back to article Pints under attack as Lord Howe demands metric-only UK

Lord Geoffrey Howe of Aberavon has demanded that the UK goes fully metric as soon as possible, describing the current mix of miles and kilometres and pints and litres as a "uniquely confusing shambles". Speaking yesterday in the House of Lords, the former chancellor and deputy prime minister insisted: "British weights and …

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Re: Yeah, Date/Time Units Are A Buttfuck

@AC That is so very, very wrong. There were always 12 months. Augustus and Julius renamed months, they didn't create brand new ones.

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Re: Yeah, Date/Time Units Are A Buttfuck

Well oka, strictly speaking, there were 10 months in the so-called Romunal calendar, but that had been replaced by a 12 month lunar calendar centuries before Julius Caesar came along. And he didn't "want" the month named after him. It was named after him as an honour bestowed by the Roman state, likewise Augustus.

In addition the pre-julian Roman calendar occasionally had 13 months to line things up when the months got too far out of line with the actual lunar phase, and there were days added to the beginning or end of months when they needed to. Not counting the occasional changing of the length of a year to make sure a ruler was put out of office early or kept on longer than he should have been...

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Re: @Kevin Johnston

The ugliness of it is that it is too precise. Its like telling the time to 1/100's of a second - quite accurate and mostly irrelevant.

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6 feet

6 feet length is around 1.83m, though (1.72 would be 5'8"). You just wish to pertain a system for your own convenience.

If you have not used to imperial system, you'd just multiple feet by 30.5 and inches per 2.54 in your brain any time you hear 'em. (at least this is what I do). Gallons are tricky since they come in different sizes.

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Arrogant Tosser

Claiming that there is a "metrically literate elite" and a "rudderless and bewildered majority" is a touch over the top.

We're quite capable of handling two systems at once, as long as we stick to using only one for any specific purpose (eg imperial for beer and metric for petrol).

Anyway, the country is supposed to be largely inumerate, so does it matter how many systems the population can't count in?

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Re: Arrogant Tosser

I wonder who built his house, or installed his toilet. The elite?

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Sorry, but pints of milk quite clearly state their "ml" value and have for years. All foods have their metric values on them.

There's a difference between showing metric units and FORCING ONLY metric units. The former is good sense. The later is just going to create hatred and alienate people and confuse who WERE brought up with the old system.

Nobody will reasonably object to you (as has already been done) putting "568ml" on your pint of milk. Or selling it in 500ml lots. Or selling potatoes by the kilo. Or any of the other measures. So long as you don't FORCE that to be the only way to mark it. What harm does an EXTRA marking of the imperial measurement do in a time of middle-ground between two measures? All children's exams nowadays - metric. All food measures - metric. All dimensions in the Argos catalogue - metric (and sometimes imperial as an indicator too). All rulers and measuring tapes have had metric on them for DECADES now.

About the only thing that hasn't changed over in any way is the roads. Every car advert has km/l (or more likely litres/100km) now as well as mpg, but you can't go through the roads and change the signs to km/h overnight. The best you can do is has a transition where you mark BOTH speeds with the appropriate units on all roadsigns.

And then? To be honest, nothing much else happens. Once the roadsigns are dual-format, anyone can understand them in any age of car (which are also all dual-format on their speedos) so there's no need to go any further. Will it stop people speeding, or stop them comparing fuel efficiency? No.

So you have to ask, what advantage do you get exactly from the changing last bastions of imperial measurement as opposed to merely adding the metric equivalent clearly next to them? And the answer is: NOTHING. Just a waste of public money from that point to make everything "metric-only" at further expense.

Nobody cares about metric or imperial. What we care about is not having to deal ONLY in metric if we don't need to. There's no reason for me to HAVE to buy milk that's only printed in millilitres when they could put both units on it. And I don't even care - if I ever do measurements or conversions, I do it by using metric equivalents because they are slightly easier to work with - I was brought up a metric child by my schooling, even though my parents are strictly imperial. But what I do care about is little old grannies trying to do 220mph on the motorway because they misread the sign, or alternatively 70km/h because they misread their dial.

Nobody sensible objects to metric units, metric signage, metric measurement or teaching metric (as has been standard since, what, the 70's?). What we object to is removing a perfectly useful piece of information for no reason at all instead of just complementing it (and, hell, put the imperial in small writing next to a big bold metric measure if you want, who cares?).

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Re: metricating the auto world

You'd also have to change the speedo's on all those cars where the km/h is quite hard to read as it's in tiny orange font which doesn't show up so well.

While we're at it, we may as well start driving on the right, too.... :)

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Anonymous Coward

"you can't go through the roads and change the signs to km/h overnight"

That may be true, but they did manage to do the whole of Canada over the weekend when I was living out there in the late 1970s.

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Re: metricating the auto world

Bollox to driving on the right - just because some french general decided to be awkward and march on the right, doesn't mean we should. Being on the left was good enough for the Romans, it is good enough for me, along with aqueducts, medicine, roads..... blah blah.

Japan, Oz, NZ, SA, India, Pakistan, and umpteen other countries still and will continue to drive on the left.

