"MATHS HAS CLEARLY ABANDONED US. NUMBERS MEAN NOTHING AT THIS POINT"
November 27, 2018 1:53 PM   Subscribe

In a long, entertaining, and somewhat unhinged rant, one Twitter user confronts the horror that is...the imperial measurement system, where nothing lines up and madness rules. (SLTwitter)

And read the responses for a guest appearance by MeFi's Own cstross discussing the pain of imperial measurements in France.
posted by NoxAeternum (250 comments total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
 
16 is an extremely reasonable number for something that needs to be subdivided. From there on out, though, it's chaos.
posted by 256 at 2:00 PM on November 27, 2018 [12 favorites]


I'd just like to note that, aged 54, I had to learn Imperial units although all science teaching in school was metric, and the UK more-or-less went metric in my teens. (There are a couple of notable and very visible exceptions—speed limits and beer volume—but otherwise, we're metric.)

Anyone much younger than me grew up in metric-land, modulo those domain-specific throwbacks. Our twitter commenter is 30, and his WTFery should be read in the context that even his parents probably didn't use imperial units when he was growing up.

Strange but true: support for Brexit correlates with a desire to drag the nation kicking and screaming back into Imperial measurements (as well as bringing back the death penalty and de-decimalizing the currency).
posted by cstross at 2:00 PM on November 27, 2018 [23 favorites]


If proponents of the metric system aren't using metric time, then they're hypocrites and I'm not interested in any of their bullshit about imperial measures, which are awesome.
posted by lefty lucky cat at 2:03 PM on November 27, 2018 [24 favorites]


He's actually kind of wrong on a couple of points, including the name of the measurement system itself, but US customary units are so fucked up that even I am not enough of a pedant to defend them.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 2:04 PM on November 27, 2018 [8 favorites]


proponents of the metric system aren't using metric time

Personally I'd rather everything be divisible by sixty than divisible by ten.
posted by ragtag at 2:04 PM on November 27, 2018 [3 favorites]


Innes McKendrick previously! (specifically the quote at the end of the post, and his talk is very good.)
posted by Sokka shot first at 2:04 PM on November 27, 2018


A last of leather consists of twenty dicker, and each dicker consists of ten skins.

Also a dicker of gloves consists of ten pairs, but a dicker of horse-shoes consists of twenty shoes.

Also a dozen of gloves, parchment, and vellum contains in its kind 12 skins, or 12 pairs of gloves.

Also a hundred of wax, sugar, pepper, cumin, almonds & alum, contains 13 stones & a half & each stone contains 8 pounds for a total of 108 pounds in the hundred. And appears as hundred of 100.
Easy!
posted by BungaDunga at 2:05 PM on November 27, 2018 [8 favorites]


I used to edit cookbooks, and "HOW MANY FAHRENHEIT ARE IN A CUP" sounds about like what an author would say when I'd query them to provide metric measurements for their recipes (which we included in our books so we could sell to the UK, and which were always always always missing, and then always wrong when we did get them). Something about the fact that cups and grams are measuring two completely different things (volume and weight) just fucked with people's heads.

Serious question, though: Can someone explain to me who IS using "stone" as a unit of measurement, if this guy is confused by it? I get that America is the main force still inflicting most of these stupid measurements on the world, even though we did not originate them, but you can't blame us for that one.
posted by sunset in snow country at 2:05 PM on November 27, 2018 [7 favorites]


DOWN WITH BASE 10!
posted by clawsoon at 2:06 PM on November 27, 2018 [3 favorites]


Oh yeah, lefty? Quick, what's the next smaller standard drill bit from a 3/8"? How many pounds is a gallon of water? What does "an ounce of milk" mean?
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 2:07 PM on November 27, 2018 [6 favorites]


I will say that I saw some timepieces in the Musée des Arts et Métiers in Paris that used French Revolutionary Time, a base-10 system, and I badly wanted to smash the glass cases they were in and steal one.
posted by lefty lucky cat at 2:07 PM on November 27, 2018 [3 favorites]


Can someone explain to me who IS using "stone" as a unit of measurement, if this guy is confused by it

I believe the Brits still use it informally, mostly for weighing people.
posted by BungaDunga at 2:07 PM on November 27, 2018 [19 favorites]


Quick, what's the next smaller standard drill bit from a 3/8? How many pounds is a gallon of water? What does "an ounce of milk" mean?

This sounds like the worst cocktail ever and I refuse to answer.
posted by lefty lucky cat at 2:08 PM on November 27, 2018 [31 favorites]


Stone is still often used, at least from my observation, as a measurement of human weight in the UK.
posted by Atreides at 2:08 PM on November 27, 2018 [2 favorites]


proponents of the metric system aren't using metric time

Haha, like those science fiction novels where in the far future characters have (naturally) gone off-world and started using metric seconds, kilo-seconds, mega-seconds, I have no idea what time-frame they're talking about in the slightest.

Oh, let's meet again in about 2 mega-seconds, how about that.
posted by xdvesper at 2:08 PM on November 27, 2018 [4 favorites]


Okay so if you're a 30 y/o Scottish dude you might have a general sense, informally, of what someone who says "I lost a stone" means but it's the breaking down of it mathwise that sends you over the edge?
posted by sunset in snow country at 2:09 PM on November 27, 2018


5/16", 11/32", or 23/64", depending on your set.

10 pounds per gallon, more or less.

One-eight of a cup of milk.
posted by clawsoon at 2:09 PM on November 27, 2018 [6 favorites]


Can someone explain to me who IS using "stone" as a unit of measurement, if this guy is confused by it?

I understand they are primarily used in the UK in certain business contexts, particularly for headlines accompanying paparazzi photographs.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 2:10 PM on November 27, 2018 [7 favorites]


What's the next smallest metric drill bit from a 1.0mm?
posted by clawsoon at 2:10 PM on November 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


I remember reading somewhere that in Medieval Britain measurements weren't even uniform from county to county, so locals tended to have a huge advantage when conducting trade- if you came in from another area, you either had to know the measurement system where you were, or you'd get ripped off. Hence innumerable Royal degrees trying to ban local measurements and enforce uniform measurements.
posted by BungaDunga at 2:11 PM on November 27, 2018 [4 favorites]


10 pounds per gallon, more or less.
What? 128 ÷ 16 = 8, at least for US gallons
posted by DoctorFedora at 2:13 PM on November 27, 2018 [7 favorites]


My car gets 40 rods to the hogshead and that's the way I likes it!
posted by drawfrommemory at 2:13 PM on November 27, 2018 [25 favorites]


Hence innumerable Royal degrees trying to ban local measurements and enforce uniform measurements.

So what you're saying is that if I really want to fuck with capitalism I should avoid the metric system like the plague?
posted by ragtag at 2:13 PM on November 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


Do people in Europe really use centimeters to describe pizza diameters? I'm sorry but that is like brushing a cat counterclockwise.
posted by lefty lucky cat at 2:14 PM on November 27, 2018 [4 favorites]


What? 128 ÷ 16 = 8, at least for US gallons

I'm pretty sure the OP said Imperial measurements, not your weird U.S. measurements.
posted by clawsoon at 2:15 PM on November 27, 2018 [7 favorites]


Wait until this guy finds out about the Gimli Glider.

From on of the responses to the Twitter thread:

One of the flaws of Metric adoption in US is the lack of cooler names - Liter and Gram are the only 2 cool ones / try saying the metric version of miles to the gallon and hell breaks loose. US military has renamed Kilometers to Klicks but need cooler names for kg, ml, cm for US

Well, to that I would add that it's too bad they spell litre and kilometre wrong.

*hides in Diefenbunker*
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 2:16 PM on November 27, 2018 [7 favorites]


I'm doing a (fairly expensive) heat engineering project at work right now, and keep having to kick the bloody engineering team, the half-dozen contractors and subs, hired by three different legal entities, from lapsing back into frigging BTUs and horesepower, let alone gallons and pounds. Not that that's happened already more than once and lead to days of checks and cross checks to figure out something that would have been t-r-v-i-a-l in SI. I know this as that's what I require the engineer I personally hired to work in and that's how long he took. And about how long it took for me to recheck his work with not much more than a calculator.

This is 2018 in *expletive* Canada, an official SI country, you backwoods *intensifier* *expletive (plural)*. We don't wreck equipment because we don't remember which unit system we're working in.
posted by bonehead at 2:16 PM on November 27, 2018 [17 favorites]


Innes McKendrick previously! (specifically the quote at the end of the post, and his talk is very good.)

Also world’s leading sarcophagus juice advocate.
posted by juv3nal at 2:18 PM on November 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


It's pretty simple, a gallon is the amount of milk you cannot drink without throwing up. Or rather, the amount the King of England can't drink. Not because he doesn't exist; that's a counterfactual.
posted by lefty lucky cat at 2:18 PM on November 27, 2018 [2 favorites]


Ah, here it is:

"[Medieval] Devon has its own peculiar weights and measures system, so any merchant doing business there needs to keep his wits about him. The Devon "rod" measures 18 feet, not 16.5, so an acre measures 5760 yards, not 4840. There are 16.5 pounds to a stone (not 14) when measuring cheese or butter. The Devon pound weighs 18 ounces (not 16). A hundredweight is not 112 pounds as elsewhere in Britain but 120 pounds. There are 10 gallons in a Devon bushel, not the more usual 8."
posted by BungaDunga at 2:18 PM on November 27, 2018 [8 favorites]


For Americans:

Kilograms are "kilos".

Cubic metres are "cubes", for liquids, and just "yards" to landscapers.

Millilitres are just "mils"

No one uses centimetres for anything important. Metric drawings are all in millimetres, also mils.

Finally, kilometres are about a minute in the city, 30 seconds highway.
posted by bonehead at 2:21 PM on November 27, 2018 [7 favorites]


I'm amazed that whole discussion happened without anyone (but me) commenting that sometimes a pound has only 12 ounces.
posted by Nelson at 2:23 PM on November 27, 2018 [3 favorites]


No one uses centimetres for anything important. Metric drawings are all in millimitres, also mils.

A mil, of course, is 1/1000 of an inch.
posted by clawsoon at 2:25 PM on November 27, 2018 [16 favorites]


I don't know, but I do know it's a nice decimal number rather than some heinous fraction like 23/64ths.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 2:26 PM on November 27, 2018 [4 favorites]


If proponents of the metric system aren't using metric time,

I wish metric time had been invented, because that is the one that people actually spend the most time converting and it's by far the hardest and most erratic to convert.
posted by The_Vegetables at 2:26 PM on November 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


It can be a pain sometimes but overall I like how everything interconnects in the imperial system (eg rods to chains to furlongs etc) and that it isn’t all base 10. I can work fine in metric and it is easier for some things, but I have a fondness for the nested units and archaic quirks.
posted by Dip Flash at 2:26 PM on November 27, 2018 [2 favorites]


In America you just have to remember that there are nine and a half handbreadths in a bushel and you'll be fine. Seriously, though, when I was a kid in the 70's they told us, "America is transitioning to the metric system!" and we were like, "No the fuck we are not." We simply refused to learn it and they had no choice but to give it up. In a life that has been relatively free of accomplishment, that's one of the things I'm proudest of.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 2:28 PM on November 27, 2018 [14 favorites]


Best damn thing about moving to Mexico.

