back to article NASA takes stick over feet and inches

NASA's insistence on sticking to pounds, feet and inches in its Constellation programme "could derail efforts to develop a globalised civilian space industry", New Scientist reports. Leading the fight to bring NASA into the metric fold is Mike Gold of the US civilian space outfit Bigelow Aerospace. His company is "dedicated to …

COMMENTS

This topic is closed for new posts.
  1. breakfast
    Boffin

    Come on people, it's not rocket science...

    Now obviously, I'm not a rocket scientist by any means, but even I know that our local hardware store sells various little adjusty things that let you interface between metric and imperial pipes. Often they only cost a couple of quid- I'm sure even cash-strapped NASA could afford a few of those...

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Money Problems

    Hautaluoma said: "We found the cost of converting to SI would exceed what we can afford."

    How the F*** are they going to get to Mars then?

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Whats a title?

    Not surprising that the good old money dump can´t do simple math. Just look at there launch succes rate compared to succesfull space agencies. NASA = FAIL

  4. Bassey

    That's strange

    I had always believed NASA used imperial. However, I watched the James May thing on BBC on Sunday and all the old Apollo astronauts spoke about Kilometers and meters, so I just assumed I was wrong and that NASA had been using metric all along.

    Then again, they also mentioned pounds of thrust and the old 25,000 mph so it's probably no wonder they are all confused. The sooner the US and UK drop their pathetic romantic notions towards imperial measurements the better. When was the weights and measures act? 1969?

  5. Sergie Kaponitovicz

    NASA knows best

    Asked to comment on the magnitude of the cost of converting to metric, a NASA spokesman said "About 4/5 of 5/8 Whitworth of a Shuttle Launch. We're being screwed, and they're using a UNC thread! These people don't have an ounce (437 1/2 grains) of sense."

  6. Fredly

    UK's romantic notions

    "The sooner the US and UK drop their pathetic romantic notions towards imperial measurements the better. When was the weights and measures act? 1969?"

    All I can say to you is, I started primary education in 1981 and I have NEVER been taught anything in Imperial (that's right IMPERIAL not ENGLISH! English is a language not a measurement system).

    There may be a few "old and bolds" out there who find it tricky to change, but I'll think you'll find nearly every, if not every single, new piece of hardware designed in the UK has SI measurements. Any that don't are almost exclusively legacy items, designed to fit in with old systems.

  7. Dr. Mouse Silver badge
    Coat

    @Bassey

    "When was the weights and measures act? 1969?"

    I feel a song coming on...

    "I got my first real six-string.

    Bought it at the five-and-dime.

    Played it till my fingers bled.

    It was the summer of '69."

    Sorry I know this isnt helpfull. Dont need a coat in this weather...

  8. Jimmy Floyd

    @AC 09:38

    Here's the deal: you learn to spell and I'll pretend you have a real opinion. Fair?

    But seriously folks ... Brits of a certain age may remember 'Jimbo and the Jet Set' - the cartoon aeroplane whose designer got inches and centimetres confused. Brits of all ages, however, are probably quite capable of buying a piece of wood of the size 2" x 4" x 1 metre. Who says we aren't bilingual?

  9. James 80 Silver badge
    Go

    Re: That's strange

    I was under the impression that the UK, with the odd exception like speed limits, was mostly metric these days anyway.

    I grew up there knowing both metric and imperial distances, and usually think in kilos rather than pounds and ounces.

    My solution for the speed limits too is just claim all speed limits from <date> should be read as kilometres instead of miles. And increase the national speed limits. All inner city speeds are instantly cut by 30%, and it costs nothing more than a small advertising campaign. All roads where the national speed limit applies are marked with ( / ) signs so they don't need to be changed.

    Oh, and no matter what system of measurements NASA use, JPL will still manage to crash things into planets that wandered unexpectedly into the flight path.

  10. Neil Charles

    Don't make the Americans convert to metric

    The best thing about those occasional Junkyard Wars vs. Scrapheap Challenge events is watching the Brits get stuck in with welders and angle grinders while our American friends cover a couple of blackboards in chalk trying to work out how many oil barrels will float a Land Rover.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Really an issue?

    I have to be honest, changing units is not the most challenging aspect of rocket science.

  12. Toastan Buttar
    Stop

    UK science education

    When I was at school and uni (in Scotland), all physics and engineering classes used SI units exclusively. Is it different in the US ?

  13. Dave Coleshill

    It's quite ironic really.

    Considering the fuss they made about independence a couple of hundred years ago, I would have thought they would have jumped at the chance of ditching the "English" measurement system. As it happens they seem to be being pretty tenacious about it all - they're still using it over 40 years after the England itself ditched Imperial in favour of Metric.

  14. Jacob Reid
    Stop

    English?

    Since when have we used non metric units, miles excepted? As far as I know, America is the only country not to use metric.

    I don't even know any non metric units apart from miles and a very rough idea of feet.

  15. John Hawkins

    Boston tea party anyone?

    I guess the people of the USA haven't yet realized that Imperial measurements are part of a long term plot to by the British to regain control over the 13 states.

  16. Gordon Henderson
    Alert

    English Units?

    Here in England (where I live), and in Scotland (where I'm from) we use SI units...

