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Another English/Metric "Spacecraft" Problem 748

SuperDry writes "There's been another spacecraft failure that's been attributed to an English/Metric units problem, this time at Tokyo Disneyland's Space Mountain. An axle broke on a "spacecraft" (a.k.a. roller coaster train) mid-ride, causing it to derail (nobody was hurt). The final investigation report has been released, and the root cause has been determined to be a part being the wrong size due to a conversion of the master plans in 1995 from English units to Metric units. In 2002, new axles were mistakenly ordered using the pre-1995 English specifications instead of the current Metric specifications. Apparently size does matter, even if it's only a 0.86mm difference."
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Another English/Metric "Spacecraft" Problem

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  • Proble? (Score:5, Funny)

    by waitigetit ( 691345 ) on Monday January 26, 2004 @10:16AM (#8087810)
    It's more like an English spelling problem, no?
  • Disney (Score:5, Funny)

    by abh ( 22332 ) <> on Monday January 26, 2004 @10:17AM (#8087821) Homepage
    How come everything Disney does ends up so Mickey Mouse?
  • by ObviousGuy ( 578567 ) <> on Monday January 26, 2004 @10:17AM (#8087822) Homepage Journal
    The Japanese who, like the rest of the modern world, switched to metric years ago?

    Or the American designers who couldn't even do simple multiplication in order to convert from English to Metric?
  • by thatguywhoiam ( 524290 ) on Monday January 26, 2004 @10:18AM (#8087834)
    Another English/Metric "Spacecraft" Proble

    I'm Canadian, so I have to assume that 'proble' is the... imperial spelling... of problem?

    "I get five rods to the hog's head!"

  • See!! (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 26, 2004 @10:18AM (#8087835)
    We need a one world government with one way of doing things! How many more people have to die because we have to hang on to old ways of doing things? Stop this madness now! Surrender your nationalist ideals. Borders exist in the minds of dimwitted politicians. Borders can't be see from space. We must unite and work together to advance mankind.

    Support the New World Order now!
    • Re:See!! (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      And just which leader would you want to see running the planet?

      Kodos or Kang?
  • Miscommunication (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 26, 2004 @10:19AM (#8087845)
    From the Article:

    In September 1995, the design specifications for the size of the axle bearing for Space Mountain vehicles was changed from inches to the metric scale. Accordingly, the axle diameter was also changed, in this case from 44.14 mm to 45.00 mm. However, appropriate action to revise and maintain the design drawings was neglected. Consequently, two different drawings existed within our company after the changes were made and the old drawing showing the 44.14 mm diameter was used to order (in August 2002) the axles that were delivered in October 2002.

    They actually changed the specs. The conversions were all done correctly but they failed to update everyone.
  • English units? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 26, 2004 @10:19AM (#8087846)
    I don't know about you, but us English call the measurement system the Imperial system. Isn't the American version slightly different, in respect to fluid units, etc?
    • Re:English units? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 26, 2004 @10:32AM (#8087977)
      Isn't the American version slightly different, in respect to fluid units, etc?

      Only with respect to fluid units. And the base unit, the ounce, is the same. Measurements based on the pint are different: a US pint is 16oz an Imperial pint (the only legal Imperial measure left in the UK!!!!) is 20oz. A gallon is 8 pints, a cup is a half-pint, but a US gallon or cup is 4/5 of the British counterpart.

      I thought the Brits moved glacially since the UK has been metric since 1971... officially (except for beers. I don't know how long road measure will remain Imperial). Then I found out that the US has been co-metric since Ben Franklin (

      No system of measure is inherently better or worse than another. But, when everybody you trade with uses a different system, it might be time to reconsider (not that the UK should adopt the Euro....)
      • Re:English units? (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Oddly_Drac ( 625066 )
        "I thought the Brits moved glacially since the UK has been metric since 1971... officially (except for beers. I don't know how long road measure will remain Imperial)."

        Until they pry miles and pints from our cold, dead hands.

        Seriously, I was never taught any imperial measures, and had to work out a lot of conversions myself, particularly as we have a hybrid system in place that mixes different units according to application. I'm long since out of the school system, but I was born in 1972.

