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  #1  
Old 11-05-2004, 10:05 AM
dropzone dropzone is online now
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Why is the metric system better than the imperial system?

Now that the election is behind us we can quietly discuss far less controversial topics.

It's been twenty-five or thirty years since the USA started going metric and the conversion stalled long ago. About the only place it made much headway was in beverages, where getting more in a liter of pop than in a quart is somewhat balanced by a 750ml bottle of booze being slightly smaller than a fifth. Those industries that deal in large part with vendors and customers outside the US have made a generally-half-hearted conversion (those Dopers who repair their own cars haven't thrown out their old socket wrenches yet) while those whose customers are primarily in the US have made no effort (just TRY to get sheet steel in metric thicknesses!).

Why is this? Don't Americans like being pushed around by the French? Does the English system suit us because we so dislike change that we will continue to wrestle with a system that is cumbersome and archaic? Have the advantages of the metric system, though blindingly obvious to anybody willing to give it half a chance, not been sold properly to Americans? Or could it be that those so-called advantages have been over-sold, that the natural superiority of the metric system is a chimera, that decimals are not naturally better than fractions and are, in many cases, inferior, and that a system based on the length of Edward Longshank's foot is ultimately no sillier than one based on a mismeasure of the distance between the North Pole to the Equator and which is codified as length of the path traveled by light in vacuum during a time interval of 1/299,792,458 of a second?
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  #2  
Old 11-05-2004, 10:34 AM
jsgoddess jsgoddess is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dropzone
Why is this? Don't Americans like being pushed around by the French? Does the English system suit us because we so dislike change that we will continue to wrestle with a system that is cumbersome and archaic? Have the advantages of the metric system, though blindingly obvious to anybody willing to give it half a chance, not been sold properly to Americans? Or could it be that those so-called advantages have been over-sold, that the natural superiority of the metric system is a chimera, that decimals are not naturally better than fractions and are, in many cases, inferior, and that a system based on the length of Edward Longshank's foot is ultimately no sillier than one based on a mismeasure of the distance between the North Pole to the Equator and which is codified as length of the path traveled by light in vacuum during a time interval of 1/299,792,458 of a second?
Yes to all of the above.

One of the things I notice about metric temperatures is the prevalence of decimal points. Now, I recognize that if something is three digits (for example) it doesn't matter if the three digits are all before the decimal points or if some of them happen to sneak in after. But a round number is still nice. The celsius scale has too big a jump between degrees.

And, since I live in a place where it gets pretty cold in the winter, the celsius scale also spends too much time in the negatives, which is simply annoying. 28 degrees F isn't an unusual temperature. I don't want to fuss around with negatives on a regular basis. I say we go Kelvin.
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  #3  
Old 11-05-2004, 10:41 AM
Zagadka Zagadka is offline
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Your post title indicates something other than what you seem to be asking.

"Why is the metric system better" - it makes calculations about a gazillion times easier. This is why it is used almost exclusively in most technical fields, from computers to biology (though computers have some bizarre mix of measuring things in inches and other things in mm/cm).

I think the prime thing is size. It is just easier to say "17 inch monitor" than whatever the hell 17 inches is in metric (43.18 cm BTW). OTOH, when you're talking about things that scale (cubic liters, for instance), metric is sometimes easier - we use whichever system is more convenient.

I don't think it has to do with national pride. It's just the way it is. Though I would prefer kilometers over miles. Miles are so stuipid.
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  #4  
Old 11-05-2004, 10:49 AM
SuaSponte SuaSponte is offline
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Remember that we are talking about acceptance by the masses - that is, us. As a general rule, those who deal with precise measurements for a living have already switched to metric.

As for the rest of us, we don't want to switch because we don't need to switch. When you get right down to it, it does not affect us in our daily lives that there is no logical basis that an inch is the length that it is, or that there are twelve of them in a foot instead of 10 (or 17, or 11). What matters is that we, having been trained and taught on the Imperial system since childhood, know how long an inch, foot, and yard are, and we don't know what a milimeter, centimeter, and meter are.

For most of us, metric is simply a foreign language. If I see a thermometer in Celsius, I then "translate" that into Farenheit to figure out how warm or cold it is. Same with volume, same with weight, etc. I don't "know" how heavy, long, etc. something is until I translate it into terms which with I have lifelong experience.

The reason that the US has not switched over to metric is simple - no one has presented a compelling argument as to how we would be better off doing all that math in our heads.

Sua
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  #5  
Old 11-05-2004, 10:53 AM
jjimm jjimm is offline
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I speak as one who has been through the entire conversion from imperial ('English') to metric during my life.

I began 100% imperial as a schoolkid in America, moved to England in the mid-70s when metric was just creeping in, then became more ubiquitous, and now live in Ireland where it's almost blanket.

The metric system is better. At least SI units are. The actual size of the units is arbitrary in both systems, but they relate to each other better. Not perfectly, but better, and in factors of 10.

I still think in imperial for the following measurements: distances between places, personal weight, and beer when in the pub. Everything else in my head has changed over to metric. And my attachment to the other three is merely an emotional attachment, and what my society hasn't bothered giving up yet. The next generation will probably be talking about these things in km, kilos, and half-litres.
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  #6  
Old 11-05-2004, 10:53 AM
Bytegeist Bytegeist is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dropzone
About the only place [ the metric system ] made much headway was in beverages ...
Don't forget ammunition.

