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## Our Friend, The Meter1672

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

• #### It's not just that the poster is a moron (Score:1, Interesting)

on Wednesday June 23, 2004 @02:14AM (#9503805) Journal
Napoleon, whose judgement was exceptionally keen on all non-Russian-winter related fronts, saw the problem right at the beginning, when he said of the "metric system":

"Nothing is more contrary to the organisation of the mind, of the memory, and of the imagination."

He was right [orbix.co.uk]. Our mind, unaided by an exterior calculating device, works best with 3's and 4's. Which is why the 3- and 4-based Imperial system is vastly more serviceable for everyday use.
• #### Re:Why? (Score:4, Interesting)

on Wednesday June 23, 2004 @02:28AM (#9503893) Homepage Journal

No, it's so that after we conquor you, we can plague you with so many little things you have to learn to adapt to your new overlords that you won't have time to even remember what your nationality was before we took over.

Er, I think, anyway.

Seriously, I think it's just part of good ol' American laze. I worked hard to learn the metric system and to be able to convert imperial units to metric when I was in school under the false belief that we'd be completely switched over by the time I grew up. After I grew up (arguably so, anyway), I forgot all that. Now I can't convert shit even in Imperial. How many cups are in a quart, again? How about teaspoons in a tablespoon? I think it's 3. And no matter how many times I cut up a stick of butter, I still can't remember the tablespoon -> cup conversion. :(

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

<markt@nerdflat.cCHICAGOom minus city> on Wednesday June 23, 2004 @02:29AM (#9503901) Journal
It's not nearly that big a deal, you know.

I had just barely started school when I first heard that that Canada would be moving to the metric system. At the time, there were fewer than 10 countries worldwide that did not yet use the metric system.

Today, the USA alone bears the distinction of being the only nation on the planet that has not yet made any sort of government sponsored effort to switch to the metric system. I find this slightly amusing personally.

The conversion didn't happen overnight in Canada, and in many situations, people still use the imperial measurements. The signage has all been changed, of course... but a lot of people still think in imperial units, so they still get used. I estimate that it will probably take another 40 years before this country really doesn't use imperial units anymore.

Personal anecdote: not that long ago, I was describing something to my kids and mentioned a measurement in yards. My children had no idea how long a "yard" was until I described the length with my hands... to which they said "Oh, you mean a metre!" As the measurement I was citing to them was just an estimate anyways, I told them yes... but I told them that a yard was about 3 and a third inches shorter than a metre. I got another blank stare at the word "inch", at which point I told them there is 36 inches in a yard... Suffice to say I was certainly not winning their approval of my archaic measuring technology.

They just shook their heads and said that the metric system is so much better. Personally, I agree... but it's hard to change what you first learn. That's why I give it another 40 years... there's still too many working class adults that are using the imperial system here.

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

on Wednesday June 23, 2004 @02:29AM (#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:Why? (Score:5, Interesting)

on Wednesday June 23, 2004 @02:30AM (#9503910) Journal
What is the rational given in the USA for not using metric?

Its benefits are over-rated. Is it some badge of honour to continue to use an outdated, more complicated system of measurement?

10 is divisible by 2 and 5. 12 is divisible by 2, 3, 4, and 6. This makes mental division twice as easy with feet than with meters. To my mind that's a good reason to stick with Imperial for all but scientific purposes (where we've already been using metric for decades.)

Also, we've gotten screwed from previous times the government has tried to force it on us. 1.75 liters of whiskey is a nontrivial amount less than a handle of whiskey.
• #### At first i thought this post was stupid (Score:5, Interesting)

on Wednesday June 23, 2004 @02:42AM (#9503985) Homepage

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

on Wednesday June 23, 2004 @02:43AM (#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.
• #### Re:On in the US (Score:2, Interesting)

on Wednesday June 23, 2004 @02:48AM (#9504015) Homepage
Err. Milk (unless its in glass bottles) is sold by the (half) litre in the UK. Only loose fruit and veg, (and beer/cider, but not spirits or wine) can legally be sold in imperial units. On a related point is a pint 24 or 20 fl. oz? It all depends on which side of the pond you live.
• #### Re:Legacy Measurement System (Score:3, Interesting)

on Wednesday June 23, 2004 @02:50AM (#9504024)
A bit offtopic... I know a lot of folks here will go on about "what is wrong with the US that they won't go metric?" and it comes down to "everything is English, it'll cost too much to convert." Especially heavy manufacturing machinery.

We did that in Australia in the 1970s. Costs very little if you phase it in over a couple of years, natural maintenance and replacement takes care of most of it, then you get strict to force the last holdouts over (eg the weights and measures refuse to certify shop balances if they're calibrated in Imperial; weather reports stop giving Fahrenheit, car speedos are only in KPH). A couple of years later, you're living in a metric country. Kids only learn imperial units in passing, as a curiosity, or by osmosis from old books or American movies. Heavy machinery, screw threads and a few other things that you really do need to keep backwardly compatible take longer, but as old machinery eventually is replaced it slowly moves over. However, I wouldn't be surprised to find that most heavy machinery was originally designed to metric specs and just needs some gauges and labels replaced to be fully compliant. Consider the auto industry uses components from all over the world, and the rest of the world is metric.

