It's not an error until you build it
July 3, 2020 9:41 PM   Subscribe

The international foot is exactly 0.3048 of a meter, whereas the U.S. survey foot, 1200/3937 of a meter, has an unending decimal. This means that anyone working in multiple U.S. locations or with different agencies must keep careful track of which foot is in use.
posted by Chrysostom (127 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
 
This is why we can't have nice things.

That aside, anyone know which foot is used in Fruit by the Foot?
posted by asperity at 9:59 PM on July 3 [19 favorites]


“We really wanted people to go metric,” Dennis says, “but that's a different kind of battle.”

Ah yes, brings up a bit of nostalgia for another time when Americans chose making farting noises with their armpits over joining the rest of the world and streamlining things.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:59 PM on July 3 [25 favorites]


One of my grandfathers was a civil engineer, and when he was working on a project in Chicago that was joining two buildings together, the two buildings that were meant to meet up perfectly were IN FACT four inches apart (a story he told at every family holiday, with HILARIOUS laughter because he'd never heard of anything so funny in his life).

The extra funny part is that my great-grandfather on the other side may have been the surveyor who (maybe?) fucked it up. (It's a little unclear whether it was surveyor error, engineer error, or just the buildings settling into the swamp that is under Chicago.)

It's interesting because it's not very hard to learn to survey -- I learned in about 8 hours -- but fucking it up causes all manner of problems. And the US hires all kinds of people to do surveying for them -- my dad spent four summers surveying rural Michigan highways to pay for college, which MDOT paid full-time wages for. I only surveyed archaeological sites, where 47 people are checking all your work (and you're working in metric), but my dad surveyed all kinds of highways with a team of 3 and a bunch of that work is still in the state and national highway maps! And they were dumbasses who spent a huge portion of their shift trying to drive close enough to trees to make the branches slap whomever was sleeping in the right-hand seat. (They started their shift super-early.) The major qualification was the ability to drive a pedal-shift diesel truck, not any particular surveying qualifications or ability with math. The requirement at the time was that one person on the team had to speak English well enough to write down the measurements in the table, and that was it.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:17 PM on July 3 [44 favorites]


"The nice thing about standards is that you have so many to choose from."
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:43 PM on July 3 [25 favorites]


This means that anyone working in multiple U.S. locations or with different agencies must keep careful track of which foot is in use.

I have twice seen this mistake cause an approximately one-foot vertical error during construction, which is definitely significant.

It's interesting because it's not very hard to learn to survey -- I learned in about 8 hours

There is a reason that a PLS (Professional Land Surveyor) license usually requires education, 2-6 years of experience, and passing examinations. Running a total station or RTK is easy and basic stuff can be taught in a few hours, but to actually know what you are doing and produce reliable, defensible, and accurate results requires a lot more than that. In a lot of states topographic surveys can be overseen by a PE, but property boundary surveys typically require a PLS. (And federal lands require a CFedS, as well.)

However, the two mistakes I mentioned above both had PLS's involved, so that is no guarantee of perfection.
posted by Dip Flash at 10:46 PM on July 3 [14 favorites]


If we're going to use feet, we should really just define a foot as 0.299792458 meters. It's a less than 2% change. And sure it would screw up a lot of surveying and construction for a little while, but it's so elegant!
posted by biogeo at 10:55 PM on July 3 [16 favorites]


I’ve worked as a land surveyor and in my experience the sorts of errors that occurred due to sloppiness, dumbassery, or intrinsic error—note this was before the era of laser instruments—was far in excess of any 6th decimal place.
posted by sjswitzer at 11:03 PM on July 3 [4 favorites]


Never mind the discrepancy between international feet and American feet: I'd have thought the simple issue of having a unit of measurement with an unending decimal might cause problems in itself. What's the story there?
posted by Paul Slade at 11:09 PM on July 3 [2 favorites]


On a related note, I recently learned about the long hundred: up until the 1400's "hundred" in a lot of Germanic languages meant 120, not 100. Just in case you thought this was a new problem
posted by JDHarper at 11:14 PM on July 3 [31 favorites]


It's interesting because it's not very hard to learn to survey -- I learned in about 8 hours

"Tha could pretend to be an Astronomer," Dixon says, "-- all tha need to know, I can teach thee in five minutes."

"Surveying won't even take that long," snaps Mason. "Piss runneth downhill, and Pay-Day is Saturday,-- now you're a qualified Fence-runner."
posted by aws17576 at 11:15 PM on July 3 [22 favorites]


previously, from the Early Mid Covidcene.
posted by away for regrooving at 11:19 PM on July 3 [5 favorites]


I have twice seen this mistake cause an approximately one-foot vertical error during construction
That must have been a hella tall building (or I'm missing something, which is definitely possible):
480,000 ft is either [0.3048] 146,304m or [480,000*(1200/3937)] 146,304.29m = 29cm ~1ft difference
posted by BobTheScientist at 11:38 PM on July 3 [10 favorites]


I'd have thought the simple issue of having a unit of measurement with an unending decimal might cause problems in itself.

An inch 0.0833333... feet. Don’t write inches as decimal feet and it’s fine. Or just use as much precision as you need and/or can measure or build at and then stop writing any further threes.

I don’t know about other construction but I feel for carpentry a bit of the skill is being able to do things precisely but more of the skill is figuring out how to not need to be so precise.
posted by aubilenon at 11:43 PM on July 3 [8 favorites]


Once again I am more impressed by the fact that Eyebrows McGee has extensive personal experience with a cool arcane topic than anything else
posted by DoctorFedora at 12:05 AM on July 4 [13 favorites]


Despite the mighty efforts of the NIST, we’ve still failed to fulfill the obligations of Article 1 Section 8 of the constitution to fix the standards of weights and measurements.
posted by sjswitzer at 12:54 AM on July 4 [7 favorites]


ils sont fous, ces romains américains
posted by mumimor at 2:37 AM on July 4 [13 favorites]


When mapping property or construction plans, surveyors convert those meters to feet. If they use an unexpected type of foot, future engineers referencing those maps might install or look for infrastructure in the wrong place. How? Are they using hand-held calculators? Writing their own code?

