Metric System in US - comments

In his column on US metric conversion, Uncle Cecil says that we may be slowly sneaking up on adoption. I feel compelled to report that there is some backsliding as well.

For some years, CalTrans (California’s Department of Transportation) had Standard Plans and Standard Specifications that used the metric system only. Cities and Counties, who often piggy-back their standards by adopting the CalTrans standards except for a collection of exceptions, got around shifting to metrics by specifying an older version of the CalTrans specs.

Years later, CalTrans acknowledged that the metric thing wasn’t happening fast and went back to dual specs, with metric and English versions of each plan and specification. Cities and Counties could again use the latest version, deleting the metric half. Now the latest CalTrans specs (May 2006) has gone back to the English system only.

The metric system may be sneaking in slowly, but it isn’t sneaking in on California highways.

There’s a painless way to shift to metric, and that’s by changing all canned goods and groceries to shift to metric like the 2 liter soda bottles did.
Nobody really looks at the units on a can of soup or a typical loaf of bread.
They are already unusable units. Even things that used to come in even pounds, like cans of coffee are now arriving in 39.5 oz containers.

American consumers will resent having the metric system forced on them, just as it was 30 years ago, and may choose not to buy products whch only bear metric measurements. Cecil had it right: the U.S. is big enough, both in geography and in economic power, to continue to use both old and new systems of measurement, and will likely continue doing so for the foreseeable future.

But Cecil clearly said the US didn’t force metric on the US 30 years ago; the problem was exactly the lack of force used. To do it successfully you have to mandate it (with suitable lead time of course).

America clings to tradition only because it’s tradition. There is no other reason to keep using such an awkward and antiquated system of measurement.

Of course, the Brits (and others) cling to tradition as well, using ‘stones’ as the common way everyone figures personal body weight, er, mass.

I, for one, agree that the metric system is the easier one - but it does seem to me that if the gummint pushes it too hard, it will just bring out more resistance. Our measurement system is far from being the only multiple-standard dysfunctional mess we more or less accept.

Oh, we’ve had lead time. I’m in my fifties, and I learned the drill in elementary school . . . Fifth grade, that was. The problem is that anyone proposing a forced conversion would likely find themselves out of office.

CalTans had a fair bit of leverage. California Cities and Counties rely on State and Federal funding, disbursed by CalTrans, for a lot of their street and bridge infrastructure projects. Back in the time, those projects had to be done in metric. Now they don’t.

Of course, old engineers still twit new engineers for not having the conversion factors memorized. Sorry, if I have to convert acre-feet to gallons, I’m looking that puppy up. It just doesn’t come up often enough to be on the tip of my mind.

I once asked a physics professor if it was ok to use 88/55 as conversion factor for miles into kilometers.

I fail to see the problem here. :rolleyes: You’ve got pavement overlay 2.5 inches deep for a street 35 feet wide by 1,234 feet long. Pavement milling is usually measured in square yards. Asphalt weighs about 140 pounds per cubic foot, and is usually paid at a contract price per ton (short ton, I think). For now, leave out the excavation that’s usually paid in cubic yards.

You’ve already got the quantities worked out, right? :slight_smile:

Never mind - instead figure 65 mm deep pavement, 10.7 m wide, 376.1 m long, and asphalt with a specific gravity of 2.24 (I think). Anyhow, the specific gravity is the direct conversion of cubic meters to metric tonnes, because a cubic meter of water weighs one metric tonne.

The astute engineering student will have already observed that the same calculations in metric are a lot easier.

For tomorrow’s class, we’ll work on the hydraulic conversions between gallons per minute, cubic feet per second, and acre-feet per year.

That’s all well and good, and as an engineer myself, I fully appreciate how much easier math is in metric. But I also realize something else: most people don’t need to do any of that crap :slight_smile:

Frankly, Cecil really screwed the pooch on this one. For your average American citizen, there just isn’t any compelling reason to change. If you’re not a scientist or engineer, the advantages of the metric system are mostly lost on you. It’s just change for change’s sake. And even Ray Charles could see that resentment to having the system forced on them was a major factor in the American public flipping a big ol’ middle finger at the metric system.

