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United States Government Technology Politics Science

USMA: Going the Extra Kilometer For Metrication 909

Posted by timothy
from the 3-more-years-until-they-hit-a-hectoyear dept.
EagleHasLanded writes "The U.S. Metric Association has been advocating for metrication since 1916 – without much success. In the mid-1970s, the U.S. government passed the Metric Conversion Act, but now it seems the time for complete conversion has come and gone. Or could U.S. educators and health & safety advocates put this issue back on Congress' radar screen?"
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USMA: Going the Extra Kilometer For Metrication

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  • by BasilBrush (643681) on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @01:46PM (#42442519)

    Cut out the intermediary step. Adopt the units of the future world superpower now.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_units_of_measurement [wikipedia.org]

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @01:46PM (#42442533)

    It just makes sense

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @01:47PM (#42442539)

    Pissing the rest of the world off is just a bonus.

    • It's better than that -- there are powerful special interests in the US, like the construction supplies industry, which benefits from using measures and sizes different to everyone else in the world. It effectively acts as a trade barrier against the Chinese.

      • Huh, why is there so much Chinese construction crap in the yards these days (I use the term 'crap' on purpose')? They have long figured out how to make export only items and size them, finish them, etc. specifically for the market.

        We have Chinese 'gypsum board', ABS pipe, EMT and a plastic stuff up the toilet drain. About the only thing I've seen that has never been Chinese is dimensional lumber and I expect that it's simply not economical to ship stuff like that over.

      • by Chess_the_cat (653159) on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @03:43PM (#42443773) Homepage
        Chinese engineers can't figure out imperial? Cool story bro.
      • by sjbe (173966) on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @05:37PM (#42444921)

        like the construction supplies industry, which benefits from using measures and sizes different to everyone else in the world.

        Having to deal with multiple measurement systems is nothing but a cost with no benefit - which is why metric is not commonly used here in the US. There is a HUGE cost to switching which is why it hasn't been done but there is no actual advantage to having more than one measurement system to the construction industry or any other industry. Furthermore all the skilled trade workers are trained in imperial units and don't use metric much and there is a lot of resistance from them since they'd have to re-learn a lot of how they do things.

        It effectively acts as a trade barrier against the Chinese.

        I assure you it does not. All those commodity bolts, fasteners, etc are made in China. Construction companies are often Chinese.

  • by ClaraBow (212734) on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @01:48PM (#42442549)
    All you have to do is convince the male congressional leaders that they will gain manhood size once we convert over to metric! 15 is a whole lot bigger than 6 :)
  • Boggle (Score:5, Funny)

    by Tim Ward (514198) on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @01:52PM (#42442579) Homepage

    Are the Colonies really still using Imperial units? - thought they must have stopped doing that yonks ago, after losing all those space probes to erroneous conversions between foot-slug-poundals and furlongs-per-fortnight.

    Or is it like their refusal to use global standard paper sizes, or basically follow any other international standards - if it was invented in Europe it must de facto be Communist and therefore can't be touched with a barge pole?

    • by Smivs (1197859)
      We English have come up with the best solution anyway. We are now completely metric - we even drink metric pints of beer and have metric miles on our road signs. (wink)
    • Re:Boggle (Score:5, Informative)

      by Rob the Bold (788862) on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @02:17PM (#42442799)

      Are the Colonies really still using Imperial units?

      No. [wikipedia.org]

      • Re:Boggle (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Tim Ward (514198) on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @02:28PM (#42442937) Homepage

        Good point.

        I come across this when calculating how much fuel to put in an aeroplane - the bowser dispenses litres, I need to know what that is in pounds for the weight and balance calculation, and the fuel burn (and thus how much fuel I need) is specified in the POH in gallons per hour ... ... but these are indeed American gallons, not Imperial ones, and getting that sort of thing wrong can kill people.

        • Re:Boggle (Score:5, Funny)

          by Rob the Bold (788862) on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @03:31PM (#42443657)

          Good point.

