresses are fun!

• ##### Dual measures aren't hard(0+ / 0-)

You can for example start with a foot of 300 mm and divide that into hands of 100 mm or palms of 75 mm. Either three hands equals a foot, five hands equals an ordinary cubit and six hands a sacred cubit, or four palms equals a foot, five palms equals an ordinary cubit and seven palms equals a royal cubit. Two ordinary cubits equal one meter, two feet equal one ell or a sacred cubit.

The body measures can be dual with agricultural measures, three feet equal a yard, five feet equal a pace six feet equal a fathom and also with standards of measure that relate time to distance such as a days march or a days sail.

Anciently all of these measures were used as unit fractions
and related to degrees so that a Greek stadion or a Roman stadium of 185 m could be combined to make a mia chilios, miliare or mile of 8 stadia or 1000 paces with 75 miles to a degree.

Live Free or Die --- Investigate, Incarcerate

[ Parent ]

• ##### You have to measure raw materials in FURLONGS??(2+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
elfling, RiveroftheWest

Are you sure?  A furlong is 660 feet - just over 200 meters.  What the heck do you build and sell, battleships?

By the way, for the customary-unit challenged, an acre is 1 furlong X 1 chain, or 660 feet X 66 feet.  At 43,560 sq feet, you have a crazy-divisible number.  A valuable property for something as valuable as, say, property.

It seems to go unmentioned in the post or in the comments that the metric system is devised for ease of multiplication (though, of course, all numbers can be multiplied by all others) while our customary system is devised for ease of division (since some integers just can't be combined to divide back into rational numbers - for example, 10 cannot be divided by 3).

Both systems have their merits, but there can't be debate that you can literally perform more operations in customary measures (all the same ones you can do in metric, plus more factoring) than in metric.  Whether that's important, though, is another question.

If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace. Thomas Paine

[ Parent ]

• ##### Great diary, Metric Only.(5+ / 0-)

I have always believed in mathematics as the "universal language", in that people can communicate effectively as long as there is an agreed-to set of axioms first.

The metric system is the "axiom" that allows for effective scientific communication (sorry for all the scare quotes).

BTW, I fixed the S.T.E.M. calculator from my post yesterday. Thanks for pointing out that I was using (gasp) pounds instead of grams in a science project!

You rock.

Reuse and commonality are the keys to a robust and profitable space program.

• ##### Is the NM in your name New Mexico?(1+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
RiveroftheWest

Thanks again for your efforts. I was thinking that I needed to find the time to look up metric rocket projects for your students.

I also like your tag. Reuse and commonality are also a part of the metric system.

• ##### I was using (gasp) pounds instead of grams(3+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
RiveroftheWest, BYw, kyril
I was using (gasp) pounds instead of grams in a science project!
It would not be the first time that someone made such a mistake.
• ##### It is not just that metric is easier to use(3+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
RiveroftheWest, BYw, kyril

We can't only use inches or only use pounds. Too much is in metric for that system to be avoided.

• ##### Metric isn't easier to use(2+ / 0-)
Recommended by:

actually the old measures based on unit fractions have all kinds of neat tools incorporated into them to do things like double a cube, square a circle, or trisect an angle. You can't do that with the metric system because its added rules that set conditions specifically designed to make it impossible. Here's what you get from an architect at Saquara trying to tell an illiterate carpenter or mason how to construct a circular arch c 3000 BC

Live Free or Die --- Investigate, Incarcerate

[ Parent ]

• ##### How much is an acre-foot, anyway?(9+ / 0-)

There are a lot of strange units out there.

Furlongs per fortnight isn't that difficult after you've dealt with a few of them, but metric does generally simplify things a lot. And the multipliers are dead useful.

E (exa) 10^18
P (peta) 10^15
T (tera) 10^12
G (giga) 10^9
M (mega) 10^6
k (kilo) 10^3
---
m (milli) 10^-3
u (micro) 10^-6
n (nano) 10^-9
p (pico) 10^-12
f (femto) 10^-15
a (atto) 10^-18

and there are now units for 10^+-21 and 24.

More than once, I've had vendors quietly change units on me, hoping I wouldn't notice. IIRC, I was once unkind enough to re-request a bid after I re-specced the bandwidth units in bits/attofortnight.

• ##### I remember taking an electronic circuits exam(10+ / 0-)

during my EE undergrad days, and on one question the professor specified that we calculate some frequency and express it in units of Hz.  He even circled, starred, and underlined the Hz like five times.  Yet several people blindly went through the calculation and reported their answer in radians/sec and received 0% partial credit for the problem.  I always hoped that those who got zeros on that problem used it as a life lesson that reporting things carelessly in bad/non-standard units could result in the loss of a bid (or worse, a catastrophic failure) later on out in the real world.

• ##### No Partial Credit(17+ / 0-)

There was a Calculus teacher who taught us Freshman E.E. students.  He had a policy of not giving any partial credit.  At the beginning of the course, he explained his policy, in his heavily accented English...

You Engineer.
Engineer design bridge,
Bridge fall down,
Engineer no get partial credit.
• ##### No partial credit for partial answers(7+ / 0-)

to the partial derivatives questions!

If we started accepting partial answers to infinite problems, why, then, bridges might fall down.

• ##### There are limits to everything. eom(2+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
Garrett, elfling
• ##### At a college located in the borough(3+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
RiveroftheWest, kyril, Rashaverak

• ##### Hey...I went to NYU in the Bronx when there *was*(4+ / 0-)

an NYU in the Bronx (i.e. da Bronx.)

As I had to explain to someone the other day, any New Yorker knows that the plural of 'you' is 'youse.'

The hungry judges soon the sentence sign, And wretches hang, that jurymen may dine.

[ Parent ]

• ##### My cousins grew up just across the street n/t(2+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
magnetics, RiveroftheWest
• ##### Cool!(2+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
RiveroftheWest, Bronx59

My second year there I lived on Harrison Ave., virtually around the corner from side-by-side bagel and bialy factories (on Jerome Ave.)  My last year I lived on Loring Pl., near a combination Kosher Deli and Irish bar...some combination!

The hungry judges soon the sentence sign, And wretches hang, that jurymen may dine.