As for the GPS to position conversion issue, I would expect the non-spherical nature of the Earth to cause much bigger problems. In the UK, the difference between the various definitions of latitude and longitude is certainly big enough for a plane to miss a runway.
posted by StephenB at 2:37 AM on July 4 [3 favorites]


There was a huge error in Tacoma (on the never ending construction on I-5), where a ramp was being built from two sides, and it was clear they were NOT going to meet - and they didn’t, they missed both vertically and horizontally by many feet. It was abvious this was happening as construction continued. I imagine the construction foreman telling the engineer “This ain’t gonna work!” Engineer: it will, trust me. So the guys keep Working, cause they’re getting paid, and soon enough the engineer got his comeuppance. Probably not how it went down, but that’s my storyline.
posted by dbmcd at 3:52 AM on July 4 [8 favorites]


How about you just use metres?
posted by awfurby at 3:54 AM on July 4 [2 favorites]


We are using meters. We just have names for weird fractions of meters.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 4:01 AM on July 4 [23 favorites]


>How about you just use metres?
The "American Meter" isn't the ISO one, it's the distance green light travels in 1 (60 * 299792458)th of a New York Minute.
posted by k3ninho at 4:03 AM on July 4 [6 favorites]




I don’t know about other construction but I feel for carpentry a bit of the skill is being able to do things precisely but more of the skill is figuring out how to not need to be so precise.


This is how I feel about another land where precision is fetishized — computing. It's one thing to try to build a language so safe or a compiler so string you can't make mistakes and another to make a program so flexible you can.

Then again, I love imperial measurement and my argument (only playable in person after 2 beers) has actually convinced people who scoffed at the outset!
posted by dame at 5:55 AM on July 4 [3 favorites]


> Tha could pretend to be an Astronomer," Dixon says, "-- all tha need to know, I can teach thee in five minutes."

"Surveying won't even take that long," snaps Mason. "Piss runneth downhill, and Pay-Day is Saturday,-- now you're a qualified Fence-runner."


it’s good to see that people still appreciate my work.

> if we're going to use feet, we should really just define a foot as 0.299792458 meters. It's a less than 2% change. And sure it would screw up a lot of surveying and construction for a little while, but it's so elegant!

then we’d have three standards: international feet, american feet, and new feet.

in order to avoid confusion, we should have a different name for the distance defined by the light-nanosecond. i propose “trochee.”
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 6:18 AM on July 4 [8 favorites]


The nice thing about imperial measurements is that you have so many empires to choose from. The Ottoman foot (ayak) is 378.87 mm. Seems about right.

Surveying errors are a reminder we're human. A street near me, Victoria Park Avenue, is the former boundary between East/North York and Scarborough, but they're all Toronto now. Apparently the Toronto surveyors used one datum, while the Scarborough surveyors used a datum starting in Kingston, much further east. And you can see the error all along Vic Park: streets don't line up, either having awkward turns or no through ways at all. Lots don't face one another. It's a very rough edge indeed.
posted by scruss at 6:18 AM on July 4 [2 favorites]


If you think feet are complicated, try miles.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 6:34 AM on July 4 [2 favorites]


All I know is I have two 0.6096 meters
posted by baegucb at 6:38 AM on July 4


How about you just use metres?

That would be socialism. Or communism. Or maybe both, I can't remember.
posted by octothorpe at 6:39 AM on July 4 [3 favorites]


in order to avoid confusion, we should have a different name for the distance defined by the light-nanosecond.

In Canada, they call it the Gordon.
posted by moonmilk at 6:48 AM on July 4 [11 favorites]


That would be socialism. Or communism. Or maybe both, I can't remember.

No, the traditional answer is that American units are so much more practical and human-shaped for everyday use, and then you come up with some arbitrary examples that sound insane, because you've never really thought about what it's like to operate in metric, have no interest in imagining that, and assume America had a good reason for never switching.

I am not surprised by the prospect of America being a rich failed state, because I have years of bitter experience in talking to Americans online about the metric system
posted by Merus at 6:55 AM on July 4 [18 favorites]


I remember wayyyyy back when things got semi-serious for awhile about the US going metric, I kept having this circular discussion with my father about it. He kept insisting on visualizing, say, a meter in terms of how many feet it was. He just couldn't make the conceptual leap to a new paradigm.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:56 AM on July 4


We had good intentions of switching over back in the 1970s. I learned the metric system in elementary school and at the time, we thought it would be in place by the mid-eighties but then the Reagan Revolution happened everything started going backwards.
posted by octothorpe at 6:58 AM on July 4 [12 favorites]


but then the Reagan Revolution happened everything started going backwards.

We seem to be in more or less 1959 now.

As for feet, how about we go with the Chicago hot dog?
posted by mule98J at 7:07 AM on July 4 [3 favorites]


Metric is for people who don't understand fractions. Is my snarky answer. But more seriously there's no real reason to use American units in engineering or science. And there's no real reason to use metric in American domestic carpentry. Never really understood why people get so worked up by it. I don't know much about surveying. But error (and cumulative error especially) in measurement, calculation, and conversion will be omnipresent no matter what units you are using. No choice of units will replace careful understanding and consideration of the effects of all calculations and conversions in your process.
posted by thefool at 7:10 AM on July 4 [4 favorites]


> In Canada, they call it the Gordon.

this opens up a whole nother can of worms. like, was the edmund fitzgerald carrying 26,000 imperial tons or 26,000 metric tons? would they have made whitefish bay had they standardized their units of measure?
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 7:15 AM on July 4 [7 favorites]


How about you just use metres?

Only if we can use an American meter, which is 40.00 inches. This is more tidy, because then an inch is 25.00 mm.
posted by sebastienbailard at 7:21 AM on July 4 [4 favorites]


As for the GPS to position conversion issue, I would expect the non-spherical nature of the Earth to cause much bigger problems.

It does! But there's lots of sophisticated math to correct for it. Your garden variety GPS receiver (or phone) has in its software a giant order 2159 spherical harmonic calculation to correct readings to roughly 10cm. Note this doesn't just correct for the squished ball overall shape, but for tiny little fluctuations in sea level based on the variable gravity from the density of the earth.

One nice thing about GPS altitude error is that it's more or less the same locally; two buildings next to each other have more or less the same correction required.

More generally, serious GIS data is always recorded with respect to a datum and system. It's not a big deal for the real software to say "this thing is measured in survey feet, whereas that thing is measured in international feet". No more difficult than converting kilometers to furlongs or whatever.