        The odd thin
  • by arafel ( 15551 ) * on Monday January 26, 2004 @10:19AM (#8087849)
    Why do you call them 'English' units, when everyone else knows them as Imperial units? :-) We stopped using most of them some time ago.
    • There is a difference between what the English call Imperial and the Americans call English, when it comes to things like pints (IIRC an Imperial pint is 18 fl. oz. while an "English" pint is 16 fl. oz.) and a few others.

      To add confusion to the mix, "Imperial" to a Canadian is the same as "English" to an American - i.e. not the same as "Imperial" to an Englishman.
    • by hackstraw ( 262471 ) on Monday January 26, 2004 @10:29AM (#8087949)
      We (USians) adopted the metric system in 1893 (yes, thats the 19th centry), and actually Imperial (or English as their more commonly known) units have been _altered_ so that they more closely round to a metric equivalent. For example, the inch is now _defined_ as 2.54 cm, it has nothing to do with some king's thumb or anything.

      Maybe, just maybe, we can start using the metric system? Isn't 100 years enough time to transition?
      • by deitel99 ( 533532 ) on Monday January 26, 2004 @10:39AM (#8088046)
        For example, the inch is now _defined_ as 2.54 cm, it has nothing to do with some king's thumb or anything.

        Personally I think 2.54cm is pretty arbitrary. Then again, cm are based on a fraction of a wavelength of a certain coloured light, which is, yet again, arbitrary.

        The first attempts for standardising the inch were many hundreds of years ago, since it's so vital to have correct measurements for trade. Despite what most posts here seem to think, the Imperial Inch does not change every time the English monarch does.
      • actually Imperial..units have been _altered_ so that they more closely round to a metric equivalent. For example, the inch is now _defined_ as 2.54 cm....

        Yep. That'll round so much more easily now...


    • by dpbsmith ( 263124 ) on Monday January 26, 2004 @11:02AM (#8088254) Homepage
      (And the right term for "metric" is "SI").

      SI units are legal in the United States and have been for a very long time. The inch was set at precisely 25.4 mm _by definition_ in July 1959.

      The additional units, such as inches, miles, quarts, pounds, etc. which I believe are all legally defined by reference to SI units, are officially and properly referred to as "U. S. Customary" units. They have, of course, a strong historical connection to English units.

      Unofficially, "Metric" and "English" are the U. S. customary designations for "SI" and "U. S. Customary."

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 26, 2004 @10:20AM (#8087862)
    It wasn't mentioned in the article, but for my own reference, I'm wondering how many Rods to the Hogshead this ride gets?
    Or if that info. isn't available, how many stone per fortnight this ride has in lifting capacity.

  • by cnelzie ( 451984 ) on Monday January 26, 2004 @10:21AM (#8087867) Homepage
    In the automotive industry being off by that 'gigantic' mile of a discrepancy can be the difference between an entirely safe system or a potentially dangerous event just waiting to happen.

    Anything from rubbing away the lining of important wires or hoses, different stress locations resulting in tear apart pieces that shouldn't be tear apart can happen by being off by that much...

    0.86mm might at well be 3 feet off. A part that comes out that far off is nothing but scrap material. (Well at least in our area of automotive work.)
  • by Kenja ( 541830 ) on Monday January 26, 2004 @10:22AM (#8087873)
    Proving once again that the average person has a hard time coutning to ten.
  • English/Metric (Score:5, Informative)

    by Ianoo ( 711633 ) on Monday January 26, 2004 @10:23AM (#8087882) Journal
    Please don't say English/Metric units. The UK is effectively metric now, all schoolchildren are only taught metric units and everything has to be priced in metric units. I don't even have intutitions about how long feet are or how heavy a stone is. Pretty much everyone under the age of 25 only deals with litres, metres and kilograms. The only exception is vehicle speed, which is still measured in mph (and hence all our road signs are in mph). You won't, however, catch any British Engineers or scientists using Imperial units.

    Better ways to describe them would be "Imperial" (what we call them), "American" or "Archiac". I think it's about time the US caught up with the rest of the world and ditched these stupid and difficult-to-remember units once and for all.
    • Hmm...

