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Author Topic: Whatever happened to the metric system conversion in the United States?  (Read 9110 times)

DiscoverDave

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When I was a kid in school, they told us the metric system was the future, and we had to memorize all sorts of excruciating conversion factors with tons of decimal places.  And then ... nothing. 

Has the United States abandoned its conversion?

Has it gotten bogged down in its bureaucracy?

Has it proven itself unfeasible?

What does the future hold?

What other countries haven't converted to it?


 

Offline daveshorts

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I would have thought mostly got bogged down in general inertia and misplaced patriotism. A similar reason to why the UK is still not fully metricated. I know what 60mph is but 100kph is a little more fuzzy.

Is physics and engineering metricated yet? as the metric system makes far more sense when you are dealing with huge numbers and computers.

Bizzarely the US army metricated in the 19th century, long before the British army.
 

Offline Geezer

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I think it's a bit of a mess. Much of US industry is metric, but there are many old standards that are so well established they are really hard to eliminate. One solution is probably to "metricate" (wot an 'orrible word) those standards (without really changing them at all) and move on.

BTW, it would be really nice if the metric system could at least converge on one set of symbols for decimal points and thousands delimiters. Commas and periods seem to be interchangeable. It's very confusing, and I'm sure it has resulted in some major cock-ups.
 

Offline Don_1

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I think the problem for the US would be the unbelievable cost of conversion.

As Dave said, the UK has not gone all the way yet and I think its not just a case of 'imperialism'. Yes we know our MPH far better than we know our KPH and might find it difficult to get our heads' around an 80kph speed limit instead of the 50mph limit we know & hate love. But it really shouldn't be too difficult if our speedo' is clearly marked in KPH. But imagine the cost to the individual of converting those speedos', so the prominent scale is the KPH. Now imagine the cost of changing all those road signs and the logistical problems. You couldn't do them all overnight. So which are KPH and which are MPH?

Then there are the signs telling me 'Birmingham 98' Is that 98 miles or kilometers?

Now consider the cost of replacing rulers, scales, volume measures etc etc AND the cost of educating the populous in those conversions.

Although the US would be better off converting, in the long run, it only has to look at the chaos and confusion it has caused, and continues to cause, in the transitional period in the UK, not to mention the imperialist backlash.

If the US do go ahead with metrication, it should learn from our mistake, do it quick and clean, don't draw it out over a long period.
 

Offline Madidus_Scientia

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I only use the imperial system when i'm at Subway and I ask for a foot-long sandwich :P
 

Offline Geezer

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If the US do go ahead with metrication, it should learn from our mistake, do it quick and clean, don't draw it out over a long period.

It already has been dragging it out for years and years! In some parts of the country (NY State for example) you'll find speed limits posted in MPH and KPH.

BTW, my speedometer is marked in MPH and also in KPH. Don't they do that in the UK too? It would seem like a good idea for those who take their cars to Europe. Also, I can switch my oddometer between miles and kilometers and the economy meter is switchable too.
 

Offline Don_1

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Our speedo's are marked in KPH as a secondary smaller scale on the analogue displays, but its not so plain as the MPH scale.

I don't know about all cars with digital displays, but almost all trucks are switchable between KPH & MPH.
 

Offline destron

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I would love to see the US convert to the metric system but there are so many difficulties that it is only a slim possibility at this point. In particular, I have heard that the auto industry would have a terrible time retooling to work in a metric system. I also think there is no political will in the US to convert to metric because, for ignorant political extremists, conversion to the metric system would be deferring to the Europeans.
 

Offline Geezer

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In particular, I have heard that the auto industry would have a terrible time retooling to work in a metric system.

Then someone was winding you up. I can't find a fastener on my Dodge truck that is not metric! I think the US auto industry converted to the metric system quite a few years ago.
« Last Edit: 17/11/2009 01:36:40 by Geezer »
 

Offline Nizzle

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You couldn't do them all overnight.

It's possible. The UK should ask Sweden...