I was in middle school in the late 1970s when the U.S. government made its one and only hard sell for the Metric System. (This effort pretty much ended when Reagan came to office.) I remember all sorts of educational gadgets, posters, workbooks, and glossy brochures coming our way. We also got a cool plastic "slide rule", with little cut-out windows, that converts between various imperial and metric units. I still have it to this day. It's so handy only a little slower than using a calculator.

It certainly seemed to me at the time that the U.S. was going to go metric, and pretty soon too. Of course I was only about 12, so what the hell did I know? Obviously I, along with the federal government, grossly misjudged the situation.


Quote:
Why is this? ...
It is interesting to examine why the U.K. and Canada, along with Australia and New Zealand I assume, essentially eradicated the imperial system by fiat, and succeeded, whereas the U.S. largely failed. (Or has failed so far. Perhaps in the long run the needs of the international economy will change our pragmatic minds.) I'm sure you'll get many opinionated answers to all your questions.

My own opinionated answer is that Americans tend to be much more resentful of the government, and its paternal proclamations about what's good for us, than perhaps those in other nations are. We were particularly mistrustful in the late 70s, in the wake of Watergate and the Vietnam War. In general, it's been historically difficult for U.S. leaders to coax cooperation from the American public even in times of world war and obvious threats to the national interest, let alone over something as mundane as measurement standards. The pleasure to be had from defying the Europeans is just icing on the 9-by-12 inch cake.

For this reason, I'm grateful that the American colonists didn't rebel until after Britain had switched to the Gregorian calendar (around 1750), the calendar now standard everywhere in the world. Lord knows that if we had won our independence earlier, we'd probably still be on the Julian.
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  #7  
Old 11-05-2004, 10:55 AM
emacknight emacknight is offline
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The metric system is hands down the only way science works. As a Canadian I have been brought up with both system, and in going through engineering I can tell you first hand that the metric system is the only way that works

As an example, a joule is the amount of energy required to make ONE gram of water go up ONE degree Celsius. How easy is that? A Watt is then how fast that joule works such that ONE Watt will make ONE gram of water go up ONE degree in ONE second. There is nothing to memorize, and all conversions are straightforward. Can you do that with calories, ounces, Fahrenheit, and horsepower?

1000mm in a metre, 1000 metres in a Km...or
12 inches in a foot, 5,280 feet in a mile

1000 grams in a kilogram or
16 oz in a pound

1000mL in a Litre or
8oz in a cup, 16oz in a pint, 2 pints in a quart, four quarts in a gallon

the metric system has numbers like
1.4 L which when multiplied by a number is easy, such as 1.4*3 is 4.2L

Try multiplying 4 lb 3 oz by 6, let's see, 3 oz is 0.1875 lb, so you have 4.01875 pounds, times 6 is 25.125 pounds, where .125lbs is 2 oz, so you have 25 lb 2oz

I'm currently training to be a chef and I can't begin to tell you how much of a pain it is to have to constantly convert back and forth when dealing with ounces, pounds, pints, gallons.

I guess I should add that this has been done to death, perhaps we could rephrase the OP to show how this is another example of the US's anti-science push, along with stemcell research and evolution that is crippling their society?
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  #8  
Old 11-05-2004, 11:09 AM
Padeye Padeye is offline
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Americans don't like being pushed around by anybody or told that a change is "for out own good" when it seems patronizing. I'm not saying the metric system isn't better. Plenty of Americans use both systems and have no problem adjusting to whichever is appropriate. I don't work on my vehicles much any more but I've owned metric sockets and wrenches for more than 20 years.

Some things are easy to change some are not. We can live with 2 litre soda and 750ml whiskey. Well sometimes that much whiskey can kill you but I survived a dopefest with that much.

Anyway... If someone says me that I should switch to standard metric sizes for construciton materials like lumber, plywood, sheetrock, etc. I'll tell them in no uncertain terms what indignity they can perform on themselves. Switching those would be fine for new construction but would be a huge cockup for rennovations and repairs. Sorry, can't get 4'x8' sheetrock anymore so you'll have to tear it all out and put in new metric studs at a different spacing. No F'N way.

Curiously the european lumber I often use, baltic birch plywood, is in 60"x60" sheets which is just shy of 1.5m, in thicknesses of 1/4", 1/2" and 3/4" Are the sizes just conveniently close to the inch sizes or are they made for the export to US market?
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  #9  
Old 11-05-2004, 11:26 AM
erislover erislover is offline
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Change will happen gradually, the only way it really can, and pretty much the only way it needs to. Those that require the simple conversions metric offers use it already quite a bit. But in an everyday life sense, a mile is no better than a kilometer. We measure speed in distance per hour in an everyday sense, and everyday usage doesn't dictate converting it to feet per second or anything of the sort.

It will be nice when the conversion is more or less final. But I don't see the big deal.
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  #10  
Old 11-05-2004, 11:39 AM
biqu biqu is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by emacknight
As an example, a joule is the amount of energy required to make ONE gram of water go up ONE degree Celsius.
No, you've just quoted the operational definition of a calorie. A joule is the amount of energy imparted by applying a force of one newton through a one-meter displacement parallel to the direction of the applied force. Also quite simple, but not quite as concrete as the definition of a calorie.
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  #11  
Old 11-05-2004, 11:45 AM
Patty O'Furniture Patty O'Furniture is online now
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Millihelen: The amount of beauty required to launch one ship.
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  #12  
Old 11-05-2004, 11:53 AM
Bytegeist Bytegeist is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by emacknight
... perhaps we could rephrase the OP to show how this is another example of the US's anti-science push, along with stemcell research and evolution that is crippling their society?
Oh, what a bunch of Canadian moose merde that is.