The real hard problem is everything's moving. Australia is moving some 70cm to the northeast every year. Local construction doesn't care; it's all moving at the same pace. But global geodesy does. So now there's a move to having time-dependent datums for GIS applications, which does complicate things somewhat.

OTOH that's not even a new idea; most US survey data is with respect to NAD27, a 1927 datum, even though pretty much everyone now is thinking in terms of WGS84 because of GPS. Still it's a different thing to have two fixed years to measure by, rather than a continuous time-dependent set of numbers.
posted by Nelson at 7:22 AM on July 4 [23 favorites]


Really we should be using the old German 'long meter' which is 120 cm.
posted by sebastienbailard at 7:23 AM on July 4 [4 favorites]


I have twice seen this mistake cause an approximately one-foot vertical error during construction
That must have been a hella tall building (or I'm missing something, which is definitely possible):
480,000 ft is either [0.3048] 146,304m or [480,000*(1200/3937)] 146,304.29m = 29cm ~1ft difference


I'm not a surveyor so I'll probably scramble the explanation up, but in both cases it was a compounded error involving initial surveys being done in state plane with international feet, unit confusion during design, and then additional unit confusion during construction stakeout, creating major issues across a ~2 mile-long site. There may have been a basic conversion or projection error involved along the way as well, I can't remember for sure.

Any time you have multiple steps in a chain (e.g., survey data collection to post-survey data corrections to engineering CAD/Civil3D (and incorporating data from GIS and/or modeling, previous surveys done in other coordinate systems, etc.) to plans to construction stakeout to contractor's interpretation of the stakeout) and you have multiple units of measurement and coordinate/projections, there is additional opportunity for errors.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:25 AM on July 4 [4 favorites]


Yeah, I'm assuming that 1ft error came from many accumulated minor errors. Like, you tell a worker to cut 1000 pieces exactly 1 foot long, and he doesn't account for blade width and cuts each one to 11-7/8.

Small errors added together can quickly become a problem, as our FRC robotics team learned the hard way. Couple years back, one of our system captains decided that an inch was about 2.5cm, and that was good enough. Okay; it's your call, Cap. We'll see how that goes. (spoiler: It went poorly.)
posted by xedrik at 7:42 AM on July 4 [4 favorites]


in order to avoid confusion, we should have a different name for the distance defined by the light-nanosecond. i propose “trochee.”

if you're heading in one direction they're trochees, but they're iambs if you're going the other way.
posted by madcaptenor at 7:51 AM on July 4 [10 favorites]


Remembering that the foot comes from a much earlier time than the meter, like when workmen were less likely to have a handy accurate measuring device to work with, consider that
12 has the factors 2,3,4,6.
10 has the factors 2 and 5.
Easier to divide a foot into smaller units.
posted by rudd135 at 7:51 AM on July 4 [4 favorites]


Sure there are many sources of error but conversion errors are controllable and sources of conversion error should be eliminated as much as possible. It doesn't matter that engineers use metric and carpenters use inches ... until an engineer needs to hire a carpenter or vice versa.
posted by muddgirl at 7:56 AM on July 4


One of the few usenet posts I wish I'd tucked away was a very clear explanation on the benefits and reason for the development of the pre-metric measurements. Foot and yard have numerous divisions (12, 4, 3, 6) that have practical usage and can be derived by just halving rather than measuring to several decimal places, very useful prior to laser measurement tools and a workforce without formal math training.
posted by sammyo at 8:05 AM on July 4 [1 favorite]


Bah. Bah, I say.

Everybody uses the same foot, which as everyone knows is 12 inches of 25.4 millimeters each, and has been for over 60 years. It’s the surveyors who are wrong. (Again. [PDF])

The American system of units is just a custom skin on the metric system, and has been for over 120 years. We might’ve used the metric system proper, but pirates stole our kilogram.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 8:35 AM on July 4 [8 favorites]


Yeah, I'm assuming that 1ft error came from many accumulated minor errors. Like, you tell a worker to cut 1000 pieces exactly 1 foot long, and he doesn't account for blade width and cuts each one to 11-7/8.

I'm scratching my head about the same thing BobTheScientist was; multiple minor errors of 2 ppm still only add up to 2 ppm (which to get 1 ft vertical issue is impressive, as it needs about 100 miles of height to add up to a one foot error.

I admit I didn't understand DipFlash's explanation (unless they are saying there was other unit issues also.)
posted by mark k at 8:57 AM on July 4


Nov. 10, 1999: Metric Math Mistake Muffed Mars Meteorology Mission

This 125 million dollar mistake was failing to convert pounds of thrust to Newtons.
posted by Brian B. at 9:26 AM on July 4 [3 favorites]


a unit of measurement with an unending decimal might cause problems in itself. What's the story there?

An inch is 1/12 of a foot, or 0.083̅3... (repeating). It's only a problem if you work exclusively in base 10. One convenient thing about having a foot divided into 12 is that you can have a half, a third, quarter, a sixth and a twelfth of a foot without ever worrying about decimals, which you can't do with meters. A third of a meter is no whole number of centimeters, so if you really like cutting things in thirds, it's not that convenient.

(and from the point of view of the foot, a meter is 3937/1200 feet, or 3.28083̅3... which isn't ending either! so is it the meter's problem? or the foot's?)
posted by BungaDunga at 9:28 AM on July 4 [1 favorite]


If we simply used a base 12 number system, we would get the best of both worlds.
posted by RobotHero at 9:33 AM on July 4 [4 favorites]


I say we just eyeball everything, the "Fuck it, close enough" standard.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:39 AM on July 4 [3 favorites]


I say we just eyeball everything, the "Fuck it, close enough" standard.

Borrowing from dermatology (skin mole danger and diagnosis), everyone should learn that a new pencil eraser is about a quarter inch in diameter, and a quarter inch is 6.35 mm exactly. It's an easy mental conversion tool for measures in inches by doubling or halving.
posted by Brian B. at 10:12 AM on July 4 [1 favorite]


if you're heading in one direction they're trochees, but they're iambs if you're going the other way.

Same with inches and ouches.
posted by oulipian at 10:31 AM on July 4 [4 favorites]


Easier to divide a foot into smaller units.

As long as you don't care about kerf width.

But at least can we have the Two Minutes Hate for decimal feet? I picked up an architect's ruler surplus a few months back, and at first glance the markings appear drunk. Turns out that its scale is in ¹/₁₀ feet, or 1"; 30.48 mm. Whhhhyyyyy?!