    It really bugs me when the yanks talk about "English" units.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Dave Coleshill

    .... except that large numbers of Americans see metric units as an sign of attempted takeover of the US by some new world government ... its probably also closely linked to communism as they use metric in Russia/China/North Korea.

  18. caffeine addict Silver badge

    Hang on a sec...

    Before we UKers take the piss out of the Merkins too much (I can't believe I just said that) about how we've all been taught SI in school, how many of you think of your height or weight in SI units?

    I know I'm about 1.9-2m tall, but I think of it as 6foot5. I know I'm about (redacted) kilos, but I think of it as (redacted) stone.

    And I bet you know how many mpg your car does not l/km...

  19. Titus Aduxass
    Happy

    They already use SI units

    "T Minus ten... nine... Ignition Sequence Start... seven... six... five..."

    I think you'll find those are Metric seconds they're using, not Imperial seconds.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Pirate

    A coincidence??

    Is it a coincidence that NASA and drug dealers like to use imperial measurements??

  21. Bassey

    Nonsense

    To all those claiming Britain has gone metric, are you mad or do you just never get out of the house? Pints (milk or beer)? How tall are you? How heavy are you? All road signs. All cars. You order bricks/sand/gravel by the yard. How big is the display on your mobile? What size telly have you got? Yes, the weather forecast may display Celsius, but as often as not the ditzy blond is telling you "it will be up in the eighties today". I went for an operation a few years ago and I had to convert my weight into pounds for the nurse to calculate my anaesthetic because all her tables were imperial and she didn't know how to convert from Kilos.

    To say the UK is "mostly metric" is utter bollocks. Schools, yes. Science, maybe. Engineering, medicine and real life - no way.

  22. Trevor 3

    title?

    Can NASA really go to mars while having 2 feet on the ground?

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Alien

    Why is this an expensive issue

    I hope they settle on something. Mars Climate Orbiter, anyone?

  24. Uncle Slacky Silver badge
    Boffin

    "English" units...

    ...are so called in order to distinguish them from imperial ones - the gallon is the most obvious difference, and I believe there are other quantities which differ somewhat as well.

  25. SuperTim

    English=imperial=US?

    The "English" no longer use Imperial for anything other than distance on a road, speed limit on a road and pints of Beer and Milk (which isnt even the same as a US Pint).

    Also, the US drive on the right SPECIFICALLY because the English drive on the left (which is a hangover from the horsey days). So i can believe that they will not want to go metric, precisely because we have!

    I grew up in an imperial household while learning metric, so i have no problem converting in my head.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Heard on radio..

    .. in the airspace around the local airport. US female pilot on approach, load and arrogant (as these overseas pilots often are), telling ATC that she insists QNH (local barometric pressure) be given in inches.

    And then an unknown pilot broadcast, "Tower, give it to her. Inch... By inch..."

    Few minutes of radio silenced followed on the frequency. Op error. Cannot transmit while laughing.

  27. Annihilator
    Happy

    Feet easier?

    Bizarrely, I find it easier to estimate distances of 20 feet or less, in feet. Anything above I'll move to metres, and then for big distances I move to miles.

    Obviously just to finish it off, I use mm's for smaller stuff. Ah, the British education system. The World's finest.

    Let's use the Reg's standards

  28. Rod MacLean

    Imerial Units

    Well, in the UK we passed the weights and measures act, what, 40 years ago or something?

    In the US, they're still using Imperial Measurements - depsite the fact that they haven't been part of the empire for 233 years.

    So, Space travel - the way of the future? Only for those who're modern enough to be able to use SI!

  29. Adrian Esdaile
    Boffin

    No, let them keep calling them English....

    because it must iritate them to no end; still using units named after the BRITISH EMPIRE, when even the UK and every other sane country on the planet uses SI.

    The 'it costs too much' is totally bogus - anyone who does any work in infrastructure can tell you - DO IT NOW, otherwise in 5 years time, it will cost 10 times as much. Ever heard the phrase 'A stitch, in time, saves nine?' It's not just an aphorism, it's actually true.

    To be honest, I thought the Shuttle was SI, the insides at least. Or was that one of the design goals, like two-week turnaround?

    Spaceflight (human spaceflight at least) is all about minimising risk; you would think having 2 systems of measurement floating around is one elephant-in-the-room risk. *cough* mars probe *cough*

    Talk of Imperial always brings to mind the priceless scene in 'Brazil' - Bob Hoskins drops a floor-plate through a slightly-too-big hole int he floor "Oh, buggger, they've gone back to Metric again!"

    Scientist - because they know to use SI. (Physics must be a total BITCH in Imperial, or do they just work in Base-12 to make it simple?)

  30. Edwin

    Silly brits

    I keep seeing these comments about how luvverly blighty is so metric it's practically french.

    And somehow, you can't do the conversion on your cars and roads.

    Clarkson et al are still quoting miles per hour, causing the poor subtitlers over here ("the continent") to have to reach for their calculators regularly.

    Not to mention your persistence in using 'stone' (which even the merkins gave up) as a unit of weight.

    Nono, you may only be taught in SI, but the home is still a distinctly imperial place.