• #### no kidding. (Score:1, Interesting)

by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 23, 2004 @02:56AM (#9504062)
Next....

One person can't convert English to metric units. Why is this worthy of a slashdot article?

Why do people keep harping on this anyway? The metric system isn't a panacea anyway. It's better for some thins, worse for others.

Why do people get so hung up on a system that is every bit as arbitrary as another?
• #### It's rather funny that America is still Imperial. (Score:2, Interesting)

on Wednesday June 23, 2004 @03:01AM (#9504097)
After all, they did have the worlds first Decimal Currency, introduced in 1792. (100 cents equals 1 dollar) Thomas Jefferson proposed that America go to a Decimal system in 1790. Why is it that America refuses to change to a simpler system when they've had the opportunity to do it and participate in it for over a Century? You're all just super proud of your English heritage traditions! And as we all know it, tradition is a method of doing something stupid for no real reason, for a long time.. Have a look at some of the dates involved with the metric system. If you're American, do you feel like you live in a country which adopts technology now? http://lamar.colostate.edu/~hillger/dates.htm
• #### Re:Just Remember 2.54 (Score:5, Interesting)

by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 23, 2004 @03:04AM (#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.
• #### Altitude for plane is usually in feet (Score:5, Interesting)

on Wednesday June 23, 2004 @03:06AM (#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.
• #### Re:On in the US (Score:2, Interesting)

on Wednesday June 23, 2004 @03:44AM (#9504337)
Don't you mean "On top of in the US"?

What's wrong with metric, anyway?

A miss is as good as a kilometer
Give him a centimeter, and he takes a kilometer
millimeter by millimeter
"millimetering towards success"
"I can see for kilometers and kilometers"
"I'll kilogram you!"
"You don't have a milligram of common sense"

Ugh... I see. Metric weirds language.

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

<slashdotNO@SPAMthecartographers.net> on Wednesday June 23, 2004 @04:12AM (#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.
• #### Yup ... (Score:5, Interesting)

on Wednesday June 23, 2004 @04:31AM (#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
• #### Promoting base 12 (Score:4, Interesting)

on Wednesday June 23, 2004 @04:37AM (#9504578) Homepage Journal

Clearly the solution is to convert to a base 12 counting system. Then we can have the advantages of metric, and rarely have to use the dodecimal point.

Interestingly, there are at least a couple of groups that are trying [orbix.co.uk] to promote [sunynassau.edu] the use of base 12 over base 10 for exactly this reason.

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

on Wednesday June 23, 2004 @05:06AM (#9504703) Homepage
Australia follows English spelling (metre, colour, centre, etc) except for some strange reason the news media uses US spelling.

as a tech person, i've always spelled using american spelling. however, my english teacher used to always pick on my use of 'color' instead of 'colour'. he was a typical brit - end of story. not open to accepting the global sense of english.

you can spell it either way, 'color' or 'colour' - and, most people will understand what you mean. its the same with 'ised' vs 'ized' and of course the 're' vs 'er' :)

btw: for the record, everyone knows that 1in = 2.54cm. 1m = 100/2.54 = 39.37 (accurate to 4dp). there is nothing wrong with the metric system, we all know how to count in base 10. imperial is actually more complex to deal with.
• #### Re:Why should I care? (Score:4, Interesting)

by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 23, 2004 @05:12AM (#9504728)
You overlook a significant advantage of metric; weights and measures have a direct relationship. How heavy is a gallon of water in Imperial/English units? Fucked if I know; but I can tell you that a litre of water weighs 1kg.
• #### Re:On in the US (Score:4, Interesting)

on Wednesday June 23, 2004 @05:39AM (#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:Altitude for plane is usually in feet (Score:3, Interesting)

on Wednesday June 23, 2004 @05:49AM (#9504905) Journal
In a German Piper, the altitude is shown in feet. The altimeters in the few commercial aircraft that I have been in are in feet and so usually is the autopilot (unless there is a flight director, see below). The radar altimetre and ground proximity system also normally work in feet.

The flight director system can work in both feet and metres but that isn't a primary instrument. Distances are usually expressed in nautical miles rather than kilometres just as speed is expressed in knots.

• #### Re:Why should I care? (Score:4, Interesting)

on Wednesday June 23, 2004 @06:13AM (#9505006)
The first country to split the atom was actually Great Britain.

In 1932 John Cockcroft, together with Ernest Walton bombarded Lithium with high energy protons, and succeeded in transmuting it into Helium and other elements.

This was the first occasion on which an atomic nucleus of one element had been successfully changed to a different nucleus by artificial means.

This feat was popularly, if not strictly accurately, known as splitting the atom. Wikipedia.org [wikipedia.org]

• #### Re:At least we know. (Score:5, Interesting)

on Wednesday June 23, 2004 @06:16AM (#9505021)
What, they have switched to metric then?