American science is alive and well, thank you. Foreign scientists are still coming here for their education and research, and American scientists are still earning Nobel prizes in droves, handily trouncing the competition beyond our numbers.

Evolution by natural selection is taught in every public school in the country, the main debate being, in some of our more underachieving states, whether theories like "Intelligent Design" (creationism by another name) should be taught alongside. This is certainly a concern to sober minded people, I'll grant you, but it's not a nationwide Dark Age quite yet. Also, the anti-evolution effort is not a plank of government policy, but is a grass-roots movement among parents of a certain mindset. They worry me, but their battle is entirely uphill.

As to stem-cell research, the citizens of California just passed a measure overwhelmingly to fund it to the tune of 3 billion dollars. The main controversy is over which sorts of fetuses, if any, can be used and this isn't just controversial in the United States. I think it's healthy to debate the whole question, as it involves fetuses and the boundaries of human life, about which many people are understandably squeamish. Human cloning raised the same sort of concern a few years ago. It is not anti-science to debate policy in scientific research.

And hey, incidentally, our society is hardly crippled. Have you spent any time here, or are you guided entirely by sensational headlines in Canadian papers?
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  #13  
Old 11-05-2004, 12:05 PM
MMI MMI is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by emacknight
The metric system is hands down the only way science works. As a Canadian I have been brought up with both system, and in going through engineering I can tell you first hand that the metric system is the only way that works
Would that it were so. I went through college always doing the metric problems rather than the english (when given a choice). Never worrying about Gc. None of that crap.

Then I get out into the real world. Almost all that I use is still English. I use Rankine more than any other temperature scale. Acutally, half the time the requirements and specifications for things are split between the two (perhaps conditions and thermo properties in English and mechanical specs in metric or vice versa). It's not that hard, and there aren't all that many conversions you need to know to switch between them.
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  #14  
Old 11-05-2004, 12:07 PM
Balduran Balduran is offline
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Another Canadian here who is in science. All scientific calculations I do are in metric, bur a lot of everyday things I do in imperial.

Don't know if its just socialisation, but imperial seems more physically intuitive for many everyday applications, especially length. An inch is about the length of a finger bone, a foot is about the length of my foot.
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  #15  
Old 11-05-2004, 12:25 PM
SuaSponte SuaSponte is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by emacknight
The metric system is hands down the only way science works. As a Canadian I have been brought up with both system, and in going through engineering I can tell you first hand that the metric system is the only way that works

As an example, a joule is the amount of energy required to make ONE gram of water go up ONE degree Celsius. How easy is that? A Watt is then how fast that joule works such that ONE Watt will make ONE gram of water go up ONE degree in ONE second. There is nothing to memorize, and all conversions are straightforward. Can you do that with calories, ounces, Fahrenheit, and horsepower?

1000mm in a metre, 1000 metres in a Km...or
12 inches in a foot, 5,280 feet in a mile

1000 grams in a kilogram or
16 oz in a pound

1000mL in a Litre or
8oz in a cup, 16oz in a pint, 2 pints in a quart, four quarts in a gallon

the metric system has numbers like
1.4 L which when multiplied by a number is easy, such as 1.4*3 is 4.2L

Try multiplying 4 lb 3 oz by 6, let's see, 3 oz is 0.1875 lb, so you have 4.01875 pounds, times 6 is 25.125 pounds, where .125lbs is 2 oz, so you have 25 lb 2oz

I'm currently training to be a chef and I can't begin to tell you how much of a pain it is to have to constantly convert back and forth when dealing with ounces, pounds, pints, gallons.

I guess I should add that this has been done to death, perhaps we could rephrase the OP to show how this is another example of the US's anti-science push, along with stemcell research and evolution that is crippling their society?
What a load of patronizing horseshit. Guess what, son - scientists are generally smart guys. They can memorize conversion charts. Just because you can't - well, that might explain why you are becoming a chef instead of a scientist.

As it happens, American scientists do work in metric. In the rest of life, most of us never need to determine what percentage of a pound an ounce is. We just know we need an ounce, and we get it.

Sua
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  #16  
Old 11-05-2004, 12:34 PM
NutMagnet NutMagnet is offline
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Originally Posted by Patty O'Furniture
Millihelen: The amount of beauty required to launch one ship.
Millipicture = 1 word
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  #17  
Old 11-05-2004, 01:11 PM
dropzone dropzone is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Balduran
Don't know if its just socialisation, but imperial seems more physically intuitive for many everyday applications, especially length. An inch is about the length of a finger bone, a foot is about the length of my foot.
Exactly. And fractional inches are easier to work with than decimals (except, of course, on a calculator or computer) because they are...fractions. Simple ratios like half and quarter are so easily visualized it seems like it could be instinctual.

As for the crippled US society, I recall when a Canadian dollar was worth 97 American cents. What's the exchange rate today?

