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I noticed this morning that this article in the Daily Mirror gives… - Sally's Journal
October 1st, 2007
10:44 am

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I noticed this morning that this article in the Daily Mirror gives all the numbers in imperial.

The Metro too has been running lots of letters about how Evil Europe is trying to take our imperial units from us. This drives me mad, because as a good mathematician imperial is so stupid

Still, then I thought about this a bit more. There are lots of other factors at play - anti-Europe sentiments, anti-change, but it strikes me that there are only two good arguments:

1) Easy to calculate things in. Metric wins hands down. It makes sense. You can measure very big things and very small things with millis and megas and everything is in 10s, which is nice, because that's how our numbers worth

2) Numbers are about the right size. If you want 1 goodly amount of beer, you can order 1 pint. In 1984, the old man in the pub comments that half a litre is not enough and a litre is too much, he just wants a pint (Hey, according to Wikipedia an American pint is 17% smaller than ours. I never knew that). Now, I'm not sure how much of this is conditioning (if drinks always come in pints we are annoyed when they don't. Like I was annoyed when the 50ps changed size because they were the wrong size for 50ps, even though they were well within a reasonable range of sizes for a coin) and how much of this is that it's actually better to measure things in thing-sized numbers, so that 1 is very small and around 10 is very big. Feet and stones do this very well for size and weight of people. But if you try and have any unified system, where we measure sugar and people and planets in the same unit, you lose this neatness. Maybe having a feel for numbers is difficult. (Gratuitous Spinal Tap reference - "this amp goes up to 11!")

Can you fix the "numbers are the right size" problem and have a nice unified easy to use metric system?

I wonder if people don't convert between things very often. They don't care how many more times more than a bag of sugar you weight. So sugar is measured in pounds, people in stones, they are different things we don't need to compaire (America's odd use of pounds for people-weight is demolishing my entire argument, isn't it? Maybe that's why they're (on average) fat - because their weight numbers are so large as to be abstract and meaningless) Metric is much better for abstracts, such as "weight", but if you are only dealing in specifics does it help?

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From:wellinghall
Date:October 1st, 2007 10:08 am (UTC)
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AIUI, the American pint is 16 fluid ounces against our 20, with the fluid ounce being the same size on either side of the pond. So their pint is actually 20% smaller than ours, while ours is 25% larger than theirs.

The same goes for gallons - each gallon has 8 pints, of whatever size.
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From:fanf
Date:October 1st, 2007 10:27 am (UTC)
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Not quite. The US gallon is the same as one of the pre-Imperial UK gallons: 231 cu. in. (not sure if they use the modern inch, though!), whereas the Imperial gallon was an early 19th c. flirtation with metrication: the volume of 10lb water. A US fl. oz. is rather bigger than the volume of 1oz water, whereas the equivalence is exact for Imperial measures. There are a couple of amusing mnemonic rhymes:

A pint is a pound
the world around

A pint of water
weighs a pound and a quarter

Which goes to show how broken American measures are.

Another early flirtation with metrication was the florin, aka the two shilling piece (value 1/10 £). It continued in circulation after full metrication, being used as the 10p piece until it was shrunk.
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From:emperor
Date:October 1st, 2007 10:10 am (UTC)
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Irksomely, one of our measuring jugs is marked in US pints.
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From:emperor
Date:October 1st, 2007 10:11 am (UTC)
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which is one argument for metric - a kilogram is the same everywhere; lots of imperial units vary from place to place.
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From:ewx
Date:October 1st, 2007 10:13 am (UTC)
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I'm curious how old the tradition of drinking beer in pints (or close approximations to pints) actually is.
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From:wellinghall
Date:October 1st, 2007 10:16 am (UTC)
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Pretty old, I think - a law of 1315 comes to mind.
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From:mjg59
Date:October 1st, 2007 10:17 am (UTC)
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I'd have thought that ease of communication was also a good argument? Admittedly, it depends on who you're trying to communicate with...
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From:gerald_duck
Date:October 1st, 2007 10:43 am (UTC)
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Mmm.

So the Eurocrats are trying to get us to switch from using the same units as the Americans with whom we can communicate because we share a language to the same units as a load of people whom we can't understand anyway. "Blargle wargle 227mg floop" is no more useful than "this weighs 3½ grains".

