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United States Government Technology Politics Science

USMA: Going the Extra Kilometer For Metrication 909

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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  • Re:US Metrication (Score:4, Interesting)

    by flaming error ( 1041742 ) on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @01:57PM (#42442613) Journal

    Or perhaps certain campaign sponsors have spoken many times...

  • 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 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 realityimpaired ( 1668397 ) on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @02:16PM (#42442781)

    Don't worry, they're safe. Many American sports cars are using suspension technology [] that was developped by the Romans.

  • by noh8rz9 ( 2716595 ) on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @02:20PM (#42442839)
    a legitimate question that is never asked - why should the US go metric? Who cares if somebody buys a pint of liquor or drives 65 mph? What problems are caused by imperial units?
  • by Kerstyun ( 832278 ) on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @02:21PM (#42442843) Journal
    Does the BIBLE say that the lenth Noahes' arc was 137 meter's long? Or hiding you're light under 35 cubac centermeter's? Noah way. Feet and Yards and Cubics and Furlow's are GOD's units.
  • by cpghost ( 719344 ) on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @02:21PM (#42442845) Homepage

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

    It was not just a perception, things actually got a lot more expensive. For example, in Germany, the conversion rate was 1.95 DM to 1 Euro, but nominal prices remained approximately the same. Something that used to cost 5 DM suddenly cost 5 Euro. Of course, it was a 100% price hike. That's why they call Euro "Teuro", short for "Expensivo."

  • 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.
  • 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.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @02:32PM (#42442973)

    Was there a factory nearby? I seem to recall stories of states trying to lure foreign manufacturers (automobile mostly) with gimmicks like metric mileage markers. Of course, they wouldn't redo all the signs in the state, only the ones between the airport and the proposed factory site.

  • 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:What's the point? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @03:03PM (#42443343) Journal
    When was the last time you ever had to convert feet to miles, or yards to miles? In general, the US system is good enough.

    I use miles-per-hour and miles as a measurement of driving distance.
    I use gallons for gas and milk.
    milliliters for other liquid measurements (since it's on the bottles, and easy enough to read)
    Inches for building things out of wood. 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, and 1/16 are good tolerances in construction.
    F for temperature (because 98.6 isn't any worse than 37.0)

    The reason there's no motivation to change is because everyone gets along well enough with the systems we have. It's cool you can do conversions from grams of water to liters in your head, but when was the last time you had to do that?

    And when I do science, I use metric. No prob.
  • 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.)

  • Re:Boggle (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Chess_the_cat ( 653159 ) on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @03:49PM (#42443823) Homepage
    Base 12 is actually much easier to "bring calculation...within the arithmetic of every man..." 12 has 6 factors. 10 has 4. Divide 12 into thirds and you get a nice and neat "4" instead of .33333333....
  • by semi-extrinsic ( 1997002 ) <> on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @05:20PM (#42444799)
    Why should the US convert? Here's why: graph [].
  • by MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @05:41PM (#42444973) Homepage Journal

    Here in Australia everything is in milllimetres in construction, to the point where if somebody asks you how deep you want that concrete slab and you answer "1254" then that is understood to be 1.254 metres of concrete.

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