?

Log in

No account? Create an account
I noticed this morning that this article in the Daily Mirror gives… - Sally's Journal
October 1st, 2007
10:44 am

[Link]

Previous Entry Share Next Entry
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?

(85 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments
 
Page 1 of 2
<<[1] [2] >>
[User Picture]
From:wellinghall
Date:October 1st, 2007 10:08 am (UTC)
(Link)
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.
[User Picture]
From:fanf
Date:October 1st, 2007 10:27 am (UTC)
(Link)
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.
[User Picture]
From:emperor
Date:October 1st, 2007 10:10 am (UTC)
(Link)
Irksomely, one of our measuring jugs is marked in US pints.
[User Picture]
From:emperor
Date:October 1st, 2007 10:11 am (UTC)
(Link)
which is one argument for metric - a kilogram is the same everywhere; lots of imperial units vary from place to place.
[User Picture]
From:ewx
Date:October 1st, 2007 10:13 am (UTC)
(Link)
I'm curious how old the tradition of drinking beer in pints (or close approximations to pints) actually is.
[User Picture]
From:wellinghall
Date:October 1st, 2007 10:16 am (UTC)
(Link)
Pretty old, I think - a law of 1315 comes to mind.
[User Picture]
From:mjg59
Date:October 1st, 2007 10:17 am (UTC)
(Link)
I'd have thought that ease of communication was also a good argument? Admittedly, it depends on who you're trying to communicate with...
[User Picture]
From:gerald_duck
Date:October 1st, 2007 10:43 am (UTC)
(Link)
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.)
(Deleted comment)
(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]
From:fanf
Date:October 1st, 2007 10:38 am (UTC)
(Link)
Agreed in all respects, though I should note that 500ml is 17.6 fl. oz. and the legal minimum pint is 19 fl. oz.
(Deleted comment)
(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]
From:the_elyan
Date:October 1st, 2007 10:19 am (UTC)
(Link)
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".
[User Picture]
From:gerald_duck
Date:October 1st, 2007 10:19 am (UTC)
(Link)
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!
[User Picture]
From:davefish
Date:October 1st, 2007 10:53 am (UTC)
(Link)
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)
(Link)
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!
[User Picture]
From:pozorvlak
Date:October 1st, 2007 11:37 am (UTC)
(Link)
Electric scales Are Your Friends. I too am on a diet, and have found this.
[User Picture]
From:edith_the_hutt
Date:October 1st, 2007 10:27 am (UTC)
(Link)
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)
(Link)
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.
[User Picture]
From:andrewwyld
Date:October 1st, 2007 10:42 am (UTC)
(Link)
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.
[User Picture]
From:andrewwyld
Date:October 1st, 2007 10:40 am (UTC)
(Link)
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).
[User Picture]
From:fanf
Date:October 1st, 2007 11:16 am (UTC)
(Link)
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
[User Picture]
From:andrewwyld
Date:October 1st, 2007 10:47 am (UTC)
(Link)
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.
[User Picture]
From:davefish
Date:October 1st, 2007 10:52 am (UTC)
(Link)
Order of metrictude?
(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]
From:feanelwa
Date:October 1st, 2007 11:27 pm (UTC)
(Link)
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)
(Link)
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.
[User Picture]
From:gerald_duck
Date:October 1st, 2007 11:09 am (UTC)
(Link)
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.
[User Picture]
From:miss_next
Date:October 1st, 2007 11:07 am (UTC)
(Link)
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! :-)
[User Picture]
From:feanelwa
Date:October 1st, 2007 11:25 pm (UTC)
(Link)
His argument also relies strongly on not having to use numbers like 1/15285091750 of an inch in everyday life.
[User Picture]
From:cartesiandaemon
Date:October 1st, 2007 11:09 am (UTC)
(Link)
For that matter, keeping the current units because we're used to them *is* the correct default, people are right to assume it, but wrong not to see the benefits (potentially) of a unified system outweighing it.

units of the right size

There's two parts to this, of the right order of magnitude, and of exactly a convenient unit.