  31. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge
    Coat

    RUBBISH: Linguini, swimming pools, Wales are better

    They should skip the metric system entirely, and go for linguini, norris, brontosaurus and doubledecker buses: THAT'S rocket science

  32. Jonathan Cohen
    Paris Hilton

    English = American?

    By "English" I presume they mean "American". Note to our friends across the pond, our old english imperial system is not the same as your "English" system, which is unique to the US.

    Also, I was born in 1970 and was never taught anything other than metric at school in the UK. In fact the only imperial measurements I've ever used have been miles and gallons.

    Note that a UK gallon is very different in size to a US gallon....

    Paris, 'cos.. ummm, something to do with measurements and the origination of the metric system.

  33. Stuart 22

    One dimensional brain?

    @Jacob Reid

    I guess you are one of these new breed that has never drunk a pint or know what a run in cricket is? (22 yards unless its an extra/boundary). Oh and have you ever wondered why jam and other food is packaged as a very odd number of grams? ie 1lb jar/pack.

    How heavy are you? Say 11st and most people know you are OK. How many kg is that? Oh and a six footer is a tall guy or rather over endowed below the waist? Come on both measures are firmly endowed in the public conciousness. He/she who doesn't use both as appropriate is halfwit (0.5wit)?

  34. Herbert Meyer
    Alert

    more amnesia

    NASA has forgotten the reason for a Mars lander failure a few years ago - most of the software was written for SI units, and a subcontractor used traditional units for landing rocket software. Result was a very expensive small crater near the Martian South pole. If they can't afford to use consistent units, there are going to be more expensive craters.

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    All the other UK peeps like me....

    Use imperial for.

    Speed in a car, how all we are, and how much we weigh.

    But we all convert back and forth with no issue.

  36. Marodi

    Americans are taught SI

    As an american EE college student, I can attest that the only units we use are SI with the exception of statics.

    TBH, I find the usage of imperial units in the scientific community to retarded, not to mention a pain in the ass.

  37. Apocalypse Later

    not that expensive

    Wonderful free utility for converting any measurement to any other (not feet to ounces obviously):

    http://www.online-unit-converter.com/software-download/

    As for the UK being metric, how come we have so many jars in the supermarket with net contents weighing 454 grams?

    Uk mantra: "A pint of water weighs a pound and a quarter."

    US version: "A pint's a pound, the world around."

    Now THAT'S arrogance!

  38. James 85

    What About US and British Pints

    How many chains do they get to the hogshead?

  39. Graham Bartlett

    Why such an issue?

    Internally, each module knows what units it's using. A data dictionary lists variables and says what type they all are. And for external interfaces between modules, the interface spec says what units everything uses. If the units don't match up, you simply apply the appropriate scaling.

    I've worked on Ford engine controller software. Their software has an amazing mix of units, many resulting from 20-year-old decisions which it's too late to do anything about because there's too much code using these variables now and it's too much hassle to change the old code. The result is multiplying/dividing by 1.609 (or whatever other scaling is needed) on the way in/out of your code. No big deal. It was rare to find the wrong units getting used, and if it did happen then testing or reviewing spotted it.

    Sure, it'd be nice if units were consistent everywhere. It'd be nice if the Code Pixie came overnight and fixed it for you with a wave of her magic wand too. But back in the real world, stuff like this happens and you deal with it. If it fails, it was because they used substandard engineering and/or sub-standard specifications and/or sub-standard V&V (all of which tend to go hand-in-hand), not particularly because they used inconsistent units.

  40. jimbarter
    Boffin

    Rocket science is easy...

    ...it's Ballistics that's hard.

  41. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Silly Dutchies

    Really Edwin? Then the Dutch 'aint much better, since my Dutch mother-in-law still buys meat etc by the 'pound'?

  42. Hollerith 1

    Old Imperial, New Imperial, SI

    Americans use pint, gallon etc sizes that are very old -- they came over in the 1600s and 1700s and lingered, while the UK updated various liquid volume sizes in the early 1800s. And then the UK (supposedly) moved to SI in the 20th century.

    In the same way that Americans still preserve some old surnames and archaic spellings of those names, they also preserve historical measurements. As an historian, I am touched, but if I were a rocket scientist, I would be wondering why I was still using ancient stuff. Firkins of liquid oxygen, anyone? Hundredweight of titanium?

  43. Matthew 3

    Unit silliness

    I still don't understand why care tyres (Yank: 'tires') are sized with the diameter in inches and the width of the tyre in millimetres:

    For example a 195/55 R16 tyre is 195mm wide on a 16" wheel. If we can't even be consistent on these things I think it is a bit unfair to pick on someone else...

  44. Ed Blackshaw Silver badge

    'English' Units?

    Here in England, we use SI units, and have done for some time, except for specific applications (such as the print industry where inches are commonly used, or pubs where beer is sold in pints). This is a hang-over from the use of Imperial units, since a lot of equipment still in use can be quite old.

    Note that I use the term 'Imperial' units - this is not even the same system as our Septic cousins erroneously refer to as 'English' or 'British'. As far as I am aware, the imperial gallon has never equalled the US gallon (being about 20% larger). It is almost as if the 'Merkins are so ashamed of their backwards set of units that they wish to blame them upon someone else, and chose us because of 200-year old chip on their shoulders.