Actually, I take that back. The best damn thing about moving to Mexico is the dates are day/month/year. The second best thing is dumping the Imperial system. Unfortunately since so many goods are shared between here and the U.S. it's more of an awkward mix of metric and Imperial, but its metric where it counts.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 2:28 PM on November 27, 2018 [9 favorites]


I find these rhymes helpful in remembering conversion between weight and volume:

1. "A pint's a pound the whole world round"
2. "A pint of water weighs a pound and a quarter"
posted by cyanistes at 2:29 PM on November 27, 2018 [10 favorites]


I also love that metric is secretly taking over the US, but the machines haven't been converted yet, so the metric measurements are ridiculous 858 mL, 473 mL, and 354g for the products that I can currently reach.
posted by The_Vegetables at 2:29 PM on November 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


I don't know, but I do know it's a nice decimal number rather than some heinous fraction like 23/64ths.

Just pull out your 1/32" bit. That'll let you squeeze it in there just a little tighter than a millimeter.
posted by clawsoon at 2:30 PM on November 27, 2018


I just think the metric system misleads people about the commensurability of the universe; a gallon being different in Texas and Yorkshire quietens the soul.
posted by lefty lucky cat at 2:31 PM on November 27, 2018 [13 favorites]


I'm just glad the cubit has been redefined in terms of the Planck constant.
posted by Devonian at 2:33 PM on November 27, 2018 [6 favorites]


It's kind of amusing, I suppose, but really this sort of stuff is just like shooting fish in 36 imperial gallons.
posted by carter at 2:34 PM on November 27, 2018 [9 favorites]


It’s like this twitter rant was tailor made for metafilter to riff on
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 2:41 PM on November 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


Do what NASA did when they needed to work with Nazis and divide all your velocities by g to get a value in seconds, then it doesn't matter what your inputs were.
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 2:42 PM on November 27, 2018 [2 favorites]


Also, an ounce of milk is 1/16 of a pound of milk. 1/8 of a cup is a fluid ounce, because having the same name for a weight measurement and a volume measurement is not confusing at all.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 2:43 PM on November 27, 2018 [5 favorites]


To me there's sort of a joy in how all the unit subdivisions are different; these units followed their own trajectories, were shaped by industry, were created by humans - of course things will get messy!
posted by reductiondesign at 2:45 PM on November 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


Still kicking myself for not saving a Usenet post about the practicality of many of the pre-metric units. The size of a panel of plywood divides evenly into a number of practical situations. Fahrenheit gives good granularity for normal human activities, why not use the very natural and universal kelvin -- is a fever 312.594 or 313.706?
posted by sammyo at 2:46 PM on November 27, 2018 [4 favorites]


I just think the metric system misleads people about the commensurability of the universe; a gallon being different in Texas and Yorkshire quietens the soul.

Somehow nobody ever hangs the 'globalist' slur on the guy that invented the Metric system, George Soros.
posted by The_Vegetables at 2:46 PM on November 27, 2018 [2 favorites]


How many pounds is a gallon of water?

Easy: a gallon is 3.8 liters, which is 3.8 kilos, which is 8.36 pounds. And they say Imperial is hard!
posted by alexei at 2:51 PM on November 27, 2018 [11 favorites]


the practicality of many of the pre-metric units

My favorite of these is the league, which is three miles, or the distance you can walk in an hour.
posted by ragtag at 2:52 PM on November 27, 2018 [7 favorites]


was it here that someone who taught school was telling about seeing which students quickly knew how many grams are in an ounce? yeah..........
posted by thelonius at 2:56 PM on November 27, 2018 [6 favorites]


What pisses me off about the metric system is that they insist on calling Celsius units degrees but there's only 100 of them between boiling and freezing water, instead of the proper 180.
posted by ckape at 2:57 PM on November 27, 2018 [3 favorites]


A mil, of course, is 1/1000 of an inch.
Excuse me. That's a thou.
posted by cardioid at 3:05 PM on November 27, 2018 [6 favorites]


Somewhere there's the alternative US that I was promised in 6th grade science class where we converted to metric in the mid-eighties.
posted by octothorpe at 3:06 PM on November 27, 2018 [5 favorites]


I have no idea what time-frame they're talking about in the slightest

100 kiloseconds is *about* a day (a little longer than a day), so your two megaseconds is about 20 days.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 3:10 PM on November 27, 2018 [2 favorites]


Excuse me. That's a thou.

Yes, a thou is also 1/1000".

Just wait until the Twitter ranter discovers "gauge".

How big is 12 gauge in metric?
posted by clawsoon at 3:11 PM on November 27, 2018 [2 favorites]


He really should have taken it up with Mr. Avoirdupois, he's the one that started the whole damn thing.
posted by yhbc at 3:13 PM on November 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


Also, an ounce of milk is 1/16 of a pound of milk. 1/8 of a cup is a fluid ounce, because having the same name for a weight measurement and a volume measurement is not confusing at all.

It really isn't for normal household purposes because at least in the US a fluid ounce is the volume of an ounce-mass of water, and that holds for good-enough-for-baking purposes for everything in the kitchen except oils and honey.

FUN FACT

US customary units are actually metric units! Just really weird ones. An inch, frex, is defined as 2.54 cm.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 3:15 PM on November 27, 2018 [5 favorites]


I'm working in the timber industry in Australia at the moment, which is a hodge podge of both. Verbally I'll ask for 6x1"s, in my tracking spreadsheet I'll record 150x25mm. Entire parts of conversations happen in imperial, but nothing is written down in anything but metric. But then another bit of the same conversation concerns lengths, which are always metric. So we might talk of 6x1 1/2" boards which will be sold for $6.75/lm and then write it all down in metric. Or the equivalent volume, which thankfully is always m3. It's a mess. On another day we might talk all metric, but probably not. Unless the timber is dressed rather than roughsawn, in which case we always talk metric but with heaps of oddly precise numbers like 19mm, which happens to be 3/4".

Courtesy of my father, who did his schooling before metrification, I can use both imperial and metric measures and can cope in this world, many others on the fringes of things just look at us blankly and ask why we do this. I don't know why we do this.
posted by deadwax at 3:15 PM on November 27, 2018 [17 favorites]


A gigasecond is about 31.5 years. I always felt that would be a fun thing to celebrate.
posted by alexei at 3:15 PM on November 27, 2018 [4 favorites]


(Correct answer: Are you talking about shotgun gauge, American wire gauge, Birmingham wire gauge, jewelry wire gauge, music wire gauge, sheet metal gauge, film gauge, or some other gauge that Wikipedia has forgotten about?)
posted by clawsoon at 3:16 PM on November 27, 2018 [7 favorites]


I usually do woodworking in mm. Sometimes I'll drop to 0.5mm on some small measurements but for the most part everything is a nice 2 or 3 digit number. But unless you can avoid screws in your joinery, you're still stuck with this nonsense. And while we're here, the fact that slot and phillips screwheads still exist is as stunning to me as still being on the old imperial measurement system.
posted by MillMan at 3:16 PM on November 27, 2018 [2 favorites]


A mil, of course, is 1/1000 of an inch.

That's nonsense. A Mil is a brand of helicopter.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 3:17 PM on November 27, 2018 [3 favorites]


Somewhere there's the alternative US that I was promised in 6th grade science class where we converted to metric in the mid-eighties.

I was also promised this, and sadly there's no universal standard of measure by which I can express my continual disappointment with every passing year since.
posted by aspersioncast at 3:17 PM on November 27, 2018 [8 favorites]


Half-baked question: Did the massive destruction of physical capital in Europe in the world wars contribute to its faster metrification?
posted by clawsoon at 3:19 PM on November 27, 2018


in the US a fluid ounce is the volume of an ounce-mass of water

Well, 1.043 ounce-masses. To make it exactly one would violate the spirit of the thing, I suppose.
posted by alexei at 3:22 PM on November 27, 2018 [5 favorites]


Math is just tired of you sticking an s on the end of its name and is fucking with your calculations.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:24 PM on November 27, 2018 [13 favorites]


I design printed circuit boards (the green boards inside electronics that all the parts are soldered to). Some parts are sized in inches and some in millimeters. Yes, it varies by component. No, it's not a big deal.

I think if a beginning designer complained about mixed units, my first reaction would be to say "learn math" or something similarly dismissive. You just learn both, you don't fight it, because you know trying to avoid it will get you nowhere.
posted by ryanrs at 3:25 PM on November 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


 What's the next smallest metric drill bit from a 1.0mm?

Easy: 0.8 mm if you're on R10, 0.63 mm if you do R5: Renard numbers.

 lapsing back into frigging BTUs and horesepower

The standard unit for heat rate (1/efficiency) in thermal generation in North America is BTU / kWh. Absolutely everything is wrong with that unit. That's why I stayed away from thermal work. Someone needs to have a quiet word with Mr To-Have-Peas over there.
posted by scruss at 3:26 PM on November 27, 2018 [6 favorites]


Kilometers per hour is a bastard unit containing Babylonian 60’s—in the denominator yet—and no factor of 10 multiple to meters per second.
posted by sjswitzer at 3:29 PM on November 27, 2018 [2 favorites]


I think if a beginning designer complained about mixed units, my first reaction would be "learn math" or something similarly dismissive. You just learn both, you don't fight it, because you know trying to avoid it will get you nowhere.

NASA seems to have figured out that it's a bad idea.
posted by Lexica at 3:32 PM on November 27, 2018 [2 favorites]


What's the next smallest metric drill bit from a 1.0mm?

Here's a Japanese game show about two men competing to drill a hole through a 0.5mm pencil lead.


I will say that I saw some timepieces in the Musée des Arts et Métiers in Paris that used French Revolutionary Time, a base-10 system, and I badly wanted to smash the glass cases they were in and steal one.

From wikipedia:
Japanese traditional timekeeping practices required the use of unequal time units: six daytime units from local sunrise to local sunset, and six night-time units from sunset to sunrise. As such, Japanese timekeepers varied with the seasons; the daylight hours were longer in summer and shorter in winter, with the opposite at night. European mechanical clocks were, by contrast, set up to tell equal hours that did not vary with the seasons.
Essentially, the numbers on the dial move with the seasons. Here is a Japanese documentary about a master watchmaker handmaking a wristwatch that uses tradional Japanese time.
posted by adept256 at 3:35 PM on November 27, 2018 [10 favorites]


Surprised no one has mentioned that there are four different "cups" in the English speaking world : British; Canadian ; "other commonwealth" (including Australian/NZ) and USA so all that stuff up thread about "1/nth of a cup is x fluid ounces" ? Think again ;-)

Of course there are always the Japanese, Russian and South American cups ! .
posted by southof40 at 3:37 PM on November 27, 2018 [3 favorites]


SIXTEEN??? WHAT THE FUCK KIND OF NUMBER IS THAT

It's true, if you literally can not even handle the concept of the number sixteen, this may not be the measurement system for you.
posted by sfenders at 3:40 PM on November 27, 2018 [17 favorites]


Kilometers per hour is a bastard unit containing Babylonian 60’s—in the denominator yet—and no factor of 10 multiple to meters per second.

Miles are so much more convenient to work with, being 5280 feet. This means that to convert ft/s into mph you simply multiply by a factor of 3600/5280 = 15/22, an operation which even a baby or an American ought to be able to do in their head.
posted by Pyry at 3:41 PM on November 27, 2018 [10 favorites]


> Renard numbers.

I love that there are multiple competing standards for preferred numbers. In electronics we mostly use E-series numbers.

> NASA seems to have figured out that it's a bad idea.