[ Parent ]

• ##### I remember the bagel place, though I was small(1+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
magnetics

Factory was the right word.

• ##### Got a witness!(1+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
Bronx59

If memory serves (not a certainty) it was a little bit north of Burnside.

The hungry judges soon the sentence sign, And wretches hang, that jurymen may dine.

[ Parent ]

• ##### At a college located in the borough(1+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
Bronx59
Yup, but named after another borough.
• ##### well said (!)(1+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
Rashaverak

Politics is like driving. To go backward put it in R. To go forward put it in D.
Drop by The Grieving Room on Monday nights for support in dealing with grief.

[ Parent ]

• ##### A catastrophic failure(4+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
RiveroftheWest, BYw, kyril, lazybum
I always hoped that those who got zeros on that problem used it as a life lesson that reporting things carelessly in bad/non-standard units could result in the loss of a bid (or worse, a catastrophic failure) later on out in the real world.
Mars Climate Orbiter.
• ##### The Gimli Glider(5+ / 0-)

The Gimli Glider incident occurred when the crew bollixed up a conversion from litres to kilograms. Very fortunately, no fatalities resulted.

• ##### Flight crew or ground crew?(5+ / 0-)

I believe it was the ground crew that made the incorrect conversion from pounds to kilograms (the Boeing 767 was one of the first commercial planes to convert from lb to kg for fuel). However, the plane was flying without operational fuel gauges that could have identified the problem for the crew (probably not an option to fly without them today).

Unlike the Air France 447, the Gimli Glider had a pilot that had a feel for the plane and successfully landed.  No flight crew has ever been able to successfully reproduce the Gimli Glider experience in a simulator.

The plural of anecdote is NOT data

[ Parent ]

• ##### Per wikipedia...(4+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
RiveroftheWest, BYw, foresterbob, kyril

Captain Pearson reproduced the same equation/calculation, using the same wrong density constant, which put them in the air with considerably less than 1/2 the fuel they intended. The constant they used, 1.77 lbs/l, was printed on the refueling sheet they used. The constant they should have used, however, was 0.803 kg/l. The 767 was the first Air Canada aircraft to use metric units, so there was considerable opportunity for confusion.

This was complicated a bit by the fact that the tanks were already partially filled, so there were additional computations. In any event, they added considerably less fuel than they should have.

Whether the ground crew did the wrong calculations or not (Air Canada did suspend three ground crew, as well as the pilots), the pilots were responsible for ensuring -- through whatever means (incl. dipsticks after fueling) -- that the airplane had sufficient fuel before takeoff.

• ##### Acre-foot is a very sensible unit(4+ / 0-)

When you know you have 10 acres and you need 3 inches of water on them to keep your pasture growing. 2.5 acre-feet of water, please!

For those not accustomed:
An acre foot is enough water to cover an acre with 12 inches of rain.

In my water district, which is northern California, pastures use, on average, 4.32 acre feet of irrigation water per acre per year, pears use 3.48, row crops use 3.57 and vineyards use 2.07 acre feet of water per acre per year. (These numbers include frost water.) These numbers do not include the water they naturally get from winter rains.

Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

[ Parent ]

• ##### And we are likely stuck with acre-feet(5+ / 0-)

for a very long time. The underlying measurements for every piece of property in the US are the English units: feet for linear dimensions, and acres or square feet for the area measurements. All of the deeds and plats recorded in our courthouses are in these units. Changing to meters and hectares would be a monumental task.

Canadians still refer to acres, even though their country has been metric for a long time.

Probably the best we can do is to convert to acre-centimeters, or acre-meters.

• ##### It's fine for its intended purpose...(2+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
RiveroftheWest, kyril

My intended (but perhaps poorly made) point was conversions to and from that unit to more familiar units are likely to be known only to someone who does those conversions regularly.

For many calculations, it's immanently reasonable. However, converting to or from gallons or cubic feet or cubic yards or liters or any more familiar unit is likely to be peculiar.

A unit like a hectare-meter, conversely, would be straight-forward to convert to liters or cubic meters.

• ##### I was just messing with you :-)(3+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
eyesoars, RiveroftheWest, kyril

but it shows why a unit that seems completely peculiar remains in widespread use - because it's very convenient in real life.

The ability to convert between cubic feet and acre-feet seamlessly is less important than the ability to specify the amount needed simply and accurately, in a way that makes error obvious. If I were to specify the water I needed in gallons or cubic meters, I could make an error by a factor of 10 and not catch it right away because it isn't intuitive. But no one is going to accidentally ask for 10 acre feet when they meant 1 acre foot.

Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

[ Parent ]

• ##### Sensible Unit??(3+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
RiveroftheWest, BYw, kyril

1/640 of a mile^2 * 12 inches
43,560 ft^2 * 12 inches
4046.8564224 m^2 * 0.3048 m

I agree with foresterbob and others that it will be here for a long time, but it certainly is not sensible.

The plural of anecdote is NOT data

[ Parent ]

• ##### That's because you're not irrigating acreage(3+ / 0-)

It makes a lot of sense if you know your crop needs 12 inches of water a month during summer months and you're irrigating X acres. And that's exactly how people understand it and use it.

1 acre foot times 20 acres: easy peasy.

1233.5 cubic meters times 20 acres... um ... 24670 m3. Um, yeah. Intuitive. 25,000 cubic meters of water is much harder to visualize and understand, and if someone said, how about 20,000 m3, you don't have the same visceral understanding of what that will mean to your crop.

The nice thing about acre-feet is how easily it converts in your mind to rainfall - large unit of land area times the amount of rainfall that fell on it, as an equivalent volume of water.

I'm an engineer, and I'm comfortable and acquainted with metric, but it's worth appreciating that people use other units for real reasons, not just because Daddy Did.

Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

[ Parent ]

• ##### The acre is one of the earliest units of measure(2+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
elfling, eyesoars

It starts out as the Mesopotamian iku, becomes an Egyptian 3kr, goes on to Greece as an are and Rome as an area. It didn't become 43,560 square feet till Queen Elizabeth 1 changed the length of the English mile from the old myle which was at 5000 foote the same length as the Roman miliare or the Greek Mia chilios.