  45. Ed Blackshaw Silver badge

    @Bassey

    Last time a bought a 'pint' of milk, it was actually 500ml. Most places have been selling them as such for a while. Those that aren't are usually labelled as 568ml, not 1 pint.

    /counterpoint

  46. Daniel 10

    Imperial Has a Bad Rep

    I just wanted to point out that there ARE a few advantages to English units.

    1. It's founded on units that coincide with amounts human beings actually find convenient. Metric units are completely arbitrary and so less friendly than imperial units That's why very few people have one liter containers in their "cup"boards and why even the most SI friendly countries still drink "pints" of beer.

    2. It uses binary divisions, which are more logical and typically more flexible and convenient than decimal ones (honestly, if we had been born with eight or sixteen fingers, we would all have been better off, mathematically speaking).

    I'm not saying that there are NO advantages of SI over English - bureaucrats LOVE the way it makes the numbers line up - I'm just pointing out that it's not as one sided as people here seem to think.

  47. imposter

    It occured to me a while ago

    That we british are handier with measurements than most people in the western world. We might be hopeless at foreign languages but there's a large number of europeans who don't even know what a centimetre is. "I'm six foot 2, er... 185 centimeters. Okay 1.85m?" like many europeans with our language, we can do their own measurement systems better than them.

    Britain is totally bilingual with measurements, most brits below 60 and above 15 know that a mile is roughly 8/5km. That a yard is 90cm, 2.2 pounds to the kilo, (very roughly) 25 grams to the ounce and so on and can freely translate between the two.

  48. ted frater

    US Aircraft

    The US aircraft industry still builds aeroplanes to imperial standards, Why?

    cause it would be too costly to change, not just the drawings and jigs but all the supporting hardware manufactureres make for example all rivets and nuts and bolts to imerial standards and ali sheet and plate in thous.

    Most US machine tools are programmed in thous of an inch,

    Yers of course metric is used in US industry when its economic to do so.

    At present its not economic to change the whole of the US manufacturing base to metric.

    On to something much more important,

    It shuld be up to the purchaser to deside how he wants to buy something. for example I dont want half a kilo of spuds i want 1lb of them/,or bananas for that matter.

    another stupid metric measument is newtons, If you think foot pounds it means what it says, so many pounds load at so many feet from a fulcrum point.

    Newtons?

    Might as well call them Darwins or Copernicii.

  49. Anonymous Coward
    Boffin

    US Gallons/Pints vs Imperial Gallons/Pints

    As others have noted, the US Gallon is smaller than an Imperial Gallon -- ours is 3.8L.

    Likewise US Quarts are smaller than Imperial Quarts. As you might guess from the above tidbit, a US Quart is very nearly the same as a liter (or litre if you prefer.)

    But a Pint is a Pint, or IOW a Pint is a Pound the World Around. Our Pint is the same as your Pint.

    And yes, we do use the metric system here, for some definition of use. Cars are assembled with metric fasteners. Coke, beer, and milk are sold in metric volumes. Flour, cake mix, and sugar in metric weights. Etc. Speed limits on highways are often posted in both MPH and KPH, especially near the borders but in many other states too.

    Oh, there are pounds and ounces on the labels too, and most people still prefer those. Not sure why anyone cares really.

  50. rpjs
    Boffin

    A modest proposal

    1kg = 2.2lbs therefore 1 metric pound = 0.5 kg

    1km = 0.52 miles therefore 1 metric mile = 0.5km

    1m = 1.1 yds therefore 1 metric yard = 1 metre

    1pt = 0.6l therefore 1 metric pint = 0.5 litres (works even better for US pints)

    and 1 metric gallon = 4 litres

    So everyone's happy. We get to use a sensible measuring system, and all the old folks and Disgusteds of Tonbridge Wells can carry on thinking in units familiar to themselves - they won't be the exact values they used to be but they'll be close enough for everyday use.

    I understand the rest of Europe does this already, at least for weights. Ask for a "livre" or a "pfund" of something in a greengrocer in France or Germany respectively, and you'll get half a kilo.

  51. frank ly Silver badge

    @ted frater re. US Aircraft...

    "..I dont want half a kilo of spuds i want 1lb of them.."

    Actually, no. You want a number of potatoes, within a certain size range, that you think is convenient and reasonable, at the time. I bet you never, ever, actually get a pound of potatoes; you'll get 1.13 or 0.92 or even 1.21 pounds and you'll be quite happy to have them.

  52. Wade Burchette
    Stop

    Bah!

    We landed on the moon using feet and inches! How many times have we landed on the moon using meters? Case closed.

    Which sounds better? "I walked for miles and miles" or "I walked for kilometers and kilometers"? Case closed.

    The pound is a more accurate measurement of weight than grams because pounds is a measurement of force whereas grams is a measurement of mass.

    Fahrenheit is more precise than Celsius because Fahrenheit has 180 degrees between boiling and freezing where Celsius only has 100.

    Furthermore, why do we have to conform to you? You want to be metric, fine. When I go to your country, then I will use metric. But when you come here, don't ask me to do something you are unwilling to do. When in Rome, do as the Romans as the saying goes.

  53. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    @american anon

    No, our pint is larger than your pint.