Well then NASA should learn math, heh. PCB design is a little different though since you generally don't get to tell your upstream vendors how to dimension their parts. (Also my designs don't fly.)
posted by ryanrs at 3:44 PM on November 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


> A gigasecond is about 31.5 years. I always felt that would be a fun thing to celebrate

I like to express this as "One year is about 𝜋×107 seconds", which is really handy for cancelling factors of 𝜋 in rough orbital mechanics calculations. Also (as famously explained by Grace Hopper), the speed of light is roughly one foot per nanosecond. This lets me quickly deduce that, eg, the light from the screen on the 2.3GHz laptop on which I'm writing this comment doesn't even get half-way to my eyes before the next clock cycle.
posted by doop at 3:47 PM on November 27, 2018 [6 favorites]


> "How many pounds is a gallon of water? ... 10 pounds ... 8, at least for US gallons ... 8.36 pounds"

Really, that amount of water should only run you about a pound or two. Where are you guys shopping?
posted by kyrademon at 3:49 PM on November 27, 2018 [10 favorites]


The standard unit for heat rate (1/efficiency) in thermal generation in North America is BTU / kWh. Absolutely everything is wrong with that unit.

My theory for why thermodynamics has such shit units is that steam engines became useful before rigorous systems of units were hammered out. Also, since steam engines were great big physical things, tradesmen were involved from the beginning, which certainly wouldn't have helped.

Electricity came a century later and most of the units issues had been, if not resolved, at least well understood.
posted by ryanrs at 3:53 PM on November 27, 2018 [5 favorites]


 I love that there are multiple competing standards for preferred numbers.

There's a really good reason for that: with E12 and 10% tolerance resistors, you can cover a whole decade with just 12 values of components. Mechanical devices typically have much closer tolerances, and the R-series numbers fit well with diameters of ropes and cable strands, tensile strengths of fasteners and proportions of products.

Trying to buy fasteners in Canada is horrible, as they have a mix of US Customary, UK Customary, Metric and some of their very own.
posted by scruss at 4:01 PM on November 27, 2018 [2 favorites]


NASA seems to have figured out that it's a bad idea.

Also a problem in hospitals. A nurse accidentally enters a patient’s weight as kilograms instead of pounds and the patient ends up getting 2.2x the correct dose. In any rational world, you would pick one system and stick to it—and in STEM, there is absolutely no question as to which system makes more sense. But this is not a rational world.
posted by dephlogisticated at 4:01 PM on November 27, 2018 [3 favorites]


I don't see why people get so bent out of shape over there being different forms of measurement for different uses. We pretty much all have a supercomputer in our pocket with the ability to convert them, and human lives are too complex and messy for there to be one universal system that doesn't have clear flaws.

Metric is great for times when you need to make sure all units are equal and easy to combine and subtract, but horrid for a large number of human-level use cases. I use both without really having to think about it at work every day. How much material to take off a lens, or the temp we need the liquid baths at? Millimeters and degrees C are perfect, exact and ideally suited to precision. If my boss asks me how hot it is in the lab, or how tall of a cabinet do we need, I'm going to respond in degrees F and feet and inches, because those are units of measure much better suited to the lived experience of humans.
posted by neonrev at 4:01 PM on November 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


It's taken me 3.17 cups of wine to read this so far.
posted by Elmore at 4:04 PM on November 27, 2018 [11 favorites]


adept256, I made one of those Japanese clocks. In a way.
$ sunclock.pl 
子   丑   寅   卯   辰   巳   午   未   申   ▅▅   酉   戌   亥   子
2341 0200 0418 0637 0818 1000 1141 1322 1503 1600 1644 1903 2122 2341
Bah! Things line up correctly in the terminal.

One of these days I want to code up a graphical version.
posted by zengargoyle at 4:07 PM on November 27, 2018 [3 favorites]


I used to buy PEEK tubing for LC pump systems. Whoever I was mandated to buy from was selling it with an outer diameter in 1/16th's of an inch and an inner diameter in millimeters (I think it was Upchurch Scientific?). "A robot died on Mars for this shit" was routinely heard.
posted by Slackermagee at 4:07 PM on November 27, 2018 [11 favorites]


A nurse accidentally enters a patient’s weight as kilograms instead of pounds and the patient ends up getting 2.2x the correct dose.

At least medication dosages are usually metric. (This is only because nobody knows the imperial mass units smaller than an ounce, except for some gun nuts).
posted by ryanrs at 4:09 PM on November 27, 2018


neonrev: your lived experience of humans ain't the rest of the world's experience. By the lived experience of most humans, the world is locally flat. It's 19 °C in this room, 0 with snow outside.

… and FFS, North America — paper sizes. Get with the program. It's up there with your two "survey feet" and "standard feet" measurements, bushel sizes and lumber sizing.
posted by scruss at 4:09 PM on November 27, 2018 [6 favorites]


Just wait until the Twitter ranter discovers "gauge".
How big is 12 gauge in metric?


Two-fifty, same as in town.

One of the most useful conversions I ever learned was early on, when my boss just said “a mil is 40 thousandths”; it’s not strictly true but it’s much easier for nearly all uses than trying to deal with .03937
posted by Huffy Puffy at 4:10 PM on November 27, 2018 [2 favorites]


If my boss asks me how hot it is in the lab, or how tall of a cabinet do we need, I'm going to respond in degrees F and feet and inches, because those are units of measure much better suited to the lived experience of humans.

That's because you live in the US, not because imperial units are "better suited to the human experience".
posted by ryanrs at 4:11 PM on November 27, 2018 [20 favorites]


Um... sorry drilling friends, but it's worse than you think - the next smaller standard drill from a 3/8" is a U http://www.smithbearing.com/images/pdf/ENG-FractionalChart.pdf
posted by another_20_year_lurker at 4:14 PM on November 27, 2018 [4 favorites]


@Pyry: No. In engineering school, we simply knew 60 mph was 88 fps. Interpolate in your head or set the ratio up and read it off your slide rule. Easy.
posted by sudogeek at 4:16 PM on November 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


the next smaller standard drill bit from a 3/8" is a U

The next standard drill bit under 3/8 is 9.5mm.

(that's the joke)
posted by ryanrs at 4:21 PM on November 27, 2018 [3 favorites]


fortunately acetylene is compatible with both systems of measurement
posted by ryanrs at 4:25 PM on November 27, 2018 [4 favorites]


The thing that blew my mind was, I learned that "billion" meant 10^12 in the UK. Except they have been increasingly using it as does the USA, to mean 10^9. So, if an Islander uses it, you have exactly no chance of knowing what they mean.
posted by thelonius at 4:26 PM on November 27, 2018 [5 favorites]


@ryanrs - My confidence is shaken, but how is a 9.5mm drill standard?
posted by another_20_year_lurker at 4:27 PM on November 27, 2018


When I did archeology we measured things in 10th of a foot. I had movie star suntans, though.
posted by Chitownfats at 4:31 PM on November 27, 2018 [2 favorites]


Oh yeah, lefty? Quick, what's the next smaller standard drill bit from a 3/8"? How many pounds is a gallon of water? What does "an ounce of milk" mean?
5/16?
We can't know based on just asking, what is the temperature of the water?
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 4:32 PM on November 27, 2018


Stone is still often used, at least from my observation, as a measurement of human weight in the UK.

here in the US we exclusively express our weight in the Richter scale
posted by XMLicious at 4:32 PM on November 27, 2018 [5 favorites]


Why wouldn't 9.5mm be a standard drill bit?

Working in timber I usually just call that the same as 3/8". That kind of thinking can get you in trouble though, particularly in other materials.
posted by deadwax at 4:32 PM on November 27, 2018


My confidence is shaken, but how is a 9.5mm drill standard?

You're from the US, aren't you?
posted by ryanrs at 4:34 PM on November 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


Someone shouldn't tell this Twitter guy about the old British monetary system, I mean the £/s/d. You might need some LSD to make sense of it all.
posted by Termite at 4:35 PM on November 27, 2018 [2 favorites]


I suppose I don't have a good reason - I have previously thought of fractional inch, number, and letter drills as "standard"/English, and metric as a separate category, perhaps because of the fractional size to decimal charts like I linked to (which doesn't include metric sizes in the green column) - which just goes to reinforce the point that it's confusing!

On edit - yep, from the US, so confused! I suppose my assumption was also built on thinking of "standard" as "SAE", which uses imperial units...

But mostly it's because of the drill chart.
posted by another_20_year_lurker at 4:35 PM on November 27, 2018


The best damn thing about moving to Mexico is the dates are day/month/year.

Minor correction: ISO 8601 or gtfo
posted by supercres at 4:36 PM on November 27, 2018 [12 favorites]


While we're here, I'd like to remark that while the US and UK report car fuel consumptions in miles per gallon, most of the world (I think?) uses liters per 100 kilometer.

But, even the US and UK mpg measurements aren't compatible -- which I learned watching British car shows and finding out that apparently even their totally normal cars are routinely cited as getting 40 or 50 miles per gallon. What secret technology had the Brits invented to acheive such stunning fuel efficiency? Apparently, the key to getting 50 miles per gallon is just to have a bigger gallon.
posted by mhum at 4:36 PM on November 27, 2018 [8 favorites]


>> I remember reading somewhere that in Medieval Britain measurements weren't even uniform from county to county, so locals tended to have a huge advantage when conducting trade- if you came in from another area, you either had to know the measurement system where you were, or you'd get ripped off. Hence innumerable Royal degrees trying to ban local measurements and enforce uniform measurements.

> So what you're saying is that if I really want to fuck with capitalism I should avoid the metric system like the plague?


So this is legit one of the theses of a pretty influential book, James Scott's Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition have Failed. Basically he's all about how standardization schemes like metrification were generally designed as tools to enable centralized state control, since without top-down standards state agents (central planners, tax collectors, state-authorized police, and so forth) had to rely on local guides to figure out basically anything at all about the territories they were trying to manage/"rationalize"/control. Local guides who could choose to refuse to cooperate, deceive the state agents, or otherwise create effective popular resistance against state power.

Scott's writing from an anarchist perspective and basically holds that the large-scale modernist projects enabled by standardization tend to produce results that are on the whole worse for the most people than the previous, ad-hoc local systems.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 4:37 PM on November 27, 2018 [4 favorites]


One of the most useful conversions I ever learned was early on, when my boss just said “a mil is 40 thousandths”; it’s not strictly true but it’s much easier for nearly all uses than trying to deal with .03937

This is because, of course, 1/25 is approximately equal to 1/25.4.

Another approximate conversion which I discovered recently: If you have N millimeters, it's approximately equal to N*2.5 sixty-fourths of an inch. 2mm =~ 5/64". This is because 25.4 * 2.5 = 63.5.

This has been handy for drilling ~2mm holes with my standard drill set.
posted by clawsoon at 4:38 PM on November 27, 2018 [2 favorites]


not because imperial units are "better suited to the human experience"

Fahrenheit kind of is: 0 is officially too cold and 100 is officially too hot, and the entire symbolically important interval of 0-100 is within the range of temperatures a human being might reasonably expect to experience. In contrast, Celsius wastes half of the 0-100 range with temperatures that are both too hot for humans to experience (without imminent risk of death) and too cold to cook with.
posted by Pyry at 4:40 PM on November 27, 2018 [10 favorites]


Relevant XKCDs
posted by Carillon at 4:47 PM on November 27, 2018 [2 favorites]


Celsius also had a strange dependence on air pressure. Water boils at 100 degrees at sea level, so long as the barometric pressure is just right and you've picked the right sea level.

I'm not sure if the same is true of the relationship between volume, mass and water, or if that's just temperature dependent and not pressure dependent. For some reason I have in mind that 1 cubic centimeter of water only has a mass of 1 gram at 4 degrees Celsius.
posted by clawsoon at 4:48 PM on November 27, 2018


Minus 40, of course, is where the scale you're using doesn't matter.
posted by clawsoon at 4:48 PM on November 27, 2018 [2 favorites]


There I was, just looking for an excuse to sneak a James Scott reference into this thread . . .
posted by aspersioncast at 4:52 PM on November 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


Celsius also had a strange dependence on air pressure. Water boils at 100 degrees at sea level, so long as the barometric pressure is just right and you've picked the right sea level.