      I think it's about time the US caught up with the rest of the world and ditched these stupid and difficult-to-remember units once and for all.

      That is exactly what they were doing! Space mountain is also a very old ride, I have no idea as to the age of that contraption, but it's probably safe to assume it is older than 25 years.

    • I think it's about time the US caught up with the rest of the world and ditched these stupid and difficult-to-remember units once and for all.

      Also, since C is more difficult to remember (and use) than Visual Basic, I propose that C be outlawed once and for all.
    • I think it's about time the US caught up with the rest of the world and ditched these stupid and difficult-to-remember units once and for all.

      Actually, they did, around 1972, but they also introduced a virtually unlimited transition period so that people aren't confused with the new units. But so far, hardly anybody has switched to the better, scientific, superior, European SI units!
    • Hey! You can try to lie to us americans but I know better, I just spent a year in england doing study abroad and you guys are more fucked up than americans when it comes to measurements. At least we consistently ignore the metric system.

      Let's see here. Ok, distance is in miles and miles per hour. Liquid measurements are liters except when talking about beer, then it's a pint. Weight is in *stones* for christsake, a person's height is talked about in feet but a building/mountain height is usually in meters.
    • I thought imperial and american english measurements weren't all the same thing anyway? I've learned to call them SAE, and Metric/SI. These are explicit and leave no room for imagination, which should help to mitigate murphy's law.
    • You won't, however, catch any British Engineers or scientists using Imperial units.

      Integrated circuit pins and PCB track metrics are still measured in thousandths of an inch. Whether this is an americanism, or because of the difficulty in switching enough components simultaneously to drive demand, I don't know. But don't underestimate the power of Legacy - I'm sure this isn't the only example.

    • I think it's about time the US caught up with the rest of the world and ditched these stupid and difficult-to-remember units once and for all.

      Should we throw away everything with an English thread away?
      We need to replace ALL of our sockets & drivers (yes, even the metric ones, because they're still 3/8", 1/2", or some other English drive size).
      Want me to tear down my house because it's built to English specs too?
      What about my water pump that's rated in psi?
      My computer case needs to go because it'

    • Re:English/Metric (Score:5, Informative)

      by CaptainAlbert ( 162776 ) on Monday January 26, 2004 @10:43AM (#8088089) Homepage

      The UK is effectively metric now, all schoolchildren are only taught metric units

      Except by their parents, who will teach them the Imperial units anyway.

      My experience is at odds with this assertion that all the youngsters talk metric. Although when at work, just about everything is metric (except if it's American :)), everyone I know (including those younger than me) measures their weight in stones and pounds, and their height in feet and inches. And, more importantly, their beer in pints!

      I much prefer units I can relate to, personally. If the metric system has given us nothing else (which it hasn't), at least we have the Centigrade scale. I'm all for keeping the old-fashioned units alive, but really! Who thought water freezing at 32 and boiling at 212 was a sensible scale?

      I know the significance of 0F as being the lowest acheivable temperature where salted water remains liquid, but can anyone explain the rest? It still completely baffles me!

      P.S. Slashdot ate my &deg; markup, sorry!

      • Re:English/Metric (Score:3, Interesting)

        by dublin ( 31215 )
        I much prefer units I can relate to, personally. If the metric system has given us nothing else (which it hasn't), at least we have the Centigrade scale. I'm all for keeping the old-fashioned units alive, but really! Who thought water freezing at 32 and boiling at 212 was a sensible scale?