    The UK pint is 568ml, and the US pint is 473ml - so don't come around with your "a pint's a pound the world around" crap

  54. Jimbo 6
    Boffin

    Imperial

    ...refers to the Roman Empire, not the British Empire *actually* . The weights system is based on there being eight men in a Roman army unit (hence 1 pound of meat/grain = 2 oz per legionnaire) and seven days in a week (hence fourteen pounds in a stone). Try dividing 10 kilos of meat equally, by seven days and eight men, and see how far you get.

    In another vein - who else remembers Nigel Planer in 'Brazil' - "Bloody typical, they've gone back to metric without telling us !"

  55. Matthew 3

    @Ed Blackshaw

    If you have milk delivered by a milkman, it still comes in pint bottles. It's only those pesky supermarkets that have gone over to the dark side.

  56. IR

    UK pint vs US pint

    "As others have noted, the US Gallon is smaller than an Imperial Gallon -- ours is 3.8L.

    Likewise US Quarts are smaller than Imperial Quarts. As you might guess from the above tidbit, a US Quart is very nearly the same as a liter (or litre if you prefer.)

    But a Pint is a Pint, or IOW a Pint is a Pound the World Around. Our Pint is the same as your Pint."

    No. A fluid ounce is the same everywhere. A US pint is 16oz, a UK pint is 20oz. Everything above a pint is scaled up from that, which is why US quarts and gallons are smaller than UK quarts and gallons. Not that anyone really uses quarts in the UK, it is a silly unnecessary measure - even more so when used to denote the sizes of containers. Why call something a 20 quart pot when 5 gallons makes more sense?

  57. Irony Deficient

    In varietate concordia.

    <pedantic type="hopeless">

    Hollerith 1 is right: here in Septardia we kept using William III.'s (wheat) bushel and Anne's (wine) gallon even after you lot went Imperial under George IV. This is why we refer to our units as English rather than as Imperial - because these units were what the English used when we started using them, and because we never adopted the Imperial bushel and gallon.

    Anonymous Coward of 12:58 GMT is wrong: the pints are the same only in that each pint is one-eighth of its respective gallon. They do not have the same volume: George IV.'s pint is around 568 ml, while Anne's pint is around 473 ml.

    In any case, regarding NASA (and the rest of Septardic government), both the yard and the pound (and those derived units depending upon them) were redefined in terms of the meter and kilogram in 1959; ever since then, the yard and pound (and derived units) have been metric, although non-SI.

    For anyone who might be interested in (and amazed that there could be) the logical underpinnings of the pre-Imperial system, I'd recommend reading the _Report of the Secretary of State Upon Weights and Measures_ (a Septardic government document from 1821).

    </pedantic>

  58. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Lets suck it up

    Both the US and UK should decree that everything be in metric by the end of the year, and that all routers support IPv6 and lets all learn Esperanto while we're at it.

    Sorted.

  59. Toastan Buttar
    Stop

    Getting to the Moon using Imperial Measurements

    Wade Burchette:

    "We landed on the moon using feet and inches! How many times have we landed on the moon using meters? Case closed.

    The pound is a more accurate measurement of weight than grams because pounds is a measurement of force whereas grams is a measurement of mass."

    So how many pounds did the Apollo Lunar Module weigh in space? How many on the surface of the Moon ? How many on the surface of the Earth ? Try calculating its momentum using weight rather than mass and see how far you get.

  60. Anonymous Coward
    Boffin

    Disbelief

    @Wade Burchette: "The pound is a more accurate measurement of weight than grams because pounds is a measurement of force whereas grams is a measurement of mass."

    I just cannot believe someone wrote this!!!!

  61. Irony Deficient

    In varietate concordia.

    <pedantic type="hopeless">

    Hollerith 1 is right: here in Septardia we kept using William III.'s (wheat) bushel and Anne's (wine) gallon even after you lot went all Imperial under George IV. The reason why we call our units English is because they were the units in use in England at the time. We have never had Imperial units because we never adopted the Georgian bushel and gallon.

    IR is wrong: the Imperial fluid ounce (George IV.'s gallon ÷ 160, or about 28.41 ml) is slightly smaller than our fluid ounce (Anne's gallon ÷ 128, or about 29.57 ml).

    In any case, regarding NASA (and the rest of Septardic government), both the yard and the pound (and those derived units depending upon them) were redefined in terms of the meter and kilogram in 1959; ever since then, the yard and pound (and derived units) have been metric, although non-SI.

    For anyone who might be interested in (and amazed that there could be) the logical underpinnings of the pre-Imperial system, I'd recommend reading the _Report of the Secretary of State Upon Weights and Measures_ (a Septardic government document from 1821).

    </pedantic>

  62. Mike Richards Silver badge

    Hmmm - Mel Gibson does 'Edge of Darkness'

    NASA has been quite happily lugging European and Japanese payloads into orbit for many years now and the Shuttle regularly works with the ISS (and previously with Mir). All of which are designed in metric.

    So what's the problem?

  63. frank ly Silver badge

    @Wade Burchette re. Bah!

    Reading your comments was like watching an intellectual and logical train-wreck, in slow motion. It was both fascinating and depressing but I kept on reading it. Amazing!

  64. peter 5 Silver badge
    Alert

    @Graham Bartlett

    The problems were indeed discovered in testing. It crashed. On Mars. But no doubt they'll add a test case for that eventuality and fire it up again...