You know the same applies to Fahrenheit?
posted by deadwax at 5:07 PM on November 27, 2018 [5 favorites]


You know the same applies to Fahrenheit?

It doesn't, though, because 100 degrees Fahrenheit wasn't tied to the boiling temperature of water.

Instead, IIRC, it was tied to the standard internal temperature of the human body.

That has its own challenges.
posted by clawsoon at 5:10 PM on November 27, 2018


...sorry, looks like it was 96 degrees that he tied to the temperature of the human body. A nice round base-12 number.
posted by clawsoon at 5:12 PM on November 27, 2018


Well, math breaks down some when people are involved. Exponentiation is a bit out of reach of many people who have to function in the world, and here's an example: look at the tachometer at the right of this instrument panel. The legend says "Giri (revolutions) x 1000" whereas a reading of 4 represents 4000 revolutions/minute, so the legend should say Giri / 1000 or "kilogiri" which again isn't a SI unit. Perhaps the purist would want a tach calibrated in rad/sec? Mark the legend "sec^-1 / 1000", definitely a SI unit, multiply kilo-revolutions per minute by a nice round number like 2*pi, and presto - everyone's lost.

Bastard units are nothing to be ashamed of as long as they communicate something the target user understands - whether SI, USCS or Imperial. They exist all over. Find me a vehicle's oil pressure gauge calibrated in Pascal, for example: nope, they're all in kg/cm^2 or bar - not a SI unit - because Pascal is inaccessible as a practical unit.
posted by jet_silver at 5:14 PM on November 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


"I love that there are multiple competing standards for preferred numbers. In electronics we mostly use E-series numbers."
Which, of course, are themselves the result of several post-facto attempts to create some sort of order that ended up varying between favouring "traditional" values in some cases, a strict logarithmic sequence (within the expectations of tolerance) in other cases, and in a few cases "aw hell, lets just copy the value from the earlier sequence".

There's also subtly different rounding rules between groups, and a break between E3-E24 & E48-E192 that means there's a few examples of values in the lower half that strictly don't exist in the upper half but are shoehorned in there anyway because people expect to see them…
posted by Pinback at 5:15 PM on November 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


Fahrenheit and Celsius use the same reference points (freezing and boiling of water). That's why the conversion coefficients are nice round numbers (32, 1.8), not long ugly decimals.
posted by ryanrs at 5:17 PM on November 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


I am just a couple years younger than cstross and metric came upon Canada in my early years; not so early that I am unfamiliar with the old ways, but I tend to think in metric terms (unlike Mrs. Biscuit, an exact cstross contemporary, who needs temperatures in Fahrenheit to know what coat she should wear).

I was talking once with a bunch of friends, mostly slightly younger than I, about which temperature scale we intuitively thought in. As I suspected, the crossover was right around my cohort, who could grasp the weather report in either scale. The real outlier was my friend Karen, with her degree in astrophysics: when asked which scale was natural for her, she replied, "Kelvin."
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:24 PM on November 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


I like to express this as "One year is about 𝜋×10^7 seconds"

I find it easier to say out loud and remember "pi billion seconds per century."
posted by JackFlash at 5:25 PM on November 27, 2018 [2 favorites]


If I had a ha'penny for every damn time one of my non-American students ends up with printing problems because they're trying to print an A4 job on 8.5"x11" paper . . . I'm not sure how much money I'd have, but presumably more than I do now.
posted by aspersioncast at 5:28 PM on November 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


Relevant Straight Dope: "In short, 100 means nothing at all on the Fahrenheit scale, 96 used to mean something but doesn’t anymore, and 0 is colder than it ever gets in Denmark. Brilliant."
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:29 PM on November 27, 2018 [4 favorites]


no one tell him about smoots
posted by duffell at 5:31 PM on November 27, 2018 [7 favorites]


Similarly a nanosecond is about 30 cm, in a vacuum. Less in the city, of course.
posted by bonehead at 5:53 PM on November 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


As an American I just wish all baking recipes listed the dry ingredients in grams because trying to measure flour by the cup is a terrible fucking joke being played on people
posted by Automocar at 5:59 PM on November 27, 2018 [9 favorites]


My fervent wish is that Trump collapses the American edifice enough that we can all refuse to trade with America until they standardise their units.
posted by Merus at 6:06 PM on November 27, 2018 [3 favorites]


In Philadelphia, official property surveys are done in "district standard measure", which looks like feet and inches, but isn't quite. And also varies throughout the city, in ways known only to the surveyors. Thankfully surveys also include the US standard dimensions, for convenience only.
posted by sepviva at 6:06 PM on November 27, 2018 [4 favorites]


> Similarly a nanosecond is about 30 cm, in a vacuum. Less in the city, of course.

found the grace hopper fan...
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 6:07 PM on November 27, 2018


You're not kidding. What in the good lord.
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 6:17 PM on November 27, 2018 [3 favorites]


Obsolete German units of measurement are a big reason why Metric became quite popular in Europe; the late unification of Germany and Italy meant they had a mess of units like France prior to the Revolution, and not something relatively sensible like Great Britain.

Base 2 (4, 8, 16, ...), Base 12 and Base 60 systems can make sense, as can "gauge" systems that lead to a nice progression, a bit like preferred numbers. Ideally we'd have switched everything to Base 12 with Base 60 used for some special cases, but alas there was no time during the Revolution.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 6:21 PM on November 27, 2018 [3 favorites]


I find it easier to say out loud and remember "pi billion seconds per century."

pi gigaseconds per century, please. The prefixes exist for a reason.
posted by ckape at 6:22 PM on November 27, 2018 [3 favorites]


On the Piper Bravo oil platform in the North Sea in the early nineties the first two wells were drilled with all reports to Geology being in Imperial, all reports to Drilling in Metric.
The resulting miscommunications probably cost millions.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 6:55 PM on November 27, 2018


pi gigaseconds per century, please. The prefixes exist for a reason.

ITYM pi gigaseconds per hectoyear.
posted by flabdablet at 7:12 PM on November 27, 2018 [2 favorites]


This twitter rant sounds like me every time I try and follow a recipe.

I am a 50 something American and I still can't remember, or don't know, how any of this works. I understand metric without having lived it.

Somewhere there's the alternative US that I was promised in 6th grade science class where we converted to metric in the mid-eighties.


No shit.

Also Baja AZ says everyone else can go to hell.
posted by bongo_x at 7:32 PM on November 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


I'm working in the timber industry in Australia at the moment, which is a hodge podge of both. Verbally I'll ask for 6x1"s, in my tracking spreadsheet I'll record 150x25mm.

It's a minor thing, but I've always been intrigued by how other former colonies express board dimensions with the wide number first ("4x2") but in the US it is always narrow dimension first ("2x4").

… and FFS, North America — paper sizes. Get with the program. It's up there with your two "survey feet" and "standard feet" measurements, bushel sizes and lumber sizing.

I have seen some very expensive and embarrassing mistakes be made between US survey feet and international feet. People treat them interchangeably because they are effectively the same over small distances, but on larger scales the difference can be significant.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:35 PM on November 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


I happen to know someone who was a leader of the US movement against metrification. He talks about this proudly. I have considered punching him.
posted by medusa at 7:35 PM on November 27, 2018 [12 favorites]


Head-scratcher: when I started farming I learned that we (farmers) measure rainfall in tenths of an inch. Tenths. Of. An. Inch.
posted by bluebelle at 7:36 PM on November 27, 2018 [4 favorites]


Um... sorry drilling friends, but it's worse than you think - the next smaller standard drill from a 3/8" is a U http://www.smithbearing.com/images/pdf/ENG-FractionalChart.pdf

Worse even than that.

Just above the U line, there are two unlabeled lines which read
.3504          8.9916
.3543          8.9992
Now, 0.3543 in. is indeed 8.9992 mm but 0.3504 in is 8.90016 mm, not 8.9916 mm.

Is this an error? Or is this another example of the insanity of these units?

I have emailed the company. Wonder if they'll reply.
posted by alexei at 7:42 PM on November 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


No one tell him that a gallon is 231 cubic inches.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:42 PM on November 27, 2018


Delaware's Tollroad exits for some parts of the road are kilometer based.
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 7:45 PM on November 27, 2018


> Head-scratcher: when I started farming I learned that we (farmers) measure rainfall in tenths of an inch. Tenths. Of. An. Inch.

I think most Americans nowadays use decimal versions of standard units thanks to digital displays.

Google Maps says it's 2.6 miles to the next exit. My thermostat says it's 68.2 degrees. My scale says I weigh 152.6 pounds. The gas pump says I bought 6.32 gallons of fuel.

I know drill bits and kitchenware and oil barrels come in weird sizes, but I seldom need to convert those, besides occasionally teaspoons to tablespoons.

Plenty of people don't have jobs or hobbies that require unit conversion.
posted by smelendez at 7:46 PM on November 27, 2018


Alexei, those are probably for under- or over-sized holes. Useful for locating pins and similar things, when you want a press-fit, interference-fit, slip-fit etc. You'd buy reamers in those sizes, not twist drill bits (twist drills aren't that accurate).
posted by ryanrs at 7:48 PM on November 27, 2018


See this for what I think is a better explainer than the PDF
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 7:51 PM on November 27, 2018


I learned that we (farmers) measure rainfall in tenths of an inch. Tenths. Of. An. Inch.

That's better than fractions!

I just bought a cheap digital caliper that can be set to read out in 1/128ths of an inch. It even changes the denominator between 128, 64, 32, etc as appropriate. Now I just need to figure out how to lock it into fractions mode to mess with my coworkers (they're all euros). It'll be amazing telling them that's how we do precision measurements in the US, in 1/128ths, ha ha.

1/128th = 8 US mils. A US mil = 1/1024th of an inch, as opposed to an Imperial mil, which is 1/1000th of an inch, which we call a "thou". It's a lie so plausible even Americans will need to check wikipedia to be sure.
posted by ryanrs at 8:07 PM on November 27, 2018 [5 favorites]


A US mil = 1/1024th of an inch, as opposed to an Imperial mil, which is 1/1000th of an inch, which we call a "thou".

Current best practice is to disambiguate those units by referring to them as a milbiinch and a milliinch respectively.
posted by flabdablet at 8:16 PM on November 27, 2018 [4 favorites]


In my culture, our measurements go 1, 2, 3, and dark sorcery, which we punish by burning upon pyres of 3 x frog-leg-many goat strides and two of Bob's handspans in skyward.
posted by saysthis at 8:22 PM on November 27, 2018 [4 favorites]


>> The best damn thing about moving to Mexico is the dates are day/month/year.
>
> Minor correction: ISO 8601 or gtfo

ISO 8601 would certainly be my preference but I'll take what I can get.

I can only imagine the pressure it took to get the U.S. to use day/month/year on passports.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:45 PM on November 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


Inspired by this thread, I'm eliminating the last of these silly units from my day to day life. From now on, I pump my car tires to 2.2 bar and my bike tires to 4 bar.

Note, how the measurement is also approximately the ratio of the tire pressure to atmospheric pressure? THE METRIC SYSTEM. IT JUST WORKS.
posted by other barry at 8:45 PM on November 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


Deep down in the twitter thread, someone linked this awesome chart of customary/imperial length measurements. (And done in TiKz, of course!)
posted by leahwrenn at 8:46 PM on November 27, 2018 [2 favorites]


Note, how the measurement is also approximately the ratio of the tire pressure to atmospheric pressure?

