Thursday, August 15, 2013

Will Miss #522 - metric measuring

A B5 notepad. I'm more familiar with A3, B4, A4, etc. than I am with things like "letter" size thanks to having done more work in publishing in Japan than in America.

When any discussion about the metric system vs. whatever the hell America uses* comes up, the smug Europeans go on about how superior the former is and talk about how we should change. Let me say right now that it's attitudes like that that keep us using things like "foot", "yard", and "inches" and having to remember that there are twelve inches in a foot, sixteen tablespoons in a cup and I don't know how quatloos are in a bar of latinum. The more superior you come across and the more you look down your nose at Americans, the less you will be heard. That's a shame because there's a good point to be made. The metric system, which I used in Japan and is a better system, is the way to go. It makes everything easier, unless, of course, you have to keep hopping back and forth between the two and have to remember that there are 28 grams in an ounce or 15 ml. in a tablespoon (yes, I had to know these things).

I miss using the metric system, which was easier to understand and measure. So, all of you countries who make this point and are assholes about it, cut it out, please, so that Americans can stop seeing such an important thing as an international pissing contest in which we are fighting over who can pee further in centimeters or inches.

*I know it's often called the "Imperial System", which means we get to blame England, right?


  1. The hardest time I have with metric vs. imperial is with cooking. Oh man if it doesn't get my panties all in a bunch! I grew up in the states so I learned the imperial system. The metric system is touched upon, yes but not carried out practically in life (or rather American life). I love attempting new recipes, hate to toot my own horn but I am a mighty fine cook.... but sometimes I have to do math calculations/have proper tools to make the kitchen magic happen.

    One more gripe I have are auto-tools. It would be SOOO much cheaper to only need to buy one set of tools. I don't work on cars any longer but my hubs does general maintenance and it sucks that he needs standard and metric.

    I really wish we could have just one world wide standard to make life easier.

  2. At least most countries have one standard and try to stick with it. Canada, while officially metric, in practice uses a ridiculous hodgepodge of different standards. I'm old enough to remember our old system, "Canadian Imperial" units, which are different in some ways from US Imperial units. SO now we have some things still measured in one Imperial system, some in another Imperial system, and some in metric.

    If I go to the grocery store, the package labels and scales will be listed in metric, but meat and produce is sold by the pound.

    The road in front of your house is measured in kilometers, but your house is measured in square feet.

    You can drive 100 km/h on the highway, but the distance you have driven is your "mileage" and the cars efficiency is mpg.

    The temperature outside is reported in celsius, but the temperature in your oven is specified in fahrenheit.

    At the hardware store, most lengths are listed in feet and inches, but weights are in grams and kilograms.

    Etc., etc.

    This is the result of trying to force the country metric, while having our largest trading partner next door using another system. They even changed our laws recently to allow imperial units to be taught again along with metric, since children who grow up strictly learning metric are not prepared for what they actually encounter in real life...

    By the way I enjoyed the randomly inserted Star Trek reference :)

  3. As a Canadian, we live between the two systems. The sell butter by the pound, but we mark it in grams. We use both systems in the store (stores display whichever one looks like a better deal--but the electronic scale always uses Kilograms)
    I agree that having two sets of tools is a pain, as is having too many cooking tools.
    Despite near universal adoption of the metric system (officially) most Canadians seems to not use the metric system for height or weight... which confuses my students completely.

  4. To be fair, the advantage with Imperial is that they're easy to approximate - my foot is a foot long, my armspan is a fathom, the top knuckle of my thumb is a little over an inch. Also, twelve is divisible by more numbers than ten.

    But yeah, the moment you have to say "five-sixteenths of an inch" (instead of "eight millimetres") is the moment at which Imperial just becomes completely absurd. The most fun I had was the time I had to connect a 19 mil hose to a 3/4-inch fitting. Only half a mil difference, but enough for water to spray out everywhere if I had the wrong connector.

  5. Majoring in engineering in the US many, many years ago gave me experience in all sorts of weird units, both Imperial(ish), Metric, and the somewhat standardized Metric "SI" system. No problems, though.

    Now that I love to cook, and it's easy to get recipe ideas from the web, I spend too much time trying to figure out just how much is in a "cup"! US (236 or 240 ml), Australia (250 ml), UK (284 ml), Japan (200ml, though only 180 for rice)....

  6. Fantastic rant, made my day. I concur. That is all.

  7. What confuses me most in in recipe books when it often says "add 1 cup". How big is a cup? I've got all different-sized cups in my house and I have no idea how much an official 'cup' is.

    As a Brit that is not so great at maths, Metric helps me. But I'm still a lot more comfortable with miles instead of kilometers, stones and pounds of weight instead of grams and kilos - actually that's something I don't understand, Americans use Imperial but I don't often hear them talk of stones in weight. I find that a lot easier to visualize than someone talking about another's weight in hundreds of pounds.

    People sneer about this? I don't talk about it much, and I don't think I heard anyone else say much beyond "well, tens ARE easier than twelves". They are for me, but for my gran who was raised with baker's dozens and pounds and threepenny bits, she's at home with those old measurements and a lot better at maths than me to boot. ^^

  8. Well, judging by the rest of the comments, it seems many places are undecided about whether to go metric or Imperial (or some other seemingly arbitrary standard of measurement).

    To share my experience, growing up and going to school in Malaysia, I'm more familiar with the metric system. However, once I had graduated had become an Engineer, I realized that practically, the Imperial system is still very much in use. Pieces of plywood are still cut in square feet, Contractors (many of whom learned their trade by experience as opposed to institutionalized learning) still measure things in feet and inches, many architects are more comfortable representing the size of a room in square feet, and so on. I had to familiarize myself with both systems in order to keep up. That said, I think metric is still easier, especially when you occasionally have to do quick mental calculations.

    My mom, who is American, also needs to keep herself familiarized with the Imperial system as while she had adapted to the metric system, most of her cookbooks are American.

    In conclusion, while the metric system is definitely more convenient, a working knowledge of the Imperial system is still practical to have. But I sure do wish the world will make up it's mind and stick with ONE system.

  9. I agree, knowledge of both is necessary to get by if you're in certain industries, moving between certain countries, or, like me, an artisan that frequently buys materials from abroad (mostly the U.S.)... and if you have it there isn't much cause to complain about either. I'd say life *would* be easier if we all used the same system, but it's by no means a stopper on anything I do. If I need a conversion I go ahead and look one up and try to be as precise as I can if the conversion isn't perfect. Sometimes I run up against problems... say, last week I found that the measurements of screw threads for certain types of hard-to-find aviation/kit car anchor nuts I want for something were Imperial in some places and Metric in others... but actually the worst obstacle is when a part like that is referred to by a serial number without giving either measurements. As long as someone gives a proper size, either in Metric or Imperial, there's no excuse to not being able to figure it out, really. I just write up my own glance-at conversion charts on the things I buy the most that come in either - usually wire gauges, thread gauges, clay weight (which is always in pounds and ounces) etc. Over time it gets burned into the brain for both. ^^


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