    Actually my current project does what you say: it flips between radians (for obvious reasons) and degrees (because the multi-page formula are all in degrees) storing an index into a conversion table for each value. The system proved so convenient I used it for distances, flipping between Parsecs, AU and Metres. So if people really wanted miles, it wouldn't be hard to extend.

  65. Murray Pearson 1

    Imperial and SI, and their mutant offspring

    As an engineering student in Montreal, the status quo here is to know and use both US Standard and MKS metric units; I just wrote an exam in which a problem had a mass in slugs (lbm being the alternative) and with cfs and psfg and all that; the next problem was in metric units. If we need to we can convert the units accurately. It's just rocket science, after all (and the Canadian Space Agency is just across the river).

    I remind the metric fanbois that not even metric is standardized; there are MKS and cgs variants. Would you be able to solve a physics problem with forces in ergs? I'd have to look up or figure out the conversion myself.

  66. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Parts isn't parts

    I'm tired of owning nearly identical sets of tools because my car seems to have half the engine assembled in metric and the other half in SAE. What dolt uses two different measurement systems when building something like this?

    We studied metric when I was in school (U.S.), but the practical application in normal life didn't exist. If people knew the price per liter of gas in the states like they did a gallon or how many km/hr you could drive before getting a ticket, then we could probably switch pretty easily.

  67. Irony Deficient

    Mea culpa.

    Oops, my apologies for the near-duplicate posting; my browser had frozen up after submitting the first post.

  68. Paul Smith

    @Wade Burchette

    [We landed on the moon using feet and inches! How many times have we landed on the moon using meters?] You found Mars a bit trickeyer though.

    [Which sounds better? "I walked for miles and miles" or "I walked for kilometers and kilometers"? ] How many steps was that? One kilometer is one thousand paces.

    [The pound is a more accurate measurement of weight than grams because pounds is a measurement of force whereas grams is a measurement of mass.]

    To use a very British term with American spelling, "Bollox". A Kilo of water is the same amount of water at the equator, the North Pole or on the surface of Mars. Slightly more accurate, and useful, then your pound? That Kilo is (by definition) the mass of one litre of water, which is also (by definition), exactly one decimeter. (i.e. 1000L = 1 cubic meter). So if I have some water and can measure weight, volume or length, I can work out everything else without having to remember any 'magic numbers'.

  69. Richard Mason

    @ ted frater

    Back in the early 90s I worked at BAe Hatfield where they designed the wings for the Airbus. The wings were designed in imperial, then the drawings were sent to France and converted into metric. Then the metric drawings came back to Hatfield where we milled the main spars on a mill calibrated in thousands of inches. The spars went to Chester where the wings were built (in imperial), and finally the completed wings were shipped to France to be mated with other parts of the Airbus made all over Europe in metric. It's a wonder any of the Airbus planes ever got off the ground.

    Today I work for a classic car parts company and pretty much everything we sell is imperial, and I still find it easier to estimate 10 thou than 0.25mm.

  70. Andy Bright
    Go

    Proof of Life

    Surely the Mars crash test dummy was proof NASA does use metric measurements already. It's just they don't use them until they're half way through the mission.

    When the inevitable happens, and we end up crashing a shuttle or probe into an alien spaceship, we can even use this as an excuse on the insurance claim form.

    "I drove into the wrong orbit and hit a space ship that wasn't supposed to be there."

  71. Charles Manning

    One idiot crashes a rover and we must all change?

    Look, if the fuckwit couldn't get feet to metres right, then what's the chance of getting radians to degrees right? Nevermind grads.

    Metric is obviously superior for computational simplicity, but in engineering can't ignore the millions of bolts and other real things out there in PhysicalWorld.

    Bloody yanks can't even spell metres right, so what is the chance they're going to use them correctly?

  72. ThinkingOutLoud
    Paris Hilton

    Roman Mile

    The term Mile comes from the Latin thousand steps during Roman marching. In fact, there is nothing British about most of our so called Imperial measures, as stated by various previous posters.

    Since decimal figures can be represented by any number of floating points, I choose to support the Power of Ten.

    Paris because I expect she'll be more impressed with 30cm than 12in. (She might even fall for 16V versus V6. Silly woman.)

    PS. Love the new icons and plan to put them to good use!

  73. Nebulo
    Boffin

    @Jimbo 6

    The Imperial system isn't all the Romans gave us. Not every fule no that the international standard railway gauge - four foot eight and a half inches, or 1435mm - comes from the average spacing between the wheels on a Roman cart. Flanged wheels were a later invention though, coming when we started building horse-powered railways to haul stuff out of mines, which is why the Romans didn't leave us a grid of straight railway tracks around Europe.

  74. Greg Trocchia
    FAIL

    @Wade Burchette

    One of the reasons I write as many comments as I do to the Reg is to combat what I perceive as anti-American bias. In order to do this credibly, when a valid criticism comes up I have to readily admit that the US is "doin' it wrong". At the very least, if a critique is spot on then one should STFU rather than issue a lame defense. This is *definitely* one such occasion. Your defense is so lame that I would like to think it is all a put on (but hey, we all know that 'Mericans are irony challenged, right?).

