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back to article Metric versus imperial: Reg readers weigh in

Our suggestion earlier this week that El Reg's Special Projects Bureau get with the program(me) and convert entirely to SI Units prompted the traditional lively debate among our beloved commentards. The consensus seems to be we should indeed kick imperial into touch, with a couple of exceptions, which we'll come to later. First …

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Re: Nut and Bolts

I heard it was the other way around, where the Packard built Merlins used SAE threads and were supposedly bit stronger than the original RR built Merlins.

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Anonymous Coward

Some talk of centimetres, some talk of kilograms;

Some talk of decilitres to measure beer and drams.

But I'm an English workman and too old to go to school,

So by pounds I'll eat, by pints I'll drink

And I'll work by my three-foot rule!

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Anonymous Coward

Oz did it correctly

They switched all at once. Canada went metric decades ago but we have this honking big neighbour and trading partner who did not go metric. So we have a typical Canadian muddle. Kids are taught SI and SAE and Imperial. Highways are marked in kilometres, temperature is given in Celsius, most fluids (petrol, milk, water) are purchased in litres, and everything else is mixed.

(Incidentally, I once worked for a company that made products in both SI and SAE. The former has about half the standard sizes of nuts-and-bolts than the latter. An SI-designed box has half the number of screw sizes and that was always a good thing.)

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Silver badge

Aye Lester, that as well :)

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Megaphone

Metric is not necessarily the same as decimal

One of the poll options was listed as "SI Units only, under punishment of a lick of the cat o' nine tails (imperial), or ten tails (metric)".

Whilst amusing, it is worth noting (because some of the posters here evidently "don't get it") that though the major multiples of the metric system are powers of ten, there's nothing non-metric about 24 hour days, 60 minute hours, eggs by the dozen or any other non-decimal multiples.

The S.I. unit for time is the second. Speeds are therefore in m/s fundamentally, but in practice all over the world, road speeds and speed limits are always given in km/h. Nothing wrong with that, despite the hour having a non power-of-ten number of seconds in it.

The point is that it's the standard everywhere in the world (except for the USA and here). By not using that standard in daily life, we're crippling our country's ability to compete.

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Anonymous Coward

Metric.

But as a good brit I convert willy nilly back and forth in my head anyway.

I use imperial with screen size, speed on the road. hight and weight. of humans including breast size. Oh yeah and pints

I had a french friend who I could drive to murder by talking about 6 inches and 5 mm

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Mmm OK a Livre de Fromage

For the dim wits that say use metric, well for information, I can buy a livre de fromage, about 500 gram here in France, many bolts of cloth are measured in feet or yards. A TV screen here is in puces. At the end of the day some things "fit" being marked in "inches" some in mm certainly my wife says I should lose a few pounds, that the ruddy ovens marked in centigrade have inexact temperatures, recipes never seem quite right in kilos, and then we come to vehicle tyres, oh yes for example 145x 16, yes very good so we have now on a motorcycle 90x90x19, it was a lot easier when it was all Imperial, so we had a 3.00x 19. What really gets me is going down the UK motorway, I have to brake like fcuk to get into a service center in 1 meter, then find its actually another 1k+

They need to put both on road signs, as all new motor bikes HAVE to have the speedo in kilometers. Tried working out how many miles to the gallon, or perhaps litres to the 100 kilometers.

You HAVE to have both, not just chains, nor hectares (they use them in France) etc but for clarity both.

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Happy

Hope you get tons and tonnes of comments on this one.

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Bronze badge

I plead

Guilty to to being American, but when I was stationed in Germany, I could buy a one-pound loaf of bread; 500 grams, doing almost ten percent better than a pound avoirdupois.

FWIW Department: "Mile" is a decimal unit; 1,000 standard paces for a Roman legionary.

Grams,ounces, slugs,newtons, acre's, hectares... I remember actually using farthings -- IIRC, once. Even in 1953 one wasn't enough to buy anything.