Bytegeist, I'm not that familiar with modern ammunition but weren't most of the metric, um, calibers (look of distaste) imported, like the 9mm? Except for 7.62mm and 5.56mm NATO cartridges which were, in fact, EXPORTED? (They're pretty much our Winchester .308 and Remington .223.)
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  #18  
Old 11-05-2004, 01:12 PM
violacrane violacrane is offline
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Originally Posted by jsgoddess
And, since I live in a place where it gets pretty cold in the winter, the celsius scale also spends too much time in the negatives, which is simply annoying. 28 degrees F isn't an unusual temperature. I don't want to fuss around with negatives on a regular basis. I say we go Kelvin.
It's pretty much the same in the UK. I grew up with fahrenheit and I'm still happy rendering high temperatures as such -- they sound so much more impressive. However as a gardener I find zero as the temperature at which water freezes much more convenient, as it is the difference between life and death for many plants. As soon as negative temperatures are predicted I know I must get some plants indoors and start heating my greenhouse.
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Old 11-05-2004, 01:16 PM
dropzone dropzone is online now
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(confused look)

But shouldn't you have started doing that a few weeks earlier, before the first frost?
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  #20  
Old 11-05-2004, 01:37 PM
scr4 scr4 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jsgoddess
One of the things I notice about metric temperatures is the prevalence of decimal points.
In what context? Weather forecasts in Metric countries do not generally use decimals. I've never used decimal points for temperatures in casual conversation, except when talking about body temperature (fever). Some digital controls on air conditioners have 0.5 degree steps, but I don't find that an inconvenience.
Quote:
And, since I live in a place where it gets pretty cold in the winter, the celsius scale also spends too much time in the negatives, which is simply annoying.
I've never found it annoying. It's pretty intuitive to think "negative = cold!" Why do you find negative numbers annoying, but 3-digit temperatures are OK? (Or does it never get that hot where you live?)
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  #21  
Old 11-05-2004, 01:51 PM
Giles Giles is offline
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I've lived with three systems. I grew up with the imperial system in Britain and Australia, moved to metric in Australia, then have had to move again to US customary in the US.

So I get used to "quarts", which I've never used before, which are closer to litres than anyone would real care about, and are definitely not the same as the 2 pints that I used to know about.

And I now what a litre of water weighs, so I know that a litre of milk would weigh roughly one kilo. So how much does a quart of milk weigh? Well, that 32 fluid ounces -- but a fluid ounce of water in these parts doesn't weigh one ounce, it's 29 point something ml, which is a bit more than a real fluid ounce, so 32 fluid ounces weighs a bit more than 32 ounces, or 2 pounds.

And carpentry is so much easier in millimetres than in 1/16th's of an inch, because the multiplications and divisions are some much easier to do. You want 11 shelves in 8 feet? That's 96 inches divided by 11, or 8 inches plus 8/11 of an inch -- so what the nearest 1/16 to 8/11?
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  #22  
Old 11-05-2004, 02:03 PM
Raygun99 Raygun99 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dropzone

As for the crippled US society, I recall when a Canadian dollar was worth 97 American cents. What's the exchange rate today?
83 cents and climbing, up 20 cents in the last two years.
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  #23  
Old 11-05-2004, 02:10 PM
jsgoddess jsgoddess is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by scr4
I've never found it annoying. It's pretty intuitive to think "negative = cold!" Why do you find negative numbers annoying, but 3-digit temperatures are OK? (Or does it never get that hot where you live?)
Except negative on the Celsius scale isn't what I think of as "cold!" To use the same number as my previous post, 28 degrees F just isn't either uncommon or remarkably cold, but in the Celsius scale it's a negative number. That means I'd be using a negative number to describe the weather of a significant number of days per year. 0 degrees F is "cold!" 0 degrees C is chilly. 100 degrees F is "hot!" 100 degress C isn't important in weather terms.

In other words, I care about the temperature pretty much only as it relates to my environment. And for my environment, 0-100 degrees F pretty much covers it. 0-100 degrees C starts too high and ends way too high. Scientists can use whatever scale appeals to them without impacting me in the slightest.
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Old 11-05-2004, 02:11 PM
Bytegeist Bytegeist is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dropzone
Bytegeist, I'm not that familiar with modern ammunition but weren't most of the metric, um, calibers (look of distaste) imported, like the 9mm? Except for 7.62mm and 5.56mm NATO cartridges which were, in fact, EXPORTED? (They're pretty much our Winchester .308 and Remington .223.)
I'm not very familiar with ammunition either. But if we imported the 9mm standard caliber bullet, and built guns around it, wouldn't that be for the same reason that American soda makers had for bringing out two-liter bottles? Or car makers had for switching to metric parts? I assume it was to accommodate the international market to the small extent that we try to be accommodating.

Maybe someone keen on gun history can better explain these things.

In any case, that remark of mine probably should have had a smiley after it. I was cracking a little joke, and didn't mean to seriously imply that metric ammunition is one of the great success stories of the metric system in the U.S.
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Old 11-05-2004, 02:18 PM
jsgoddess jsgoddess is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by emacknight
The metric system is hands down the only way science works.
[dorky scansion joke] Ah, so the scientific method is actually written in iambic pentameter? [/dsj]

Science isn't defined by the units someone uses. Science is defined by the method someone uses. So unless you can find a metric way of forming a hypothesis and testing it, I would say that your argument isn't a strong one.
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Old 11-05-2004, 02:21 PM
AHunter3 AHunter3 is offline
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One factor that played into the failure of the 70s-era "think metric" campaign

Instead of focusing kids on the ease of conversion between different metric units, they tried to make the metric system accessible to us by teaching us how to convert from inches to centimeters and vice versa, from cups to milliliters and back, from kilometers to miles and feet and inversely, grams to and from ounces, and so on.

