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Our Friend, The Meter 1672

Posted by timothy
from the you-mean-people-like-nasa dept.
dbirchall writes "Upon hearing that SpaceShipOne reached 100km today, I did some hasty math based on the altitude in feet sttated by Scaled Composites in their press release, and was surprised to come up with a number under 100,000 meters. Fortunately, a friend pointed out that my inches-to-meters conversion was flawed. Some quick Googling determined that lots of people still have no idea how many inches are in a meter, even after some folks have had big problems because of conversion errors."
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Our Friend, The Meter

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  • meter (Score:5, Funny)

    by loveandpeace (520766) * on Wednesday June 23, 2004 @01:02AM (#9503708) Homepage Journal
    you mean it has nothing to do with iambic?
  • by DAldredge (2353) <SlashdotEmail@GMail.Com> on Wednesday June 23, 2004 @01:04AM (#9503714) Journal
    Well, at least NASA knows what happened to it's probe, unlike some other space agencies. ;->
  • Why should I care? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by tangent3 (449222) on Wednesday June 23, 2004 @01:04AM (#9503715)
    Why should I care how many inches are there in a metre (meter for some of you people). Everywhere I go today everything I see is in metric. Whoever uses inches anywa.... oh. *those* people. *sigh*
    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 23, 2004 @01:21AM (#9503852)
      How many stone do you weigh?
  • On in the US (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gnuman99 (746007) on Wednesday June 23, 2004 @01:04AM (#9503717)
    This problem appears to occur only in the US. Even the British adopted the meter, and they invented the imperial units!

    Maybe it's the time for the US to join the metric world. At least we wouldn't loose that Mars probe!

    • by LMCBoy (185365) on Wednesday June 23, 2004 @01:06AM (#9503736) Homepage Journal
      Yeah, okay. You use meters, congratulations. But can you spell "lose"?
      • by 1u3hr (530656) on Wednesday June 23, 2004 @01:11AM (#9503776)
        Yeah, okay. You use meters, congratulations. But can you spell "lose"?

        As he's apparently British, he can't spell "metre" either.

      • Re:On in the US (Score:3, Insightful)

        by wookyhoo (700289)
        The number of people who get that wrong. *sigh*

        Next slashdot story:

        "English: Lose or Loose? Lose the 'o'! Yes, let it loose!"

        erm, or something :|
    • by Osty (16825) on Wednesday June 23, 2004 @01:09AM (#9503756)

      Maybe it's the time for the US to join the metric world

      Hell no! You'll get my inches, miles, and gallons when you pry them from my cold dead hands!


      At least we wouldn't loose that Mars probe!

      Loosing the probe was part of the mission design. To bad we lost it afterwards. It really sucks to lose something once you've set it loose.

      • by Procrasti (459372) on Wednesday June 23, 2004 @03:04AM (#9504432) Journal
        You'll get my inches, miles, and gallons when you pry them from my cold dead hands!

        Shouldn't that be - "You'll get my inches, miles and gallons when you pry them from my cold dead feet!"
    • Re:On in the US (Score:5, Insightful)

      by popeydotcom (114724) on Wednesday June 23, 2004 @01:09AM (#9503760) Homepage
      A lot of us brits, even those taught the metric system at work, still talk in feet and inches. Our road signs (like US ones) are all in Miles, and I don't see that changing any time soon. We buy beer and milk in pints and mostly weigh in stones and pounds and not kilos. Speed over water and air is still measured in knots, and our road speed limits are in miles per hour.

      So whilst we have "adopted" the metric system we still use the "old" measurements day-to-day.
      • Re:On in the US (Score:5, Informative)

        by ArsSineArtificio (150115) on Wednesday June 23, 2004 @01:15AM (#9503810) Homepage
        We buy beer and milk in pints and mostly weigh in stones and pounds and not kilos.

        The "stone" is totally unknown in the US, by the way. I believe that's the only common Imperial (or, as we say, standard) measurement we don't have.