        This is one place where English units *definetely* make much more sense than Metric/SI units, *especially* for everyday use:

        Tha problem is that a cEntigrade/Celsius degree is just too damn big to really be useful, espe
    • Except Standard (English) units are more useful. They're divisible by more things. ex: a half foot is 6 inches a third of a foot is 4, a quarter is 3. In the real world metrics aren't really as pretty as people say. The only common conversion out there is volume to mass and for anything but water, metrics are no easier than Standard. And Celsius degrees are too damn big for lab use, imo. For some purposes Standard is better and for some purposes metric is. Its not tht hard to learn both.
  • The horror (Score:4, Funny)

    by netfool ( 623800 ) on Monday January 26, 2004 @10:23AM (#8087888) Homepage
    >Apparently size does matter, even if it's only a 0.86mm difference. At this very moment there are hundreds of geeks around the world trying to think of a great punchline for this.
  • Mod points (Score:3, Funny)

    by Popageorgio ( 723756 ) <> on Monday January 26, 2004 @10:26AM (#8087912) Homepage
    And suddenly the mods realized that "Problem" was fixed and they'd blown all their mod points on two-minute jokes.
  • Google's Cache (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 26, 2004 @10:27AM (#8087921)
    Google's Cache is here. []
  • by Listen Up ( 107011 ) on Monday January 26, 2004 @10:27AM (#8087926)
    The US needs to catch up to the rest of the world. The entire world uses Metric people. And it makes an infinite amount more sense to use Metric than the US system. If we don't, trade will continue to suffer as well as accidents such as this one.
  • by beej ( 82035 ) * on Monday January 26, 2004 @10:28AM (#8087933) Homepage Journal
    10 meters = 98.4251969 hands

    HAHAHAH! No one uses hands anymore to measure distance! How ARCANE!

    We use feet.

  • by GileadGreene ( 539584 ) on Monday January 26, 2004 @10:28AM (#8087938) Homepage
    Sigh. When is America going to ditch its archaic measurement system and use the same standard as everyone else? I work in the space industry, and I see this idiocy going on all the time: half the team works in metric, the other half in english. Most of the time everyone manages to keep it straight. But every now and then, a mistake happens. Scientists all use metric. Most engineers are trained in metric. Let's just switch to metric for everything and be done with it.

    A side note: in New Zealand (and possibly other Commonwealth countries - I haven't checked) they don't even refer to "English units". Their term is "Imperial units". Which tells you how long it's been since they made the switch...

  • What do you think would be the biggest hurdle in the US conversion to the metric system? I, at first, thought it would be automobile manufacturing/repair, but all auto shops already have to deal with foreign cars already with metric parts. My vote now would have to be for gas pumps and speed limits. I think it would take people a long time to adjust to liters and kilometers per hour.
    • "Apparently size does matter, even if it's only a 0.86mm difference."

    I don't think that the average girl would notice that small a difference.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 26, 2004 @10:45AM (#8088111)
    Some things that would be nice to standardize (but will probably not happen in my lifetime)

    - imperial - metric
    - Letter paper - A4
    - Fahrenheit - Celcius
    - AM/PM - 24 hr notation
    - month/day/year - day/month/year

    Anything I left out?
  • When will this stop? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by photonic ( 584757 ) on Monday January 26, 2004 @10:53AM (#8088175)
    First of all i want to applaud the Japanese culture. The press report seems to originate from the company that made the error: A public statement about the how and why of the error, with apologies and even in english. I wish more companies were like that.

    This incident (although caused by a transition TO the metric system) leads us to the question how many more years until we finally get rid of the imperial system. The US standard bureau has a page [] that describes their effort in the conversion. They quote the metric conversion act of 1975, but i don't know how much has happened since then. How many years do I have to buy US stuff here in Europe that is half metric and half imperial? For god sake, even the UK has switched! Does anybody know a real time-table for the transition??

    Obligatory Pulp Fiction quote:

    And you know what they call a Quarter Pounder with Cheese in Paris?
    They don't call it a Quarter Pounder with Cheese?
    No, they got the metric system there, they wouldn't know what the fuck a Quarter Pounder is.
    And what'd they call it?
    They call it Royale with Cheese.

    If you ever run into a imperial system freak ask him to calculate how many square inch there are in a square mile ... without blinking.
  • by nuggz ( 69912 ) on Monday January 26, 2004 @10:56AM (#8088202) Homepage
    The problem has little/nothing to do with it being metric/imperial.

    Someone ordered the wrong part. That's it.

    This is why drawings should be controlled. Only current known valid drawings should be used for anything.