Anciently fields were planted in groups of two if plowed with an ox or three if plowed with a horse which allowed one to be left fallow.

The Greek root stadios means 'to have standing'. Stadions are used to measure the sides of fields.

In the time of Herodotus, the standard Attic stadion used for distance measure is 600 pous of 308.4 mm equal to 185 m. so that 600 stadia equal one degree and are combined at 8 to a mia chilioi or thousand which measures the boustredon or path of yoked oxen as a distance of a thousand orguia, taken as one orguia wide which defines an aroura or thousand of land and at 10 agros or chains equal to one nautical mile of 1850 m.

Several centuries later, Marinus and Ptolemy used 500 stadia to a degree, but their stadia were composed of 600 Remen of 370 mm and measured 222 m, so the measuRement of the degree was the same.

The same is also true for Eratosthenes, who used 700 stadia of 157.5 m or 300 Egyptian royal cubits to a degree, and for Aristotle, Posidonius, and Archimedes, whose stadia likewise measured the same degree.

Live Free or Die --- Investigate, Incarcerate

[ Parent ]

• ##### 1 acre-foot is ...(3+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
eyesoars, RiveroftheWest, kyril

12.34 hectare-centimeters (approximately.) But the hectare is a "convenience" unit to begin with, owing to the fact that it is 10^4 square meters or 10^-2 square kilometers.

"Facts are meaningless. You could use facts to prove anything even remotely true." -- H. Simpson

[ Parent ]

• ##### Not much more than a megalitre(3+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
RiveroftheWest, Garrett, elfling

About 1.23 megalitres to be more precise. Megalitres and gigalitres are used to measure large water volumes in Australia. Other countries refer to thousands and millions of cubic metres. Same thing.

I prefer megalitres - it's fun to think of this volume as half a million 2 litre soda bottles.

• ##### 10^4 bull = 1 terabull; 10^-18 boy = 1 attoboy(1+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
Garrett

and so on...10^3 basi = 1 kilobasi....

The hungry judges soon the sentence sign, And wretches hang, that jurymen may dine.

[ Parent ]

• ##### 10^12 bulls = 1 terabull(2+ / 0-)
Recommended by:

10^-6 phones = 1 microphone

• ##### An acre-foot is 43,560 cu ft(1+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
RiveroftheWest

because an acre is 43,560 sq ft. Although 40,000 is close enough for most purposes, and a US football field is about an acre.

No matter how cynical you become, it's never enough to keep up - Lily Tomlin

[ Parent ]

• ##### inch by inch the US is going metric.(12+ / 0-)

The most important way to protect the environment is not to have more than one child.

• ##### the advantages of metric are greatly exaggerated(3+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
ybruti, elfling, RiveroftheWest

You can use decimals[and confine yourself to one unit for each measure] with the US units as well.  Personally I think it is whatever you are used to much like a mother language.   One difference that is material for daily use is the granularity of the various measures.  I like Fahrenheit over Celsius because I think I can tell the difference between 1 degree F, so 1.8 degrees seems like to big of a granular difference.  Similarly I like the pound more than the kilogram because the kilogram seems to big.  On the flip side, the gram is better than the ounce, because once you decide to measure small things the smaller unit is preferable.  You can't really say it makes sense that the basic unit of mass for daily use is one thousand of another unit.  I don't really use liquid measures so I tend to default to liters there.  I of course also use ounces/gallons, but never in situations where I have to mix more than one unit.  I prefer the foot to either the meter or the yard for granularity reasons.  I also prefer the mile to the kilometer, but I can't really articulate a good reason for that.

Of course what we use for cooking is rather silly, but it works. It mostly has to do with granularity.  You pretty much always use 1/2, 1, or 2 of each unit.  What even is the metric alternative to dry measures?  cubic centimeters?  Yes I know that is the same as a mililiter, but you aren't supposed to measure dry stuff the same as liquid stuff.

There are certain constants I only know in metric since they derive from science which uses metric.  Density of water, speed of light, acceleration under earth's gravity, atoms in a kilogram of hydrogen.  But really I don't use those on an every day basis.

I also was looking over the wiki page on metric and they seem to be using the british spelling of meter and liter which just makes me want to barf.

• ##### In theory, the units don't matter. The conversion(4+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
foresterbob, RiveroftheWest, BYw, kyril

to and from some original units to whatever units the calculation gets made in is a trivial step.  However, the problem is that this is one more step in which a catastrophic error can be made, particularly where complex systems are involved.  Let's take health care as an example.  Doctors still measure their patients' weight in pounds using scales show only pounds (in the US).  Any calculation for a drug dosage is going to require a conversion to kg because it is pretty much universal that dosage recommendations are scaled to standard units such as mg/kg of lean body weight, etc.  Now imagine that someone in the chain of custody misses that pound/kg conversion.   The patient could end up with a double dosage which depending on the medication could be toxic.  So there are definitely valid reasons why the metric system should be extended to more parts of the layperson's daily life.

• ##### You are exactly right(0+ / 0-)

Think of it in terms of cooking. When you want to double a recipe if you can do so to accommodate the size of pots or pans and instantly know how it is related to time and  things like doubling cubes and squaring circles and trisecting angles easy to do in your head, ordinary people like cooks and bakers, and brewers  can figure how many bushels of grain or hops and how many oz of yeast they need to make how many loafs of bread or casks of ale.

Carpenters and masons can use the tables on a framing square to instantly determine  unit rise and run or figure out what the circumference of a circle is from its diameter using a formula for Pi that instead of 3, which is inaccurate or 3 1/7 which is hard to measure 3, 1/8, 1/64 which is both easy to measure and accurate.

Live Free or Die --- Investigate, Incarcerate

[ Parent ]

• ##### One would think that after NASA lost that Mars(8+ / 0-)

orbiter to some stray metric/imperial conversion problem that the government would learn its lesson and go all metric.  Pretty much universally the scientific and engineering community are all metric all the time, with a few glaring holdouts such as mechanical and aerospace engineering -- which, just by coincidence, are where blame for the propulsion calculation error that caused the crash is lain.

Like others mentioned, concepts such as 2 liter bottles, 35 mm film, and tire tread depth in mm hasn't killed the US economy.  I can see it would be a while for the construction or cooking industries to come around to metric, but other countries managed to make that conversion, and as far as I know Italian food cooked in Italy using the metric system holds its own against Italian food in the US.