        • Re:On in the US (Score:5, Informative)

          by stevelinton (4044) <sal@dcs.st-and.ac.uk> on Wednesday June 23, 2004 @01:57AM (#9504068) Homepage
          Of course there is some contention over the pint (and consequently the gallon).
          An imperial pint is 20 fluid ounces (a little over half a litre). A US pint is 16 fluid ounces (under half a litre), leading to the factually incorrect US maxim "a pint's a pound the world around". I think there is a small difference in the fluid ounce as well.

          Steve

          PS 1 stone is 14 pounds.
          • by jrumney (197329) on Wednesday June 23, 2004 @02:55AM (#9504386) Homepage
            a pint's a pound the world around

            I have seen pubs selling 1 pound pints before. But they're usually Foster's, which you'd have to pay me to drink.

          • Re:On in the US (Score:4, Interesting)

            by Sique (173459) on Wednesday June 23, 2004 @04:39AM (#9504866) Homepage
            It is not only factual incorrect for the british pint, it is also incorrect for the Prussian pound, which was created to help the people to mentally convert to the metric system. The american pound is about 455g, which is quite close to half a Kilogram, so the Prussian State created the Tax pound as being 500g or exactly half a Kilogram. Thus the people were able to easily estimate how much a given weight in Kilogram would weigh in their hands, by just doubling the number.

            Until now you see the results in Germany: Coffee is sold mostly in 500g packets, the usual size of a piece of butter is commonly referred to as "half a pound", and nearly every baker knows what I am talking of if I ask for a "four pound bread". Interestingly the pound is used only for food, and it is only used verbal, no one would ever write it on a piece of paper.
      • Re:On in the US (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Waffle Iron (339739) on Wednesday June 23, 2004 @01:29AM (#9503902)
        That was the wise way to go about the conversion. Here in the U.S., they tried to do it ass-backwards. Back in the 70s or 80s, they tacked little "kph" conversions onto speed-limit signs and speedometers to help everyone get "acclimated". This just pissed off and confused everyone with extra tiny numbers, and it was applied to an area of measurement that really isn't very important to metricize. (You can't even do easy physics calculations unless you use m/s anyway.)

        The net result was a backlash that delayed adoption of the metric system here by decades. Instead of the in-your-face road signs, they should have just quietly started converting smaller things over and let the old system fade away gradually.

        We probably will eventually switch over, but this won't happen until after our capability to design or manufacture anything domestically has totally atrophied, and we rely on 100% metric imported goods.

        • Re:On in the US (Score:5, Interesting)

          by zsau (266209) <slashdotNO@SPAMthecartographers.net> on Wednesday June 23, 2004 @03:12AM (#9504470) Homepage Journal
          Actually, the English didn't go about metrication in a good way. The evidence is that they haven't fully metricised. In Australia, we used to use the imperial system, but now, most people my age don't know how much a pint, quart, ounce, pound, mile is...

          To metricise speed limits, for instance, pick a long weekend. Over the weekend, replace as many speed signs as you can. (It's a good idea to make sure everyone knows that you're doing this well in advance, of course, and as an interim measure, it's probably a good idea to have 'mph' and 'km/h' on the speed limit signs, but they're long gone by now.)

          In general, get everything done as quickly as you can. (Milk bottles were apparently another overnight thing even though at the time you returned them to be refilled.)

          Of course, we still have our little remnants. Many people know their height in feet and inches, though the internet seems to exaggerate this. 30 cm rulers are still common, but that's probably more because it's a convenient length, and 40 cm rules exist too. Smallish bottles of drink (fizzy or milk) are 600 mL, the closest round measurement to the imperial pint (but we also have 375 mL cans (of grog or fizzy drinks) and 1.2 L bottles (of fizzy drinks), neither of which are nicely rounded imperial measurements,* so perhaps pre-metrication doesn't hold the answer for that, either).

          * A British pint is close enough to 568 mL, which is closer to 600 mL than 500 mL, but two of them is 1.13 L, which is closer to 1.1 L than 2 L, and anyway, 1.1 L is close enough to 1 L that that's probably the better metrication.
      • Re:On in the US (Score:5, Interesting)

        by cperciva (102828) on Wednesday June 23, 2004 @01:43AM (#9503994) Homepage
        Our road signs (like US ones) are all in Miles, and I don't see that changing any time soon.

        Ever noticed that road signs tend to be placed 1/3 or 2/3 of a mile before an exit?