From Wikipedia:

"The blob or slinch (a portmanteau of the words slug and inch[8][unreliable source?]) is an inch version of the slug (1 slinch = 1 lb[sub]f·s^2/in = 12 slugs) or equivalent to 175.126 kg.[9] Slang terms for the slinch include the slugette.[10][11]

Metric units include the "glug" in the centimetre-gram-second system, and the "mug", "par", or "MTE" in the metre-kilogram-second system.[12]"

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slug_%28mass%29

Enjoi!

Beer, ''cause a point a pint is enough.

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Happy

Re: I plead

"I remember actually using farthings -- IIRC, once. Even in 1953 one wasn't enough to buy anything."

Oh! It was! You could buy 4 sherbert flying saucers for 1d, and some other children's sweets were 4-a-penny, i.e. 1 farthing each. I know because I served in my father's confectionery shop.

I remember seeing fuel priced at somehting like 4/11¼ (4 shillings and eleven pence farthing) per (UK) gallon. In fact fuel is still effectively priced in farthings, except we call it 0.1p instead of a farthing. [ 1p = 2.4d; 2.5d = 10 farthings; "d" means 1 old penny, from the Roman "denarius".)

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Pint

Americans and their imperial rubbish

If imperial is so good how come NASA continue to f**k up missions through bungling the arithmetic of imperial measurements.

And who in their right mind thought it a good idea for me to buy fuel in litres and have the bloody display on my car tell me that I am achieving 36 miles per gallon?

I believe most countries, including the US signed a UN charter to convert to metric which the Europeans promptly did but the Yanks and sometimes Brits are still holding out.

Lets just get on with it and get the pain over. Mines a litre of beer please!

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Devil

Re: ...how come NASA continue to...?

'Cause they keep outsourcing the work to EU types who can't handle it!

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Fuel in Litres,consumption in MPG

Agreed, when will manufacturers quote in Miles/ltr

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Metric would save lives

And bridge strikes.

We have a lot of continental drivers in the UK, both resident and visiting. A great many British drivers drive on the continent. It will save lives in the long run if we all use the same units for speed limits and height and width restrictions. Weight limits are usually in tonnes anyway.

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Paris Hilton

Dopey

Why not the calendar of the French Directorate, too?

Vendémiaire, Brumaire, Frimaire, Nivôse, Pluviôse, Ventôse

Germinal, Floréal, Prairial, Messidor, Thermidor and Fructidor

or in Enlglish,

Grapey. Foggy, Frosty, Snowy, Rainy, Windy,

Seedy, Flowery, Grassy, Picky, Hotty and Fruity

Eh, let's rename the seasons as well:

Grumpy, Sneezy, Sleepy and Dopey.

Amen to that one.

Paris, because she'd think it was cute.

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Re: Dopey

This has nothing to do with the current argument about metric/imperial measurments. The calendar to which you refer hasn't been used in a very long time in France and no-one is calling for its return.

Having said that, if it makes your day, there are apps that will give you the current date in that calendar: aujourd'hui, nous sommes 24 vendémiaire.

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Bronze badge

The sky didn't fall in

On the other hand, we didn't have the second coming of the Messiah either when metrification was introduced to Australia.

It was widely acknowledged as a historic re-alignment of our trade relationships from Mother England to Europe, and did trigger useful re-standardisation in some areas (pipe diameter is an example), but it had no useful effect in other areas.

Production workers couldn't handle imperial conversions, so pre-metrification no production specification required imperial conversion. When producing something like a car, the length was specified as 18559 thou. Post metrification, production workers still couldn't handle decimal points, so the length is now specified as 4714 mm. The putative ease of converting between mm and metres had no benefit. AUS manufacturing did not become more productive when the length of a car changed from 18559 thou to 4714 mm.

And you can't attribute all metrification to the enforced metrification of socal measurements. Medicine was already metric in AUS, as it is the UK and the USA: it was metric in all three countries long before SI.

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Unhappy

We need to sort out this mess.

The food industry is the worst offender. If I got to the pound shop or the 99p shop or my local newsagent I can buy a 2 litre bottle of milk. If I go to the supermarket I have to have 1.136 litres or 2.272 litres. If I buy tea it's in convenient 125 or 250g packets; coffee comes in 454g packets. Most things are metric, so let's get rid of the anomolies once and for all. While we're at it let's use Joules (or MJ) for energy rather than Calories or kW.hr.