    This problem is as basic as someone using patches for linux kernel 1.2.13 on a 2.6 series kernel
  • English units? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Tomah4wk ( 553503 ) <tb100@doc.icGIRA ... minus herbivore> on Monday January 26, 2004 @10:59AM (#8088232) Homepage
    Don't you mean imperial. They actually stem from an arabic measuring system (as does our numbering system of base 10, we were roman until 17th century). Ive never heard of 'English units' and ive lived here practically my whole life.
  • by exp(pi*sqrt(163)) ( 613870 ) on Monday January 26, 2004 @11:30AM (#8088564) Journal
    I'm busy working on some robotics projects at home. So I go off to Ace hardware this weekend to get some measuring equipment as I need to do stuff acurately. Now I'm writing code that uses these real world measurements and most of the library calls for I/O of numbers (e.g. scanf, printf) support only the use of decimal to represent floating point numbers. So clearly it makes sense to use metric for measurements as I'm so lame I can't remember what a number like 3 7/32 looks like in decimal. Goddamnit! Do you think I could find any metric equipemnt anywhere in Ace? Maybe one steel ruler. And it was just a ruler. Stuff like levels, set squares and protractors all have rules on them marked in inches. It's pathetic. It's like waking up and suddenly finding myself in a medieval city measuring out my drinks in gills.
  • by Hackie_Chan ( 678203 ) on Monday January 26, 2004 @11:55AM (#8088904)
    Around Universities in the US every roadsign in kilometers. My father works for a vitamin company in the US, and he use the metric system anyway. Big deal if it's not official in the country, if enough many people start to use it, it's going to catch on -- just like the word THRU.
  • by Aidtopia ( 667351 ) on Monday January 26, 2004 @12:03PM (#8089012) Homepage Journal

    A friend of mine in college in the late 80's did an internship with Disney Imagineering. At the time, they were redrawing plans for several attractions that were to be copied almost exactly from California and Florida version for use in Euro Disney. There was great concern that the Imperial to metric round-off would be a problem. The contractor's union in France mandated that they only use metric units in the blueprints, which is reasonable. But if you're trying to duplicate a ride that was originally designed in Imperial units, you need to keep in mind quite a few significant digits when you're measuring. For example, a section of track in a given ride might be 10 feet in the US. In metric that's 3.048 m. Would the French contractors really measure to that precision? Or would they round off to 3.05 or event 3.0? They were concerned that roundoff might be systematic causing the errors to accumulate in one direction. This was a big concern, and there were debates over whether some rides needed to be redesigned in metric from the start and possibly give up economies of standardized parts.

    That this happened in Space Mountain is also interesting, because Space Mountain was the first rollercoaster to have ATIS (automated track inspection system). Since it was a tightly wound coaster in a confined space it was difficult to do visual inspections. ATIS uses two techniques to detect problems with the track. The rails are actually tubes and they're pressurized in sections. When small cracks start to develop, the pressure drop is detected. Sensors also time cars through different sections of the track. If there is a trend of cars slowing through a section over time, it indicates that the ties between the rails are starting to give. ATIS is so much better than visual inspections at detecting problems early that it's used on most modern roller coasters.