As I've recounted the story of the very expensive repro scanner destroyed by feet and inches before, I won't repeat it here again.
posted by scruss at 10:31 AM on July 4 [1 favorite]


this opens up a whole nother can of worms. like, was the edmund fitzgerald carrying 26,000 imperial tons or 26,000 metric tons? would they have made whitefish bay had they standardized their units of measure?

This feels like a setup for a Gimli glider joke.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 10:39 AM on July 4 [1 favorite]


Canadian, gradeschool in the late 70's, educated in metric but raised in an imperial/american units family. Studied chemical engineering in the early 90s, during which time we could expect any assignment to be in any unit whatsoever (and in fact had an entire course in first semester that amounted to measurement and unit conversions, including a midterm question requiring us to convert furlongs per fortnight to parsecs per picosecond. My professional career has been as a Canadian working mostly either for american parent companies (as a plant engineer) or american clients (as a consultant).

The net consequence of all this is that what my head considers the "right" unit is highly scenario dependent. Temperature is almost always C, unless it's weather or biological processes in which case I tend to think in F. Very small dimensions are in um or mm, middling dimensions (line sizes, pipe lengths, pump footprints) are in inches and feet, and large dimensions (building pads, site areas) are...I was going to say metres but in fact theres this weird subset where its convenient to talk about large number of thousands of mm.

The "right" pressure unit to me is psi. I have to mentally convert everying to PSI to "get" what pressure i am really thinking about. Same goes for energy with BTUs. Device power generally considered in HP (mainly pump and blower motors). For small volumes I tend to think in mL or L, but for e.g. large storage tanks I am back to gallons.

While I have a good physical sense of what a pound is, to pick one up, my mental calibration for mass has evolved to be exclusively kg and g. (I have nearly created a Bad Outcome due to ton vs ton vs tonne!) Finally I have zero real grasp of what a mile is.
posted by hearthpig at 10:44 AM on July 4 [7 favorites]


I'm sure the USA would be more amenable to metric if we could dress it up with troy grams, imperial meters, and other such folderol.
posted by adamrice at 10:45 AM on July 4 [1 favorite]


Are there international points and picas vs us survey points and picas? (I hate those things)
posted by aubilenon at 10:57 AM on July 4


The great thing about metric is that if you get toe-hold with one metric unit, the rest of the system starts to open up easily. Americans have that toe-hold with soda. We just need to convince people to start measuring lengths in cubic-half-two-liter-edges, and bang, problem solved. A foot is just about three cubic-half-two-liter-edges so it's not even a huge adjustment!
posted by biogeo at 11:02 AM on July 4 [2 favorites]


> This 125 million dollar mistake was failing to convert pounds of thrust to Newtons.

Metric or Fig?
posted by genpfault at 11:10 AM on July 4 [7 favorites]


Really we should be using the old German 'long meter' which is 120 cm

In the good old days of modular construction, the standard module in Europe was 1200 mm. In a way, it still is, though the systems have become more adaptable. That's how you get to the standard sizes of IKEA kitchens (or are they made in different sizes for the US? I don't know). You can break the modules into smaller parts like 3X400 or 2X600 or (rarely) 6X200 and 4X300. And you can of course multiply them endlessly. I really impressed some students once, when they showed me a photo of a 70's building and asked how long I thought it was. I could tell them to the mm because I could read the modular structure.

In Europe at least, you have to go really far back in time (as in back to prehistoric times) to not have had good measuring tools at construction sites, though I guess villagers building a barn may have worked with greater tolerances than skilled masons building a cathedral. The problem was not a lack of tools but a lack of standardisation. And of course it doesn't make a huge difference that you have wonderfully accurate measuring tapes if your timber is all crooked. That goes for contemporary construction too.
posted by mumimor at 11:22 AM on July 4 [2 favorites]


We had good intentions of switching over back in the 1970s. I learned the metric system in elementary school and at the time, we thought it would be in place by the mid-eighties but then the Reagan Revolution happened everything started going backwards.

There's at least one road sign on I-580 that gives distances in kilometers; I assume it's a vestige of the time you speak of.


There was a huge error in Tacoma (on the never ending construction on I-5), where a ramp was being built from two sides, and it was clear they were NOT going to meet - and they didn’t, they missed both vertically and horizontally by many feet. It was abvious this was happening as construction continued. I imagine the construction foreman telling the engineer “This ain’t gonna work!” Engineer: it will, trust me.

I have been both foreman and engineer in this scenario, grappling with myself. I was assembling a geodesic dome with a friend. The kit consisted of 120 rods of three lengths and a schematic diagram which we had misplaced, but recreated from memory and geometric intuition. We were sure we'd gotten it right, since our re-creation used exactly the right number of each type of rod. In the second hour of construction -- working from the ground upward and gradually filling in the hole at the ceiling -- we started to get nervous; the joins were getting increasingly difficult and wonky-looking: indented where they ought to be convex, or else too salient. The tension we needed to overcome to assemble each new joint was rising fast, and soon we were almost literally bending the rods to our will. But the sunk cost fallacy had us in its grip, and we talked ourselves into the proposition that as polyhedral rigidity had not yet set in, all could still come right in the end. It did not.

We did get the diagram right on the second try, however.


It's interesting because it's not very hard to learn to survey -- I learned in about 8 hours

When I was in high school, a friend of mine (a little older and studying agriculture and related topics) sent me the multiple-choice final exam from a course he'd taken in land-surveying. We had been discussing the idea that test-taking is a skill in itself (one which I was amply blessed with); his idea was that I'd take the test without having studied the subject at all, just going off context cues. I got over 70%. I admit I was a little proud, but I also had enough self-awareness to realize that this meant there was a big difference between testing well in a subject and actually having meaningful knowledge of that subject, and, hmm, what else might this apply to?

But I think Eyebrows McGee is telling me the lesson I learned that day should have been surveying is easy. :-)
posted by aws17576 at 11:33 AM on July 4 [3 favorites]


troy grams

Hey, I went to school with him! He was a mixed-up kid.
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:13 PM on July 4 [4 favorites]


If you think feet are complicated, try miles.