        This isn't just because they like confusing people; 1/3 of a mile is about 1/2 of a kilometer, so this will allow them to switch over to metric without having to move any signs.
    • We already have (Score:5, Informative)

      by mlg9000 (515199) on Wednesday June 23, 2004 @01:54AM (#9504054)
      The metric system (SI now) is the only official unit of measurement the US government has ever adopted. It did so way back in 1893. (1866 it became a legal unit of measure). What they didn't do though, was require it's use. So since the older imperial system was still widely in use it lived on. (Some of it anyway.. nobody knows what a stone is for example) Congress went back and required the metric system's use for all goverment purposes in 1988 (unless the infomation is for public use where it can be either).

      So really we use a mix of both here. In school they teach almost entirely in metric... makes the math easier to deal with when to have to convert to smaller/larger units. Common stuff like speed limits, weight, tempature, and long distances are measured in mph/pounds/fahrenheit/miles. If you go to the store, or use any tools though it's 50/50.. so smaller units like liters/grams/centimeters I think most people know pretty well.
  • Just Remember 2.54 (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SnowZero (92219) on Wednesday June 23, 2004 @01:07AM (#9503737)
    1 inch = 2.54 centimeters

    It's fairly easy to remember, and everything else regarding length conversions can be derived from it. It also happens to be the official definition of the inch, since NIST uses metric internally.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 23, 2004 @02:04AM (#9504112)
      I couldn't agree more, after all, 2.54 is a really easy number to remember and since I'm an American living in Norway, I find that I still convert a great deal. My coversions are generally based on quick conversions.

      For example, if there are 2.2lbs in a kg. Then it's easy enough to use the quick multiply by 11 rule and then multiply by two (or reverse order). So for 52kg it's easy to say that 5 + 2 = 7 so 52*11 = 572 or 52 * 1.1 = 57.2 and 57.2 * 2 = 114.4. So 52kg = 114.4lbs.

      As for feet to meters. There are a few quick conversion that aren't of great precision, but accurate enough for day to day life. For example, 3m = 10ft, 1 in. = 2.54cm, 1m = 40in. Of course for precision, I would alway use the 2.54 and a calculator to derive that there are 39.37007874015748031496062992126 inches in a meter. But with the engineering work that I do, it's more typical to simply derive directly the units by converting to and from centimeters and not meters.

      As for volume. I of course for quick calculation simply relate the liter to the quart since when it comes to serving drinks, there's not a great deal of difference. When I need precision, it's easy to remember the numbers I've seen on American Coca-Cola bottles my entire life. A 2 liter bottle always says 67.6 fluid ounces on it. This is my base point for conversion since I can deduce that 33.8 fl oz is 1 liter. From there it's all easy.

      For temperature, that's a no brainer. 0c is freezing, 100c is boiling. 32F is freezing, 212F is boiling. So 212 - 32 = 180 and 100 - 0 = 100. Therefore it's easy to asume that 180/100 is the ration. That easily converts to 9/5. Compensate for the 32 degree shift on the farenheit side.

      After living here for 5.5 years and effectively performing as a calculator for everyone that needs conversions. I can convert the systems with utter ease and simplicity. I have multiple reference points which I can use in order to estimate measures within a 5% margin or error for all human weights and heights. I also can convert distances with ease (after all 60miles = 100km. 100miles = 160km, it's all gravy from there).

      So what it boils down to is that if you can get through school in any country without understanding that both systems are just REALLY REALLY simple. Then go back to school and work on it. Let's face it, there's too much stupidity on this planet. If you can remember there's 12 inches in a foot and 8 oz in a cup, then you can remember 3 points of conversion reference and derive the rest.

      Oops... almost submitted without adding this to make the stinkin brits happy, first of all, ASE measurement is not imperial although it has much in common. The imperial measure has a different size for the volumetric measure. Instead of 33.8140226 U.S. fl. oz. in the imperial system has 35.1950652 fl. oz. in a liter.
  • by Max Romantschuk (132276) <max@romantschuk.fi> on Wednesday June 23, 2004 @01:09AM (#9503758) Homepage
    I only recently discovered the Google calculator, so in case it's new to you to:

    100Km in feet [google.com]
    20 inches in cm [google.com]
    Instructions for the Google calculator [google.com]
  • 2.54 cm per inch (Score:5, Informative)

    by MillionthMonkey (240664) on Wednesday June 23, 2004 @01:10AM (#9503768)
    1 m * (100 cm/m) * (1 in/2.54 cm) = 39.37007874 in

    Look at me, I'm Informative!