Having 1000 millimeters in a meter or knowing that a centimeter cubed contains the same volume as a milliliter may be a lot more elegant than having to figure out how many tablespoons are in a gallon or how many square feet in an acre, but there's nothing at all even remotely elegant about conversion formulas for getting from metric to American standard and vice versa.

Zillions of American schoolkids in grades 3-6 came home with page after page of math problems that required conversion between systems, and it didn't take long before lots of folks wanted it all go just go away.
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Old 11-05-2004, 02:36 PM
scr4 scr4 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jsgoddess
That means I'd be using a negative number to describe the weather of a significant number of days per year. 0 degrees F is "cold!" 0 degrees C is chilly. 100 degrees F is "hot!" 100 degress C isn't important in weather terms.
Fine. I still don't see what the big deal is with negative numbers. Do you find it difficult to do certain calculations with them? Or is there ambiguity? Is it less intuitive (e.g. -10 sounds warmer than -5)?

Quote:
Science isn't defined by the units someone uses. Science is defined by the method someone uses. So unless you can find a metric way of forming a hypothesis and testing it, I would say that your argument isn't a strong one.
Science is also about having a universal, standard way of understanding the world. That's because modern science is built upon free and rapid exchange of information and knowledge. The standard unit of science is SI.

Besides, many formulas in physics textbooks will only work under SI (or cgs). I've never even seen Maxwell equations in Imperial units.
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Old 11-05-2004, 03:21 PM
Cheesesteak Cheesesteak is offline
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Metric is superior to the Imperial system in only one area, ease of conversion. It's easy to convert milliliters to liters and meters to kilometers etc. etc. However, in day to day life, conversion is mostly a non-issue.

Need to convert teaspoons to gallons? WTF for? You suddenly using grandma's fried chicken recipe to feed an army? Going one or two steps isn't difficult anyway. 3 teaspoons to a tablespoon, 4 tablespoons to a 1/4 cup, 4 cups to a quart and 4 quarts to a gallon.

Converting feet to miles? There's nothing that I'd measure in feet that I'd want to measure in miles, not even quarter miles. You do have to be careful with inches and feet, I'll grant you that. Generally speaking, though, you discuss the distance in whatever you use to measure it, such as 1/4 mile for drag racing and 35,000 feet for airliners.

Temperature? Who needs to convert temperature?

Now, when you're doing science and engineering, you do all sorts of conversions, and use one measurement to develop others, so metric has a distinct advantage.
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  #29  
Old 11-05-2004, 03:43 PM
dropzone dropzone is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bytegeist
In any case, that remark of mine probably should have had a smiley after it. I was cracking a little joke, and didn't mean to seriously imply that metric ammunition is one of the great success stories of the metric system in the U.S.
But it IS!
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Old 11-05-2004, 03:43 PM
Dewey Cheatem Undhow Dewey Cheatem Undhow is offline
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Old 11-05-2004, 03:54 PM
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I had to help an American who was taking a chemistry course in college and had never learned SI -- he really had never learned anything, not even the really common prefixes like centi- and milli-. I don't know why they don't at least teach the basics of SI earlier, because it's really very necessary to do anything technical.

One of the greatest strengths of SI (aside from the fact that multiplying by 10 is easier than multiplying by 16 or 32) is the way the SI units work in physics and other technical fields. A newton is a kilogram-meter-per-second. A joule is a newton-meter, a watt is a joule-second. Many SI units can be written out in terms of fundamental units, which makes it possible to treat the units as mathematical operators. For example, if you multiply a quantity of newtons (kgms-1) by a quantity of meters, you get a result in joules (kgm2s-1. This makes it much easier to understand how force, energy and work are related. SI is also better-suited to scientific notation and makes the physical constants make more sense.

Unfortunately that has no bearing on everyday life. For the kinds of things you encounter daily, SI only offers some minimal advantages (making it easier to work with weights and lengths, for example). But it's not all that difficult to add up 2 lbs 6 oz and 1 lb 4 oz, just as it wasn't that difficult for the British, pre-decimalization, to add pounds, shillings and pence in their heads. So, while I use SI for everything technical and always have (and so does everyone else -- try doing chemistry in drams, grains and minims and see how far you get), I still use the old system for everyday things.

I give estimated distances and heights in feet and inches and measured distances in meters. (Never yards; if something is appropriate to measure in yards, I'll use meters.) The weather is in degrees Celsius; my oven (and only my oven) is in degrees Fahrenheit. Weights are in grams or kilograms if I know them; estimates are 'half a pound', 'ten pounds', but 'a few grams'. Liquids are almost always in liters and milliliters unless I'm cooking, when I use cups. Long distances are always in kilometers and speeds always in km/h, but I still use 'mile' as an indeterminate long distance. These are probably fairly typical usages for Canadians. Things that have been totally changed to metric (road signs, weather forecasts, food packaging, etc.) are SI, and the rest is still Imperial (people's heights and weights, estimated measurements). Proximity to the US makes SI units less common, and French Canadians use more SI units.
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  #32  
Old 11-05-2004, 03:54 PM
dropzone dropzone is online now
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100 F is uncomfortably hot. 37.8 C is pretty vague for all its apparent precision.

32 F is kinda chilly but not that bad, which is obvious because it's a vague number on the lower end of the middle. 0 C exagerates how cold it is.