I once heard about a seismic survey conducted off the coast of Africa, the measuring equipment was all state of the art GPS in metric co-ordinates with multiple redundancy to get a super accurate fix.
Unfortunately the crew sailing the ship were using an old 1950's map that was plotted in nautical miles, South African nautical miles.
So when they got back to shore and analysed all the data it told them, with great precision, that they had surveyed the wrong bit of the ocean. I don't know how much that error cost but easily north of $1M in today's money.
posted by Lanark at 12:27 PM on July 4 [1 favorite]


aubilenon: "Are there international points and picas vs us survey points and picas? (I hate those things)"

A bit of a tangent, but Japan uses a type-size system called 級 (kyuu). It's close to points, but a little smaller, so 12 pt is about 14級. I was mystified about this for years until I learned that 1級 is a quarter millimeter, shortened to Q, Japanized to 級. It works out that there are about 100級 for 72 pt.
posted by adamrice at 1:57 PM on July 4 [6 favorites]


It's like that (apocryphal) thing about there being 60 seconds in a minute, 60 minutes in an hour because ancient babylonians could easily count to 12 by using the bones of their finger joints. You can come up with lots of rationalizations for any standard, they don't really hold all that much water if you ask me.
posted by axiom at 5:56 PM on July 4


Standards aren't meant to hold water, they're too porous and the wrong shape.
posted by Greg_Ace at 6:07 PM on July 4


But at least can we have the Two Minutes Hate for decimal feet? I picked up an architect's ruler surplus a few months back, and at first glance the markings appear drunk. Turns out that its scale is in ¹/₁₀ feet, or 1⅕"; 30.48 mm. Whhhhyyyyy?!

I assume you had an architect’s scale, used for making scale drawings. 1/10th scale in this case.
posted by TedW at 6:20 PM on July 4 [2 favorites]


That’s an interesting argument for working in decimal - architects and engineers started working with the architects’ scale and the thou’ long before their fields switched to metric.
posted by clew at 7:09 PM on July 4 [1 favorite]


...ancient babylonians could easily count to 12 by using the bones of their finger joints.

I worked with an SE Asian dude 30 years ago who showed me how to count like that. I'd say it holds a fair amount of water in my book.

See also: languages that have 'counter names' (AKA single-morphemes) that reflect Base12/duodecimal origins.
posted by Insert Clever Name Here at 7:33 PM on July 4


I'm not saying they didn't count that way, I just wonder whether all instances where units use multiples of 2 or 3 or 5 are necessarily linked. And also that if you want to come up with these sorts of convenience arguments you could do so for a lot of things.
posted by axiom at 7:53 PM on July 4


Yes, architects' scale. But I'm used to metric ones that aren't so confusing about units.

And the mention of thou gives me the habdabs: the british thou (0.0254 mm;¹/₁₀₀₀") is called a mil in the US. I mean, wat?
posted by scruss at 7:54 PM on July 4


No, watts are units of power.
posted by axiom at 7:55 PM on July 4 [6 favorites]


That's revolting.
posted by Greg_Ace at 8:16 PM on July 4 [2 favorites]


I'm certainly not an expert but there's a lot of research and history written about the evolution (cultural and otherwise) of numbering systems and counters, if one cared to delve more deeply into the subject.
posted by Insert Clever Name Here at 8:33 PM on July 4


Sorry to shock you.
posted by axiom at 8:50 PM on July 4 [2 favorites]


It's okay. In fact I've passed the information along to my amps and uncles, to help them feel more empowered.
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:24 PM on July 4 [2 favorites]


My favourite part of Canada holding the metric fort against the US imperial system is this: Civil engineers still specify 2x4 lumber for buildings, but they call it, with a straight face, 38x89mm.
posted by Popular Ethics at 10:10 PM on July 4


Civil engineers still specify 2x4 lumber for buildings, but they call it, with a straight face, 38x89mm.

While we call it, with a straight face, 2x4...
posted by aws17576 at 11:20 PM on July 4 [5 favorites]


Yeah, it's called 2-by-4 here and if you actually get a piece that's 2 inches by 4 inches instead of 35mm by 90mm then you take it the fuck back to Bunnings

One of the arguments I always heard was that no-one will want to walk into the shop and order 0.907 kilograms of mince, and that is obviously insane. You will order a round kilogram and your recipe will also have been adjusted to nice round sizes so that the proportions are about the same and everything is a nice round number in metric, and the reason you dread the prospect is that we already did this and you didn't so all of your experience with metric is conversion into fiddly numbers.

Or the bone-dry argument about if quantities are based on 12s, then you can easily divide by halves, thirds and fourths by hand, a thing that people simply shouldn't be doing by hand in the 21st century. If I need two-thirds of a cup of flour, I do not get a cup of flour and eyeball it into thirds. I read the measurement printed on the cup. If I'm a builder and I expect to need to work to thirds, if it's not on the plan and it's not something I've worked out earlier, I can always work to a 1.2 metre grid and all my measuring tools still work. I probably don't need to work to an exact third, given material size, so I can round off to the nearest 10mm (builders work exclusively in mm so you can talk about wood size and building size without changing units) and it'll still look right. And that advantage evaporates when you need, like, 7/15s, which is a pain in either system.

And you'll never hear Americans defending US Letter paper.

The actual problem is that the rest of the world has a standard, and it's a good standard, and the US does not conform to that standard because the US fundamentally has no interest in the rest of the world, and has had the privilege to be able to treat it and its requirements as optional. The advantages that people talk about are marginal compared to the frustration and expense of conversion, a price that the rest of the world paid decades ago and yet still has to pay when dealing with America, particularly American cultural output.
posted by Merus at 12:18 AM on July 5 [10 favorites]


I think the reason it's called Imperial measurements is because it's an accommodation the rest of the world has to come to with you because you're Top Dog. An ostentatious sign of Imperial privilege.

When you're no longer Top Dog, as was clear to the UK by the late 60s (that long, yes, and there are parts sadly adjacent to the government that never quite got the message), you join in with everyone else, as we did in the early 70s.
posted by Grangousier at 1:01 AM on July 5 [3 favorites]


If I need two-thirds of a cup of flour, I do not get a cup of flour and eyeball it into thirds. I read the measurement printed on the cup.

If the difference between half, two-thirds, or three-quarters of a cup of flour makes a difference in your recipe, you need to be weighing it instead of measuring by volume.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 6:04 AM on July 5 [1 favorite]


And ideally you're baking by weight with baker's percentages. Now let's see, I have 1 pound 4 ounces of flour. How much water is 73% hydration? How many eights of an ounce is 1.1% yeast? Remember, we're Americuns, no fair using decimal grams. Gotta use our superior system.
posted by Nelson at 6:14 AM on July 5 [1 favorite]


And you'll never hear Americans defending US Letter paper.