Admittedly this is undermined more than slightly by the Americans actually using different units with the same names, and by the number of mainland Europeans who kindly go to the trouble of learning English for us. (And by the rather smaller number of people from the UK who bother to learn other European languages.)
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From:fanf
Date:October 1st, 2007 10:38 am (UTC)
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Agreed in all respects, though I should note that 500ml is 17.6 fl. oz. and the legal minimum pint is 19 fl. oz.
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From:the_elyan
Date:October 1st, 2007 10:19 am (UTC)
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I've found I use different scales at different times, for the reason of nice-sounding numbers, as you suggest.

For instance, I measure low temperatures in Centrigrade, because 0 degrees makes sense for freezing, but high (atmospheric) temperatures in Fahrenheit, because "in the 80's" sounds more impressive and makes sense better to my mind than "about 27".
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From:gerald_duck
Date:October 1st, 2007 10:19 am (UTC)
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Inches are a very convenient unit. This highlighter pen is about four inches long, for example, by which I mean it's probably between 3½ and 4½ inches. If I said it was about 10cm long you'd have a much less clear idea how approximate I was being. The inch works well for guesstimate measurements, with the half-inch and quarter-inch also being useful — humans seem happy thinking in halves and quarters. If I say something is, oh, a quarter of an inch wide, that, again, implies more leeway than 6mm.

Half a pound of cheese remains a useful-sized lump.

I tend to keep metric units for cases where scientific precision is required.

Ironically, the introduction of the metric system has made life in the UK more complicated rather than less because it's yet another measurement. And I talk with Americans enough that I need to understand American pints, gallons and fluid ounces as well as ours, though it causes me more trouble converting fuel prices and car fuel economy figures than dealing with beer or milk.

Thank goodness I'm reasonable at mental arithmetic!
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From:davefish
Date:October 1st, 2007 10:53 am (UTC)
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I tend to keep metric units for cases where scientific precision is required.

My most often used rule of thumb is in imperial, which is light travels 1 foot in 1ns (Roughly) which is very convenient for the work I do.
From:tifferrobinson
Date:October 1st, 2007 10:25 am (UTC)
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Being on a diet I have flicked from measuring myself in stone and in KGs. The problem with KGs is that they are more meaningless to most people, because there are more of them - 18 stone is more memorable than silly Kgs, because there are only <20 of them. However I have started measuring in KGs simply because then I make more progress each day and I can actually read the dang things - the pounds scale on my weighing thingy is really hard to read from 6 foot!

And then the americans go and confuse everything by using pounds without stone. How odd!
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From:pozorvlak
Date:October 1st, 2007 11:37 am (UTC)
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Electric scales Are Your Friends. I too am on a diet, and have found this.
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From:edith_the_hutt
Date:October 1st, 2007 10:27 am (UTC)
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I wouldn't miss the pint of milk. But I'd miss the pint of beer.
I measure my weight in stone or kilo interchangeable, but my food is always metric.
I just had to pull out a calculator to work out what 5' 10" is in centimetres.
From:neonchameleon
Date:October 1st, 2007 10:34 am (UTC)
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Easy to calculate things in. Metric wins hands down.

Please! Try doing thirds in base 10. Base 12 is so much more sensible this way (and base 16 has its own benefits). Of course, remembering what is in what base in imperial is a problem of its own.
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From:andrewwyld
Date:October 1st, 2007 10:42 am (UTC)
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To be genuinely easier you need to switch entirely to base 12--not something I object to in principle but unlikely since we aren't mostly a polydactylous people.
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From:andrewwyld
Date:October 1st, 2007 10:40 am (UTC)
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I don't know about weight, but almost every adult fits in a two-foot range of heights.  It is exceptionally rare to meet someone below five feet or over six feet eleven in height.  Thus you have two boolean flags ("exceptional height range" or "over six feet") and if the first is false, then the second means you only have to remember one number, i.e. the inches.  If the "exceptional height range" flag is set you have to remember feet as well.