• ##### Many professional kitchens are metric only(8+ / 0-)

Many professional chefs use scales in grams instead of measuring cups.
Some construction companies are metric only also.

• ##### Weighing ingredients (9+ / 0-)

is much more accurate than measuring them in terms of volume.  This is especially important in pastry-making where measurements are often very critical.  200 grams of flour is always 200 grams of flour, but if you measure it by volume, depending on how much it's been whisked or sifted, the difference in the amount you're using can differ by 3 - 5% which can be catastrophic in a cake recipe.

-7.13 / -6.97 "The people never give up their liberties but under some delusion." -- Edmund Burke

[ Parent ]

• ##### Buying fabric(8+ / 0-)

It is still by 1/8", 1/4", 1/2" or a yard. It would be really nice if that were in metrics too.

It is a terrible thing to see and have no vision. ~ Helen Keller

• ##### you buy one eighth of an inch of fabric?(0+ / 0-)

Politics is like driving. To go backward put it in R. To go forward put it in D.
Drop by The Grieving Room on Monday nights for support in dealing with grief.

[ Parent ]

• ##### It was too hard for Uncle Ronnie to understand.(4+ / 0-)

I think we should try again for metric in the near future.  Perhaps if we point out that a litre of booze is more than a quart?  No that won't work...

• ##### I deal with several measurement systems.(3+ / 0-)

"Traditional US" measurements (inch, foot, yard, gallon, cup, ounce, mile, degrees Fahrenheit, etc), some metric, typographic measurements (point and pica), and "screen measurements" (pixels).

They are all intended to measure different things. It might be convenient to have one system to rule them all, but it isn't actually possible (particularly in pixel-land).

I don't use units of measurement intended to measure a horse. Or weights in the UK (stone). Or nautical measurements. Or astronomical measurements.

Changing to metric is like changing currency. People understand what the old system means and the new one has no points of reference or set "value." To my experience, degrees C don't have enough subtlety - they encompass too much change in each degree. But centimeters are too small - looking at the individual trees in the forest. There is no metric equivalent of a foot, which is a unit I understand. From my experience. It doesn't matter if MY foot is that size, I understand that particular unit.

All my cookbooks (with some European exceptions) use Imperial measurements and I don't have a scale to weigh my food. I have drawers full of measuring spoons and cupboards of measuring cups, and I've figured out how many Ts are in a C. :-)

It is easy to comprehend the CONCEPT of metric, but it isn't always as easy to apply it to your EXPERIENCE.

• ##### All my measuring cups and spoons (1+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
BYw

are dual marked. Two or three customary scales compared to one metric scale. I wish more recipes were in metric, I hate converting ounces, teaspoons, tablespoons, cups, pints, quarts between each other. It's only easy for someone who's practiced a lot.

• ##### 28.349523125 grams of prevention(6+ / 0-)

are worth 453.59232 grams of cure.

• ##### It's a minor thing to get used to the differences.(2+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
RiveroftheWest, BYw

The F/C subtlety thing is ridiculous. I've had this argument with people for far too many years.

If you can tell the difference between a 63 and 64 degree Fahrenheit day, you're special. If you're that special, you can use 0.5 degree Celsius increments. They're even finer that Fahrenheit - 0.9 F to be exact.

My car does this as a matter of fact. My temperature display uses 0.5 C or 1 F increments.

As for other units, it's just a matter of developing a new frame of reference. Use the units more and you get used to them. It's happened in every English speaking country that's fully converted since the late 1960s. Canada's been held back from full metrication due to the botched US conversion, but they do use degrees Celsius and metric for car distances.

The cooking problem is one of volume (US cups) versus mass/weight based recipes, which metric recipes typically are. Metric volume based recipes exist - look at Australian and Canadian cookbooks.

• ##### That is my whole point.(1+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
RiveroftheWest

I don't have a frame of reference.

So you can dismiss people as silly or lazy or stupid who don't "like" or "understand" the new frame of reference, but it is real.

It isn't whether the difference between 63 and 64 degrees is something I can distinguish. On any given day, 63 may feel very different than 63 the day before or the day after. It is that the calibration of my body and mind's understanding of what it means is part of my frame of reference that isn't going to shift. It is like counting in a foreign language. Even people fluent in foreign languages will often count in their native tongue, particularly if they are like many students of foreign language in the States: learned it late in life.

So yes, metric, blah blah, easy to divide by ten, blah blah. Rationally I agree, but the whole point is perhaps that this is not rational?

• ##### You can develop it.(0+ / 0-)

You choose not to. Learning to use everyday metric is much easier than learning a new language.

You've learned to use the internet. You've probably learned to use digital music. Doesn't mean you've forgotten how to use a dial telephone or play an LP.

That 63 degree Fahrenheit day you distinguish above is the same (for all intents and purposes) if you express it as 17 degrees Celsius. It's just that you have a problem accepting that 17 is the same as 63 in the context you describe.

• ##### You are missing my point.(4+ / 0-)

OF COURSE I can learn the frame of reference. So can anyone. OF COURSE it is easier than learning a new language.

Your point seems to be that I am too lazy and/or stubborn to change my frame of reference.

My point is that I have spent a lifetime with this frame of reference and it makes sense to me. Changing this frame isn't as tragic as governments forcing people to learn the "official" language in order to suppress their own and therefore kill their culture. But the emotional relationship people have with their cultural tappings is real, not necessarily LOGICAL.

There is cultural mystique built into the furlong or the nautical mile or the knot or the hand or the stone or the pint. To deny their importance is to make the path to metric-ization harder. People fight back when you don't acknowledge their irrational attachment to a cultural norm.

I have a kitchen full of old cookbooks with favorite recipes I have no interest in replacing; a cupboard full of free-to-me old measuring devices I have no money to replace. The highway signs continue to be imperial. At this point in time, there is no reason for me to change my frame of reference when everything about me reinforces my old one, as illogical as it is.

It is funny how people get ideological about this stuff. Why do you want to denigrate me because I like the system I lived with my entire life?