What's wrong with 8.5 x 11, 11 x 17, 17 x 22, 22 x 34, 34 x 44? Just rolls off the keyboard, those. No weirder than 210 x 297. You fold an 11 x 17 in half, you get 2 8.5 x 11's.

If anyone had ever written good printer software in the history of mankind, you could probably print one on the other most of the time without having the printer demand you stop living your life and go find and load whatever weird paper size you definitely don't have in the office.

(Let us not speak of Legal paper, ever.)

Also, FWIW, in my experience we don't call feet, gallons, miles, etc. Imperial, or American Standard, or anything. We (I) just call them English units.

(Let's also never ever talk about metal gauges or pipe sizes. Some things aren't worth defending)
posted by Huffy Puffy at 7:28 AM on July 5


Which is hilarious because, for example, a US gallon is smaller than an Imperial gallon which The English used.
posted by Mitheral at 8:46 AM on July 5 [2 favorites]


Being a simple person, I always appreciated ordering a pint of ale in the UK versus here in the US, because it was bigger. And a whole lot better too.
posted by njohnson23 at 9:02 AM on July 5 [2 favorites]


That's what I like about "A pint's a pound the world 'round". It's a mnemonic that helps remember something that isn't true.
posted by aubilenon at 9:25 AM on July 5 [6 favorites]


Also each unit of US alcohol proof is 5‰ ABV but in the UK it's 5.7‰ ABV. (though in both places I think bottles now are required to be labeled by %ABV)
posted by aubilenon at 9:32 AM on July 5


It's as if the right foot doesn't know what the left foot is doing.
posted by Naberius at 11:14 AM on July 5 [1 favorite]


aubilenon: "That's what I like about "A pint's a pound the world 'round". It's a mnemonic that helps remember something that isn't true."

Especially in Australia.
posted by adamrice at 12:34 PM on July 5


aubilenon: "Also each unit of US alcohol proof is 5‰ ABV but in the UK it's 5.7‰ ABV. "

Hmmm, I wonder what the backstory is on that difference?

posted by Chrysostom at 1:34 PM on July 5


No weirder than 210 x 297. You fold an 11 x 17 in half, you get 2 8.5 x 11's.

Every pair of consecutive Euro sizes, like A4 and A5, has that property. It's a consequence of two decisions they made: ignoring rounding, the ratio of the long side to the short side is √2, and the long side of one size is as long as the short side of the next bigger size. You get other nice properties as well; for example, going up one size always doubles the area, and going up two sizes doubles the length and width. And of course all the "A" sizes have the same shape.

The part that surprises me is that none of the sizes seem to feature a length that's a nice round number like 100mm. I kind of wonder what the starting point for the system was, but not as much as I wonder about where standard screen resolutions like 1920x1080 came from, because a length will only look like a nice number in the correct arbitrary unit, but a round number of pixels is always round because you wouldn't measure pixels in any unit but pixels.
posted by shponglespore at 1:55 PM on July 5


shponglespore: "The part that surprises me is that none of the sizes seem to feature a length that's a nice round number like 100mm."

The A paper series starts with A1, which has an area of 1 m^2. Because of the 1x √2 proportions, you don't get any even numbers. The B paper series starts with B1, which has the same proportions, but has a long side of 1000 mm, so you do get an even number.
posted by adamrice at 2:38 PM on July 5 [8 favorites]


The ironic thing about US customary units is that they are all defined in terms of metric conversions and have been for some years now. The US metricized, the public did not.

Thanks, Saint Ronnie in Hell, for derailing us at the last minute.
posted by wierdo at 2:50 PM on July 5 [2 favorites]


You get other nice properties as well

You're missing the really important one: you can scale ISO A paper sizes and everything stays in proportion. So you get two perfectly proportioned A5 page images on an A4 sheet, while half-letter has a different aspect ratio (0.647) to letter (0.773).

In Europe, you just take scaling and page fitting as a fact of nature.
posted by scruss at 4:28 PM on July 5 [3 favorites]


Thanks, Saint Ronnie in Hell, for derailing us at the last minute.

I had a couple of years in elementary school where we were taught the metric system pretty intensively in preparation for what we were told was an imminent switch... and then that disappeared and it was all imperial from then on except for once in a while in science class. Looking at Wikipedia, that was probably right about when they abolished the United States Metric Board and put the permanent kibosh on metrification.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:21 PM on July 5 [1 favorite]


Sorry, got my previous post wrong. A0 has an area of 1 m^2.
posted by adamrice at 7:15 PM on July 5


So not only do A-series paper sizes always scale, they’re zero-indexed. As they need to be, the way old books are described by paper size and the result of the number of folds - Elephant folio or Demy octavo or whatever.

It is still mostly made of wood pulp. First you take a log...
posted by clew at 11:13 PM on July 5 [1 favorite]


Yeah, weirdly when I was in elementary school in the early 90s, we got taught the metric system very heavily for one year in math class and were told we'd learn imperial units the next year, and then they changed the curriculum or something over the summer and we got taught the metric system again the following year, and never learned imperial units. Consequently I'm still very vague on quite a bit of the imperial system. I'm pretty vague on things like how many quarts there are in a gallon (I think it's four, maybe?) and I haven't got the slightest clue how many feet make up a mile (it's in the thousands, right?). So even though I'm a product of American schooling, the only system that's ever actually made any sense to me is metric. For short lengths I still tend to default to inches and feet, for travel distances miles, and for things that weigh on the scale of a few kilograms my intuitions are more built around pounds. But anything outside the really common daily stuff and my brain just prefers to work in metric.

It would have been so easy to switch then, we were really close. Damned Republicans.
posted by biogeo at 11:19 PM on July 5


we got taught the metric system very heavily for one year in math class and were told we'd learn imperial units the next year, and then they changed the curriculum or something over the summer and we got taught the metric system again the following year,

Were you my classmate? I went to school in Philly and this happened to me, too. Later on I always converted to metric and back again when doing calculations because why on earth is 1 yard not 1/1000th of a mile or whatever.
posted by romanb at 2:59 AM on July 6


how many quarts there are in a gallon (I think it's four, maybe?)