0 F is uncomfortably cold. -17.8 C seems even colder.

As a usable scale for day-to-day living, advantage Fahrenheit. Which shouldn't be too surprising because that was how the scale was developed.
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  #33  
Old 11-05-2004, 04:16 PM
scr4 scr4 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cheesesteak
... However, in day to day life, conversion is mostly a non-issue. Now, when you're doing science and engineering, you do all sorts of conversions, and use one measurement to develop others, so metric has a distinct advantage.
But where does "science and engineering" stop and "day to day life" begin? Are carpenters, plubmers and hobbyists "engineers"? What about weekend home improvement projects? And why should Americans handycap their children by having them grow up in Imperial, but convert to a different unit as soon as they start learning science and engineering?

Besides, it's already pointed out that decimal system leads to easier calculations than the base-12 system. It's evidenced by the fact that every country in the world has switched to a decimal currency system (that I know of, at least).

Quote:
Originally Posted by dropzone
100 F is uncomfortably hot. 37.8 C is pretty vague for all its apparent precision.
That's as meaningless as saying "40C is uncomfortably hot. 104F is pretty vague for all its apparent precision."

Quote:
0 C exagerates how cold it is.
Only because you're not used to the Celcius scale. To me, 32F understates how cold it is.
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  #34  
Old 11-05-2004, 04:48 PM
dropzone dropzone is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Roches
...multiplying by 10 is easier than multiplying by 16...
Don't let the computer people hear that.
Quote:
French Canadians use more SI units.
They would, wouldn't they?
Quote:
Originally Posted by scr4
To me, 32F understates how cold it is.
Then perhaps you should move to a climate with seasons that are more than four variations on summer.
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  #35  
Old 11-05-2004, 04:49 PM
Napier Napier is offline
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Look, you guys are all paying extra for keeping SI and "English" units both in use in the United States.

Scientists are smart and can memorize things. I remember that PI is 3.14159265358979323846, but do you have any idea how many conversions you have to remember to do, say, convective heat transfer calculations in both systems? I AM a scientist, and it is huge pain in the ass. Every layer of complexity you add to a problem is one more thing to manage, one more opportunity for errors. Remember the planetary probe that crashed because one of the speeds was in knots and the conversion was missed? It doesn't mean NASA can't convert knots, it means multiple unit systems are truly burdensome.

Furthermore, I have two sets of wrenches in my toolbox, there are two sets of nuts and bolts in the shop, two racks of raw materials (metal rod and so forth), and I don't know anybody who can eyeball the difference between a 7/16" hex and an 11 mm hex, but if it's an expensive fitting with tight tolerances, the 11 mm wrench will be really really really hard to fit over the 7/16" nut. It's not that any of these items is insurmountable - the problem is that every one of them keeps dragging down all the things we have to do, and the total cost of all of that is just enormous!

Moreover, the US is still such an economic and engineering force that to some degree we are practically forcing some of this burden on much of the rest of the world, so the harm goes beyond what we ourselves experience.

In 1215, in the Magna Carta, King John decreed "Let there be one measure of wine throughout our whole realm; and one measure of ale; and one measure of corn, to wit, 'the London quarter'; and one width of cloth, to wit, to ells within the salvages; of weights also let it be as of measures." It's almost 800 years later and we still don't have it worked out. I have a reputation amongst my colleagues of being quite good at mental calculation, and I just hate having to add this stupid burden to all the other things, many of them clearly more inventive and constructive, that need doing!
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  #36  
Old 11-05-2004, 05:04 PM
Bryan Ekers Bryan Ekers is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jjimm
I speak as one who has been through the entire conversion from imperial ('English') to metric during my life.

I began 100% imperial as a schoolkid in America, moved to England in the mid-70s when metric was just creeping in, then became more ubiquitous, and now live in Ireland where it's almost blanket.
Same here, though I've lived in Montreal my whole life. Right around second or third grade, our older imperial math textbooks were being replaced.

Quote:
I still think in imperial for the following measurements: distances between places, personal weight, and beer when in the pub. Everything else in my head has changed over to metric.
I tend toward metric distances between places (my car's speedometer and odometer are in kilometers) but feet-and-inches for home renovations. Pounds for significant weights, grams for smaller weights, metric for liquid measure.... overall which measuring system I end up using depends on the measuring tools I'll be using. I don't need Metric's ease of calculation that often, but it sure came in handy when I tried to figure out how much a filled aquarium was going to weigh. Just measure the dimensions in centimeters and figure one gram per cc.

I have an idea of what a liquid ounce is, from seeing a shot glass, but a gallon? Dunno.
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  #37  
Old 11-05-2004, 05:09 PM
Alessan Alessan is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dropzone
100 F is uncomfortably hot. 37.8 C is pretty vague for all its apparent precision.

32 F is kinda chilly but not that bad, which is obvious because it's a vague number on the lower end of the middle. 0 C exagerates how cold it is.

0 F is uncomfortably cold. -17.8 C seems even colder.

As a usable scale for day-to-day living, advantage Fahrenheit. Which shouldn't be too surprising because that was how the scale was developed.
40 is uncomfortably hot - stay close to your air conditioning.

30 is pleasantly warm - perfect for a stroll.

20 is temperate - jacket weather.

10 is uncomfortably cold - better dig up your coat.

0 is inhumanly cold - find a source of heat, quick! Look out for the wolves!

-20 is the surface of Pluto.