All measurement systems are basically a convenience; abandoning one you can actually estimate due to long experience is therefore an inconvenience.  Feet and inches are difficult for arithmetic purposes, but for arithmetic purposes you're only ever going to need feet *or* inches if it's just an estimate and if you're doing it properly you just convert to inches and back again, which is well within the capacity of a programmable calculator from 1975.

I like the metric system and it's unquestionably better for scientific uses (and with only one system there's less chance of substituting yards for metres and crashing) but even I know what it feels like to have that knowledge at the bottom of your stomach that there's another gill of beer in your glass yet to be drunk.

Oh, by the way, since the surveyors screwed up and the Earth's circumference is not exactly 40,000km (in any direction), there's nothing to stop you creating a third set of units ... which the English and the Europeans will complain about (and the Americans will simply ignore).
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From:fanf
Date:October 1st, 2007 11:16 am (UTC)
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Typical height range and measurements for (tallish) women and men are quite convenient in metric:
150 cm = 4'11
170 cm = 5'7
180 cm = 5'11
200 cm = 6'7
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From:andrewwyld
Date:October 1st, 2007 10:47 am (UTC)
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While we're on the subject, I think the phrase "order of magnitude" should refer to natural logarithms, not base-10 logarithms.  Just because we're prejudiced in favour of decimal systems doesn't make them a natural choice for "magnitude" type statements.  As the old joke goes, engineers take π as 1 and π2 as 10, to one order of magnitude; using natural orders, it's be e and e2 (OK, not a massive improvement).  I feel like it makes more sense, but at the same time, to estimate decimal magnitude you only need to look at the highest digit value and decide whether to round up or down.

But what about four?  Log four is definitely over half ... so is 40 actually order of magnitude 100, or order of magnitude 10?

In other words, maybe you do need logarithms for decimal magnitude after all.
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From:davefish
Date:October 1st, 2007 10:52 am (UTC)
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Order of metrictude?
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From:feanelwa
Date:October 1st, 2007 11:27 pm (UTC)
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Yes, I measure food in 'about that much'es, except when making cake or bread, when really it's only important that you stick to metric or imperial all the way through. I also time food by the size of the stack of washing up that can be done before it is cooked.
From:emarkienna
Date:October 1st, 2007 11:02 am (UTC)
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I think the Metro is owned by the same group that does the Daily Mail, so any anti-Europeness doesn't surprise me.

I was pleased when cans of beer went from 440ml to 500ml :) I don't really follow the argument that we can't have pints if things go metric. Going metric doesn't mean the size has to change, and "pint" and "half" can simply be the names referring to the two types of drink. I mean, when ordering spirits, you have "single" or "double", no one specifies the exact measurement of volume they want.

How do things work in Europe? Whilst I don't think I've asked for pints, I also don't recall asking for half-litres, and whatever I get seems to be the right amount still (possibly it was 500ml). Actually, being a light-weight, I would probably find 500ml easier to handle... Also Brown could market it as a something to help the "binge-drinking crisis" that he seems worried about atm.
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From:gerald_duck
Date:October 1st, 2007 11:09 am (UTC)
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Ah, but the "single" that you order in a pub used to be a sixth of a (British) gill and is now 25ml. It sneakily got 5.5% larger when spirit measures were forced to go metric. Good news if you want more booze for your money; bad news if you want to cut down on your alcohol consumption.
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From:miss_next
Date:October 1st, 2007 11:07 am (UTC)
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My dad is another very strong advocate of imperial units, but when you actually try to get reasons out of him, they make no sense. When I point out, for instance, that measuring everything in multiples of ten makes calculations very much easier, he replies that people should be able to do the kind of calculations that are required for imperial measurements. Although I'd also like everyone to have that kind of fluency in mental arithmetic, the fact remains that a system not based on multiples of ten is inherently slower and more prone to errors, even in situations where everyone is reasonably competent.

Yes, let's improve basic numeracy skills, but they shouldn't have to be used for calculations involving weights and measures when there is a better system available. And, to touch on another point raised, my preferred liquid serving size is 200 or 250 ml. I can't drink a pint of anything at one sitting! :-)
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From:feanelwa
Date:October 1st, 2007 11:25 pm (UTC)
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His argument also relies strongly on not having to use numbers like 1/15285091750 of an inch in everyday life.
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