I lived for 45 years as an American before realizing "quart" is short for "quarter gallon".

Can't help you with pints or cups though.
posted by Nelson at 6:56 AM on July 6 [1 favorite]


A pint is half of a quart. A cup is half of a pint.
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:06 AM on July 6


And a mile is 8 furlongs.
posted by Greg_Ace at 8:20 AM on July 6


The ironic thing about US customary units is that they are all defined in terms of metric conversions and have been for some years now. The US metricized, the public did not.

Isn't this backwards? I mean, there are 2 products in my fridge that look like they are native metric: 1 liter bottles and 750mls of alcohol. Every single other product was definitely manufactured with imperial units in mind, even if they were produced in a foreign country. This is actually my "hobby" when I travel - finding products that were definitely produced in metric and not something like 454ml. They are surprisingly rare (at least in the western hemisphere). Even the soy sauce packets are 8ml instead of rounded to 10.
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:37 AM on July 6


The units in the US are defined in terms of metric units; the sizes of sauce packets are probably defined by the "shrink-ray".
posted by clew at 10:37 AM on July 6


Were you my classmate? I went to school in Philly and this happened to me, too.

Heh, I went to school in Virginia. It's really interesting to know this was widespread across multiple states and not just limited to my school district. I wonder if there's a thin demographic age-slice in America that's secretly metric-native, perpetually in a state of faint confusion at the weights and measures surrounding us every day.
posted by biogeo at 10:47 AM on July 6 [3 favorites]


What more worrying is that here in Ontario - in a proper metric country - they teach kids a little about the customary unit system. Instead they should be teaching children to set it on fire on sight as they should.

The reason for this? Our neighbour down south.
posted by scruss at 12:31 PM on July 6 [1 favorite]


It's really interesting to know this was widespread across multiple states and not just limited to my school district.

We did the same in my school district in BFE in the early 90s. There are road signs in km in California, New Mexico, and Arizona at the least. I think and compute in each, I don't really care, since they are both measuring the same things. If you spent much time running track, you think short distance in meters, even though that too is approximating the imperial system.

I actually think it's bizarre how everyone feigns confusion of inches and feet, even though the most common thing we measure is time, and it's a base 12 system.

The only one that confuses me is weight - but I never weigh anything so someone could tell me I weigh 100 kilograms and I'd believe them, even though I just looked it up and it's not even close.
posted by The_Vegetables at 1:16 PM on July 6


Isn't time base 60?
posted by Mitheral at 1:49 PM on July 6 [1 favorite]


Isn't time base 60?

Inherently.
posted by aubilenon at 2:38 PM on July 6 [1 favorite]


60 is just 50 in base 12.

Though really in the absence of a place-value numeral system like we use today, I think it's always a bit of shoehorning to describe number/counting systems as having a single base. Many (most?) cultures/languages have been perfectly happy to use hybrid systems as it's convenient, using whatever words they have for large-ish numbers, and freely combine them in arbitrary-seeming ways. Like, consider Roman numerals. Are they base ten or base five? Arguably a hybrid of the two, but also arguably neither since they didn't have a rigorous place-value system. Or consider French numbers like quatre-vingt-dix-sept, which literally glosses into English as "four-twenty-ten-seven" but is just ninety-seven. Is French base twenty? Well, no, my understanding is that fluent French speakers tend to just parse the string "quatre-vingt-dix" as a unit meaning 90, and outside France most French speakers have switched to "nonante" as a more "rational" base-10 way of saying the same thing. (I'd be curious to know if any French speakers disagree with this, though.)

The Babylonian number system (Wikipedia) which forms the basis for modern measures of time and angle is described as base 60, but the numerals themselves are clearly composed in base 10. (Which is interesting, since I would have guessed that the base 60 system was developed from including 5 as an additional prime factor into a pre-existing base 12 system, but the decimal numerals make it pretty clear that's not likely to be the case.) However they evidently did have a place-value system using these numerals, which makes it more like a true base-60 system.
posted by biogeo at 2:58 PM on July 6 [1 favorite]


when Americans chose making farting noises with their armpits over joining the rest of the world

Isn't that still happening?
posted by HiroProtagonist at 9:58 PM on July 6


how many quarts there are in a gallon (I think it's four, maybe?)

I lived for 45 years as an American before realizing "quart" is short for "quarter gallon".

A pint is half of a quart. A cup is half of a pint.


And there are 8 fluid ounces in a cup, and two tablespoons in a fluid ounce. So a gallon has 256 (2^8) tablespoons, if anyone actually needed to express a gallon in tablespoons. Which they don't.

I suspect there's some alternate reality where everything is metric and some people occasionally post a contrarian argument in favor of "human sized" units based primarily on doublings. I mean, you might double a recipe or halve it all the time, but how often do you need to scale things up by 1000 unless you're an engineer?

I'm not saying they are right, but I do think the lack of logic in customary units is a bit exaggerated. It usually comes into play precisely when shifting around dramatically in scale (feet in a mile, for example) which practically speaking isn't all that common a situation.
posted by mark k at 10:14 PM on July 6 [2 favorites]


Except, and this is where I always lose the thread when thinking about this and can't remember which is which, there are 20 imperial fluid ounces in an imperial quart, 5 to the oz. There ends up being a smidge less than 5 US quarts in an Imperial gallon (a factor that comes up when changing oil on pre-metrification Canadian cars). The Imperial fluid oz ends up being about 4% smaller than the US fluid oz which is close enough for rough measure.
posted by Mitheral at 10:40 PM on July 6


5 to the oz pint
posted by Mitheral at 8:24 AM on July 7


There are road signs in km in California, New Mexico, and Arizona at the least.

Delaware Route 1 (which runs the length of Delaware from north to south) has exits signed in kilometers but mileposts by the side of the road. I got on it at the northern end and saw exit numbers around 160 and thought "Delaware can't possibly be that long". (It's actually about a hundred miles north to south, which is still longer than you might think if you're used to clipping its northern edge on I-95.)
posted by madcaptenor at 9:38 AM on July 7


In Canada there's no standard pint at pubs. Some British-y ones will give you 20 fl oz, and crappy chains at the airport will give you 14 oz. but things have been getting better. In the part 5-10 years I've noticed more places printing their definition of "pint" on the menu! "We serve 18 oz pints". Or my favourite, "we serve 19 oz pints", just to nickel and dime you.