• ##### Speaking of language, what happened to Esperanto? (3+ / 0-)
Recommended by:

When I was in elementary school, I was assured we would all be using the metric system and speaking Esperanto by now. Oh course I was sure I would have a flying car by now too...

But I sort of agree with you, 473.2 ml. seems an odd size for a beer. I would much rather order a pint.

It is possible to read the history of this country as one long struggle to extend the liberties established in our Constitution to everyone in America. - Molly Ivins

[ Parent ]

• ##### Have you ever seen Incubus(5+ / 0-)

(with William Shatner)?

A wonderful film (campy) in Esperanto. His acting, combined with Esperanto, is amazing. Has to be seen to be believed.

The diary's title, "MEASUREMENT AS A WAY TO UNDERSTAND THE WORLD," is actually very accurate.

What is amazing to me is that ideologues in the comments want to change the way we understand the world without acknowledging that is implicit in the diary's title: it is HOW WE UNDERSTAND OUR WORLD. People in the comments are expressing the beauty of metric in the way that THEY understand THEIR world. I'm expressing how my non-metric (not just Imperial, but other systems as well) allow me to understand MY world. I'm not necessarily interested in understanding the world they way they do.

Making arguments about changing that understanding need to acknowledge the cultural framework that people are attached to.

Otherwise we may as well all speak Esperanto, eat Space Food Sticks and drink Starbucks decaf.

• ##### space food sticks!!! i remember those!!!(5+ / 0-)

i had a bio teacher in junior high school who actually ATE those!

Politics is like driving. To go backward put it in R. To go forward put it in D.
Drop by The Grieving Room on Monday nights for support in dealing with grief.

[ Parent ]

• ##### I didn't want to admit it(3+ / 0-)

but I ate Space Food Sticks, and drank Instant Breakfasts and Tang.

Tang sold for quite awhile.

It is possible to read the history of this country as one long struggle to extend the liberties established in our Constitution to everyone in America. - Molly Ivins

[ Parent ]

• ##### Tang is still on the market(2+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
RiveroftheWest, TrueBlueMajority

and I will confess that I loved Tang as a kid. My mom sometimes bought the big jar of sugary Tang powder so we could mix up our own, and I would eat it dry with a spoon.

Makes my teeth hurt just to think of it but it was so so delicious. We weren't allowed to drink soda. I can't think why it was acceptable to drink that crap! Momentary parenting lapse?

• ##### I've had Carnation Instant Breakfast(0+ / 0-)

it had a weird chemical aftertaste

Politics is like driving. To go backward put it in R. To go forward put it in D.
Drop by The Grieving Room on Monday nights for support in dealing with grief.

[ Parent ]

• ##### Cultural differences are the spice of life(1+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
RiveroftheWest

and a technical headache too. Cups, pints, quarts, and gallons mean different things in different countries. These sorts of customary measures are fine for things we do inside a region or country.

When we want to do things that cross borders, a universal system makes things so much easier. It's kind of like areas that use a local dialect and English. One for local culture, one for worldwide jobs. There's nothing wrong with that IMO.

• ##### I know one person -- only one --(2+ / 0-)
Recommended by:

who speaks Esperanto. He's an 80-year-old Finn. Not sure what this says about the future of Esperanto.

• ##### The language is dooooomed! Dooomed!(3+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
RiveroftheWest, elfling, se portland

Except for Shatner, who presumably also speaks it :-)

• ##### Well, y'know, it SEEMED like such a good idea! n/t(2+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
• ##### They did it wrong.(3+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
RiveroftheWest, elfling, se portland

People go to KLINGON CAMP to learn to speak Klingon! If the people behind Star Trek had been tasked with marketing Esperanto, it would be alive today, Shatner notwithstanding!

• ##### I'll bet you're right! What a great experiment(2+ / 0-)
Recommended by:

that would have been, too; an example of popular culture contributing real value to the world....

• ##### You prove my point.(0+ / 0-)

Your unwillingness to incorporate a new frame of reference into your thinking is stubbornness, pure and simple. It's you that's attaching extreme amounts of cultural significance to a technology - a tool.

Just because there's digital music doesn't mean that some people don't enjoy listening to records. However, in 2013, they are a niche pursuit. Likewise, in a metric world, our use of imperial units (as a society) is an anachronism.

It costs us money and time, and makes us less numerate as a people. What's longer? One mile, 2000 yards, 7000 feet or 80000 inches? You have to do mental gymnastics to answer the question.

If you insist on using imperial measurements, you can. A metric US won't change that. Your non-metric cookbooks still work if you buy your ingredients in metric. A teaspoon is 5 ml, so your spoons won't even have to change.

You may (gasp!) have to learn and internalize something new, but you'll understand two systems instead of one. Why do you insist on forcing everyone else to learn two systems to satisfy your personal whims? You do the work instead if you want to. Metric isn't going anywhere.

I say whatever cultural loss there is is not worth the ongoing hassle. Literature isn't going to change. Dickens still uses predecimal British currency, even though there hasn't been a shilling since 1971.

We need to rip this bandage off once and for all. The onus should be on those who want to continue to use imperial units to do the conversions themselves.

• ##### You clearly are not comprehending what I am saying(1+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
RiveroftheWest

Case in point:

Why do you insist on forcing everyone else to learn two systems to satisfy your personal whims?
I have not done this. I am not insisting on anything other than my right to enjoy my current frame of reference (which includes other measurement systems besides metric and Imperial) without being denigrated by people like you.

I have made no argument for the continuance of Imperial or other non-metric systems. I have only expressed my own feelings about them.

You choose to interpret what I say incorrectly and say highly critical things about me based upon your incorrect interpretation.

It is also highly offensive to say that I may actually "learn" something if I understand the metric system. Oh, for goodness sake. I learn new things every day and I am not a complete metric ignoramus. I use it when it presents itself. I choose not to use it when it does not. Please pay attention to what people say and attempt not to be so condescending.

• ##### Look in the mirror.(1+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
RiveroftheWest

Your tones aren't exactly dulcet.

I'm not saying you don't have the right to enjoy your frame of reference. I'm not misinterpreting what you're saying. I'm saying you can have both a metric and imperial frame of reference if you want. You seem to think me mentioning this is some kind of personal challenge or insult.