  • by procsyskernel ( 745422 ) on Monday January 26, 2004 @12:12PM (#8089134)
    Hello, I live in Montreal, Canada. Here we use three different systems; officialy, we use the metric system, for example: - road signs and cars are in kilometers - the pumps calculate gas in liters - outside temperature is indicated in Celcius by the medias - only the metric system is shown in school But, we also use the imperial system, which is the system of the English empire that we used previously (Canada is part of the Commonwealth as being one of the oldest english colonies). For example, lots of my uncles and aunts (I'm 25) will talk to you about their cars doing miles per gallon, miles per hour, etc. They will also buy stuff at the store in pounds. I personnaly weight myself in pounds and mesure myself in feet. That is not close to change... even if then babies are weighted in kilos at the hospital, and measured in centimeters, they also indicate the conversion on the official papers, otherwise the parents don't have a clue. Also, I personnaly have trouble reading the inside temperature in Celsius... I know exactly how warn I like it, but it's in Farenheits... (even if we only calculate the outside temperature in Celsius, and nobody converts them to understand, not even my grandfather). Also, I have never seen someone calculate the temperature of the pool or spa in Celsius... Don't ask me if 25 Celsius is hot or cold for a pool, I really don't know ! And finally, we also use the American system. The american system is different that the imperial for some measures like "gallons". For example, an imperial gallon is almost exactly 4 liters, while an american gallon is 3.78 gallons... this is why it's always frustrating when you put windshield washer fluid in your car, and they sell you the fluid in 4 liters containers, but the damn US car's ww fluid container is only 3.78 liters ! You always have to carry the damn container because they is always some left... Also, all the contruction is done in feet and inches. We produce the materials, lots of them, but none of it is produced in meters, because the main market is the US, so they just don't bother with our small market and produce everything in feet. This means that architects and engineers, even if they only learn the metric in school, must learn the english and american systems when in university. The same applies for a lot of people that do plumbing, mecanics, and even furniture. However, the people here always use the same terms as before, even if the units have changed; for example, we will say "a pint of milk", even if nore it's no more a pint, but it's a liter... Which system I prefer ? Well, I don't really care... I find the metric system the best, but I would certaintly have problem purchasing furniture in centimeters when all my house as been constructed in feet. I do like the feet and inches, because I find them conveniently easy to estimates, but when you start evaluating distances that are longer than the terrain my house is built on, I will say "300 meters further, turn left"... and will calculate in kilometers. The thing is, if the damn US could convert to the same thing as the rest of the world (which will never happen, or perhaps never before China is the new superpower), we will be stuck with the three systems in Canada...
  • Mixing paradigms (Score:4, Interesting)

    by slim ( 1652 ) <john@h[ ] ['art' in gap]> on Monday January 26, 2004 @12:48PM (#8089695) Homepage
    I can live with people insisting on using Imperial measures.

    What bugs me is when they then only halfway use the Imperial paradigm.

    Case in point: when the iPod Mini was announced, I went to the web page [] to check out the specs. 2" x 3.6". Not having any intuitive feel for what that might mean, I wandered around the office trying to borrow a ruler, and once I'd found one, started to draw an iPod-sized square on a piece of scrap paper.

    A 2" line across the bottom was easy. Then I set about drawing the vertical. 3", then another 6 gradations... oh, wait a minute, each inch is subdivided into 16ths. Tricky. Grab calculator.

    So please, either use mm, or go the whole hog and state 3 inches and (10/16)".
  • by blate ( 532322 ) on Monday January 26, 2004 @02:45PM (#8091420)
    :::begin humorous remarks:::

    These damned foreign countries. Don't you understand that the US run's the world. If the metric system were so great, wouldn't we be using it by now? Of course.

    But we're not. Resistance is futile. You know why we don't use metric? Because it was invented by the French. Now, I love France -- cheese, Bordeaux wines, wonderful cusisine, art -- don't get me wrong. But the Froggies should stick to what they're good at and not try to mess with basic units of measurement. If your units were so great, why were you invaded by Germany twice in the last century? And who bailed you out? The Americans. And what units do we use? Not metric, mes amis, but good old SAE.

    Convert to SAE. The lives of space probes, amusement park patrons, astronauts, and la France depend on it! :::end humor:::
  • by Gonoff ( 88518 ) on Monday January 26, 2004 @02:51PM (#8091518)
    In the UK, nothing requiring any degree of accuracy is measured in inches, pounds or any of the other weird medieval(sp?) units that come with them.

    I buy beer in pints but I know that 1 pint is approximately 568ml (except in the US where pints are only 0.8 "English" pints). There are probably other things that we still measure in the same way that pre-industrial Brits did, but I can't think of any. The only other situation where pre-metric units have any relevance is in speed limits. Many tourists think they are "quaint".

    I expect I am older than many people here - I can remember Neil Armstron walking on the moon. My wight is 114kg and my height is 1.82m. I could not care less about what it is in units of measure that would have been familiar to Henry VIII.

    The English, and the rest of Britain are managing to move much of their units into the 20th/21st century. It is curious to see the USA stuck in the 19th...

If you always postpone pleasure you will never have it. Quit work and play for once!