In Sweden, cars were driving on the left side of the road, and poof! The next day all traffic signs were changed and the cars were driving on the right side of the road like their neighboring countries.

Also: the metric system is way more scientific than the uk/us system.
Only thing I'd like to see changed is that two perpendicular lines should make a corner of 100 degrees, and not 90 degrees as it is now...
 

Offline Nizzle

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You couldn't do them all overnight.

It's possible. The UK should ask Sweden...

In Sweden, cars were driving on the left side of the road, and poof! The next day all traffic signs were changed and the cars were driving on the right side of the road like their neighboring countries.

Also: the metric system is way more scientific than the uk/us system.
Only thing I'd like to see changed is that two perpendicular lines should make an angle of 100 degrees, and not 90 degrees as it is now...
 

Offline Geezer

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The next day all traffic signs were changed and the cars were driving on the right side of the road like their neighboring countries.

If I remember correctly, nobody was allowed to drive for at least a day. Also, at that time, I don't think there were many, or even any, motorways/freeways/autoroutes in Sweden, so it was largely a case of switching all the signs around. The entrances and exits on motorways are not necessarily symmetrical, so it might require some significant reconstruction as well.
 

Offline Bored chemist

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Also: the metric system is way more scientific than the uk/us system.
Only thing I'd like to see changed is that two perpendicular lines should make a corner of 100 degrees, and not 90 degrees as it is now...

Why was the foot pound second system any less "scientific" than the metre kilogram second system?
and why do you want this
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grad_(angle)
 rather than the SI unit of angle ( i.e. the radian)
 

Offline Geezer

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Also: the metric system is way more scientific than the uk/us system.
Only thing I'd like to see changed is that two perpendicular lines should make a corner of 100 degrees, and not 90 degrees as it is now...

Why was the foot pound second system any less "scientific" than the metre kilogram second system?
and why do you want this
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grad_(angle)
 rather than the SI unit of angle ( i.e. the radian)

Pay no attention BC. Nizzle can't tell his commas from his decimal points  :D

Furthermore, if SI actually did define a unit based on angle, I think there would have to be 1 per revolution, not 400. So a right angle would be 0.25G or 250mG (I assume it would be called the Geezer)
« Last Edit: 17/11/2009 21:11:22 by Geezer »
 

Offline Geezer

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Where's the Spamish Inquisition when you need them? They are soooo unpredictable.

Update:  Thanks moderator! The Spamish post is no more.
« Last Edit: 20/11/2009 21:05:59 by Geezer »
 

Offline techmind

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For the benefit of international readers...

In the UK we are fully metricated in schools (teaching metres, kilograms, Celcius etc.) - and have been for 30 years or more. In everyday life we seem to be metricated with the exception of pints (beer, and sometimes milk), miles/yards (road distances), and fuel economy which is miles-per-gallon despite the fact that petrol (gasoline) is sold in litres!

Pounds (weight) persisted in food-retailing for both greengroceries (and other loose produce) and jars (e.g. 1lb jars of jam/honey) until 5-10 years ago. For quite a while these have still been sold as 454g and suchlike, but I think gradually as packaging becomes redesigned, they will go properly metric.

Actually inches do still persist in clothes retailing - mens trousers still have waist-sizes and leg-lengths, and shirts have collar-sizes in inches as the principal unit of measure. This would be tricky to change, as you'd either need to stock more sizes to cover the range (if you went with smaller eg. 2cm steps) which the retailers won't like, or worse precision of fit (if you went with bigger steps) which the customers won't like.

Womens' clothing-sizes are a law of their own.

Shoe sizes really haven't been standardised internationally, or even so it seems between manufacturers! "9 for shoes, 10 for trainers" or similar. In UK sizes, the step between childrens' sizes is bigger than that between adult sizes, although childrens' shoes usually come in half-sizes whereas adults don't necessarily.

I think people still weigh themselves and think about their weight in pounds and stone (at least older people), although all bathroom scales have also shown kilograms for years.

Is rental of office/shop space in London still quoted in £/sq.ft or has that been updated now?