Don't even bother mentioning Sweden's conversion, they drove LHD cars, so it was easy for them - bit of a stupid idea to drive on the left with LHD cars!

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Re: metricating the auto world

I drive a Japanese import car, the first thing that happened to it when it was imported was that the importer took the speedo's printed dial out and replaced it with one in graduated in miles. It took a few weeks to get used to the tumblers counting in KM, but it's a total non-issue. It probably cost about a fiver in parts and a tenner in labour.

Modern cars with digital dials can have this done in software, sometimes there is even a setting on a user accessible menu or a switch.

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Re: metricating the auto world

The UK is the only country that drives on the left, for which the motor manufacturers have to fit speedometers that read in mph. They'd love not to have to have different models for UK than they do for Ireland/Malta/Cyprus/Kenya/South Africa/Australia/New Zealand... and so on.

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Re: metricating the auto world

Well, there's also that bunch of islands near Korea. As well as driving on the left they're also known for making some cars and car parts.

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Re: metricating the auto world

I suspect that changing speedos is a bit easier than moving all the pieces to drive on the left.

I'm in Merka. Both of our cars have digital speedos and buttons to switch between mph and km/h.

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Re: metricating the auto world

And measuring distances in kilometres.

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MJI
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Re:Leee Dowling

I have seen French speed limit signs of 80 over 50 would that be dual values?

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Re: Re:Leee Dowling

@MJI: No, it's 80KMph in the dry and 50 in the wet.

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From the Dead Sheep Dept

Howe is a silly old ass.

Just because he finds real money confusing...

And if I were him I'd keep pretty quiet about having been a member of the traitor Heath's government.

He can hobble back down his hole, frankly.

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Re: From the Dead Sheep Dept

"Just because he finds real money confusing..."

Believe me, Tories have NEVER found money confusing!

As longs as they have as much of it as possible, leave your brethern to starve!

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Re: From the Dead Sheep Dept

And the difference with Labour is...?

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Re: From the Dead Sheep Dept

It seems to me that the Tories like the economy in good order so they can skim off the top.

Labour are just incompetent and give out money to all and sundry for the most ridiculous purposes.

Not defending the Tories here btw, but compared to Labour they have more respect for money.

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Stop

What an absolute waste of money and effort that would be.

I can't quite imagine going down the local and asking for "five hundred and sixty eight millilitres of your finest ale please"...

It doesn't quite have the same ring to it...

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Anonymous Coward

Worst argument ever...

I don't ask for Pints of beer in my local, and if you take some time, you'll notice that the overwhelming majority of people don't ask for pints of beer, they as for "a beer" or "a number of beers".

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Re: Worst argument ever...

Yeah like the argument about buying fruit by weight. Does anyone still buy it by weight? I buy it by quantity (eg;five apples for lunches during the week) or else I just pick up a bag of apples. Same with everything in a supermarket I think. You buy by quantity or you pick up a pack of something.

Buying by weight is probably more common at markets but how popular are they really?

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Re: Worst argument ever...

"I'd like 47 grapes and 51 cherries please, Mr Greengrocer."

"Get out."

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Meh

Re: Worst argument ever...

I usually just grab a couple of appropriate sized bunches. If I'm buying at the supermarket I buy a bag. Still no need to mention weight.

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Re: Worst argument ever...

My experience is the complete opposite of yours, everyone round here asks for a pint of ale/lager or 4 pints of ale etc.

YMMV

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Mix and Match

The point about Imperial measurements is that they evolved as CONVENIENT measures. It was convenient to have an acre as the area a man could plough in a day, it was (and still is) a furrow long and a chain wide (there - how many people actually knew that?)

As others have pointed out, we still buy in convenient sizes, even if they're labelled with weird metric numbers.

If I'm doing science or engineering where a consistent set of units is good then I'll use metric,. Otherwise I'll pick whichever system is convenient at the time.

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Re: Mix and Match

That's a *furlong* long and a chain wide, I think.

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Happy

Re: Mix and Match

Seeing as you are being a pendant <- see what I did there?

Actually no. That's like saying PIN number. Furlong is the contraction of furrow long

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Stop

Napoleon and his metric system conquered Europe,

but no Britain. So what would Wellington say if you surrendered now?

OTOH, if you want your kids to value logic and maths, you might start by giving them a proper system of units.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Napoleon and his metric system conquered Europe,

He didn't vanquish every imperial measurement. I've heard that French carpenters order 'le two-by-four'.

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Re: Napoleon and his metric system conquered Europe,

actually metrication was never a political football, as it is today. As I said earlier, it was first mooted in 1818, in the UK, and almost happened in 1868 - the bill was passed in parliament, but ran out of time to get ratified, and precisely *because* it was uncontentious, it never got the head of steam to get tried again. Presumably, most people couldn't see the point, when most of the UKs trade was with the rest of the empire.

Fast forward 100+ years, and it HAS become a political football, thanks to the unstinting efforts of the ever-backwards Daily Heil.

What woud Wellington think (now there's a Daily Mail tagline I can see evolving. Not "What would Jesus Do ?", "What Would Wellington Do ?" !) ? Personally I think he'd harrumph as say as long as it worked, he couldn't care less what pinko scientists talked in.