    I can add to what Marodi contributed by attesting that physical science classes in American universities (at least the ones I went to) have used SI exclusively for decades, and since the textbooks I used were popular ones, I can be confident that this must have been common practice at the time. A shudder goes down my spine when I think about having to have done my Physics major without good old metric units, it was hard enough without having to remember and apply all sorts of silly conversion factors. So long as you stay in SI, most of the conversion factors go away.

    There was an attempt to convert the US to metric during the Carter Administration, but the forces of inertia were too strong and, IMO, Carter and company were too feckless to force the issue, unfortunately. Part of the resistance comes from the very real costs that transitioning imposes. The other part of the problem is mental inflexibility: as long as you continue to "think" in English units and convert to SI then you once again have all sorts of conversion factors that you have to worry about. Once you get to the point where you can leave things in meters or kilograms or whatever you are much better off, but getting there takes some adjusting.

    @Murray Pearson: But, I might point out, 1M = 100cm, 1kg = 1000g, and seconds are the same in either system as you are well aware, not too hard to go from one to the other. And 10^7erg = 1Joule, my point being even if you have to look it up or figure it out, applying the conversion is simple to do. Now let's say I was measuring things in inches and ounces and wanted to find out the energy required for something, getting there would be considerably more of a headache I would assert.

  75. Steve 120
    Unhappy

    Decimal Schmecimal

    Decimal fails because it can't deal with a third of anything.

    0.3 recurring? Thats just bollocks, that is.

    No-one listens....

  76. John 23

    @Bassey

    "You order bricks/sand/gravel by the yard.

    [snip]... To say the UK is "mostly metric" is utter bollocks. Schools, yes. Science, maybe. Engineering, medicine and real life - no way."

    The UK construction industry has been working in metric units since the 70's. Almost everything is supplied in metric sizes - allbeit based loosely on the old imperial dimensions (and those which are supplied in imperial sizes are generally for compatibility with older buildings) :

    Bricks: 215 x 65 x 102.5mm

    Concrete: m³

    Bulk aggregates: tonnes

    Bagged aggregate / cement: kg

    etc

    Timber is generally referred to as the "old" sizes (eg 3 x 2), but it is supplied to metric dimensions and it's not uncommon to ask for 2.4m lengths of 3 x 2...

  77. Kevin (Just Kevin)
    Boffin

    @Daniel 10

    > 1. It's founded on units that coincide with amounts human beings actually find convenient.

    > Metric units are completely arbitrary and so less friendly than imperial units That's why very

    > few people have one liter containers in their "cup"boards and why even the most SI friendly

    > countries still drink "pints" of beer.

    In today's world, both are fairly arbitrary (we don't ride horses or throw knotted ropes out of boats any more) but I agree that the imperial units fit more with humans. I've never been taught imperial units (grew up in South Africa, live in Australia). But, I think of human height in feet and inches (although I do metres just as well). Everything else is metric in my head. Including l/100km for fuel consumption.

    And converting between things and relating things to each other is so much easier in metric. I know a litre of water or anything similar weighs a kg (yes, I know the kg is a measure of mass not weight, let's just assume Earth Gravity for now :-) ), I know a 10x10x10 cube is a litre (or kg).

    But, I will take you to task on one point. The reason there are so few pople with "one liter" containers is that the only place on Earth such a bizarre thing exists is in the US where you prefer pints. The rest of the world uses "litres". Do you pronounce "liter" as "lee-ter" or "lie-ter"? Or is it part of the progression "lite", "liter", "litest"?

    It's actually quite odd that you (plural) chose to adopt your own spellings for "litre", "metre", etc given that you don't use them and consider them foreign. Yet you've adopted your own spelling for them (maybe that's natural with foreign words or maybe it's just how American English works - "color", "thru", "lite", all very easy.

  78. Joe Desbonnet

    Apollo Guidance Computer software used SI units

    "We landed on the moon using feet and inches! How many times have we landed on the moon using meters? Case closed."

    Actually the Apollo Guidance Computer did it's computations in SI units [1]. The Apollo astronauts who were all pilots couldn't get their head around the metric units so it was decided that the instruments would dynamically convert and display in imperial units.

    [1] "Digital Apollo" published by MIT Press.

  79. TeeCee Gold badge
    Headmaster

    @Paul Smith

    "That Kilo is (by definition) the mass of one litre of water...."

    You forgot "at its temperature of maximum density", a rather important part of the definition.

    In fact, these days the kilogramme is, by definition, the mass of the International Prototype Kilogramme and differs very slightly from the mass of a litre of water, due to almost (but not quite) insignificant errors in measurement when the original definition was refined in 1799.

    This is the sort of thing that the Wibbly-wobbly-pedia is quite good for, although I saw Motorhead in 1984 and I'm pretty sure that Filthy Phil was on drums and not the International Prototype Kilogramme.

    (I've had to go with "pedantic grammar nazi" here, as we don't seem to have "pedantic nazi" in the new set.)

  80. Garret Cotter

    Kilogram

    The kilo is defined as the mass of the standard kilo at Sevres. It was made to be close to the mass of a litre of water at STP, but that's not the *definition* - it still relies on comparison with one particular lump of metal. Pedantic, but important to remember if one is trying to claim some sort of metaphysical superiority for S.I.