I'm also not saying you can't learn metric, or don't know metric. I'm saying you don't want to add a full experience of metric units to the way you interpret the world around you. That is of course your choice. If that sounds condescending, I'm sorry, but I call them as I see them.

Encouraging people to develop a metric frame of reference has been part of every successful metric conversion effort worldwide in the last 50 plus years. It's why I'm engaging you in this thread. Your ennui about measurements is not uncommon.

All I'm saying is the US not being metric does have real world costs. The 95% of the world that is not us is almost completely metric, so metric's not going anywhere.

As a society, the US should make this change in an organized and timely way. This isn't about you personally.

• ##### If this had been the way you engaged this(0+ / 0-)

"conversation" from the start, we wouldn't be having it because in this comment you are actually responding to what I've said, without incorrect assumptions, and making your point without being personally insulting.

So tell me how you feel about Esperanto, Tang, Space Food Sticks, and the 24-hour clock. ;-)

• ##### For my purposes proportions are important(1+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
elfling

I like having many different factors rather than just the decimal system, but when I realized that measures are what defines property and that every change to a standard cost somebody something I got into it a little bit.

When Elizabeth 1 changed the mile the reason was the seconds pendulum and what was at stake had grown to be the whole economy of Europe three centuries later.

Live Free or Die --- Investigate, Incarcerate

[ Parent ]

• ##### In 1999 NASA lost an orbiter(1+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
RiveroftheWest

Because  Lockheed Martin engineering team used English units of measurement while the agency's team used the metric system.

he engine fired but the spacecraft came within 60 km (36 miles) of the planet -- about 100 km closer than planned and about 25 km (15 miles) beneath the level at which the it could function properly, mission members said.

The latest findings show that the spacecraft's propulsion system overheated and was disabled as Climate Orbiter dipped deeply into the atmosphere, JPL spokesman Frank O'Donnell said.

That probably stopped the engine from completing its burn, so Climate Orbiter likely plowed through the atmosphere, continued out beyond Mars and now could be orbiting the sun, he said.

In 2007, NASA made it official that they would only use the metric system

It is possible to read the history of this country as one long struggle to extend the liberties established in our Constitution to everyone in America. - Molly Ivins

[ Parent ]

• ##### It's easy for me to remember(0+ / 0-)

that my horse is 13.3 5/8" hands... but every time I need the height in cm, I either have to multiply it out or look it up. And I can never remember if the pony limit is 138 cm or 148 cm. Not nearly as convenient.

Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

[ Parent ]

• ##### That's interesting...(0+ / 0-)

Since a hand is 4" or almost exactly 10 cm, I'd think a mental conversion would be easy.

Perhaps it's the fraction of an inch at the end that makes it difficult to switch.

Doing an near-exact conversion puts your horse at 141.3 cm so I see your pony dilemma.

• ##### To me, one of the big selling points of metric(2+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
Pam from Calif, RiveroftheWest

is that "pi" is exactly 3

but that probably goes without saying (hence your silence on this in the diary).

• ##### It's Always Stood Me in Good Stead ...(2+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
Dbug, RiveroftheWest

to remember, "A pint's a pound, the world around."

"Facts are meaningless. You could use facts to prove anything even remotely true." -- H. Simpson

• ##### Which is not even true.(3+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
RiveroftheWest, BYw, foresterbob

A liter of water is a kilogram the world around.

However, a US pint of water is 473 ml. There's 454 grams or so in a pound, so you see problem number 1.

And an Imperial pint, which is/was used in the rest of the English speaking world is 568 ml. There's problem number 2. A pint's not even a pint the world around. Throw in the US dry pint (like your strawberries come in), which is 551 ml. A pint's not even a pint in the US!

Not to even mention that most of the world is metric and wouldn't have any clue what this aphorism even means.

• ##### Well, As I Understand It ...(2+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
RiveroftheWest, kyril

it's a shortcut measurement guide stemming with its roots in colonial America. It's only about 4% off, which was good enough for casual use on inexpensive commodities.

"Facts are meaningless. You could use facts to prove anything even remotely true." -- H. Simpson

[ Parent ]

• ##### Which is interesting because...(2+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
TrueBlueMajority, RiveroftheWest

Our US volume units weren't standardized until 1821 when we formally adopted the Queen Anne gallon as the US gallon.

Also, while there's 16 US fluid ounces in a US pint, there's 20 imperial ounces in an imperial pint. Oddly, that makes an imperial fluid ounce smaller than a US fluid ounce and also makes an imperial ounce of water equal to an ounce of weight.

In any case, there's the pint of what, pound of what question. Volume versus mass/weight. That's why I used water in my example above. A pint of gold weighs way more than a pound.

So what were these colonialists thinking anyway?

• ##### I thought that saying was relating a container of(1+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
RiveroftheWest

draft beverage to Irish / British currency ... or the equivalent

"..The political class cannot solve the problems it created. " - Jay Rosen

[ Parent ]

• ##### people who learn in a system(1+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
RiveroftheWest

by practical example, know a foot when they see one,  they don't know meter when they see one.

If one makes the effort it is possible to learn both.   But having no need for meters in my life, I can eye something and tell you pretty closely it's length in inches and feet.  I would have to remember the conversions and apply them to give you the measurement in meters.  Same thing for the weight of something.  After years of picking up a one pound can of something or a fifty pound bag of feed, I know the weight and volume of common items in my life.  But not in liters.  So I either have to do math or have a scale or measuring stick for metric items.

If we only taught metric to little children, there would be an immense communication gap to start out.

And no one in the US may keep irrigation figures, not becuase they can't measure the volume of water, but they don't want the public to know who the resource is actually being used.

• ##### What about people who can't(2+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
RiveroftheWest, BYw

So you can measure by eye and by feel, but most people can't. What about them?

Of course, there is no interest in letting people know about how resources are being used. That is part of the point of using the harder to use system of measures.

• ##### but you said you couldn't find figures(3+ / 0-)
Recommended by:

not that you couldn't do the conversion.

Refusal to publish to the public is different than just making them do some harder than anybody wants to think about math that is still doable with a formula and a calculator.