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Re: Napoleon and his metric system conquered Europe,

I used to drink in "Le Grande Pint du Nord" in the 1990s - just outside the Gare du Nord ...

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Re: Napoleon and his metric system conquered Europe,

'OTOH, if you want your kids to value logic and maths, you might start by giving them a proper system of units.'

Exactly, we need to switch to a base2 system ASAP, none of this count on fingers malarky.

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Re: Napoleon and his metric system conquered Europe,

Don't give up on fingers! I can count to 32 on one hand.

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Re: Napoleon and his metric system conquered Europe,

counting on your fingers in base 2 is great, can count up to 1111111111, much higher than the 10 your limited to in base 10.

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Re: Napoleon and his metric system conquered Europe,

There's something wrong with my hand. I can only count up to 31 on it.

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Re: Napoleon and his metric system conquered Europe,

Err, no it didnt. Metric Time and the Metric Calendar didnt conquer anywhere.

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Re: Napoleon and his metric system conquered Europe,

Ha...that's Nothing....Mine goes from -16 up to 15 so there.....

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Napoleon and his metric system conquered Europe,

"you might start by giving them a proper system of units.'

OK, so why use arbitrary units like grams and meters? There's nothing any more fundamental about them vs. pounds and feet - the only thing the metric system has going for it is that almost all the multipliers are factors of 10: deci-, kilo- etc.

Why not spec things like the amount of beer, or gas, or meat in terms of a REALLY fundamental unit - the Planck mass? One million Planck masses is .76 oz or 21 grams. 550 ml of liquid should be roughly 25 megaplancks.

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Re: Napoleon and his metric system conquered Europe,

I'd also point out (no doubt to be corrected) that bicycle tyres the last time I was in Germany were measured as things like 21 Zoll. To the best of my knowledge 1 Zoll is equal to 2.54cm which is pretty close to an inch.

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Also, does it matter ...

as long as you don't start enforcing what *multiples* of units people use. By all means, measure a pint as 568ml ... just don't start saying it has to be 500ml or 1l.

I think a lot of the opposition to metric came from people thinking they'd be locked up for asking for a pound of sugar - which was ALWAYS Daily-Mail FUD. By all means, ask for a pound of sugar. Just don't be upset that you get given 454g.

Personally, I think there is a beautiful elegance about metric. 1000ml of water = 1000g = 1Kg ... 1000Kg = 1 tonne, and so on. What's the imperial way ... 16oz=1pint oh, no, hang on, where are we ? Oh, yes, the UK, sorry. 20fl oz= 1 pint. 8 pints = 1 gallon... um hang on, is 20fl. oz a pound ? How many pounds in a stone (sorry US readers 1 stone = 14 pounds). Now let me see, a hundredweight - that's 100 pounds isn't it ? It's not, it's 112 pounds but it says "hundred" ....

&c &c &c .....

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Re: Also, does it matter ...

Though there was certainly a lot of misinformation, there was also a lot of legal calls to make sellers sell things only in metric.

The "Metric Martyrs", I believe they were called, of whom the owner of Trago Mills stores in Cornwall was quite vocal (my favourite shop, especially the Falmouth one!), used to put up posters to raise awareness of the issue years ago, and went to court for refusing to sell things in only one measure. I don't know the outcome but given that I can still buy spuds by the pound, they probably won or at least won morally.

There's nothing wrong with selling me 500ml of water, or a kilogram of potatoes. But there's also nothing wrong with selling 568ml of milk and advertising it as a pint, or 2lbs of potatoes and stating the measure in metric too, is there?

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Pint

Re: Also, does it matter ...

... "A pint of water weighs a pound and a quarter."

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Re: Also, does it matter ...

And a litre of water weighs a kilogram. Much easier to convert in your head.

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Re: Also, does it matter ...

"16oz=1pint oh, no, hang on, where are we ? Oh, yes, the UK, sorry. 20fl oz= 1 pint."

Of course, since you implicitly mentioned the UK versus the US fluid ounces, it's worth remembering that the "pints" they're based on are different anyway! A US pint is only 473 ml versus 568 ml... that's a major difference and point of confusion.

(Ironically, this results in both fluid ounces actually being closer in size, since the US one is a larger proportion of a smaller pint!)

If non-metric units are intuitively "right" as some suggest, then how can this apply to both (differently-sized) pints? Surely one of them must "feel" wrong- but both the Americans and the British seem to be quite happy with their pints, suggesting that it's as much down to familiarity as anything. Both are either side of a half-litre anyway...

Also, the US pint is apparently based on an *older* version of the English pint, whereas the larger Imperial pint was based on a later (early 19th-century) standardisation, so the US pint should be the more historically-grounded, closer-to-its-roots "correct" one.

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Re: Also, does it matter ...

Ahh yes. That''ll be the kilogram that isn't a measure of weight.

But of course metric makes such perfect sense doesn't it.

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Happy

Re: Also, does it matter ...

Water is approximately 10lb per gal. Nice and easy to remember, and useful size measurements.

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Re: Also, does it matter ...

The US pint came from a measure of wine in the time of Queen Anne

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