          I come across this when calculating how much fuel to put in an aeroplane - the bowser dispenses litres, I need to know what that is in pounds for the weight and balance calculation, and the fuel burn (and thus how much fuel I need) is specified in the POH in gallons per hour ... ... but these are indeed American gallons, not Imperial ones, and getting that sort of thing wrong can kill people.

          Well that makes my example of a quiche baked from an English cookbook turning out kind of dry seem rather trivial in comparison.

    • Re:Boggle (Score:5, Interesting)

      by xs650 (741277) on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @03:03PM (#42443337)
      No, we here in the Colonies aren't using the Imperial system. The Imperial system was standardized in the early 19th century. We aren't that up to date. We use a variation of the British system that preceded the Imperial system. For instance, the Imperial system uses a gallon that was defined in 1824, while the US gallon is the Queen Anne's Wine Gallon of 1707.
    • Re:Boggle (Score:5, Informative)

      by the eric conspiracy (20178) on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @03:14PM (#42443485)

      Decimal units were actually put into practice first in the US, thanks to Thomas Jefferson who was an ardent proponent of the idea.

      He was successful in giving the US had the first decimal currency in the world, and later proposed decimalization of the units of measure.

      "to reduce every branch to the same decimal ratio already established for the coin, and thus bring the calculation of the principal affairs of life within the arithmetic of every man who can multiply and divide plain numbers." -Thomas Jefferson

      The French picked up the idea when Franklin and Jefferson promoted the idea while in France as ambassadors.

      The problem was (like in many things) Congress didn't cotton to a good idea and failed to adopt it when Jefferson proposed it after the adoption of the Constitution.

      Jefferson actually advocated the measures be based on the motion of a pendulum at 38 degrees, something that predated the definition of units in the metric system in physical units by almost 200 years.

  • by bcrowell (177657) on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @01:58PM (#42442627) Homepage

    Ths slashdot summary doesn't seem to be based closely on the linked articles:

    but now it seems the time for complete conversion has come and gone.

    The linked articles don't discuss a "cold turkey" government-mandated switch to metric (which was never a realistic possibility given the nature of American culture and politics). They discuss incremental government-mandated measures. Some of these measures have already been carried out: requiring food labeling to be in both US and metric. Some have been stalled legislatively: eliminating the US units from food labeling.

    It would be great if we could get road signs to be switched over to dual units. E.g., congress could pass a law saying that on the interstate system, any time an old sign is replaced with a new one, it has to have dual units.

    These incremental measures would be incredibly easy, and would require no new taxes or increase in government regulation (just changes to existing regulations). That's why it's so pathetic that the pace of implementing these measures has been so slow.

    I teach physics at a community college. My students are a bell curve, extending from folks who are very bright and will transfer to elite four-year schools, all the way down to people who really shouldn't be in college. The bottom half of this bell curve is probably pretty representative of the population of the US.

    Some characteristics of people in this range: (1) They tend not to understand at the conceptual level what the operations of multiplication and division are about. (2) They tend not to have any habit of checking whether their answers make sense in order of magnitude. (3) When they learn some new mathematical concept, they memorize it as a rote procedure, and therefore when they don't use it for a month, they forget it completely.

    My students are mostly science majors, so they end up developing some facility with the metric system, but it's an uphill climb. For most people, what happens is that they learn the metric system in grade school, and then they never use it in everyday life, so they forget it completely and utterly.

  • by PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @02:08PM (#42442705)

    When they tried pricing gasoline in liters at the pump in the 70's, folks were convinced that it was just a big scam to jack up the prices. They were probably right. And in the 70's we were going through the OPEC crisis, as well. That didn't help.

    The same thing happened in Europe with the introduction of the Euro. Folks perceived everything as being more expensive.

    If these folks want the metric system in the US to succeed, they had better think up a good solution for this problem.

