Once Works Well was pure technology. Now it seeks merely to divert.
Pansy subjects - Verse! Opera! Domestic trivia! - are now commonplace.
The 300-word limit for posts is retained. The ego is enlarged

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

A ton up - but not on a motorbike

My hundredth post so let’s celebrate the metric system. Inevitably the French were the first to adopt it (as an exercise of pure reason) though I thought they’d designated the metre as something like one ten-millionth of the distance of the equator. Not so. A French abbot and scientist proposed the milliare as a minute of arc along the meridian. Which conceivably might be the same thing.

Benefit 1. Arithmetic. Remember the longwindedness of performing calculations in fractions (eg, 7/16 x 14/57). The decimal point blew all that into the weeds.

Benefit 2. Technology. Nuts and bolts in the GB were designated like this: 3/8 in. BSW (standing for British Standard Whitworth) and there were other systems. Now – as far as I know – they’re all metric and it’s so much simpler. “Give me a 5 mm bolt, 2 cm long please.”

Benefit 3. Science. To the unitiated it may not seem simpler but expressing 0.000,000,0008 mm as 8x10-9 mm (Sorry. Need to work out HTML superscript here) obviously does save paper.

Benefit 4. Peace of mind. Got a long journey ahead of you on the Continong? Change the settings on the satnav from miles to kilometres and be encouraged (Yes, I know it’s illusory, but illusions have their uses) as they whistle away behind you.

Disadvantages. The USA remains agnostic. Metrics does away with a useful height benchmark for homo sapiens and, at 6 ft 1½ in. (“just a little over 6 ft”) I find myself lacking a familiar definition.


marja-leena said...

I grew up with imperial, so when Canada switched to metric it took a while for most of us older folk to become comfortable and automatic in thinking and feeling metric. Unfortunately it's a hodge podge here - butter is still packaged in pounds, produce, meats and cheeses are advertised in imperial yet weighed and sold in metric to confuse the shopper. I still haven't been able to think of my own weight (bathroom scale being imperial) and height in metric.
Lumber is imperial, which drives my metric hubby crazy. Metric is easier, it's just what one is used to.

This surprised me: http://www.designverb.com/2007/06/19/non-metric-countries/

Julia said...

On a related "hite" issue - I prefer farenheit to celsius for temperature. I like having more degrees to describe just how hot it is outside.

Otherwise, I am a fan of the metric system too.

Barrett Bonden said...

ML: Wow! Did you read the succession of comments that followed on that link? Whereas the USA might find itself a protaganist when WW3 breaks out I never imagined Canada might be right there in the opposite corner. As a world-despised Brit I was glad to steal away and take on protective colouring.

Julia: But fahrenheit is harder to spell. Also the French haven't worked out all the metric details. Ask for une pression and you get 250 cl of beer. Ask for une grande pression and waitorial intransigence may force you to order two 250 cl glasses. This is much harder than you could ever believe if there is just one of you.

Lucy said...

Wasn't there some tale about a US-european space project that had to go back to the drawing board because they'd sent all the stuff over in imperial but it was meant to be metric?

A lot of things here are really weird metric sizes which translate into recognisable imperial ones.

It's all up the rod pole and perch really...

marja-leena said...

Yes, I read those comments and I'm glad you did, too! Some people get quite hot under the collar on the topic, eh.

Lucy, my husband can add to those stories of misinterpreted measurements in industry! A very compelling reason for everyone to be on one system.

Julia said...

Just saw the farenheit spelling, oops!

Barrett Bonden said...

Julia: Arghhh. You must think I'm such a smartass but I was just shooting from the hip and I never noticed your misspelling! This from someone who was paid to correct those sort of things. Sorree, sorree.

Sir Hugh said...

I was totally converted to metric after building a boat from American plans which were in imperial. The guy who sold the plans lived in Buffalo and was called Bernie Wolfard. Part of the construction involved casting a 440lb (yes, pounds) lead keel for which very few instructions were given. This led one to a lot of intensive worry pondering on many possible methods, and Bernie referred to this as "keel anxiety". I have often adopted this emotive expression in later life to apply to many other kinds of "anxiety".