The only two exceptions I'd make in the short term are beer glasses in pubs and glass milk bottles for doorstep deliveries. That's not because I have any objection to drinking a "large" (500ml) or a "small" (300ml) glass of beer, but because I don't want to impose additional costs on publicans and dairies. I'd ban the introduction of new imperial size glasses and bottles except for souvenir shops, home use etc. Wine and spirits are already sold in metric quantities and pubs should switch over for beer when new glasses are needed. Their remaining old glasses can be sold to pubs that wish to remain 'imbeerial' for a bit longer. Something similar could be done for dairies.

The government and the media seem to think metric is fine for engineering, commerce, aggriculture, fisheries, construction, ... but not for the general public who are a completely different set of people that can't cope with all this new-fangled stuff. I was taught metric units in school (cgs not SI) and that was 55 years ago. The excuse that we can't handle metric units is just nonsense. We changed to decimal currency in 1971. Who would seriously want to go back to £sd now?

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The ONLY sensible solution

Clearly, there is too much nativism here. The metric system might work--if they could come up with a definition of the basic units that everyone would agree on. I mean, its been how many years and they are still fiddling with their definitions. And don't get me started on joules. The only logical method is to return to our roots. May I humbly(?) suggest we adapt our ancestral measurement system as illustrated here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancient_Mesopotamian_units_of_measurement

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Not yet an old fogey

I don't consider myself an old fogey - of course, others may differ! - I'm in my early 60's.

In principle, I agree metric should be used for everything.

In practice, I was brought up using metric (before "SI" was commonly heard of) for science and technology, and imperial for everything else. The decimal pound came in shortly after I left university.

So, yes, like others I frequently convert between the two in my head. And if I'm measuring something roughtly with a ruler, I generally use whichever side of the ruler gives the 'easier' or 'more rounded' figure.

But having used imperial for everyday measurements during my 'formative years', yes I do still think in imperial for lots of things. I think of my height in feet and inches - which is how it was first given on my passport! - (I don't even know what it is in metric); my weight in stones (which, of course confuses the Americans!); my waist in inches; etc..

I think that until the generations brought up using 'traditional measurements' have largely died out, their use will continue to some extent. Rods, poles and perches have died out with older generations. Why can't we just accept the status quo?

As regards whether measurements used 'officially' should change:

- I believe we still have road distances and speeds in miles because of the cost of changing all the road signs. I have no strong feelings either way.

- For things like aircraft heights where there has to be some international acceptance, I guess the US influence will always have an affect.

- But for lots of things we have changed during my lifetime: for food and other everyday items, kg and litres are now standard; fuel is sold in litres (but I still think of fuel consumption in miles per gallon!).

Let's accept some of our differences and that some fundamentals do take a lifetime (literally) to change.

P.S. Are there international standards for the spelling of units, specifically 'litre' instead of the American 'liter', and 'metre' instead of the American 'meter', which to me is a measuring device such as a 'water meter'?

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Re: Not yet an old fogey

RE: Your commentr:

P.S. Are there international standards for the spelling of units, specifically 'litre' instead of the American 'liter', and 'metre' instead of the American 'meter', which to me is a measuring device such as a 'water meter'?

It's "metre" not "meter", and "litre" not "liter". I have always held that if a country doesn’t actually _USE_ a unit system, then they have no right whatsoever to even offer an opinion on how it’s units should be spelled!

(In the same way that even though I think “soccer” is an awful sport which would be vastly improved with a slightly wider and higher goal to get higher scores in games, as a non-follower of the game, I don’t get to influence the rules – or even decide what it should be called!)

(And don’t get me started on “aluminum”!)

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I like the comments

Most of these humorous comments are better than those of the self opinionated 'retentive 'serious' debaters.

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As a yank...

Yes, I know, "Yank" is a Brit term for someone in the US. This is a Brit site. When in Rome ...