Approximately indeed. atm or GTFO.
posted by mr_roboto at 8:51 PM on November 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


> Fahrenheit kind of is: 0 is officially too cold and 100 is officially too hot, and the entire symbolically important interval of 0-100 is within the range of temperatures a human being might reasonably expect to experience.

Sorry, but this is the same kind of post-hoc "better suited to the human [i.e.: European/American] experience" rationalization nonsense. Here in New Delhi, the record low is 30 F, and that's officially "too cold" for me. Summer highs often go above 100 F. I just checked, and in the contiguous US the daily mean temperature varies from 30 F in January to 74 F in July, right in the middle of the Fahrenheit scale, isn't that convenient

Maybe every country should have its own "local human experience" temperature scale and we can all convert between them like time zones
posted by a car full of lions at 8:51 PM on November 27, 2018 [10 favorites]


I challenged him to explain fluid ounces, especially US vs. Imperial - he hasn't responded, he may have exploded
posted by mbo at 9:24 PM on November 27, 2018


(hint it has to do with Kings fiddling with the tax system by changing the units rather than the tax rate, and the timing of the American Revolution)
posted by mbo at 9:26 PM on November 27, 2018




I mentor a young man who lived in Paris a couple of years, working as a carpenter. He's told me that within a week the metric system was easy-peasy, made perfect sense, and is in all ways far superior to our inches and foot and 1/16" and on and on. As a US guy in my sixties, it's just been a real drag. Which would not have been a drag at all, not really, had the US really adopted the metric system in the 70s, which is when metric speed limit signs began appearing and US citizens welcomed them warmly by shooting holes in them with high-powered rifles. Which is pretty much where we've been ever since.

I can pick up a nut or a bolt and tell you if it's 3/8" or 9/16" or 1/2" or 7/8" -- what I cannot tell you is what the metric equivalents are. Or the close to equivalents. None of this would have really made any difference, as I've only owned one metric car (a 1974 Ford Capri, which for about 3 or 4 years was made in Germany) and I didn't do too terribly much work on it, changed out plugs, rebuilt the carburetor, blah blah.

But what it's turned into now is that US cars and trucks are built with both real AND metric nuts and bolts, pretty much a total wrist-slitter -- on my pickup, changing the front shock absorbers, the stuff on top is metric and the stuff down below is real, and the whole damn truck is that way. I've got to have two sets of wrenches, two sets of sockets, blah blah blah. And a nut or bolt that looks to me like a 7/16" might be 3.4 hectares -- it's loathsome. Totally annoying. I hate it. If I had a rocket launcher...
Don't even get me started on all of these stupid fasteners of every type and description -- what was wrong with just using a flat blade or a phillips screwdriver? Anymore, you've got to have about 47 different types of specialized tips to even change out a headlight. They do this because they hate me.
posted by dancestoblue at 9:39 PM on November 27, 2018 [3 favorites]


Here in New Delhi, the record low is 30 F, and that's officially "too cold" for me. Summer highs often go above 100 F.

You're kind of proving the point though? In C all those temperatures are squished into the 0-40 range, whereas in F they sprawl all the way from 30 to 100+. There are a few places on Earth that get above 50C (122F), but no place ever gets higher than 60C (140F). That's leaving half the scale unused.
posted by Pyry at 9:39 PM on November 27, 2018 [2 favorites]


What a fantastic thread! Indeed, base 12 would solve a lot of societal ills. There's a whole organization dedicated to its promotion.
Growing up in an American desert I have a pretty good feel for the difference between 85, 97 and 108 degrees Fahrenheit. Living in Sweden gives me a grasp of -8, 3 and 9 Celsius, but 40 degrees Celsius I just don't know, because that wasn't the unit I was experiencing those temperatures in.
Buying wedding rings in Sweden was an interesting experience. The jeweler had dummy rings you'd try on to get the size right. So if the 16mm was too small but the 17mm too big you'd try the 16 1/2mm ring. If that was too small, the 16 3/4mm, and if that was too big, the 16 5/8mm. Because this system gave the jeweler a systematic method for sizing rings and meant he only needed 80% of the sizing tools he'd need if sizing in tenths.
Similarly, if you need to drill a hole in the middle of a board that is 711mm long, you are going to fudge that 0.5 mm. Imperial units provide a level of accuracy that doesn't necessarily require exponentially increasing precision.
posted by St. Oops at 9:40 PM on November 27, 2018 [3 favorites]


in the contiguous US the daily mean temperature varies from 30 F in January to 74 F in July

I can assure you that in much of the country actual yearly temperatures vary from the single negative digits to triple digits Fahrenheit. California and the Gulf States just skew the average.
posted by aspersioncast at 9:42 PM on November 27, 2018


Fahrenheit kind of is: 0 is officially too cold

0 means you've made some terrible mistake.
I'm pretty sure I have never been in 0 degrees or colder in my entire life, not for a minute.
My wife was in single digits once on a trip.
posted by bongo_x at 9:43 PM on November 27, 2018


… and FFS, North America — paper sizes.

I'm in Canada, and software always assumes I want to measure temperature in °C (yes *), distance in km (yes), and paper in mm (never! We use letter/legal like the US and we all know what an inch is).

Seems like all of the English speaking countries still use imperial measures to some extent.

Please stop this crap about °F being intuitively better; you're embarrassing yourself. It's just what you're used to and somehow you either can't see that, or your dry humour is zipping over my head. I promise I don't think °C is superior.

* Unless I'm cooking something. Recipes are in F
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 10:02 PM on November 27, 2018


You're kind of proving the point though?

If you think me trying to tell you that neither "0 is officially too cold and 100 is officially too hot" nor "0-100 is within the range of temperatures a human being might reasonably expect to experience" is universally true, and that they are both contingent on where you live and what you're used to is "proving the point" that "Fahrenheit kind of is [better suited to the human experience]", then I don't know what to tell you.
posted by a car full of lions at 10:09 PM on November 27, 2018 [3 favorites]


I would think that a phrase like "officially too cold" would signal that it is meant, perhaps, a tiny bit tongue in cheek. And yes, of course the weather varies depends on location. But unless you live on Venus, you are not going to see a surface temperature higher than 60C. Which of these temperature ranges is a better approximation of the temperatures at which humans live: -17C to 37C, or 0C to 100C.
posted by Pyry at 10:21 PM on November 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


US cars and trucks are built with both real AND metric nuts and bolts, pretty much a total wrist-slitter

That's the beauty of Torx fasteners. They pre-empted the whole inch/mm thing by inventing their own scale. So regardless of whether your pan head machine screw is 1/4-20 or M6, both will use a T-30 torx driver.
posted by ryanrs at 10:25 PM on November 27, 2018


It's really not like people in metric countries get to the jump from 22 to 23C and think to themselves, you know we need to start noting the half degrees, we can't talk about temperature properly with these huge degrees. Celsius works fine for the lived experience of humans, I and billions of others can assure you.
posted by deadwax at 10:27 PM on November 27, 2018 [7 favorites]


dancestoblue: I might receive pushback for this, but check out Metrinch tools. They feel sloppy to use but one set will undo any size and they won't round off the heads. They work.
posted by deadwax at 10:32 PM on November 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


One benefit of metric is everyone knows what to call it. Even here in the US, nobody seems to know the correct name for our system of units. Just in this thread I've seen:
  • English
  • US
  • Imperial
  • SAE
  • standard
  • real
You'll even see people use a few different names in the same comment because they're not quite sure which name is right. It's very similar to Americans' confusion regarding England/GB/UK, with the added shame of being our own system, so we damn well should know what it's called.

At work (majority euros) we actually say "freedom units" because at least that's unambiguous.
posted by ryanrs at 10:37 PM on November 27, 2018 [3 favorites]


just came back to this thread to wish everyone a happy 7 Frimaire.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 10:47 PM on November 27, 2018 [10 favorites]


0 means you've made some terrible mistake.
posted by bongo_x at 11:43 PM on November 27

I was in Chicago in 1985 on the January day it set the record low at -26 F. We went out and made snow angels, my sister and I. I'm not sure if that record still stands or not -- 1985 a while ago. When it's cold like that, if you are changing out a flat tire you can very easily snap off the lug nuts on your car or truk. Pretty much mostly what you do is try to get one car or truck running and then try to jump-start other cars/trucks off the first one, just because; it's not like there's really anywhere to go or anything to do, everything pretty much shuts down.

Putting an incandescent light bulb next to your oil pan really does help, hard to believe but it does. My older brother and I were laughing the other night about our father, who was an absolute mad-man w/r/t getting cars/trucks to fire up in a chill -- he'd take a rag, attach it to a chunk of metal, dip it in gasoline and light that beauty up, and then get all up underneath the carburetor and/or oil pan and pretty much anywhere else, too. I don't know if what he was doing actually helped the car/truck start or if the car/truck just started in self-defense, to keep from being burned to the ground.