I think the second is a red herring. I'm not convinced that a pint is exactly the right size at all -- most people I know often drink less or more than that. And if it *is*, there's no good reason you couldn't standardise glasses to be 0.56L.

Some units are chosen to be convenient for every day experiences, but some are just coincidences. After all, it's good to have lengths that match experience -- but can you get 1mm, 1m and 1km all to match without ruining the conversion factors?

That was one of the many moving passages in 1984, but I don't think avoiding the metric system is necessary or sufficient to prevent insane legislation making it impossible to live.

Of the right order of magnitude, there is a problem there. People who work entirely in mF and uF capacitors know it well. But over time, won't we evolve friendly units normalised to the metric system? We have "mils" for mm which seems to have gained acceptance even from imperial people -- after all, sixteenths of an inch really such and (afaik) don't even have a real name. Maybe we should encourage this?
[User Picture]
From:smhwpf
Date:October 1st, 2007 11:35 am (UTC)
(Link)
I think a lot of the reluctance to change (from which spurious political points like 'evil Europe' can then be developed) is simply having a 'feel' for a unit. Of course one can get used to a new measure or, if one has reasonable numerical skills or a calculator handy, convert. But there's just a much more mentally comfortable feeling in talking about units with which one is familiar.

For beer, metric is actually better in terms of the 'right' unit, because in terms of measuring quantities of alcohol in relation to government/medical advice etc., the standard Unit of Alcohol is metric (namely, 1cl). Since regular beers tend to be around 4% abv, this means that a half litre of beer is around 2 units. (Of course it's more for strong beers, but then the problem is even worse for pints, and any it's much easier to multiply by 0.5 than by 0.568.)
[User Picture]
From:ilanin
Date:October 1st, 2007 11:56 am (UTC)
(Link)
As far as I'm aware, I never use an Imperial measurement by choice. There are some I actually can't use - I don't know how heavy a stone is, and I have trouble with pounds (though less trouble, because I know how large a 300-pound offensive lineman is, thankyou NFL).

I can just about survive with feet and yards by converting them into metres, likewise I have to convert Farenheit into Celsius before I know what it means. I distinctly prefer a half-litre to a pint as a measure of drink. A pint is too big.

And when your thoughts in everyday situations don't use everyday units it gets even worse. I have no freaking clue what a psi is, whereas I'm quite happy with kiloPascals.

I think this may be something to do with being the son of a science teacher. If you grow up with metric, you're used to it, and the numbers feel right. In fact, the only times I've ever complained the numbers were the wrong size is in a scientific context - Joules, Amperes and Faradays are all way too large. Metres are kind of too large too IMO, but I can see how other people might like them, and the nm is a fair enough unit.
[User Picture]
From:feanelwa
Date:October 1st, 2007 11:23 pm (UTC)
(Link)
A stone is about the weight of a large cat.
[User Picture]
From:half_of_monty
Date:October 1st, 2007 12:17 pm (UTC)
(Link)
I've grown up on market traders yelling `fresh strawberries - a pound a pound' which is poetic and right. On the other hand `a pound for 500 grams' sounds shit. I quite agree this is antidiluvian and reactionary of me.
[User Picture]
From:fanf
Date:October 1st, 2007 12:39 pm (UTC)
(Link)
In France, livre and demi-kilo are synonyms, which is very sensible.
[User Picture]
From:lareinadeluz
Date:October 1st, 2007 01:12 pm (UTC)
(Link)
pounds may be meaningless to you with their largeness, but just the same - my weight in stones or kg seems wierdly small :-p I think its a matter of what you grew up with.

[User Picture]
From:teleute
Date:October 1st, 2007 05:36 pm (UTC)
(Link)
I grew up being taught to measure in metric and sucked at guesstimates. I moved to the states, where I had to guesstimate in feet and inches and suddenly I'm a heck of a lot more accurate. My family always measured height in ft&in, but that's not really the same as lengths of houses. That said, I still suck in comparison to Adrian (who is weirdly, perhaps supernaturally, accurate even over long distances).