I have no problem with going SI. Indeed, physics and chemistry courses, offered at the college level, are all SI. We don't talk about ounces of this dissolved into gallons of that. We don't deal with 32 feet / sec^2 for gravitational acceleration. We deal with grams, liters and 9.8 m / sec^2. Trying to apply physics in daily life tends to be difficult, as we have no frame of reference for meters / sec on velocity, being used to miles / hour.

Frequently, I've found that a set of metric (SI) wrenches is workable for both standard and metric nuts, bolts, etc. I'm much more likely to find a metric wrench which is "close enough," when dealing with standard (Imperial) bolts, than I am to find a standard wrench which is "close enough" for a metric bolt. This is, of course, because the divisions are much smaller in metric (1 millimeter) than in standard (1/16 of an inch).

There's only one problem with SI units: how do you get an even 1/3 of anything? A lot of imperial units are based around multiples of 12, which is evenly divisible by 2, 3 and 4. 12 inches in a foot. 60 seconds in a minute (5 * 12) or minutes in an hour. 24 hours in a day (2 * 12). 5280 feet in a mile (440 * 12; you get divisions by 5, 8, 10 and 16 in the bargain).

Working with computers, as I do, we run into a completely different problem. 1/10 is NOT exactly described by an IEEE-754/854 standard floating-point number. Ergo, any computer is going to either use some ancient BCD format to describe it (and describe it exactly) or it will have to store an approximation of it (more commonly the case). In that respect, Imperial is no better than SI because there's no exact match for 1/3 (or 1/12), either.

Wondering if we need a numbering system built around divisions of 30, so that we can evenly divide into 2, 3 and 5.

Note: I work with IBM proprietary hardware, quite often. The CPUs in those things support BCD formatted numeric data and some of the languages, such as RPG and COBOL, actually prefer that format for numeric data. Ergo, those support SI, even though that's considered a "legacy" numbering format.

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Practical Units

The snag with this debate is that most of the debaters (combatants?) are too young to know real units of measure, having been brainwashed at school. The old Imperial units are practical uniits for practical people. Most Metric units are too low or too high to be practical. Look at the metre. Far to large for a practical measure, so it has to be divided up, decimetre or millimetre, and even these are wrong. In Engineering, my Engineering at least the thou ruled A practical measure, you didn't need mant to make a difference. In Metric parlance it has to be the Micron, far too small. You need twenty five of the little bugger to make a thou. Likewise with the rest, it's either milli or mega to get a significant unit. I'm with the Yanks on this one, even if their pint is too small.

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Childcatcher

Re: Practical Units

Right! Most units of measurement grew out of a need to actually do something rather than from some theoretical starting point. The most important thing is to make sure that all parties agree on what a given unit is if all are using the same units, or what the conversion between them are if not.

As an aside, while the definition of many metric measurements have changed for the sake of accuracy and repeatability, the kilogram still has a way to go (http://wamu.org/programs/metro_connection/12/09/28/metal_cylinder_holding_weight_of_the_world_mysteriously_changes). The goal is to tie the definition of a kilo to the Planck constant.

Before any on the non-metric side of the fence comment on the differing kilos, please state which is heavier: a pound of lead or a pound of gold.

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Re: Practical Units

"Look at the metre. Far to large for a practical measure,"

While I agree with many of your sentiments, if you're saying a metre is too large to be a practical measure, surely you're saying that the yard is also (since they are within 10% of each other), whereas I would say that the yard IS a practical measure for some things, while the foot is for others.

Of course, I don't think that the American's use yards either.

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Metric all the way ...

... and get rid of all references to Imperial units, as long as we can still see conversions to elephants, blue whales, Sydney Harbours ("Sydarbs"), furlongs per fortnight, etc

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Pint

Just the pints of beer

Aircraft should not have their altitude given in feet, rather their Flight Level should be posted. Although this number bears a remarkable resemblance to the altitude in feet, it does so without mentioning said imperial unit. Win-win.

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Re: Just the pints of beer

Aircraft don't give their altitude in feet, they give their height in feet, there is a difference.

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Pirate

Cat-o-ten-tails? Shiver me timbers!