My conclusions:

1. Measurements mean what you want them to mean.

2. Temperatures are relative.
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  #38  
Old 11-05-2004, 05:21 PM
violacrane violacrane is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dropzone
(confused look)

But shouldn't you have started doing that a few weeks earlier, before the first frost?
It's a very small garden. Watch the weather on the 6 o'clock news, see that frost is predicted, grab the two or three house plants still in the garden where they have been catching the late autumn sun, light greenhouse heater.
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  #39  
Old 11-05-2004, 05:23 PM
Loopydude Loopydude is offline
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I just find the SI metric system so much more relationally intuitive and rational. Basically, all the units you need to use can be built out of other units, if they are not related somehow to natural constants. A second? The amount of time it takes radiation from a caesium 133 atom making a particular energy transition to oscillate 9 192 631 770 times. A meter? The distance light travels in 1/299 792 458th of a second. A gram? The amount of mass in one cubic centimeter (1/100th of a meter) of H2O. A newton? 1 kilogram (1000 grams) meter per second2. A joule? 1 newton meter. There: I went from units defined by properties of electromagnetic energy up through several units built from those units to a unit I can use to measure the work I can do, a.k.a. energy.

It doesn't hurt that I can do all kinds of easy conversions with these using straighforward dimensional analysis, in decimal, which is quite familiar and comfortable given the ubiquity of base-ten counting (whether I use metric or not).
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  #40  
Old 11-05-2004, 05:24 PM
Bytegeist Bytegeist is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by scr4
The standard unit of science is SI. ... Besides, many formulas in physics textbooks will only work under SI (or cgs). I've never even seen Maxwell equations in Imperial units.
Technically there's SI, from which both CGS and MKS are based. Astronomers for example use CGS normally, while many physicists (or at least physics teachers) use MKS. It's an irritating complication to work around, but fortunately all the conversion factors between the two systems are just powers of ten.

And, I would argue that a "good" physics equation doesn't depend on any particular units at all. Maxwell's equations don't, unless you pre-expand the constants into numerical unit-dependent forms which is a no-no. Certainly these equations are most conveniently evaluated in metric, not imperial, but if you're careful you should get physically equivalent results.

(Come to think of it though, I'm not even sure the imperial system has all the necessary units to do physics. For example, is there an imperial unit for magnetic field strength?)

And hey, I just though of another realm where metric dominates, even in America: electrical circuits. Volts, ohms, and amperes are all SI units, and they are the universal convention here. So are watts, for rating power consumption.
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  #41  
Old 11-05-2004, 05:28 PM
that_darn_cat that_darn_cat is offline
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As a carpenter, I have mixed feelings about metric. While it's truly easier to use, it would truly screw everything up. All of our materials are not only based on Imperial, the measurements of dimensional lumber made before the lumber is planed, yeilding a different finished measurment. Thus a 2"x4" is actually 1.5"x3.5". That would be
8.89cm x 3.81cm. Ok, so we adjust our stud sizes to 9cm x 4cm. Now standard stud spacing becomes 40.64cm oc, or say 40cm oc for simplicity. Hmmm, ya know that's not so bad.

Sheet goods would have to change to 120cm x 240 cm to work with or 40cm spacing, which keeps them nominally 4'x8'.

Ok, so I stand corrected, it wouldn't be so bad. The hardest part might be terminology, we're so used to 2x4's. It would be nice if lumber was actually close to the "named" dimension.
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  #42  
Old 11-05-2004, 05:29 PM
laigle laigle is offline
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Metric is useful in science for two main reasons:

1. Decimal notation. This isn't a big advantage, it's prefectly simple to pick a unit in Imperial and go with decimals from there.

2. Basis of units. The metric system is structured so that the units align with basic scientific ideas. Water has a density of 1 g/cc^3 at STP. Water freezes at 0, boils at 100. And so on.

Imperial/American has one big advantage for the average joe. Its unit system is based on common every day uses. Pints/cups/tbsps etc relate to ratios commonly used in cooking. The Farenheit scale is 0 when it feels really cold, and 100 when it feels really hot. And so on.
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  #43  
Old 11-05-2004, 05:34 PM
BrotherCadfael BrotherCadfael is online now
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As numerous others have pointed out, SI has only one significant advantage in the real-world, ease of calculation.

BUT, this advantage is far less significant today then it was forty years ago, due to the universal availability of calculators and computers.

In some relatively specialized fields, as noted above, this is still an advantage. However, to the average person, the demonstrated advantage of SI over English no longer outweighs the hassle of switching.
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  #44  
Old 11-05-2004, 05:54 PM
BrainGlutton BrainGlutton is online now
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From George Orwell's "As I Please" column, published in the Tribune, March 14, 1947:

Quote:
Another thing I am against in advance [in addition to simplified spelling] -- for it is bound to be suggested sooner or later -- is the complete scrapping of our present system of weights and measures.

Obviously you have got to use the metric system of certain purposes. For scientific work it has long been in use, and it is also needed for tools and machinery, especially if you want to export them. But there is a strong case for keeping on the old measurements for use in everyday life. One reason is that the metric system does not possess, or has not succeeded in establishing, a large number of units that can be visualized. There is, for instance, effectively no unit between the metre, which is more than a yard, and the centimetre, which is less than half an inch. In English you can describe someone as being five feet three inches high, or five feet nine inches, or six feet one inch, and your hearer will know fairly accurately what you mean. But I have never heard a Frenchman say, "He is a hundred and forty-two centimetres high"; it would not convey any visual image. So also with various other measurements. Rods and acres, pints, quarts and gallons, pounds, stones and hundredweights, are all of them units with which we are intimately familiar, and we should be slightly poorer without them. Actually, in countries where the metric system is in force a few of the old measurements tend to linger on for everyday purposes, although officially discouraged.