  81. frank ly Silver badge

    @Steve 120 re. Decimal Schmecimal

    "No-one listens...."

    That's because you're not only talking nonsense, you're getting confused.

    This is a discussion about human-decided systems of measurement (pounds-kilos, feet-metres), not a discussion about numerical representation (1/2 - 0.5, 3/4 - 0.75). The two have nothing to do with each other.

    Before the first cave-dwellers tried to share a rabbit between 3 people, the number 1/3 and the number 0.33 recurring had this characteristic. I'll try again - this article is not about numerical representation.

  82. David Nash Silver badge

    Saturn V

    I just got the Haynes Workshop Manual for Apollo 11 (yes!). Of course it doesn't really give you instructions for fixing the hardware ( "..first remove the [rocket] engine...") but it does have what looks like an original Boeing (I think) drawing of the Saturn V with lots of measurements on it. Every single one of them is listed in both Metric AND "English".

    Who says Nasa can't do Metric? They apparently could back then.

    And by the way, someone above compared Newtons unfavourably with Foot Pounds. They are different units for different purposes. Foot Pounds measures turning force around a fulcrum (as you said), the equivalent metric is Newton Meters not Newtons, which are just force, like pounds.

  83. A J Stiles

    Hmm

    Try working out the price of 1lb 7+3/16 oz of something at 11/7d per lb. Now try working out the price of 0.657 kg of something at £1.28 per kg. Which was quicker? Which could you have done in the shop while the goods were still on the scales?

    I bet retailers have been ripping us off for years.

    "Try dividing 10 kilos of meat equally, by seven days and eight men, and see how far you get." -- I got 10/56 kg. of meat per person day, which is 0.17[857142]... kg. Since my scales can only read out to the nearest gramme, though, I made it 0.178. Same when spacing shelves evenly: round to whatever your measuring instrument is capable of. Only don't multiply *after* rounding, in order to distribute the errors evenly.

    If you buy a tape measure on the Continent, it'll have centimetres across the full width, not just on the bottom edge; meaning you can measure left-to-right along the very top edge of a plank, not a centimetre and a half down.

  84. Rex Alfie Lee
    Pirate

    The Biggest Issue is NOT the Naming

    The biggest issue is the code. Every different value for distance, volume & mass requires a different calculation. When converting from one to another, say one volume level to the next & back again for the viewing audience (the values mean nothing to a machine) that calculations are all different when using imperial. When using decimal, everything converts by 10 times or 10 squared or 10 cubed or so on. Every conversion uses one derivative & that is the reason for converting to decimal.

    I also like thinking in terms of feet & inches but have grown up with centimetres. Centimetres don't mean much when it comes to 185cms whereas 6ft 1" does. To a machine it has to know what that means exactly rather than figuratively in the way we humans do. Imperial measures need to be dumped. They also don't convert perfectly to decimal values.

  85. frank ly Silver badge

    @Rex Alfie re. The Biggest Issue....

    "..Imperial measures need to be dumped. They also don't convert perfectly to decimal values."

    Since the computers use binary arithmetic for calculations, then a system based on powers of two would be more suitable (based on your argument).

    i.e. ...8,4,2,1, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8.... This may be a bit fiddly so we can use base-8 as a compromise. Since we have eight fingers, this seems natural, makes a lot of sense and will be easy to adapt to.

    Note that an ounce expressed as a fraction on a pound is 0.0001 in binary and 0.04 in octal. See, much easier to work with for computers.

  86. Jonathan McColl
    Coat

    Confused? You will be ...

    The world has agreed on A4 (etc) for paper size. The world except for the US which sends me certificates for my IT skills that I have to fold to fit in plastic pouches.

    The world works on Kilometers to go places.

    (With the odd local exception like road distances in the UK and the German word for 'miles and miles' meilenweit which is easier to say than kilometerweit. Oh damn my examples are falling around me)

    I'm 6'1" and weigh lots of stones, but will sell stuff in 25kg bags, 40 to the tonne cos it's easier that way and £sd is far superior to £p and I can add it up in my head and give change. What a useful skill.

    No I need my size-10 shoes or is it size 28 or American size 11 (always 10% bigger than ours), with my coat size something Lord knows what, and I'm going now ...

  87. Jeffrey Nonken Silver badge
    Big Brother

    Metric

    "The metric system is the work of the devil! My car gets 82 rods to the hogshead and that's how I likes it!"

    Seriously, I get really irritated when people lump all Americans together in a single stereotype and make claims against that straw man. How about the Brits? Are they not all cloned from the same gametes and educated in identical cubicals? Cookie cutter people. Anybody having a non-approved opinion is taken in for re-education. "We are individuals!" "I'm not!"

    Yes, that's correct, Dave Coleshill. Those of us living here now are actually close to 300 years old (if not older) as well as all having identical opinions on all matters. Because some people in the past spitefully decided to change a lot of terms and the way we did a lot of things just to be different from the English means that we've had a consensus throughout history. Oh, and the "we" that rebelled 200+ years ago is the same monolithic entity that's here today.

    Thank you for stereotyping me, I appreciate it.

  88. elpaw

    Screw em all

    I use electron volt, h-bar = c = 1 units

This topic is closed for new posts.

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2019