  • by Coneasfast (690509) on Wednesday June 23, 2004 @01:12AM (#9503780)
    get a meter-o-meter and inch-o-meter, drive across the US, divide the numbers, BAM there is your answer, ok, move on to next story :)
  • Quick Estimating (Score:3, Informative)

    by Rick and Roll (672077) on Wednesday June 23, 2004 @01:12AM (#9503784)
    I could have told that it was correct pretty quickly. A hundred kilometers is roughly sixty miles. I've known that since elementary school.

    I also could have carried out the whole conversion, because I know that 1 in = 2.54 cm.

    There are a lot of math illiterates. The poster is obviously one of them. I don't think the poster should take any comfort in the fact that other people got the wrong answer as well. I think that (s)he should realize that it's time to become educated.

    This is just basic common knowledge that everyone should have.

  • Quick note.. (Score:5, Informative)

    by euxneks (516538) on Wednesday June 23, 2004 @01:30AM (#9503905)
    When, or if, you americans actually do adopt the metric system, it's spelled Metre.. =) Hope that helps... Meter is more commonly known as the measuring device.. heck, from Dictionary.com:

    meter
    n.
    1. The measured arrangement of words in poetry, as by accentual rhythm, syllabic quantity, or the number of syllables in a line.
    2. A particular arrangement of words in poetry, such as iambic pentameter, determined by the kind and number of metrical units in a line.
    3. The rhythmic pattern of a stanza, determined by the kind and number of lines.
    As it pertains to Music:
    1. Division into measures or bars.
    2. A specific rhythm determined by the number of beats and the time value assigned to each note in a measure.

    Of course, this is just me being a nit-picky bastard.
    • by RzUpAnmsCwrds (262647) on Wednesday June 23, 2004 @02:19AM (#9504210)
      "When, or if, you americans actually do adopt the metric system, it's spelled Metre.."

      Right. I'm going to go to the tyre centre and have them look under the bonnet.

      I'll fill my auto with 40 litres of petrol, much less than my neighbour's red-coloured auto which requires 80 litres of petrol. My auto is awful, though, so it's going to the scrapheap. For now, maybe I can bodge something to make my auto look better. At least the two hundred kilogrammes of scrap aluminium are worth something, according to the recycling programme I watched yesterday.

      "Of course, this is just me being a nit-picky bastard."

      No, it's you not understanding that American English spells things differently from British English.

      The accepted American English spellings are "Meter", "Liter", and "Gram".
  • by vip223 (529662) <`moc.liamg' `ta' `edobhsoj'> on Wednesday June 23, 2004 @01:36AM (#9503946)
    Need to know the conversion factor? Use the (lesser known?) unix utility, units
    [lupin:~] josh$ units

    500 units, 54 prefixes
    You have: metres
    You want: inches
    * 39.370079
    / 0.0254
    You have: rods/hogshead
    You want: kilometres/litre
    * 1.5816358e-05
    / 63225.68
    Oh, and by the way, in Australia, we spell it Metre, not meter (that's what the gas man checks)
    Josh
  • by James_G (71902) <james@global m e g a c orp.org> on Wednesday June 23, 2004 @01:38AM (#9503962)
    In England, all construction work has traditionally been done in imperial. At some point, in the last 6 or 7 years, people started moving to metric. Possibly as a result of legislation - I'm not sure.

    Anyone with half a brain can realise the the problem with making this change, especially in an environment where you're working with existing materials. The following is a genuine conversation I had while out buying some 4 inch guttering:

    Me: Hi, I need some 4 inch guttering.
    Plumbing shop: Oh sorry, we don't have any 4 inch guttering.
    Me: How can you not have any? This sucks!
    Plumbing shop: As luck would have it, we do have some 101.6mm guttering that is exactly the same size.
    Me: I'll take it!