I wish. We've had to deal with everything in inches for years from NASA, now our requirements are a mix. They say we need to detect 1/4" damage from 5 to 7 feet moving at up to 1 meter/min and 1" damage from 7 to 10 feet at up to 3 meters/min. To make matters worse, our scanner measures in millimeters, so we have to convert the spec to mm anyway to know that we can meet the spec. And this is a safety-of-flight program to ensure the shuttle is not damaged.

• #### Stupid '12 is divisible by more numbers argument' (Score:2, Interesting)

on Wednesday June 23, 2004 @06:34AM (#9505074)
Without trying to bemoan the poster's inclusion,
Why does everyone need to mention that 12 is divisible by more real numbers?

12/1, 12/2, 12/3, 12/4, 12/6
10/1, 10/2, 10/5

It seems the only application this would have is for measurement of materials when building something by hand. I've helped frame several homes and spent many hours in a woodshop -- It is exceedingly rare than numbers fall into exact inches. In my experience, I have found myself doing calculations like dividing 31 3/16" by two and adding half the width of a stud (~1 1/2") to it.

Perhaps I'm just bitter, but using Imperial isn't really helping anyone in America... It's just that we're too lazy to change.
• #### Re:Why should I care? (Score:1, Interesting)

by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 23, 2004 @08:02AM (#9505414)
Actually the flight was invented by Clément Ader in 1890, with a plane called "Eole" 13 years before the wright brothers...

I personnaly dont think that the country where something happend 100 years ago is really important, but before claiming "US rules the world" check your history books, or google at least...
• #### Re:On in the US (Score:2, Interesting)

on Wednesday June 23, 2004 @08:28AM (#9505609) Homepage

More complex to deal with?

Not at all.

Half a yard is 18 inches, or a foot and a half.

Half a metre is what, around 19.685 inches, but it's also 50 centimetres which is a much more usable number.

But a third of a yard is 12 inches, or one foot. A third of a metre is nothing sensible no matter what you measure it in. 33.3333333... centimeters, a number that will not resolve no matter how powerful a computer you throw at it. Or around 13.12333 inches, another number that's a severe pain in the ass to use in any way.

The fact is that the English measurements, like other systems worldwide, developed organically in response to human usage and they tend to fit it very well. Just because you don't understand it doesn't mean it's ignorant or stupid.

On the other hand, the Napoleonic system whose proponents have the sheer chutzpah to refer to their system as 'the metric system' (of course it's one of many metric systems, or systems of measurements) was invented from pure thought, and is a purely Cartesian construct. There is no doubt it is convenient for a few uses, but it's noticeably inferior for most purposes to me, and I'm quite fluent with both systems.

If they can coëxist, side by side, fine, but if, as it seems, the advocates of the Napoleonic system will not rest until it's illegal to use anything else (as it apparently [cyphus.com] is now in England, the homeland of the English measures!) then I say better to lose the hyper-rational Cartesian system and keep the one that serves most of the people, most of the time, better.

• #### Rye (Score:2, Interesting)

on Wednesday June 23, 2004 @02:31PM (#9510074)
Interesting story about this sort of thing that came up in the local liquor store the other day:

I live in Western Canada, and am accustomed to finding bottles of hard liquor in 750mL (roughly 26oz.) and 1.14L (rougly 40oz.) -- in fact in causal conversation, they're often referred to as a "2-6" or a "40". So imagine our surprise when we found a bottle of Crown Royal (good stuff, btw) in a 1L bottle, which was right next to the 1.14L bottles, and you'd have to look pretty close to tell the difference. They also happened to be a really awesome deal as compared to the other two (only a couple dollars more than the 750) so we got one.

Upon closer inspection, it was labelled for sale in the US (listed the US importer, and the location of manufacture was "Toronto" instead of wherever they're actually made... Kitchener, I think.) So basically, this case of bottles must've ended up on the wrong truck or something and landed at this liquor store (who was apparently trying to sell them as fast as they could, at that price).

Since Crown Royal markets itself as "Canadian Whisky", do they actually sell it in a 1L size in the states? If so, I find it fairly funny that they would offer a nicely-metricized size in the states to look "all Canadian and novel", but sell it in sizes based on Standard/Imperial measure in Canada.
• #### Re:On in the US (Score:2, Interesting)

on Wednesday June 23, 2004 @03:20PM (#9510707)

How do you know they weren't speaking Chinese on Star Trek? (Universal Translators.) *grin*

• #### Re:That discrepancy (Score:3, Interesting)

on Wednesday June 23, 2004 @03:56PM (#9511137)
The 39.77 is perplexing, but some people just don't bother to remember things correctly and once it's been memorized incorrectly, it's tough to beat out.

What I don't get is if Canada and other countries can work in imperial units for certain things which have to deal with the U.S., why can't, say, NASA, just bite the bullet and use metric like everybody else when precision is absolutely critical??? If you're using SI units internally, why not work in SI units externally?

Or better yet, the U.S. could join the community of the rest of the world and use metric...that would save a lot of headaches.

Of course, that's probably a long way off. Some people are just determined to use inferior products.

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