Really, that column was embarrassing.

Not merely change for the sake of change, but change forced on us by them damned Yur-Peens. The hated FRENCH, even!

But really, is a meter defined as 1/40,000,000th of an inaccurately-measured polar circumference of the Earth (or, now, the distance travelled by light in a vacuum during 1/299,792,458 of a second) really all that better than a foot defined as the length of some dead English king’s foot? You guys just like it because it’s decimal and fits in your calculators better, but there are solid advantages to a unit of measurement that converts nicely into fractions, especially if you are working quickly and approximately. If nothing else, it means I can calculate fractions better than you. :smiley:

I’m used to metric now, living over here, but I have to admit I still need to convert kilometers into miles in my head to have an accurate grasp of the distance. OTOH, meters and liters and such are fine with me; I can envision them much better than I can feet or gallons or quarts. Go figure.

I do remember the promise of metric in the US in the 1970s. I did not know one single person who was in favor of it.

How’s that? What exactly in it was wrong?

But the metric system wasn’t forced on them - if it was they’d have it today. So you’re really saying they were resentful for the change being even suggested, or contemplated, or urged on them. Which if so is fairly small minded of them.

Not so small-minded. We just couldn’t see the point of it. The US isn’t Australia, which may never be a Big Dog. It is a vast, but fairly FULL, country. By the 1970s we had been throwing our weight around for decades and we LIKED it. We weren’t about to be pushed into a massive change by a bunch of little countries whose asses we felt we’d saved in Double-U-Double-U-Two. And we had, and still have, the economic power we needed to keep doing things the way we were used to. Had Australia the same advantages, and not such a strong relationship wuth GB, y’all mighta thumbed your noses at Yurp and Asia, too.

And when desktop computers came along, which couldn’t care less which system users used, the last nail was driven and Metric was out for the foreseeable future. If I buy a product I usually don’t know, or care, which measuring system was used when it was designed, at least until I need to buy replacement fasteners. I have a fan that needed a $3.30 10mm wing nut rather than the 19¢ 3/8" wing nut God and Queen Victoria thought it should need.

Ah, well the EU did that, and now we have bags of sugar which weigh 454g.

You contradict yourself here.

You weren’t being pushed into it by anyone else. It was driven by Americans.

If the “bunch of little countries” you refer to is what is now the EU, you stayed out while half of Europe was overrun and only joined in the war when attacked, more than 2 years later.

Fortunately for us we were far too sensible and open minded than that.

You know, given that the economy in the United States is as robust an economy as can be found, generally speaking, given that we manage to muddle along as the world’s biggest superpower, generally speaking, and given that we don’t appear to be losing either status anytime soon, I wonder what the point to insisting that we are somehow silly/stupid/less enlightened for failing to convert to metric is?

Is the metric system more “rational?” Yes. Does it offer the average person advantages in their life through its use? No. Would it occasion a period of discomfort while we adjusted? Yes (think, for example, of all the recipe conversions that would be needed). Are we going to do it? No time soon.

We’ll eliminate the penny, first. :stuck_out_tongue:

Ah, but the penny is metric, being 1/100 of a dollar. You traditionalists need to eliminate the quarter, and replace it with 20c and 50c coins.

You know, its funny. I was just thinking about the parallels between the US not adopting the metric system, and the US not liking soccer.

Growing up in the US in the 1970s we were told by our teachers that even though our parents and grandparents had never used it we WOULD be using the metric system in our everyday lives by the time we were grownups. We would have to, the rest of the world did and we wouldn’t want to be different, now would we?

And it was right about this time that I first heard about this game called soccer. It was a “new” sport (I know), one that was played all over the world, and even though our parents and grandparents had never played it, it WOULD be one of the most popular sports in America by the time we were grownups. It was in the rest of the world and we wouldn’t want to be different, now would we?
One of my teachers promised us monorails everywhere too, but that’s a different story.

Yeah, and just look how North Haverbrook turned out!