Cat-o-nine-tails are made by unlaying twice-laid 3-strand rope, me hearties. Neither man nor Devil can make a cat-o-ten-tails.

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Headmaster

SI is great if you have to do any conversions between units as you do in engineering, but in daily life we don't do that. I don't need to know the mass of five pints of beer in pounds, or to determine how much its temperature will rise in Fahrenheit if I apply 5BTU of heat. It's a pint: all I need to know is how much it costs.

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Mushroom

Leave metric to the scientists

You can have the imperial system when you pry it from my cold dead hands! The English language just sounds right with imperial. "I walked miles and miles" sounds right; "I walked kilometers and kilometers" doesn't flow off the tongue. I'll admit that starting at 32 degree for freezing is weird for Fahrenheit. But there are 180 degree between freezing and boiling in Fahrenheit, making it a more precise measurement than Celsius which has only 100 degrees between the two.

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Re: Leave metric to the scientists

Not so. Round here the boiling point of water is not 100C. I checked, and it's 98.4C It's only 100C at a set pressure (at notional sea level). A lot odf us don't like getting our feet wet and live a reasonable height above the waves. So 0-100C is not a rational measure.

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Re: Leave metric to the scientists

Sorry but you are misinformed. Fahrenheit is not more precise than Celsius and Celsius is not more precise than Fahrenheit. Neither is more or less precise than the other, and it's the same for the metric Imperial/USC debate.

It is true however, as you say that because Fahrenheit has 180 degrees or divisions between freezing point and boiling point that the degrees are smaller than the 100 degrees that Celsius has. If we compare 180 to 100 then because the 180 scale has a smaller degree then it is more precise. What determines precision and accuracy is scale, not whether it's Fahrenheit or Celsius. I have a Celsius thermometer on my desk it's indicting 17.8 degrees Celsius. It measures to a 10th of a degree Celsius, it therefore has 1000 divisions between freezing point and boiling point. When compared to the 180 divisions of the Fahrenheit scale the 1000 division scale has smaller divisions and is more precise. If I had a Fahrenheit thermometer that measured a 10th of a degree that would be 1800 divisions between freezing point and boiling point and therefore more precise than the 1000 division of my thermometer. So it's ..scale ..that determines precision not Fahrenheit or Celsius.

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As soon as the USA goes to Metric...

Then our European friends will go to base-16 number...

Actually, Isn't Europe part of Asia. Not a continent from a science perspective. Our West-Asians friends...

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The $$$ Cost is Phenomenal!

I don't think any government at the moment wishes to expend the billions of $$$'s required to convert units. Just take a look at Canada. Billions of $$$'s later for signage, training programs, printed materials, law suites, seminars, conferences, international meetings, etc., ad nauseum over the past 20 years and we're still only part way to converted. Carpenters still refer to wall studs as 2x4's, even though they are actually 1-1/2"x3-1/2" in size. Sheets of plywood are 4'x8'. Radios still announce temperature in both units. Thermostats are still set to degrees F. Fields are still acres (and sometimes hectares). Pipelines are inches, although their length is in km (or meters). The spelling of metric units can be metres or meters depending upon whether you side with Anglo/Franco phones on this issue. Ocean depths are meters, fathoms, feet or miles. Young people who have never used Imperial units cannot even converse with oldsters who don't normally have a "feel" for metric units.

It is a frigging mess!

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Why not both?

There's no reason why the two systems can't run in parallel - metric for scientific and accurate measurements, imperial for day-to-day use. Or are modern kids too think to learn a system they can't count on their fingers? I learnt duodecimal and hex at school (and converted between them), no problem.

We should keep quiet about the hobbit being a unit of measurement, otherwise we'll have a fat american lawyer trying to claim ownership of Wales.

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Meh

Pah!

I don't have any difficulty using either Imperial or Metric, or even a combination of the two. I would guess the same is true for anyone with even a modicum of mathematical ability.

... and if they don't have that ability, maybe they should let other people do the measuring.