Well, if people can't do it by eye and feel and have a one pound can, they can read the label, they still have to do the math.  If cans are suddenly sized in metric, they have to convert grandma's recipe or the old Betty Crocker cookbook.  And suddenly, they have to do math or buy odd amounts of food.  Most Americans are math adverse, whether they ought to be or can afford to be, etc.  It isn't hard.

• ##### You've identified your problem...(3+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
RiveroftheWest, BYw, kyril

...but you've come up with the wrong solution.

You get used to metric the same way you got used to imperial units - by feel. This is the way successful metric conversions have been handled around the world - people are encouraged to get a feel for the new units during the conversion period (10 years typically).

You probably already know a meter is a little bigger than a yard, a liter a little bigger than a (US) quart and a kilogram a little bigger than 2 pounds.

So a very rough conversion for your coffee can and bag of feed is 500 g (half a kilo) and 25 kg. Good enough to give you an idea of the metric equivalents. By getting a feel for the different units, you don't have to do exact conversions except when precision is needed.

It's very fair to say doing math is difficult for a lot of people. Why continue to torture future generations of Americans by insisting they know that there's 12 inches in a foot, but 3 feet in a yard and 1760 yards in a mile?

• ##### The worst case is a late '70s British car.(5+ / 0-)

Three sets of wrenches were required. Whitworth, SAE, and metric. The Whitworth are for sale as I am never again going to work on a vehicle with lever shocks.

Peace?

• ##### Lever Dampers(2+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
RiveroftheWest, kyril

I converted my 1974 Triumph TR6's Armstrong lever dampers to Koni tube dampers.

• ##### ...and had to pray to the Prince of Darkness(1+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
elfling

that the electronics would function?

I see a very beautiful planet that seems very inviting and peaceful. Unfortunately, it is not.…We're better than this. We must do better. Cmdr Scott Kelley

[ Parent ]

• ##### Lucas was famous for the 3-Way Headlight Switch.(2+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
elfling, wretchedhive

Off, Dim, and Flicker. I'm not aware that Lucas has any conception of 'Electronics.'

Peace?

[ Parent ]

• ##### Give him a break, he was born in Westeros(0+ / 0-)

to a marmot.  that smell'd of purple pods.

I see a very beautiful planet that seems very inviting and peaceful. Unfortunately, it is not.…We're better than this. We must do better. Cmdr Scott Kelley

[ Parent ]

• ##### When we visited Ireland ~15 years ago...(1+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
RiveroftheWest

...all of the old speed limit signs were in MPH and all of the new ones were in km/H -- and they weren't marked! Or so someone finally told us when we asked why all of the newer roads seemed to have lower speed limits. It took a while to notice, since we thought 50km/H was a much more reasonable speed limit than 50 MPH on a two-lane road with high banks on either side!

• ##### Here(1+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
RiveroftheWest

"If I pay a man enough money to buy my car, he'll buy my car." Henry Ford

• ##### Thanks(1+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
RiveroftheWest

Not quite what I was looking for, but it is something.

• ##### Maryland Metrics(1+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
RiveroftheWest
• ##### Ronald Reagan and company destroyed the metric(5+ / 0-)

system in the US starting in 1981.

My daughter started school in 1979 and she still thinks in the metric system (biostatistician).  My son started school in 1985 and never used the metric system until college (biochemist).

In spite of the Reagan crowd, all US autos have been built entirely on the metric system since about 1980--they would perish otherwise.

The plural of anecdote is NOT data

• ##### Care what the adminstration thinks?(4+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
RiveroftheWest, BYw, ybruti, kyril

Frankly, their position sucks. An official response was recently given to a We the People petition about US metric conversion:

Gizmodo article from Friday, May 24, 2013

I can voluntarily use the metric system? Great, I volunteer to drive on the left side of the road.

We need a mandatory 10 year conversion like Australia went through in the late 1960s-early 1970s. It's probably cheaper in real dollars to do it now than it would have been back then. So much of US manufacturing is already metric, and things like gas pumps and scales can be converted by flipping a switch and applying some stickers.

The burden should be on those that want to continue to use the imperial system after a successful metric conversion. Most of us will go on our merry way using only one measurement system.

• ##### Easy Conversions(7+ / 0-)

Here’s a couple of mental shortcuts -- tricks I've picked up over the years.

--

I’m American, and I know if you’re driving 60 mph, a rule of thumb is 1 mile is 1 minute. If the sign says 180 miles, that’s 180 minutes (3 hours). Right? Look at the clock and add three hours (if you’re not stopping for gas or lunch).

In Canada, the signs are in kilometers. I was driving about 60 mph, which is really close to 100 kilometers per hour. So here‘s what you do: just move the decimal two points to the left. 250 km becomes 2.5 (two and a half hours). 75 km (.75) is three-fourths of an hour, or 45 minutes. And so on. A simple solution. You don't have to convert to miles. Just move the decimal point over.

--

Another trick for Canada. If the radio announcer gives the temperature in Celsius, double it and add 30 to get the Fahrenheit equivalent. If they say 11 Celsius it’s 22+30. About 52. -5 C is -10 plus 30 or about 20 Fahrenheit. (Note: to get it perfect, you should really multiply by 9/5 and add 32, but the rule of thumb gets you close enough).

--

Imagining an acre

For many years I never knew what an acre was. I knew it was a measure of land, but I couldn't imagine how big it was. Then someone told me this:

An acre is the size of a standard American football field without the end zones.
I did the math. It was within about three or four percent plus or minus. Bingo! I can now imagine an acre in my head. So when someone says 20 acres, I think of four football fields across and five deep. 10 acres is slightly  bigger than 3x3. And so on.

--

Converting Units

I’m not scared by math and I can often do math in my head. However, I learned a great trick from a chemistry teacher in high school.

He taught us that if x=y, then x/y or y/x will always equal 1 (for example, 16 oz/1 lb or 1 lb/16 oz). And you can cancel out the units if the unit is in the numerator (the top) on one and the denominator (the bottom) on the other.

And multiplying by 1 doesn’t change the number. So you just multiply by one as many times as you need to. For example, let’s say you need to convert 3 ounces into grams.