  • by TheSHAD0W (258774) on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @02:10PM (#42442721) Homepage

    I had to equip my shop, and among other things picked up a set of socket wrenches, in both SAE and metric sizes. One thing I noticed, though, was that the socket drives were all in English measurements (1/4", 3/8", 1/2", 3/4") and that there were no metric-drive sets around anywhere. Just curious, are there any metric drive standards in Europe, and why haven't they found their way to the US? I'd expect at least some metric size sets from China to sneak in...

    • by loshwomp (468955) on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @03:33PM (#42443681)

      Note to mods: He's talking about the square socket drive (from, e.g. the ratchet handle), not the size of the socket wrenches themselves.

      Just curious, are there any metric drive standards in Europe, and why haven't they found their way to the US?

      They're already here because they are the same. They are 6.35mm (1/4"), 9.5mm (3/8"), and 12.7mm (1/2").

      There would be absolutely no upside to fragmentation in this standard (the only point of which is interchangeability). If you think the point of the metric system is to have everything in some integer measurement, then you're converting for the wrong reason.

  • by OzPeter (195038) on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @02:15PM (#42442775)

    A few years ago I was driving on a road somewhere south of Raleigh NC (route 1 somewhere between Raleigh and Southern Pines ) and my jaw dropped when I noticed a short stretch of the road had distances marked in km. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason as to why this one bit of road in the middle of nowhere was marked that way.

    • by westlake (615356)

      I was driving on a road somewhere south of Raleigh NC...and my jaw dropped when I noticed a short stretch of the road had distances marked in km. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason as to why this one bit of road in the middle of nowhere was marked that way.

      Chances are good that they were set up for some long forgotten metrification campaign. There was a photo shoot and maybe a video produced in cooperation with the state highway department and that was the end of it.

      Travel the backroads often enough and you will find all sorts of oddities like these.

      Last August, for example, each county in Iowa received a set of replica Burma Shave signs from "Our Iowa" magazine. Burma Shave signs return to Dubuque County [kwwl.com]

  • by jfdavis668 (1414919) on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @02:23PM (#42442879)
    The U.S. Military is almost completely metric. They made a great leap when they switched 5 gallon water cans to 20 liters, which were one of the big hold outs. Still weighing aircraft fuel in pounds, and speed limits are miles per hour, but they are moving forwards. At least we only need one tool set now.
  • by mtrachtenberg (67780) on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @03:04PM (#42443351) Homepage

    First the United Nations, then Darwinism, then Galileo. If they force us to use litres, we'll all be living in the USSR before the decade ends.

  • by Animats (122034) on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @03:10PM (#42443427) Homepage

    The US should have a push for "hard metrication", which means using metric-sized components, to improve exports to the rest of the world. The military and auto industries are already metric. Electronics is mixed; newer components are metric pitch, but there's still a lot of 0.100 pin spacing around. Construction is still mostly inch. This is more important than the units consumers use.

    (I restore old Teletype machines from the 1920s, which use inch fasteners, but fine thread; 6-40 instead of 6-32. Those are rare today. Gun parts suppliers still have them, but the selection of lengths and head styles is limited, so matching old parts is tough. On occasion I've had to buy long bolts, cut off the threaded part, and thread the base part myself. Despite this antique stuff, there's no reason that the US should not be routinely using metric screws for almost everything. Outside the US, getting non-metric screws is hard.)

  • by WegianWarrior (649800) on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @05:12PM (#42444743) Journal

    Ten millimetres to the centimetre. Ten centimetres to the decimetre. Ten decimetres to the metre. Ten metres to the decametrr. Ten decametres to the hectameter. Ten hectametres to the kilometer. I now some of these prefixes isn't in common use, but it does show that all you have to do is to mulitply by ten.

    Twelve inches to the foot. Three feet to the yard. One thousand, sevenhundred and sixty yards to the mile - or more correct; eight furlongs, each of which is ten chains, each chain is four rods, each of which again is twenty five links. And just to show how well thought out the system is; each link is 7.92 inches long... So you either have a progression of 12-3-1760, or one of 25-4-10-8.

    Tell me again why the so called Standard Measures are better than SI?

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