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I'm American, but one of the smart ones

1. I found it amazing that Europe uses anything other than metric.

2. Miles, feet. It's stupid, inaccurate and based on nothing scientific.

3. Next, stupid americans will be saying it's un-christian to go metric, and the dreaded, It's un-american to go metric. Here in America, we have a bunch of citizen sheep, that shop at walmart, watch fox news, and are stupider than bag of rocks. I'm ashamed sometimes. But we do need a dumb slave work force, and a happy one. A smart slave work force doesn't stay happy and always asks for more money. Can't have that.

Anyways, back to metric. Metric is based on science. That's something the ignorant religious wing-nuts here in America just can't stand. Telling them that the world is over 4,000 years old and that the metric system is based on real science, will, quite frankly, make their heads explode.

4. Go metric. I hate having to have two tool sets for everything. It's cost a bunch of money.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I'm American, but one of the smart ones

Not to mention the fact that it's fun watching religious wing-nut heads explode!

If our local senator, governor and the president all get re-elected (they're all democrats/liberals), I'd like to collect funds and get some billboards done, congratulating them on their re-election. I'd call the group:

The Coalition for Making Conservative Nutjob Heads Explode

We have billboards from some Conservative radio station urging voters "This time, get it Right!" Why not throw it back in their faces? Let them be depressed for another 4 years.

Gotta tell 'em "No" every so often. Send 'em back to Walmart for more pork rinds, Moon Pies and cheap beer.

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stupidity, inaccuracy, &c.

In the States, the yard and pound avoirdupois (and thus the mile, the foot, the ounce avoirdupois, the grain, &c.) have been defined in terms of the meter and kilogram respectively since 1959. (The UK did the same in 1963.) Both the US and the UK have had metric miles and feet for decades now. Since the Imperial and US customary units of length are defined in terms of the metre, so are their respective units of volume: their gallons are defined in terms of the litre, which in turn is defined in terms of the m³. With metric gallons, one also has metric pints!

(Remember, metric ≠ SI. The liter is metric, but not SI; the dm³ is SI.)

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Boffin

What we need for your IT nerds to step up to the plate and have it detect what country I'm in and give me the units that I want. And if you can work out a nice preference system where I can choose from some choices when logged in so much the better:

[All SI]

[SI except for beer]

[Mostly Imperial]

[All Imperial]

[Elephants, Furl/Forts, and such]

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Megaphone

anglophone

Imperial units employ one syllable, which may be spoken with a stylish drawl.

Metric units have many syllables, requiring one to yammer like a Spaniard.

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syllables

Acre, gallon, bushel, furlong, hundredweight. Gram, watt, volt, joule, mole.

¡Honestamente, y’all!

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Partial Agreement

Engineering and physics definitely do need to use the metric system. But that is not a valid excuse for annoying ordinary people as they listen to weather forecasts to find out what to wear, or housewives baking for their families or shopping for groceries.

Indeed, though, a whole generation has grown up with metric, so it's not as if any country is likely to go back now. Still, it was tragic that autocratic measures were used to make the changeover, instead of doing it gradually, waiting for a broad favorable public consensus, and ensuring conversion costs would be minimal.

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Pint

Errors

Having worked in hospitals and various medical establishments, I wonder if the metric system is more prone to dosage errors in the decimal system. It seems so much easier to slip a factor of 10 or even 100 without thinking about it. It seems to me that the Imperial system avoids as many. It requires real concentration to work out dosages in the Imperial system.

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handwritten SI prefixes

At least in the States, micrograms on prescriptions are purposely written as “mcg” rather than “µg”, since it can be difficult to distinguish a handwritten “µg” from a handwritten “mg” — and in some cases, a thousandfold error in dosage could be fatal.

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Anonymous Coward

Poll

Why is there no Imperial-only option?

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Trollface

Re: Poll

'cos it'd get no votes.

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s/pint/litre/g

While we are writing the rules... For beer, why don't we have conversion round up to a litre, now all of you pint punters would end up with a proper ONE in your mugs. Still complaining?

If its too much you can always ask for a half( or maybe a 9/16ths;)) like my wife does with pints.

Seriously... Why resist such a logical system as Metric.

And why hate on the French? I imagine adoption of arabic numerals faced similar obstacles... I'm there are more than a XII people here that agree.

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