I don't mind the intense cold -- extremes are fun. The reason I will never, ever, ever live up in yankeeland again is because the winter goes on, and on, and then on some more. Februaries have been known to last over 1,700 years. Plus spring is gruesome, too, rain leaks like pus from grayed-out gray skies and it just never, ever ends. Two of the worst years of my life so happened to concur with those unreal, horrific winters of 75-77, ended up spending Thanksgiving Day 1977 in Houston, an escapee. Texas is full of escapees, so many of us get here running from, not running to. Hell, Sam Houston came here on the run -- a great model. He was tall and lank like I am, and his name when living among the native Americans was The Big Drunk. A hero, for sure.

~~~~~

I was in Austin in 2001 on the (August?) summer day it set the record high of 116 F. 116 F in Austin an entirely different animal than 116 F in Phoenix, or Tucson, or even in Alpine Texas. Humidity really is a monster in Austin, and about forty-two million times worse in Houston, which is a swamp, the entire city below sea level -- you go out at night and you can actually see a pall of humidity in the air.* That said, the sun is an absolute presence in the Arizona desert; even in an air conditioned car wearing Levi's your leg will get *hot* in the sun that's shining through the car window.
*(A horror show, Houston is -- great museums, great music, great food, an amazing art car show in springtime. Then leave.)

Autumn in yankeeland is awesome. It's spectacularly beautiful. It took more years than I want to admit for me to notice that there are ever as many colors here in Texas autumn as in yankee autumn, but it's just in a narrower spectrum, a narrower band. Think of those beautiful paintings by those Dutch guys on cigar box tops, Vermeer comes to my mind, beautiful paintings but very subtle, or at least they were to me until they weren't. Walking Town Lake on a sunny November day is really sweet, even if you're with a crabby friend (voice of experience -- hello Patrick.) ("I mean, really, everything doesn't suck. Really, it doesn't. Even if all you can see is how beautiful the day is, just look at that awesome deep blue sky, huh." Patrick's life, his mindset just seems a quest for dung. Great person, but crabby.)

fyi, if you're going to come to Austin you'd best get here quick -- it is changing dramatically and changing fast. Talking with my mentor yesterday, he tells me that in one of these new towers that are popping up like mushrooms in springtime is going to have all these suck luxury stores in it. A Tiffany's. In Austin. Fourth and Congress used to be a pretty sketchy part of town, but cool, now you need a boatload of bucks to buy into a tower. They are beautiful, no disputing that. But ATX is changing. It still has some funk to it, and some spunk, but the dollar is moving in.
posted by dancestoblue at 10:50 PM on November 27, 2018 [6 favorites]


Best damn thing about moving to Mexico.

I think its the tacos but ymmv
posted by standardasparagus at 11:03 PM on November 27, 2018 [1 favorite]



English
US
Imperial
SAE
standard
real


You missed customary
posted by vibratory manner of working at 11:31 PM on November 27, 2018


Celsius wastes half of the 0-100 range with temperatures that are both too hot for humans to experience (without imminent risk of death) and too cold to cook with.
posted by Pyry


Too hot to experience? You've never been in a sauna? Or lived in a country where the outdoor temperature usually is in the 0–20 °C range?

I've read the whole thing and I believe this is developing into a truly great Metafilter discussion.
posted by Termite at 12:09 AM on November 28, 2018 [7 favorites]


Bastard units are nothing to be ashamed of...

Agreed, but they really blunt the argument that decimal scaling is a principal advantage of the metric system. As pointed out above, decimal units are in some ways worse for everyday use (and especially before pocket calculators) than highly divisible units.

I used to be in the school that Imperial units were more human friendly but I have seen the error of my ways. Even then I conceded that the metric system was superior and the reason is right there in its name: it is a system and it is international.
posted by sjswitzer at 12:27 AM on November 28, 2018 [4 favorites]


Here is my proposal: double centigrade, or 'ducentigrade', in which you simply double the centigrade temperature. So 0C -> 0D, 50C -> 100D. You can very approximately convert F->D by subtracting 32. (A better approximation is to subtract 32 and add back 10%, or (F - 32)*1.1).

This gives you the granularity of Fahrenheit and the convenient zero point of Centigrade. Water* boils at 200D, which is both nice and round and also similar to the 212F boiling point. Yet it is dissimilar enough from both systems to aggravate everyone, the hallmark of a good compromise.

*Restrictions may apply, consult your phase diagram for local conditions
posted by Pyry at 2:01 AM on November 28, 2018 [2 favorites]


Counter proposal: absolute scale, and boltzmann constant = 1.0 J/T

Then we can talk about the nice weather with highs around 21.59 yotta-temps.
posted by ryanrs at 2:19 AM on November 28, 2018 [4 favorites]


puny humans, your standard conditions mean nothing to me
posted by ryanrs at 2:21 AM on November 28, 2018


Wait no, I got that wrong. If 𝑘=1, a warm day would be 4.12 zepto-temps.

plus zepto sounds cooler
posted by ryanrs at 2:42 AM on November 28, 2018 [4 favorites]


I’ve lived in the US for 13 years and Fahrenheit is still a fucking bunch of nonsense. Better suited to the human experience my ass.
posted by lydhre at 3:24 AM on November 28, 2018 [2 favorites]


Digital ear thermometers are a thing now, so there is no longer any good reason why the Fahrenheit experience needs to involve your ass.
posted by flabdablet at 3:49 AM on November 28, 2018 [13 favorites]


ISO 8601 would certainly be my preference

It's extensible too.
posted by flabdablet at 3:54 AM on November 28, 2018


One of my favorite possessions is a 19th century Swedish folding ruler a cubit (aln) in length with four separate measuring standards printed on it. On one side are the metric and freedom units we're all used to and now arguing about, but on the reverse are Swedish inches (the use of which has led to long-lasting consequences in, for example, Swedish narrow gauge railroads) and Swedish decimal inches, which are subdivided into 10ths, and 10 of which make up a Swedish foot. The resulting smallest unit was thus approximately 3mm in length, and far too rough for fine cabinetmaking, but too fine to conveniently subdivide into hundredths.
posted by St. Oops at 4:29 AM on November 28, 2018 [4 favorites]


Note, how the measurement is also approximately the ratio of the tire pressure to atmospheric pressure? THE METRIC SYSTEM. IT JUST WORKS.

If you want to use atmospheres, just use atmospheres.

If you want to use a sensible SI unit that is sensibly constructed in the way that SI units are, use pascals. It's just a dumb coincidence that the mass of atmosphere over a square meter is just a smidge over 10000 kg.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 4:43 AM on November 28, 2018 [1 favorite]


You'll even see people use a few different names in the same comment because they're not quite sure which name is right. It's very similar to Americans' confusion regarding England/GB/UK, with the added shame of being our own system, so we damn well should know what it's called.

Well what the two things have in common is that neither really matter.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 5:32 AM on November 28, 2018


>> Best damn thing about moving to Mexico.
>
> I think its the tacos but ymmv

I know it’s because I grew up with it, but I prefer good old fashioned god-fearing American Mexican food. In particular I have yet to find a decent burrito.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 5:39 AM on November 28, 2018


It's really not like people in metric countries get to the jump from 22 to 23C and think to themselves, you know we need to start noting the half degrees, we can't talk about temperature properly with these huge degrees. Celsius works fine for the lived experience of humans, I and billions of others can assure you.

Also, I am WAY too hot.
posted by Celsius1414 at 5:47 AM on November 28, 2018 [3 favorites]


Also, I am WAY too hot.

I was all "yeah, jeez, what is with all these people, 23°C is way too fucking hot, why can't it just be 10°C all the time" and only then did I notice your username. 🤦
posted by ragtag at 5:53 AM on November 28, 2018 [2 favorites]


Find me a vehicle's oil pressure gauge calibrated in Pascal, for example: nope, they're all in kg/cm^2 or bar - not a SI unit - because Pascal is inaccessible as a practical unit.

This doesn't make sense to me. For any layman, the numbers on that guage are going to be meaningless, initially at least. What matters is that the guage is set up with a range, and there will be some redline, maybe a green zone showing expected operating conditions. Whether the numbers are 1-10, 4-5.2, or whatever, does not make a big difference? Way up in the red zone is bad.
posted by Meatbomb at 5:54 AM on November 28, 2018 [2 favorites]


> Tell Me No Lies:
"In particular I have yet to find a decent burrito."

I know that to each their own, BUT:

THE FOOD IN MEXICO IS AMAZING. All of it. Seriously.
Forget your 'boo-ree-toe' and eat all the food in MX.
posted by signal at 6:48 AM on November 28, 2018 [2 favorites]


Similarly a nanosecond is about 30 cm, in a vacuum. Less in the city, of course.

One my enduring teenage memories comes from when I'd taught myself enough combinatorial logic to start designing binary arithmetic stuff, including a naughty little thing that changed the operating frequencies of my CB radio to places that it shouldn't be. This ended up including an optional set of numbers from my little Z80 computer. But it didn't work reliably, which I eventually deduced to be one signal arriving a few nanoseconds too late for another to latch it in. So I wound a small coil from a few centimetres of wire to act as a delay, on the latch signal and all was good.

This is all perfectly unremarkable stuff. But then I realised I was working in nanoseconds - billionths of a second - on my desk in my bedroom, using a plastic ruler and a ten dollar soldering iron. Stuff like picofarads and megaohms didn't count, because farads and ohms were just things we made up, but nanosecond-length bits of wire were yer actual spacetime.

Blew my mind then, does so now.
posted by Devonian at 7:03 AM on November 28, 2018 [10 favorites]


You know the other common measurement that isn't normalized, and in fact most economists treat it like it's great deal to be able to denominate individually? Money. They tried the Euro to 'standardize' money in a small area, and some fool country backs out. And not only that, the differentiation between units is variable, and you generally/occasionally have to pay somebody to convert them. Bankers man.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:14 AM on November 28, 2018


If you need more precision than Celsius degrees give, just remember that there's 60 minutes in a degree.
posted by ckape at 7:24 AM on November 28, 2018 [8 favorites]


THE FOOD IN MEXICO IS AMAZING. All of it. Seriously.
Forget your 'boo-ree-toe' and eat all the food in MX.


Oh believe me, I'm making an effort. And if I survive the clogged-artery induced heart attack there are many foods I will return to.

But if you're ever in San Jose, CA make a point of visiting El Abuelo in Willow Glen and order a Carne Asada Super Burrito. Your heart won't thank you but your taste, touch, and smell certainly will. (If it will make you feel better, on a good day the cashier speaks a bit of English.)
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:49 AM on November 28, 2018


It pleases me that the 3D printing industry doesn't even bother with units: everything's mm, or it's wrong. But occasionally you'll get sent a model that renders as a tiny spec on your build-plate at 3.94% of the size you wanted, so you have to break out BarbarianPlugin: a plugin to convert barbarian scaled models to metric.
posted by scruss at 7:52 AM on November 28, 2018 [2 favorites]


I'm going to need some [REAL] or [FAKE] tags on some of the breakdowns of standard US measurements, please.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:52 AM on November 28, 2018


"It pleases me that the 3D printing industry doesn't even bother with units: everything's mm, or it's wrong."

...what? This sentence to me is reading as "The industry doesn't use measurements, everything is done in this measurement." Therefore it demonstrably is bothering with units.

Why they are using m&m's to measure things is beyond me. Then again using some arbitrary distance light travels in a ridiculous circumstance is just as baffling.
posted by GoblinHoney at 8:15 AM on November 28, 2018


Please, no one tell this guy about Dutch units of measurement. He'll go bananas.
posted by Omon Ra at 8:40 AM on November 28, 2018


Bah, I measure everything using standard stoppages.
posted by SystematicAbuse at 9:07 AM on November 28, 2018 [2 favorites]


By the end of that thread my mental reading voice had switched from normal, into the voice I use for the bird's rights activist Twitter feed.
posted by sharp pointy objects at 10:18 AM on November 28, 2018 [1 favorite]


I'm amazed that whole discussion happened without anyone (but me) commenting that sometimes a pound has only 12 ounces.
Well, moth dad has this passage:
-moth dad @innesmck Nov 26
so what's heavier, a ton of feathers or a ton of gold?
-moth dad‏ @innesmck Nov 26
IT'S THE TON OF GOLD BECAUSE UNDER IMPERIAL MEASUREMENTS THESE ARE COMPLETELY FUCKING DIFFERENT SCALES

(although he got it backward...I think. At least a pound of feathers weighs more than a pound of gold, but maybe troy tons are different as well)