There is also the literary consideration, which cannot be left quite out of account. The names of the units in the old system are short homely words which lend themselves to vigorous speech. Putting a quart into a pint pot is a good image, which could hardly be expressed in the metric system. Also, the literature of the past deals only in the old measurements, and many passages would become an irritation if one had to do a sum in arithmetic when one read them, as one does with those tiresome versts in a Russian novel.

The emmet's inch and eagle's mile
Make lame philosophy to smile:

fancy having to turn that into millimetres!
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  #45  
Old 11-05-2004, 05:57 PM
GorillaMan GorillaMan is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by that_darn_cat
It would be nice if lumber was actually close to the "named" dimension.
Very important observation - the differences between "four inches = 100mm" and "four inches = 101.6mm" (or whatever it is) are irrelevant if you're familiar with three-milimetre errors and margins.
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  #46  
Old 11-05-2004, 06:07 PM
GorillaMan GorillaMan is offline
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Actually, in countries where the metric system is in force a few of the old measurements tend to linger on for everyday purposes, although officially discouraged.
Hardly. The French 'livre' simply means 500g nowadays. If you've an example otherwise, then I'd like to know.
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  #47  
Old 11-05-2004, 06:59 PM
Gest Gest is offline
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Laptops and computer monitors are only ever measured in inches. Most pubs will have pint glasses and they are becoming more popular in Australia. Most people will also know their height in feet and inches and will be more likely to express in it in that form. Engine cylinders are only ever bored out in thousandths of an inch and for the bigger, muscle cars, the motors' displacement is expressed in cubic inches. Granted, the newer models will be in litres but petrol heads will more often deal in inches. Tyres' widths are in mm but profile is in inches. Rifle calibres are most likely in inches and shotguns are always in gauge which is based on the pound. My ex-girlfriend's father (farmer), and most of the people I met through him, often spoke in chain (22 yards) and, of course, a cricket pitch will always be that length. Graphic designers are more likely to use points or even picas than mm for font sizes (although mm for other measurements) and sub editors still use column inches.

I'm sure I can think of dozens more.

I think the reason America hasn't completely changed to metric is inertia. The immensity of American industry would make retooling, retraining and changes to curricula an enormous undertaking. In comparison, it was trivially easy to switch Australia or even the UK over. The problem is, making this change will only get more difficult as the mass of American industry and culture increase.
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  #48  
Old 11-05-2004, 07:19 PM
Magiver Magiver is offline
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Why is the metric system better? because 152 (mm) sounds more impressive in a bar.
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  #49  
Old 11-05-2004, 07:25 PM
scr4 scr4 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BrotherCadfael
As numerous others have pointed out, SI has only one significant advantage in the real-world, ease of calculation.
As some have pointed out, it has another significant advantage: that it's a world standard. Americans are at a disadvantage for having to convert all units when working with foreigners. Trying to maintain two units is, as already pointed out, expensive and annoying.

The other day I was working on my bicycle and needed some new screws. It's an American made bike with mostly American components, but the worldwide bike industry is mostly Metric so it has Metric screws. (Japanese parts are often used on American bikes, and vice versa). I couldn't find the appropriate Metric screws at local hardware stores! When I was in Japan I never had this problem - since the hardware stores there only need to stock Metric parts, there was a huge selection of Metric screws. (The exception is 1/4" size which has become standard in some industries, e.g. tripod holder on cameras.)

Another thing about a worldwide standard: there are no variations. A gallon can be 3.785 liters or 4.546 liters depending on where you are, and an ounce of gold weighs more than an ounce of feathers (gold is measured by troy ounce). But a liter is the same amount everywhere you go. A gram is a gram whatever you measure.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bytegeist
Technically there's SI, from which both CGS and MKS are based.
I don't know if that was the historical background, but at least now, SI is synonymous with MKS.

Quote:
And, I would argue that a "good" physics equation doesn't depend on any particular units at all. Maxwell's equations don't, unless you pre-expand the constants into numerical unit-dependent forms which is a no-no.
Do you actually use a unit-free version of Maxwell's equations? Don't you need to use units where c=1? I've never used anything other than the SI and CGS versions, which look very different from each other. (See here - there's a CGS version at the bottom.)
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  #50  
Old 11-05-2004, 07:33 PM
scr4 scr4 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by laigle
Imperial/American has one big advantage for the average joe. Its unit system is based on common every day uses. Pints/cups/tbsps etc relate to ratios commonly used in cooking. The Farenheit scale is 0 when it feels really cold, and 100 when it feels really hot. And so on.
As I've said a hundred times - it only seems that way because you're used to that system. Whatever unit system you choose, you need several different units for each type of measurement, and you aren't going to find one set that's inherently suitable for "common every day uses." Take length, for example - screw sizes must be measured in fractions of inches, small objects in inches plus fraction, human height in feet plus inches, building and vehicle sizes in feet, and travel distances in miles. In metric you'd use millimeters, centimeters, meters and kilometers. Neither set is significantly easier than the other. The latter has the advantage that combining units is easier.
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