    • by alephnull42 (202254) on Wednesday June 23, 2004 @03:15AM (#9504493) Homepage Journal
      Similar story, over 10 years ago when Ireland went metric (apologies if my attemps at written brogue sound like talk-like-a-pirate-day):

      My dad: Good morning, I'd like some quarter inch pipe please
      Hardware guy: Ah no surrr, we have the metric system now surr, it's all in millimeters.
      My dad: Ok fine, I need some 8mm pipe
      Hardware guy: Foine, foine! How many feet would you like?
    • Yup ... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by taniwha (70410) on Wednesday June 23, 2004 @03:31AM (#9504553) Homepage Journal
      My Dad wrote a gardening book, when NZ went metric they 'translated it to metric' ... converted all the places where he said "plant the seeds an inch apart" to "plant the seeds about 2.54cm apart" .... silly of course and people quickly learned to do the everyday approximations we mostly use for day to day usage. 50mph is the speedlimit because it's a ound number in the right range, so is 80kph. Buying a pound of meat for dinner is about the same as buying 1/2 a kilo - both will get you fed about right. Half a litre is about a pint, a metre is about a yard. A 2x4 is about a 10x20 etc etc ... honestly I don't understand why americans are so scared about changing
  • by jdigital (84195) on Wednesday June 23, 2004 @01:42AM (#9503985) Homepage
    READ - Click on posters link

    This evening, I learned that one meter equals 39.3700787 inches. While this may come as no surprise to some people, it was one to me - for years, I had mistakenly believed a meter was 39.77 inches, and now I know it's basically 39.37.

    Of course, I'm not alone in my confusion. A bit of research on Google revealed quite a few different conversions from meters to inches. Here are some of them:

    * 38 inches according to a page at Arkansas State University and another at Microflex Technologies.
    * 38.16 inches according to a rounding-happy math teacher at Norfolk Collegiate School in Virginia.
    * 38.37 inches according to Honeywell's Sensotec folks.
    * 38.8 inches according to some numerological babble
    * 39 inches according to Fife Products and some folks who sell quilting products.
    * 39.14 inches according to the specifications on a measuring wheel for engineers. (uh-oh!)
    * 39.15 inches according to an October 30 2002 entry in a blog.
    * 39.21 inches according to Richard Bowles.
    * 39.27 inches according to pages at University of Wisconsin Stevens Point and the National Optical Astronomy Observatory.
    * 39.28 inches according to Jonathan Brooks at Penn State University.
    * 39.3 inches according to some laser folks.
    * 39.34 inches according to a page about photography, and another about a role-playing game. Hey, it's only a game, their meters can be whatever length they want.
    * 39.36 inches according to some ham radio sorts and some NASA folks among others. Pretty close... but... shouldn't NASA know better by now?
    * 39.38 inches according to people who race 1-meter model yachts, talk about prehistory in California, and, um, other NASA folks. Again, pretty close!
    * 39.39 inches according to someone ranting against metric (how ironic), as well as a page about UFOs.
    * 39.4 inches according to a list of conversions from a company that makes electric motors and such things, and the Secretary of the Navy.
    * 39.45 inches according to a set of math problems from a university in the Philippines.
    * 39.5 inches according to a space.com article on liquid lenses.
    * 39.54 inches according to Mark Moburg in this mailing list archive.
    * 39.6 inches according to a page about magnetic therapy.
    * 39.7 inches according to pages from Des Moines Area Community College and some rounding-happy laser people.
    * 39.77 inches according to a page about carpet-weaving in Turkey and another site that sells S-Video Cables and lots of other cables. (See, I wasn't alone!)
    * 39.79 inches according to InterlinkBT (now Turck)'s information on DeviceNet Pre-molded Fieldbus cables (below table).
    * 39.87 inches, according to a textfile compiling handy (if wrong) conversions for common weights and measures, from O'Reilly.
    * 39.97 inches, according to the Science Glossary developed by teachers in the Poughkeepsie (New York) City School District for the 2001-2002 school year, and according to the zoning laws on satellite dishes in Springfield Township, Ohio.
    * 40 inches, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

    Once again, the correct answer is right around 39.37 inches. Remember that - it'll be on the quiz!
  • by levin (170168) on Wednesday June 23, 2004 @01:46AM (#9504005) Homepage
    We need to just forego metric altogether in the US and skip straight to Modern Physics units!