This is all perfectly unremarkable stuff. But then I realised I was working in nanoseconds - billionths of a second - on my desk in my bedroom, using a plastic ruler and a ten dollar soldering iron.
Decades ago I worked on IBM 3033's, mainframes so big we had to use delay blocks to line up signals from various parts of the machine. Except in the high-speed multiply unit. There we timed it by using longer or shorter wires.

Also, paper sizes were mentioned, but paper weights are even crazier.
posted by MtDewd at 12:18 PM on November 28, 2018 [1 favorite]


Wouldn't the ton of feathers weigh less because the same mass is displacing a larger volume of air? Like how you don't weigh as much in a swimming pool because you're displacing water?
posted by clawsoon at 12:24 PM on November 28, 2018


Wouldn't the ton of feathers weigh less because the same mass is displacing a larger volume of air?

I guess it depends on if the specific measurement (a ton, implied to be 2000 lbs imperial) is the most important variable in that question, or if something else takes precedence. If the ton is the most important variable, then relative size and other variables like volume of air are immaterial.
posted by The_Vegetables at 12:46 PM on November 28, 2018


IT'S A TRICK QUESTION: THE TON OF FEATHERS AND THE TON OF LEAD WEIGH THE SAME BECAUSE THEY'RE BOTH THE SAME AMOUNT OF THE SAME UNIT OF WEIGHT, BUT THE TON OF FEATHERS IS CONSIDERABLY LARGER.

Sorry. Nip that one in the bud.

Lead has greater mass, though, that's true.
posted by Grangousier at 12:50 PM on November 28, 2018


It is a trick question, but for the reason MtDewd first cited:
First, you have to know that precious metals like gold are measured in troy ounces.
And then you have to know that there are only 12 troy ounces in a troy pound, compared to 16 in the avoirdupois pound. (And side note of fun, a troy ounce is heavier than a avoirdupois ounce! But not heavier enough to make up the 4 ounce difference in their respective pounds.)

Result: a (troy) ton of gold would weigh the same as just under 1646 pounds of feathers, and thus a ton of feathers is heavier than a ton of gold, because troy weight.

(I'm completely eliding the short ton vs. long ton discussion because the result is the same either way - a pound of feathers is heavier than a pound of gold, no matter how many equal quantity pounds of each you have)
posted by namewithoutwords at 1:45 PM on November 28, 2018 [4 favorites]


And an ounce of gold weighs more than an ounce of feathers.
I'm unsure if a troy ton is 2000 troy lb.
posted by MtDewd at 1:53 PM on November 28, 2018


It seems like if they meant troy tons in the question, they would have said so. But again, it's up to your interpretation, it's not a question with consequences.
posted by The_Vegetables at 2:14 PM on November 28, 2018


Those Devon measures are some old-school swagger. Devon! So much of everything that we put more ounces in the pound and more pounds in the gallon! Our acres are too rich in cheese to fit in your little acres!

There is digital time, which is represented in decimal -- some sysadmins can think in epoch seconds well enough to plan meatspace events. Mildly surprised if there isn't a way to set an Apple watch to display it. Mildly tempted to translate it into hex, too.
posted by clew at 2:34 PM on November 28, 2018 [1 favorite]


It seems like if they meant troy tons in the question, they would have said so
It is a trick question precisely because they didn't say what kind of tons. This is an old question.
posted by soelo at 2:53 PM on November 28, 2018 [1 favorite]


What I learned from this thread: lb looks like 16. Screw pounds and ounces and all the rest, of course, but also what a great memory trick!
posted by mosst at 3:19 PM on November 28, 2018


IT'S A TRICK QUESTION: THE TON OF FEATHERS AND THE TON OF LEAD WEIGH THE SAME BECAUSE THEY'RE BOTH THE SAME AMOUNT OF THE SAME UNIT OF WEIGHT, BUT THE TON OF FEATHERS IS CONSIDERABLY LARGER.

I know it's a trick question, but... if you put a metric ton of gold and a metric ton of feathers on a scale at sea level on Earth, the gold will push down just a little bit harder on the scale than the feathers will, as a result of buoyancy in air.

Somewhere between the operational definition of weight and apparent weight, the gold weighs more.
posted by clawsoon at 5:13 PM on November 28, 2018


Early in my webbish days, I ran across a description of an event (may have been fictional) about a lab in Europe that sent its results to the UK, with some important details noted as g/cc.

The English lab sent back a hostile letter saying, "we are an ENGLISH laboratory and we work with ENGLISH measurements, not your newfangled metric garbage," or words to that effect, and demanded the results be re-sent with English measurements.

The European lab sent back the results in stones per royal firkin.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 5:55 PM on November 28, 2018 [8 favorites]


Ho ho ho. I'm a high school engineering teacher and we're in the unit on measurement right now. Most students in my class are not USian by birth and don't know how many feet are in a yard or how many inches are in a foot, let alone the more esoteric measurements. Of course, the bigger issue with customary units in this age of Googling unit conversions is the number of Americans (and others) who don't understand basic things about fractions, like that 1/2 of 1/2 is 1/4 and 1/2 of 1/4 is 1/8 so on until you get to the 1/16ths on the ruler, and that 8/16 should be properly written as 1/2, and so on.
posted by subdee at 6:42 PM on November 28, 2018 [2 favorites]


Ah, but a freight ton of feathers is 40 cubic feet, whatever that weighs.
posted by yeolcoatl at 6:57 PM on November 28, 2018 [3 favorites]


200 comments and nobody has mentioned the incident that did more to damage confidence in ALL measurement units than anything else... the misuse of "parsecs" in Star Wars...
posted by oneswellfoop at 7:46 PM on November 28, 2018 [1 favorite]


To be fair, that incident happened light years ago.
posted by flabdablet at 10:59 PM on November 28, 2018 [8 favorites]


The A series of international paper sizes is interesting - the ratio of height to width is always √(2), and each number in the series has half the area of the previous number. The largest, A0, has an area of 1 m².

So, two A4s side by side make an A3. Cut an A4 in half, and you get an A5. Cut an A5 in half, and you get A6, which is the standard size for German toilet paper.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 1:02 AM on November 29, 2018 [4 favorites]


And really handily - print a drawing at 1:100 on A1. Then reduce it to A3. Miraculously it is now precisely 1:200. This is handy all kinds of places - can't print the A1 architecturals on anything but A3? No worries, might be a bit hard to read but you know what the scale is.
posted by deadwax at 2:14 AM on November 29, 2018 [2 favorites]




USA paper sizes aren't too bad, except we have a bunch of nicknames for things so you have to figure out what your printer has decided to call the paper you want.
A ("Letter") is 8.5 x 11 inches
B ("Tabloid"/"Ledger") is 11x17, so 2 A pages side-by-side
C is 17x22, so 2 B pages side-by-side
D is 22x34

Legal is 8.5 x 14, and is therefore wrongitty wrong wrong.

It's arbitrary and weird, but it's not like it's trivial to remember that A0 is 841x1189mm, and A4 is 210x297mm, either.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 4:58 AM on November 29, 2018 [1 favorite]


And really handily - print a drawing at 1:100 on A1. Then reduce it to A3. Miraculously it is now precisely 1:200.

Yeahbut unless your printer can print without any margin at all, then surely when you take something intended to be printed on A1 at 1:100 and print it on A3, you end up with it scaled at 1:204 or whatever but not 1:200 because it has to be squished relatively a little more to fit into the printable area of the page.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 5:14 AM on November 29, 2018


the misuse of "parsecs" in Star Wars...

Obviously, a long time ago in a galaxy far away, a "parsec" was a unit of time. Later, as Han's run became famous, it morphed into the unit of space - 1/12 the length of the Kessel Run.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 10:18 AM on November 29, 2018 [1 favorite]


USA paper sizes

Microsoft and Apple seem to be unaware of this, but we use those sizes in Canada too, honest. I wouldn't know where to find A4 paper without ordering it online.

B has twice the area of A, but not the same proportions. It's missing that advantage of the international sizes.

If you can't remember the size of A(n), and are a nerd, you can always derive it from its area. A(n) is (1 m²/2^n), and the proportions are 1:√(2). To find the short side (x), x=√(area/(√(2)), or for A0, 0.841 metres.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 10:21 AM on November 29, 2018 [3 favorites]


Let me assure you that A4 and US Letter are not the same size
posted by Merus at 7:19 PM on November 29, 2018 [1 favorite]


For A(n) paper:

Defined area = h * w = 2-nm2
Defined aspect = h / w = √2 = 2½

h2 = (2½ * 2-n)m2 = 2(½ - n)m2
h = √(2(½ - n))m
h = 2(¼ - ½n)m

w = (2(¼ - ½n) / 2½)m
w = 2(-¼ - ½n)m

So for A4 (n = 4): h = 2-1.75m = 297mm; w = 2-2.25m = 210mm
posted by flabdablet at 3:13 AM on November 30, 2018


> It's arbitrary and weird, but it's not like it's trivial to remember that A0 is 841x1189mm, and A4 is 210x297mm, either.

The point of the ISO series of paper sizes is not that the dimensions are easy to remember. It’s all about the aspect ratio of √2 which reproduces through the whole process of iteratively halving the longer side. No other aspect ratio does this. Your “A” and “B” do not have the same aspect ratio. The longer side of your “A” is 1.3 times as long as the shorter side, whereas for “B” this number is ~1.5, so you cannot scale something from size “A” to size “B” without having to either add a margin along the longer dimension (thus wasting space), or applying different scaling factors in width vs. length (which distorts the subject). When you go from A5 to A4, or from A1 to A6, it’s always a perfect fit and there’s no need for anisotropic scaling.

It’s hard to overstate how useful this is. One thing I often do is to scale down an A4 manuscript to A5 and print it on A4 paper in portrait mode, one page per sheet, so precisely half of the sheet is empty for annotations, and I can fold the stack of paper in half and it fits exactly in my A5 notebook. I have also discussed an A0 poster with colleagues by simply printing it on A3 at a scale of 35%. It annoys me to even imagine a world where paper isn’t that… sensible.

> Yeahbut unless your printer can print without any margin at all, then surely when you take something intended to be printed on A1 at 1:100 and print it on A3, you end up with it scaled at 1:204 or whatever but not 1:200 because it has to be squished relatively a little more to fit into the printable area of the page.

If you left a large enough margin on the A1 version, this is no problem at all. Simply tell the program you print from to scale to the paper size, not to the printable area.
posted by wachhundfisch at 5:31 AM on November 30, 2018 [6 favorites]


ooh. I suffer from this pain A LOT (more typically US measures though, not Imperial) since I use many American recipes, which I then have to try to convert to metric. First of all, who thought it was a good idea to have both dry and liquid measures called "ounces"??? I don't know. Maybe call one "wounces" (wet ounces) if you are so hooked on the "ounce" thing. As it is, I have to try to guess whether this canned pie filling is liquid or dry. How about butter? Wait, no. DON'T EVEN TALK TO ME ABOUT BUTTER. I spend so. much. time. converting "stick" to something sensible. Even easier stuff, like tablespoons (I have US measure spoons and cups to help me along a little), sucks. A tablespoon of butter? Is that, like rounded, or heaping, or flat? Not to mention that unless it's melted or very room temp, butter doesn't play well with tablespoons so you have weird caverns of non-butter in your tablespoon. But GRAMS. It's so very easy. One little kitchen appliance and you're set.

Oh, and "cans." And "bags." One can of beans? A) beans here usually don't come in cans, anyway, but b) if they do, they are not necessarily the same size of whatever "can" you are using. I go look at google images of US cans. Okay, it's probably this size, because they didn't say "small can" or "large can"; now, I just need to figure out how many grams of dried beans I'll need to make 12oz of canned beans. I wonder how much of that is water/liquid? Etc. And bags (or "boxes"), yes. Use a bag of frozen spinach? Which one? The 250 gram one? The 500 gram one? The 1000 (1 kilo) gram one? I DON'T KNOW.

And currently very, very frustrated about tea. Nearly every tea company, wherever they are in the world, gives you recommended amounts of loose tea per "cup." Do they mean a US cup measure (around 250 ml)? Or a UK cup (around 280 ml), or a standard tea cup (around 150 ml) or a medium mug size (up to 350 ml) or an Asian gaiwan type cup, which might be 100 ml or 60 ml or a bit larger or smaller? Aaaaargh! It's okay with blends I'm familiar with. I know that I almost always like 1.5 to 2 grams of black tea per ml of water, and can eyeball that for the mug I use, but with unfamiliar and/or exotic (to me) teas, some of which are samples so I have only one shot, or max two shots, at making a good "cup" to try it out, it's crazymaking.

I won't continue on with my complaints about teaspoons, but I have complaints about teaspoons. (You're welcome.)
posted by taz at 5:43 AM on November 30, 2018 [2 favorites]


...when I started farming I learned that we (farmers) measure rainfall in tenths of an inch. Tenths. Of. An. Inch.