Weight in pounds was ok, until I converted back to stone once and realised how much weight I'd put on! The nice thing about stone is that it's a divisor unit - I like 'big' units and 'little' units rather than having to add my own grain of, say, 10lbs. Even when the 'big' unit is a rather random multiple (14 lbs? silly) it's still helpful to have it. IMHO obviously.

I have absolutely no idea how much g and kg weigh. Although that said, if I were to lift an object I doubt I could guess its weight in lbs and oz either.

Day-to-day temperature I can do either way, but I need about a week to get my head round the units again when switching. (although I still occasionally get bemused by 0F being significantly colder than freezing - it's what our freezer is set to, and I actually started asking Adrian whether it shouldn't be set colder for safety. He had to explain it to me again ;-) )
[User Picture]
From:flats
Date:October 1st, 2007 08:08 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Mystifying things: road sign stopping distances being in yards. Surely no-one under 50 has an intuitive idea of what 50 yards looks like - we don't use yards for anything else, after all. I'd be inclined to think '50 yards, well, that's basically 50m' - with the result that I'd stop about about 3.75m too late and probably cause horrific damage... (So it's a good thing I don't drive, really).

And fahrenheit, honestly, what good are they to anyone? Over 100F is obviously a useful psychological milestone, but I think 0C is a more practical one as the definite transition to freezing has more ramifications than that from 'hot' to 'a bit hotter'. I've also absolutely no sense of what 58F or 72F feels like, so my mother's weather commentary is of little use to me.

Sensible things: guineas still being used for some sorts of auctions. (They were 21 shillings apparently, or £1.05. If a horse sells for 1000 guineas, the seller gets 1000 pounds and the auction house's fee is the rest. S
[User Picture]
From:feanelwa
Date:October 1st, 2007 11:21 pm (UTC)
(Link)
I think we have fixed the problem of needing numbers that are the right size for people to deal with and numbers that are very big or very small and easily shorthanded. We use metric and imperial at the same time.
[User Picture]
From:aiwendel
Date:October 2nd, 2007 09:28 am (UTC)
(Link)
the 'right sizeness' is what I most like about imperial. I will always cook in ounces 4Oz flour, 4Oz sugar, 4Oz butter and 2 eggs (which weigh about 4 Oz) is an average cake recipe... Meanwhile I know estate agents often prefer to measure rooms in feet - it lets you have a more precise guestimate, as the jump from 3m to 4m is big, split that into feet and you have (in a way) 3 times the precision for people who can't instantly judge 3.65m but know what 12 foot looks like it's a useful unit of measurement.

I agree entirely on the maths of course and all maths I'd do in metric, and my garden measurements are metric...

Converting is a pain but generally not necessary for what people use them for.

I do think imperial will gradually fade out, but I don't think it needs to be kicked out...

[User Picture]
From:zebbiejohnson
Date:October 2nd, 2007 02:54 pm (UTC)
(Link)
I thought I used a combination of measures, mostly favouring imperial for the things I measure frequently or actually use the measurement of in everyday life (height, weight, distances shorter than the span of my arms, distances I drive in my car).

But then I realised that I don't even distinguish between the two (I had to really think for a minute to decide if a 1kg 'bag-of-sugar' was metric or imperial, and I definitely measure in miles, then metres*, then both cm and inches depending on whichever seems to give the rounder number). I also use bits from several other measuring systems, like American and European clothing/shoe sizes, without a great deal of concern.

However, on thinking even more about it, I realised that *actually*, I don't measure anything outside my own body in numerals at all. I might sometimes use numbers to transmit concepts of size or volume to other people, but I *really* measure in equivalents: a mile is how far I can walk in quarter of an hour, or the distance between two particular places, for example, an inch is the length of the top joint of my thumb and 4oz of flour in a recipe is 'that amount of flour you'd use to make a basic cake with'. I'm not sure if this implies there is no hope for me or that the system you use isn't actually important.

*because of metresticks at school and then metresquares in archaeology.
Powered by LiveJournal.com