    My car tops out at about 0.000000231 c
    It can travel about 5000000000000 nanometers per tank of gas
    and it's engine produces around 937500000000000000000000 electron volts per second at the crank.

    It's the wave of the future!
    • by stevelinton (4044) <sal@dcs.st-and.ac.uk> on Wednesday June 23, 2004 @03:40AM (#9504595) Homepage
      No, no no!

      Firstly the c is redundant. In proper post-Einstein physics, distance and time are the same, so a speed is simply a pure number, so:

      My car tops out at about 0.000000231 (or 2.31 x 10^-7)

      Now for distance, or time, we need to fix a unit of distance OR time. The most obvious fundamental unit of distance is the Planck length

      It can travel about 3 x 10^38 Planck lengths on a tank of gas [ remark -- your car may need maintenance, that's not very far]

      Power is energy (aka mass) per unit time, so again, we appeal to Planck and find that your car produces about 4 * 10^-48 Planck masses per Planck time.

      Now we've got rid of all the silly arbitrary unit standards and defined everything in terms of the fundamental properties of the universe. Most physical constants are 1 in this model, which is a handy side benefit.

  • by hughk (248126) on Wednesday June 23, 2004 @02:06AM (#9504123) Journal
    Apart from a few of the CIS countries (former Soviet Union), altitude on aircraft is measured in feet. International flight levels are always expressed in feet which has lead to one or two problems in the past on CIS airliners but they now carry imperial altimeters as well to prevent confusion. Even the French, the inventors of the metric system use imperial altimetres.
  • by marinebane (743426) on Wednesday June 23, 2004 @02:26AM (#9504245)
    every time somebody makes an argument against the metric system, they are essentially also making that same argument agaisnt the arabic (our) number system. to use a number system with a base of 10 and not use units with a base of 10 is illogical, and impractical where units with a base of 10 are much easier to manipulate using a number system with a base of 10.
  • NASA (Score:5, Funny)

    by schnitzi (243781) on Wednesday June 23, 2004 @02:36AM (#9504296) Homepage
    9.36 inches according to some ham radio sorts and some NASA folks among others. Pretty close... but... shouldn't NASA know better by now?


    I worked at NASA back in the early 90s. They had a big campaign to push the metric system, including posters which read "Metric is a Perfect 10!". So I got out my ruler and measured the posters, and found them to be exactly 2 feet by 3 feet...
    • Re:Poster (Score:4, Informative)

      by Adhemar (679794) on Wednesday June 23, 2004 @05:22AM (#9505040)
      So I got out my ruler and measured the posters, and found them to be exactly 2 feet by 3 feet...

      Here in (metric) Europe, the commonly used paper/poster size that comes closest is 59.4 cm by 84.1 cm.

      Those numbers don't sound like round numbers in metric, do they?

      But it makes sense. The format is known as A1. Its surface area is about 5000 square cm, or half a square meter. A0 is twice as big: a square meter (84.1 cm by 118.9 cm). The ratio of all An formats is sqrt(2), so that the width of An equals the length of A(n+1).

      Hence: A4, the standard lettre size, measures 21.0 cm by 29.7 cm; its surface area is 1/16 square meter.

  • Most poeple... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Nice2Cats (557310) on Wednesday June 23, 2004 @04:24AM (#9504789)
    Some quick Googling determined that lots of people still have no idea how many inches are in a meter, even after some folks have had big problems because of conversion errors.

    Not to put too much of a point on it, but the rest of the planet doesn't have to give a damn about how many inches there are in a meter, because they don't have inches anymore. Or stones. Or bushles. Or cubits. Or zentner. Or... This is a Yanks-only problem: even the Brits can think in meters, their problem is that they can't spell the word right.

    You have two choices, my fellow American friend: Either convert to metric like the rest of the world in the 21th Century, or stop complaining.

    As great as Slashdot is, this U.S. bias is getting to be a pain in the ass. It is beyond me why a simple complaint about the known problems of math education in the U.S. makes the front page.

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