bluebelle


Here in Australia rainfall is measured in millimetres (mm), and there are 2.54 of them to 1/10".
posted by Pouteria at 5:55 AM on November 30, 2018 [1 favorite]


Here in Australia rainfall is measured in millimetres (mm)

which is nice, because a millimetre of rain over a square metre of ground works out to exactly a litre of water, making it very easy for me to figure out how much rain-equivalent I'm giving these little trees I'm trying to get going every time I empty a ten litre watering can into their roughly half-square-metre water retention hollows.
posted by flabdablet at 6:34 AM on November 30, 2018 [3 favorites]


I almost always like 1.5 to 2 grams of black tea per ml of water

that's about a pound of tea per cup. I've heard of tea that's strong enough to stand up the spoon but never thought I'd meet somebody whose tea could actually do that.
posted by flabdablet at 6:41 AM on November 30, 2018 [3 favorites]


Haha! Yes, I am V. Serious Tea Drinker! Okay, no I really meant 100 ml. Dang how did I do that? After all my complaining about how inaccurate some measures are, I think maybe I deserved this embarrassing mistake. :P
posted by taz at 7:00 AM on November 30, 2018 [1 favorite]


How about butter? Wait, no. DON'T EVEN TALK TO ME ABOUT BUTTER. I spend so. much. time. converting "stick" to something sensible. Even easier stuff, like tablespoons (I have US measure spoons and cups to help me along a little), sucks. A tablespoon of butter? Is that, like rounded, or heaping, or flat? Not to mention that unless it's melted or very room temp, butter doesn't play well with tablespoons so you have weird caverns of non-butter in your tablespoon.
Wait, does your butter not come pre-measured?
posted by cnelson at 7:13 AM on November 30, 2018 [2 favorites]


Nope, because I'm not in the US. This is my usual butter (the first one). It's a solid block of 250 grams, so I always have to look up how many grams of butter are in one tablespoon of butter when using US recipes. It seems like I would remember, I do it often enough, but no. Bad brain is bad.
posted by taz at 8:11 AM on November 30, 2018


Sticks of butter cost noticeably more than blocks in Canada (like $7 vs $5 in Alberta), so they're uncommon. But thankfully our blocks are 454g, which is 4 sticks or 2 cups.

250g is pretty close to 2 sticks (about 10% more). Cut the block in half and save 10% of that for your toast
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 8:57 AM on November 30, 2018 [2 favorites]


For an added twist; what's the density of the butter? US butter has more water in it than "European butter", which to me means Irish butter or somewhere from Northern Europe. No idea what Greek butter is like. This thoughtful article says 14.2g / tablespoon, which seems to be the consensus, but totally doesn't address the question of water content.
posted by Nelson at 9:00 AM on November 30, 2018 [3 favorites]


A tablespoon of butter? Is that, like rounded, or heaping, or flat?

You're not going to like this, but a tablespoon of butter is 1/8th of a stick, because we pretend that a stick of butter is half a cup even though it's not. (and the size of a stick also varies between the east and west coasts, because of course it does.)
posted by ckape at 9:50 AM on November 30, 2018 [5 favorites]


I realize that unfolding a 8.5x11 sheet of A-size paper isn’t as easy as calculating 2 to the -2.75 power, but in practice if you’re printing anything you have a computer, and as long as the computer knows what paper size you want to print to, it figures out the scaling easily.

That said, God help you if you’ve unwittingly told the printer to use a different paper size than you intended.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 11:57 AM on November 30, 2018


and the size of a stick also varies between the east and west coasts, because of course it does.

It does? That's the first I'm hearing of it...I've seen two dimensions of sticks (longer ones and fatter ones) but they're always a quarter pound and they're (almost) always sold four-to-a-one-pound package.

Also, while a stick of butter may not be strictly 1/2 C, it's pretty damn close. I mean, if you're measuring by volume, you're already accepting a degree of imprecision (not to mention that oftentimes those tablespoon lines are poorly aligned with the end of the stick anyways) so it's not exactly the end of the world if you're off by a sliver.

Still, those paper-wrapped sticks are awesome and it is wildly convenient to be able to slice butter according to preprinted lines. I do bake by weight and most of the time I swear by it but I find measuring butter by weight is the one category where it is SO much more annoying.

(I never thought I'd write this many words defending American butter packaging...this is not the hill I want to die on, so I freely admit this is all based on my personal experience and I could easily be wrong.)
posted by mosst at 1:26 PM on November 30, 2018 [2 favorites]


and the size of a stick also varies between the east and west coasts, because of course it does.

The shape varies; the amount is the same. A stick is a half-cup, often with tablespoon-size markers on the outside. A half-stick is a quarter-cup or four tablespoons. A lot of US measuring is "half or quarter stick" rather than using measuring devices. And if you cook, you have a sense of how much of a stick 1 TBL is; for touchy recipes, you may want something more exact, but most of the time, you can just measure by eye.

Butter is easy. The hard part of US measurements is when you've lost your 1/3 cup measure and have to figure out how to make that with a 1/4 cup measure plus the spoons. (1/4 c. + 1 TBL + 1 tsp. Or, as most of us do it, "slightly heaping quarter cup.")
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 4:52 PM on November 30, 2018


bake by weight

Butter is homogenous and has a pretty consistent density. Measuring butter by volume is fine, just as with water or milk.
posted by ryanrs at 8:46 PM on November 30, 2018


Yeah, but with water or milk or anything else part of the reason for baking by weight isn’t just about accuracy, it’s also about the number of measuring utensils you have to find, and organize, and wash (ok, I guess not for water.) Butter is so much easier - all you need is a single knife. I guess I’m getting derailly at this point, so I apologize - I’m just amazed it’s still sold in big blocks when sticks are so much more practical.
posted by mosst at 9:27 PM on November 30, 2018


"A Mile shall contain eight Furlongs, every Furlong forty Poles and every Pole shall contain sixteen Foot and an half." The statute mile therefore contained 5,280 feet or 1,760 yards. Simple AF.
Hee Hee. It's the 16.5 feet to a pole after all the nice round numbers that cracks me up.

smelendez: "I think most Americans nowadays use decimal versions of standard units thanks to digital displays.

Google Maps says it's 2.6 miles to the next exit. My thermostat says it's 68.2 degrees. My scale says I weigh 152.6 pounds. The gas pump says I bought 6.32 gallons of fuel.
"

One of the weird things about driving in the US is upcoming freeway exit signs use a seemingly random mishmash of decimal miles, fractional miles and hundreds or thousands of feet; sometimes on the same sign. On top of the reality that the mile is so large numbering the exits by mile requires adding letters to differentiate multiple exits in the same mile.

dancestoblue: "But what it's turned into now is that US cars and trucks are built with both real AND metric nuts and bolts, pretty much a total wrist-slitter -- on my pickup, changing the front shock absorbers, the stuff on top is metric and the stuff down below is real, and the whole damn truck is that way."

When that sort of thing first got started I had a car whose alternator pivot bolt used a 9/16ths wrench on the nut and a 13mm wrench on the bolt. Never did come to a conclusion on whether it was just a big FU from engineering or, because mechanics were going to have metric and imperial wrenches anyways, a way of cutting down on the number of duplicates required.

St. Oops: "Similarly, if you need to drill a hole in the middle of a board that is 711mm long, you are going to fudge that 0.5 mm. Imperial units provide a level of accuracy that doesn't necessarily require exponentially increasing precision."

Great, now put that hole a 1/5th of the way from end.

subdee: " Of course, the bigger issue with customary units in this age of Googling unit conversions is the number of Americans (and others) who don't understand basic things about fractions, like that 1/2 of 1/2 is 1/4 and 1/2 of 1/4 is 1/8 so on until you get to the 1/16ths on the ruler, and that 8/16 should be properly written as 1/2, and so on."

That's not an age of googling thing; in the 1980s A&W stopped selling a 1/3rd pound burger in part because people thought it was smaller than McD 1/4 pound burger.

Pruitt-Igoe: "The A series of international paper sizes is interesting - the ratio of height to width is always √(2), and each number in the series has half the area of the previous number. The largest, A0, has an area of 1 m²."

Did Laserjets in Europe feature the message "PS LOAD A4" instead of ""PC LOAD LETTER"?

taz: "Oh, and "cans." And "bags." One can of beans?"

And because of the shrink ray you can't even be sure the can of foo you are buying today is the same size as the can of foo the recipe was written with.
posted by Mitheral at 10:03 PM on November 30, 2018 [2 favorites]


In Japan, at least, I’ve seen “PC LOAD A4”
posted by DoctorFedora at 4:28 AM on December 1, 2018 [2 favorites]


Oh, and "cans." And "bags." One can of beans? A) beans here usually don't come in cans, anyway, but b) if they do, they are not necessarily the same size of whatever "can" you are using. I go look at google images of US cans. Okay, it's probably this size, because they didn't say "small can" or "large can"; now, I just need to figure out how many grams of dried beans I'll need to make 12oz of canned beans. I wonder how much of that is water/liquid? Etc. And bags (or "boxes"), yes. Use a bag of frozen spinach? Which one? The 250 gram one? The 500 gram one? The 1000 (1 kilo) gram one? I DON'T KNOW.

I just looked and the cans of beans in my kitchen and they're all 15 oz by weight. I never really thought about it because I've always considered "one can of beans" to be a standard unit of measure.
posted by octothorpe at 4:44 AM on December 1, 2018 [1 favorite]


US can sizes, with a little about their history, viz., that one constraint was getting as many cans as possible out of the standard sheet of tin. The optimal proportions of the can are a nice calculus homework problem in maximizing the volume of the can vs the amount of metal actually used, given that the cut-offs between circular can tops are wasted.

Not that that helps to guess which size can the US usually puts a particular ingredient in, nor yet knowing if they've been watering the beans down recently.
posted by clew at 11:22 PM on December 1, 2018


Note there's no 15 oz can on that list. My assumption is that a can of beans used to be 16 oz until some jackass decided it'd be better to make the cans 6% smaller rather than raise prices 6%. That's also why a "pound of coffee" weighs anywhere from 9 to 12 ounces now, etc. Butter is one of the few ingredients not to suffer this kind of shrinkage, I think because the stick is such an essential cooking measurement.
posted by Nelson at 6:52 AM on December 2, 2018 [1 favorite]


The *cans* haven't changed size in a long time, though. More likely the standard can was designed to hold a pound of water, beans are not space-filling, and either there are fewer beans bouncing in a can, or regulations have changed so that labeling for beans now describes drained weight, not net weight.

See! Bulletin 172 of the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station (1912): "The Net Weight or Volume of Food Products Which Are Sold in Packages." (pdf)
posted by clew at 12:36 PM on December 2, 2018 [1 favorite]


Supposedly a mile used to be 5000 feet, but sometime in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, there was an inconsistency between rods and miles, and since all the land in England was surveyed in rods, they changed the mile instead.

I only ever see road signs with whole or fractional miles, but I would have to look up how much 1500 feet is, where the road work is going to start. Fortunately they provide 1000 and 500 foot signs to at least give you a ballpark feel for it.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 1:52 PM on December 2, 2018


clew: " either there are fewer beans bouncing in a can"

It's pretty much this.
posted by Mitheral at 2:06 PM on December 2, 2018


I wonder how much traction a movement to make the "price per drained ounce" the largest number on the shelf would get.
posted by clew at 2:11 PM on December 2, 2018


Nelson: My assumption is that a can of beans used to be 16 oz until some jackass decided it'd be better to make the cans 6% smaller rather than raise prices 6%.

This was a common practise with bread prices in the Middle Ages. The price of one loaf of bread would remain constant, but the size of the loaf would change as the availability and cost of wheat changed.
posted by clawsoon at 2:55 PM on December 2, 2018 [1 favorite]


Middle ages bread … and Hershey bars (for a long time, anyway). Given that Hershey's tastes like something made in the middle ages, it's a fair comparison.

One of the most valiant attempts at metric vs US customary why-can't-we-just-get-alongery was by HP. Their plotter units were 1/40 mm, or exactly 1/1016 in. Sure, there aren't many common factors, and the smallest US unit you can go to before breaking out fractions is ⅛ in, but a valiant attempt.
posted by scruss at 6:41 PM on December 2, 2018


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