3 oz x (1 lb/16 oz)  x (1 kg/2.2 lb) x (1000 g/1 kg) and then you cross out the units -- ounces cancel out and so do pounds and kilograms, leaving you with grams. So it’s (3 x 1 x 1 x 1000)/(1 x16 x 2.2 x1) -- and you get whatever the answer is to two significant digits.

--

It makes more sense if you write it out this way:

3 oz    1 lb       1 kg     1000 g
x  --     x      --   x    ---       =   85 grams
16 oz      2.2 lb     1kg

Cross out oz and oz, lb and lb, kg and kg (on the top and bottom) and you're left with grams.

"Stupid just can't keep its mouth shut." -- SweetAuntFanny's grandmother.

• ##### What is great about the metric system is that it(2+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
RiveroftheWest, kyril

lends itself to easy exponential scales of magnitude usually in increments in mags of 3.  Beautiful.
femto
nano
micro
milli
centa
meter
kilometer

qofdisks

• ##### Not a matter of logic(4+ / 0-)

If it's just a question of logic, then there's nothing to discuss. For simplicity's sake, most industries are already using metric - particularly multinationals. Maintaining the Imperial system causes too many headaches in calculations.

But it's not just a matter of logic.

Our Imperial system of measurement is built into our language, literature, and history. It's in our music and art. Generally, a native speaker of English will have a visceral feel for what a "mile" is. A kilometer (or 'klick" or what have you) is an artificial thing - easy enough to grasp but you have to do a mental calculation (3/5 mile).

So some metric geek comes skipping up, "You should switch to metric! The whole world uses metric! It's better, it's more logical!"

Fuck off. Ain't gonna happen.

Instead, we'll probably have both systems in use in the US for decades yet to come, just as the Japanese maintain 4 separate syllabaries for writing, dual counting systems, etc. It's simple enough to use metric for calculation-intensive purposes and Imperial for general tasks and cultural material.

Every day's another chance to stick it to the man. - dls

• ##### I always think to myself that if(1+ / 0-)
Recommended by:

I were younger, I would learn more metric measurements and use them until they came "naturally". But I said the same thing 25 years ago, and didn't... maybe another generation or two has to shuffle off before the US is ready for metric.

• ##### Well, it won't happen by osmosis.(1+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
ybruti

We tried that when the Metric Conversion Act of 1975 was borked when some sly legislator got the word "voluntary" inserted into the final language.

You do it right and it becomes part of the culture. See Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, which all converted in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In Canada, metric conversion got far enough along where people think in degrees Celsius and in metric for long distances.

Each country used a 10-year mandatory plan. Conversion itself was mandatory - how individual industries and public sectors got there was up to the industries/sectors themselves. Canada's conversion pooped out near the end due to a Conservative government and lack of a mandatory US conversion plan. Still, for the most part I can get by in Canada with only metric measurements.

Although it may not be too much of a pain in the ass to use imperial units for everyday tasks (for the numerate), it is harder than metric.

Here's an example I like to use. Your room is 14' 3-1/4" by 12' 6-5/8". How many square yards of carpeting do you need to cover the floor?

(Let's rule out "fuck if I know, I'll call up Lowe's" and "I want a bamboo floor instead" as valid answers.)

• ##### Doesn't BuRec have all the irrigation data?(2+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
elfling, ybruti

Not sure exactly what you're looking for, but in the West the Bureau of Reclamation has most of the responsibility for irrigation. Their records may contain what you're looking for.  They even have historical datasets available, such as this one for 1979-1986. The land grant universities often have data as well, such as this site for Nebraska. If you dig around at BuRec you may well find that the data you want is buried there somewhere; at least they have a series of photos of irrigation projects on the Lower Colorado.

All that said I entirely agree with you re the metric system and the problem with finding data. As a frequent user of government environmental data I find I waste a lot of time just trying to figure out which agency might even have the data I need, then more time trying to locate it, then often even more time trying to unpack it from whatever arcane and no-longer-support file system that have stored it in. Much of this is due to the inane and incompatible data systems maintained by the US government, and the lack of consistency between agencies.

Metric of course makes sense. But it's also true that the American West is the source of many of our "standards" and laws with regard to natural resource management, including the acre-foot and the Animal Unit Month. Changing those systems would require not only adopting new standards but often rewriting statutes as well since many of them were expressly codified by Congress in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

• ##### As a Learning Support Teacher(4+ / 0-)

tasked with teaching students with learning disabilities Principles of Technology (Entry level Physics) in the English and Metric Systems simultaneously, I can tell you that our insistance on sticking with the English system is hurting our kids.  Imagine learning Shakespeare in English and Chinese simultaneously!

I understand and can appreciate the resistance to changing, however, this issue is not about the present.  This issue is about preparing for the future.  Eventually, the English system will be studied only in history class--industry has been converting for decades.

We are all faced with a series of great opportunities - brilliantly disguised as insoluble problems. John W. Gardner

• ##### Living in Spain I very quickly came to love.......(1+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
RiveroftheWest

metric.  For the first time units of measurement, especially weight and volume, made sense.  All I had been taught about the metric system was that it is 10's based.  That's all I needed to know to put it to use.

• ##### We have a standing joke in our house(3+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
elfling, ybruti, RiveroftheWest

that whenever we discuss a hypothetical mathematical situation, we put it as a word problem with absurd animals at speeds or distances in metric. This is based on my daughter's science class word problems to teach distance=rate x speed.

So tonight I bust everyone up at the table after the obligatory "If you have a bumble bee flying 7km/hour and an ostrich running the 100m dash..." by asking "what is the metric for time?" Because you know this whole 60 seconds/minute, 60 minutes/hour, 24 hours/day and 12 v 24 hour clock thing is pretty darned illogical. The best part is that they thought my question was serious.

• ##### I go back and forth...(1+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
RiveroftheWest

Like when I do woodwork, I'll go back-and-forth between mm's and fractions of an inch.

Also, I know that the Metric system is so awesome and rad in the abstract, but:

I can walk a mile in exactly 15 minutes

I am almost exactly one fathom (6 feet) tall.  I have no idea what I am in meters.

I try to drink 8 cups (1/2 gallon) of water a day.  I have no friggin' idea what that is in litres!

My forearm is almost exactly 11 inches.  What is it in centimeters?

You get the idea...