On the weather forecasts, temperatures are all Celcius - except for certain newspapers which use Farenheit (people over the age of 50 still profess not to understand Celcius). Pressures (although 'dumbed down' and rarely mentioned on the TV now) are always shown in millibars, and not Pascals (N/m2).


Of course we do have a serious issue with tools, which need to be sold using the units they actually are made-to, because in precision engineering the difference between the true imperial size and the metric 'equivalent' (to say 2 decimal places) really does matter when you're trying to make a press fit, or a screw thread or similar. A 3/16th inch drill would actually be 4.7625mm, which is different from "4.8mm" which you might see. For legacy reasons therefore, certain tools therefore need to be available (and, to avoid confusion, sold - despite the law) in both true-imperial and true-metric sizes.


(Be aware also that a US gallon -and pint- are smaller than their UK/Imperial namesakes.)

Apart from the national norms of pints/miles/mpg, I personally (age 34) think in metric for everything, but I'm bi-lingual with inches/feet and metres/centimetres and will (almost deliberately) mix my units for convenience when describing parts/sizes verbally and/or just because I can! "Ohh, about an inch long by 3mm thick", or I'll choose either "half a centimetre" or "a quarter of an inch" according to which is closer to the size I envisage in my mind.
« Last Edit: 20/11/2009 23:38:36 by techmind »
 

Offline Geezer

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For the benefit of international readers...

In the UK we are fully metricated in schools (teaching metres, kilograms, etc.) - and have been for 30 years or more. In everyday life we seem to be metricated with the exception of pints (beer, and sometimes milk), miles/yards (road distances), and fuel economy which is miles-per-gallon despite the fact that petrol (gasoline) is sold in litres!

Pounds (weight) persisted in food-retailing for both greengroceries (and other loose produce) and jars (e.g. 1lb jars of jam/honey) until 5-10 years ago. For quite a while these have still been sold as 454g and suchlike, but I think gradually as packaging becomes redesigned, they will go properly metric.

Of course we do have a serious issue with tools, which need to be sold using the units they actually are, because in precision engineering the difference between the true imperial size and the metric 'equivalent' (to say 2 decimal places) really does matter when you're trying to make a press fit, or a screw thread or similar. A 3/16th inch drill would actually be 4.7625mm, which is different from "4.8mm" which you might see. For legacy reasons therefore, certain tools therefore need to be available (and, to avoid confusion, sold - despite the law) in both true-imperial and true-metric sizes.


(Be aware also that a US gallon -and pint- are smaller than their UK/Imperial namesakes.)

Not to mention that the fluid ounce is also different.

However, the UK does not appear to have adopted the common European practice of using commas as the decimal point and periods (full stops) as thousands delimiters. Is this not a potential source of great confusion?
 

Offline techmind

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However, the UK does not appear to have adopted the common European practice of using commas as the decimal point and periods (full stops) as thousands delimiters. Is this not a potential source of great confusion?

It can be a little disconcerting, but mostly fairly obvious. There could be cases which are not 'obvious' from the context though.

India is a strange one: they seem to have a ten-thousands separator instead of a thousands-separator. I don't know whether they continue every 4 places for huge numbers or what.
 

Offline jerryfox004

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I also think there is no political will in the US to convert to metric because, for ignorant political extremists, conversion to the metric system would be deferring to the Europeans.


Get your newbielink:http://www.flashpapers.com [nonactive] done - FlashPapers.com
 

Offline Laura_Kelly

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We've been metric in New Zealand for as long as I can remember (perhaps cause I'm a young'un), but it really doesn't cause issues. I suppose its easier for everyone, but as far as I know, it was a small upheaval because there are so few people compared with the US.
It does make it easier though - metric system for money ($), measurement and everything. The only thing we use inches for is measuring tyres and tv screens!
Over here, we don't use the imperial system and it can get blimmin frustrating when watching some American programs because we have know real appreciation of distances represented by feet and yards and miles etc...
 

Offline Geezer

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My term paper is in Spamish.
 

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