Still, better than when I was served a 12 oz "pint" in a plastic cup at a brew pub in Tennessee.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 9:54 AM on July 7 [2 favorites]


As an American living in Europe, this discussion happens all the time and it really bothers me. Different people use different systems and that's ok. Imperial is weird to people who didn't grow up with it, and the same for metric. To me, this is essentially complaining that currencies are different around the world. Like yeah, they are, and you have to convert them to get to a reference point that you know. Different countries have different systems for different needs. Sure alot of the world officially converted to metric but locally, many places still use their historic measurement systems in certain areas of life too. It just that the US decided to keep it's customary system as the official one.

I am biased toward imperial because I grew up with it but also because I am very comfortable with fractions. I've been slowly learning and adapting to the metric system and I mostly don't have to convert in my head except for weight, mostly because larger weights are not common topics of discussion. I will die on the hill that imperial is better for two things specifically:

-Weather temps: Fahrenheit is essentially a scale from 0 to 100 where 0 is fucking cold and 100 is fucking hot. 70 is comfortable (just like a passing grade in school!). The same temps in Celsius are -18 to 38, which I don't think is as intuitive as 0 to 100. Celsius is great for the boiling and freezing temps of water, but I don't need to actually measure those very often as all I have to do is turn on my stove or my freezer and it does the work for me, and if I'm worried about boiling water anywhere else, I'm probably in grave danger.

-cooking: it is much easier to work with fractions here then trying to get like 100 grams from a package containing 1000. And yeah measuring cups, but what if my recipe calls for mixing the liquids first and now I need 1/2 cup of flour but my 1/2 cup is all wet? Well I can just eyeball 1/2 of the one cup measuring cup. All the teaspoons, tablespoons, cups, etc divide evenly into each other so its not like there are weird fractions/decimals with the different sizes. I don't know easy work arounds like that for metric, but I didn't grow up with metric so maybe people have their tricks.

Most people are not going to have problems with metric/US imperial in their daily lives. People who do, it tends to be because of their profession, and then I have no sympathy. It's just math, do your math right because you're a professional.
posted by LizBoBiz at 3:21 AM on July 8 [2 favorites]


All I know is I have two 0.6096 meters
posted by baegucb at 9:38 AM on July 4 [+] [!]


Was this supposed to be two feet? Because either your feet are MASSIVE or you've actually got 4!
posted by LizBoBiz at 3:23 AM on July 8


Fahrenheit is essentially a scale from 0 to 100 where 0 is fucking cold and 100 is fucking hot.

It's a scale that goes from 32 to 212 through 180 evenly divisible degrees. This is how it's defined, not by the shamefully Metric, less divisible and arbitrary 100.

But in all seriousness, lots of us get by fine with Celsius, in places where < 0 F is not noteworthy for much of the year. Your scale is just different, not better.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 3:40 PM on July 8 [3 favorites]


I once heard a comedian (Stephen Fry?) say that Brits liked to use C for cold weather and F for hot, in order to make it sound more dramatic (-1C instead of 30F, 90F instead of 32C).
posted by Greg_Ace at 7:48 PM on July 8 [4 favorites]


Fahrenheit is essentially a scale from 0 to 100 where 0 is fucking cold and 100 is fucking hot. 70 is comfortable (just like a passing grade in school!). The same temps in Celsius are -18 to 38, which I don't think is as intuitive as 0 to 100.

Celcius is a scale from 0 to 100 where 0 is freezing and 100 is boiling [water]. The same temps in Fahrenheit are 32 and 212 which I don't think is as intuitive as 0 to 100.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 9:49 PM on July 12 [1 favorite]


Yes that is true, and would be a better scale for any time that I need to know the exact temperature of boiling or freezing water. In my everyday life, I don't need to know that. I dont need to know the temperature of water in a pot to know if its boiling. I don't need to know the freezing temperature of water to see that ice is frozen.

Maybe if I had a more scientific career, this would be more useful to me. But having an intuitive scale for the weather is much more relevant in my daily life than an intuitive scale for water.
posted by LizBoBiz at 12:14 AM on July 13 [4 favorites]


I think there's not anything inherently intuitive about that, it's just what you're used to.

I know weather by Celsius because that's what shows up on TV but I bake using Fahrenheit because I've got a lot of American cook books.

Maybe 0 C for weather is helpful if you're worried about frost harming your plants? That's the one case I can think of where it comes up in regular life. I was starting tomatoes in pots this spring and if it was going to get close to 0 overnight I needed to move them into the shed. If I lived in Fahrenheit land I'd have memorized whatever the equivalent is, 40 or whatever.
posted by RobotHero at 1:27 PM on July 13 [1 favorite]


The thing is - the metric system really is better than Imperial for anything where you're doing a lot of conversions. It's great for weight and distance and volume. But you don't do those things in temperature, so creating a metric temperature system based off of more "logical" points didn't really gain anything, and the fact that each degree was larger actually makes it slightly less precise in ordinary usage.

I'm reminded a bit of the French Revolutionary effort to move to decimal time and calendars.
posted by Chrysostom at 1:33 PM on July 13 [1 favorite]


The two temperature scales were developed within 20 years of each other, in 1724 and 1742-4*. This is before the metric system even came along. Not sure why Fahrenheit’s took off in the English-speaking world while everybody else went Celsius.

*Linnaeus fixed the scale in 1744, right after Celsius died. Before that 0 was boiling and 100 was freezing.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 1:51 PM on July 13 [2 favorites]


I think there's not anything inherently intuitive about that, it's just what you're used to.

I am 100% ready to give credit to just having grown up with Farenheit, but a scale from 0 to 100 is definitely more intuitive than a scale from 0 to 40. We never ask for anything on a 0 to 40 scale. We never ask "rate that movie on a scale from 0 to 40" (ok, we usually as 0-5/10/100, but never 0 to some number not 5/10/100). 0 to 100 is intuitive like people above are claiming metric's base 10 is intuitive. Maybe it's just that base 10 is intuitive as we (at least in the West) grow up learning base 10.
posted by LizBoBiz at 12:55 AM on July 14


I'm in Winnipeg so neither one would let me think of temperature as a range that starts at 0.
posted by RobotHero at 9:10 AM on July 14 [1 favorite]


« Older Bichopalo's noises and frankenstein creations   |   Dark days for democracy in Hong Kong Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments