Contributor Post Created with Sketch. The Metric Metaphor

 

From Failure Blog, where I often go to remind myself that things usually don’t work out, comes this timely metaphor:

“At the U.S. Metric Association, we view U.S. metrication as having been merely postponed,” says Paul Trusten, Vice President of the 96-year-old organization, referring to this country’s lack of progress in converting to the metric system, making it one of the few holdouts among developed nations.

But the USMA — which promotes increased use of the metric system and aims for complete conversion — recognizes that it faces an uphill battle, as metrication (defined as the act of changing from imperial units of measurement to metric units) would require the kind of unified, long-term effort not seen in this country since World War II. But while metrication might seem a million miles — er, kilometers — away, the USMA has no plans to give up the fight.

“The nation has a long-term obligation to its citizens and institutions to fix, literally and figuratively, the nation’s measurement standard. We must overcome our old nationalistic prejudice against measurement change if we are to be full participants in 21st-century commerce,” says Trusten.

A coupla things:

1. There’s a US Metric Association? And it’s been around for ninety-six years? Wow. I had no idea how hard it is to kill a stupid idea. But, of course, from that telltale phrase — “nationalistic prejudice” — we know that this isn’t about a system of measurement. It’s about teaching American rubes a lesson.

2. Still: they’re not giving up? After ninety-six years? After, let’s face it, the most measured and quantified century in the history of mankind? We fought a world war, invented an atom bomb, put a man on the moon, flew at the speed of sound, networked the globe at fiber optic speeds, invented the smart phone….I could go on and on. We did all of these things without converting to the metric system.

Which just goes to show you: they’ll never give up. Our side thinks that people learn from failure. That when the welfare system fails, when the public schools can’t deliver, when subsidies and tax hikes and government programs all deliver perverted and upside-down results, the advocated for such things will wake up and say, “Okay, let’s try another way.”

But they won’t. They’ll just keep pushing. Like the person who thinks that if you disagree with him, it’s because he hasn’t spoken loudly enough.

There are 78 comments.

  1. KC Mulville Inactive

    Soccer … Metric system …

    The rest of the world complains that we’re not like them.

    Exactly.

    • #1
    • March 6, 2013, at 1:43 AM PST
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  2. Shawn Buell (Majestyk) Contributor

    We should switch to the Metric system and ditch the imperial system of measurement yesterday.

    The fact that F does not equal M*A in the english system and requires a conversion factor alone is enough to drive you nuts in engineering school.

    It serves no useful purpose for us to measure the mass of things in “Slugs.”

    • #2
    • March 6, 2013, at 1:43 AM PST
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  3. Chris Gregerson Member
    Chris Gregerson Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    What’s a third of a meter called? How about a quarter of a meter? A twelfth or sixth of a meter. Our measurements work for real people. When I’m doing science work with frequency and wavelength I use the metric system ’cause it’s just easier.

    • #3
    • March 6, 2013, at 1:44 AM PST
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  4. Sumomitch Inactive

    On the other hand, I am hearing an awful lot lately about these “metricsexuals,” so maybe they are winning the cultural war. God help us if they gain the right to marry.

    • #4
    • March 6, 2013, at 1:45 AM PST
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  5. Duane Oyen Member
    Duane Oyen Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I pull myself up to my full 178 centimeter height and full-throatedly blame the NFL for this intolerable state of affairs. Oh, benighted ones!

    Occasionally, even Lileks contributes to the delinquency of a podcast, by referring to it as Episode LLLVII…..

    • #5
    • March 6, 2013, at 1:48 AM PST
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  6. doc molloy Inactive
    A coupla things:

    1. There’s a US Metric Association? And it’s been around forninety-six years? Wow. I had no idea how hard it is to kill a stupid idea.

    To paraphrase Bobby Darren..

    Metrication… that’s the name of the game! And each generation… it’s played the same! 
    • #6
    • March 6, 2013, at 1:55 AM PST
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  7. Amy Schley, Longcat Shrinker Moderator
    Rob Long: 

    2. Still: they’re not giving up? After ninety-six years? After, let’s face it, the most measured and quantified century in the history of mankind? We fought a world war, invented an atom bomb, put a man on the moon, flew at the speed of sound, networked the globe at fiber optic speeds, invented the smart phone….I could go on and on. We did all of these things without converting to the metric system.

    We also crashed a multimillion dollar probe into the surface of Mars because one team was working in scientific units and the other wasn’t.

    • #7
    • March 6, 2013, at 1:55 AM PST
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  8. Jordan Inactive

    Curiously absent from that article is the best reason to switch to the metric system: We wouldn’t have lost a $125,000,000 Mars probe to a feet-to-meters-conversion error if we had converted with everyone else long ago.

    As an nuclear sub guy for a time, I was fond of my foot-pounds, and my pound-mass, and pound-force units, and my tablespoon/fortnights, and my pints/pound-mass or inch-pound torque units. It was a little confusing, but having to constantly switch from MKS to imperial made me a better operator, and provided more teaching moments.

    I have to resent the article’s imperious tone towards our imperial unit system, however. The fact that the arguments aren’t evidence and fact based, but attempt to shame us into switching so we don’t appear nationalist, is telling.

    • #8
    • March 6, 2013, at 1:57 AM PST
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  9. John Walker Contributor

    Ever since the Mendenhall Order of 1893, U.S. units have been based upon the metric system. A yard is defined as 0.9144 metres and a pound as 0.45359237 kilograms. The U.S. customary units are simply scale factors applied to the underlying metric units. It’s like particle physicists measuring energy in electron volts rather than joules because it’s more convenient for the things they’re talking about.

    You can get pretty far in coping with the metric system if you recall that a yard is about a metre, a quart is about a litre, and for temperature “Thirty is hot; twenty is nice; ten is chilly, and zero is ice.”

    • #9
    • March 6, 2013, at 2:01 AM PST
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  10. Pilli Inactive

    Which Mars probe was it that crashed because one vendor used metric measurements and another used imperial units?

    My Ford truck has metric bolts and nuts and also SAE bolts and nuts.

    So if we change to metric, would a football field get longer (100 meters)? What about a baseball diamond? Arrrgh!

    Baseball_diamond.png

    • #10
    • March 6, 2013, at 2:04 AM PST
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  11. Shawn Buell (Majestyk) Contributor
    Chriscojo: What’s a third of a meter called? How about a quarter of a meter? A twelfth or sixth of a meter. Our measurements work for real people. When I’m doing science work with frequency and wavelength I use the metric system ’cause it’s just easier. · 18 minutes ago

    1/3 and 1/4 respectively.

    • #11
    • March 6, 2013, at 2:05 AM PST
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  12. Del Mar Dave Member
    Del Mar Dave Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    We will need to adopt the U.S. Metric Association’s century-long plan and patience if we are ever to begin taking the country back from the Progressives. It took them ~100 years to drag us to where we’ve now arrived.

    • #12
    • March 6, 2013, at 2:07 AM PST
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  13. Amy Schley, Longcat Shrinker Moderator
    Pilli: Which Mars probe was it that crashed because one vendor used metric measurements and another used imperial units?

    The Mars Climate Orbiter

    On September 23, 1999, communication with the spacecraft was lost as the spacecraft went into orbital insertion, due to ground based computer software which produced output in non-SI units of pound-seconds (lbf×s) instead of the metric units of newton-seconds (N×s) specified in the contract between NASA and Lockheed. The spacecraft encountered Mars at an improperly low altitude, causing it to incorrectly enter the upper atmosphere and disintegrate.

    • #13
    • March 6, 2013, at 2:07 AM PST
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  14. Nick Stuart Inactive
    Amy Schley
    Rob Long: 

    We also crashed a multimillion dollar probe into the surface of Mars because one team was working in scientific units and the other wasn’t. · 9 minutes ago

    Can’t cure stupid, somewhere along the line someone lacked the brains, or courage, to get the teams on one system or the other.

    Meanwhile, full metrication will NEVER happen in the US, because real estate and building codes are in US units.

    • #14
    • March 6, 2013, at 2:08 AM PST
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  15. John Walker Contributor
    Pilli: So if we change to metric, would a football field get longer (100 meters)?

    Some years ago, I watched the Super Bowl on French television, and the play-by-play announcer would say, «Troisième tentative et quatre mètres

    • #15
    • March 6, 2013, at 2:11 AM PST
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  16. Tony Davis Member

    I think Rob’s point, which I totally agree with, is that after 96 years, this organization still thinks it can force us to change over. Well, we all know about the metric system, we’ve all learned it, and we all know it’s benefits and difficulties. And we all choose to use what we choose.

    Standardized measurements are the key thing. When I buy a gallon of gasoline, I expect to receive what I paid for. As long as the vendor and I agree on what a gallon is, who cares if it’s a gallon, a liter, or whatever? What is morally superior about a liter? Nothing.

    I am an engineer, and I spend my days dealing with units of all types. I promise you f equals m*a in every unit system, just carry the units correctly. Carrying units is a problem for the computers. Should we subjugate everyone’s choices, and spend astronomical amounts of retooling money, just so someone with severe OCD can be happy with the roundness of the counting system? No, we should not take away such choices.

    • #16
    • March 6, 2013, at 2:19 AM PST
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  17. Scott R Member
    Scott R Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    American exceptionalism! We finally have a workable definition.

    But, you know, you travel kilometers faster than you travel miles, so when the highway signs are in kilometers you get to your destination faster. Fact. Drive in Canada, and you’ll see.

    • #17
    • March 6, 2013, at 2:33 AM PST
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  18. Tuck Inactive

    “…scientific units…”

    All systems of measurement are arbitrary. One’s not more scientific than the other…

    The Wikipedia entry on this is hilarious… Apparently the problem with the US metrication effort is that it’s being run by… Congress.

    “…In 1981, the USMB reported to Congress that it lacked the clear Congressional mandate necessary to bring about national conversion. Because of this ineffectiveness and an effort of the Reagan administration to reduce federal spending, the USMB was disbanded in autumn of 1982.”

    At least Reagan succeeded in eliminating one federal agency. :)http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metrication_in_the_United_States
    • #18
    • March 6, 2013, at 2:35 AM PST
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  19. Joseph Stanko Member
    Joseph Stanko Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member
    Majestyk: We should switch to the Metric system and ditch the imperial system of measurement yesterday.

    You can have my yardstick when you pry it from my cold, dead hands.

    • #19
    • March 6, 2013, at 2:36 AM PST
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  20. Jeff Karr Inactive

    John Walker: Some years ago, I watched the Super Bowl on French television, and the play-by-play announcer would say, «Troisième tentative et quatre mètres.»

    John, that reminds me of a story a buddy told me years ago: he saw a classic American western (“Shane?”) with French subtitles. When a cowboy walked into the bar and said “Gimme a shot of red eye,” it was rendered as “Donnez-moi un Dubonnet.”

     

    • #20
    • March 6, 2013, at 2:37 AM PST
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  21. Skyler Coolidge

    Let’s hope they don’t give up. Metric is infinitely better than what we have. There is only one advantage to remaining with the English system and that’s because most people have English tools.

    There’s no reason for the government to be involved, though. When people want it, it will happen without the government’s help.

    • #21
    • March 6, 2013, at 2:37 AM PST
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  22. Roberto, Crusty Old Timer LLC Member
    Roberto, Crusty Old Timer LLC Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member
    Amy Schley
    Pilli: Which Mars probe was it that crashed because one vendor used metric measurements and another used imperial units?

    The Mars Climate Orbiter

    On September 23, 1999, communication with the spacecraft was lost as the spacecraft went into orbital insertion, due to ground based computer software which produced output in non-SI units of pound-seconds (lbf×s) instead of the metric units of newton-seconds (N×s) specified in the contract between NASA and Lockheed. The spacecraft encountered Mars at an improperly low altitude, causing it to incorrectly enter the upper atmosphere and disintegrate.

    25 minutes ago

    Sound to me more like a contractor failing to fulfill requirements problem.

    • #22
    • March 6, 2013, at 2:39 AM PST
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  23. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Pilli is correct. The English system is too ingrained in our sporting life. One hundred football yards and 90 feet between the bases will never be overcome. And how many MPH in our NASCAR rides? Otherwise my 2-liter bottle of soda is just fine.

    • #23
    • March 6, 2013, at 2:41 AM PST
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  24. Amy Schley, Longcat Shrinker Moderator
    Roberto
    Amy Schley
    Pilli: Which Mars probe was it that crashed because one vendor used metric measurements and another used imperial units?

    The Mars Climate Orbiter

    On September 23, 1999, communication with the spacecraft was lost as the spacecraft went into orbital insertion, due to ground based computer software which produced output in non-SI units of pound-seconds (lbf×s) instead of the metric units of newton-seconds (N×s)specified in the contract between NASA and Lockheed. The spacecraft encountered Mars at an improperly low altitude, causing it to incorrectly enter the upper atmosphere and disintegrate.

    25 minutes ago

    Sound to me more like a contractor failing to fulfill requirements problem. · 0 minutes ago

    Granted.

    I think the relevant concept here is “do not put up stumbling blocks for others.” Getting this stuff right is hard enough; adding an extra level of complexity because some Luddites think base 12 makes more sense than base 10 falls under the category of “putting up stumbling blocks.”

    • #24
    • March 6, 2013, at 2:44 AM PST
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  25. Shawn Buell (Majestyk) Contributor
    Joseph Stanko
    Majestyk: We should switch to the Metric system and ditch the imperial system of measurement yesterday.

    You can have my yardstick when you pry it from my cold, dead hands. · 12 minutes ago

    Yeah, but you’ll get a newer, longer one in its place!

    • #25
    • March 6, 2013, at 2:49 AM PST
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  26. Mendel Member
    Mendel Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Between working in science and spending about a third of my life in Europe, I will say unequivocally: the metric system is more convenient.

    To the comment above asking “what is a third of a meter?” I would simply respond: what is a tenth of a yard? A one-hundredth of a yard? A one-thousandth of a yard? How much does a quart of water weigh? 

    On the other hand, Skyler above is correct: there is no need to force the metric system on the U.S. Those who benefit from using it will adopt it themselves, everyone else can use whatever units they please.

    And what a surprise – the metric system already pervades the private sector. What units are printed on the front of a bottle of Tylenol? Milligrams. The USMA should calm down – as the U.S. economy is more and more based on science and technology, use of the metric system will spread organically.

    • #26
    • March 6, 2013, at 2:54 AM PST
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  27. Archibald Campbell Member
    Archibald Campbell Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member
    Reminds me of an after-school conversation I had with one of my daughters a few years ago:Me: What did you learn in school today?Her: We learned about meters, and, uh, some other thing that started with a “d”.Me: Oh, you mean the metric system?Her: Yes!Me: Well, it’s very important that you learn the metric system. Do you know why?Her: No.Me: Because the U.S. will convert to it in 1977.
    • #27
    • March 6, 2013, at 2:55 AM PST
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  28. Mendel Member
    Mendel Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member
    Roberto
    Amy Schley
    Pilli:

    The Mars Climate Orbiter

    On September 23, 1999, communication with the spacecraft was lost as the spacecraft went into orbital insertion, due to ground based computer software which produced output in non-SI units of pound-seconds (lbf×s) instead of the metric units of newton-seconds (N×s)specified in the contract between NASA and Lockheed. The spacecraft encountered Mars at an improperly low altitude, causing it to incorrectly enter the upper atmosphere and disintegrate.

    Sound to me more like a contractor failing to fulfill requirements problem.

    Indeed, switching to all-metric is no protection against engineering stupidity.

    Take the story of the bridge built across the Rhine between Switzerland and Germany. The bridge was built from each country simultaneously, but when the two halves met in the middle, the decks were almost two feet apart! 

    It turns out that Switzerland and Germany use different bodies of water to reference mean sea level, and the construction agency neglected to properly account for this difference.

    • #28
    • March 6, 2013, at 3:03 AM PST
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  29. C. U. Douglas Thatcher
    C. U. Douglas Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Can’t one still order a pint of beer in England?

    Essentially, yes, our sports measurements are in feet and yards, but generally these are clearly marked. If we switched to metric, who’s to say we wouldn’t keep a few things for ease of gameplay. And drinking. Good show, England. And our timepieces will remain base-60.

    There are some advantages to the base-12 inches to foot system, and that is the expression of fractions. One-third a meter is 0.3333333… meters, approximately. One-third a foot is 4 inches. A nice round number.

    However, using decimals is in wide acceptance nowadays, and the need to express as a fraction less so, making the metric system easily viable. It’s just going to take some time getting used to things. And more time. And money, because replacing all that isn’t cheap.

    • #29
    • March 6, 2013, at 3:09 AM PST
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  30. Done Contributor
    Majestyk: We should switch to the Metric system and ditch the imperial system of measurement yesterday.

    The fact that F does not equal M*A in the english system and requires a conversion factor alone is enough to drive you nuts in engineering school.

    It serves no useful purpose for us to measure the mass of things in “Slugs.” · 1 hour ago

    Edited 1 hour ago

    Yeah, I’m not learning a new system of measurement to make the lives of engineers easier. How about the engineers learn it an leave the rest of us alone?

    • #30
    • March 6, 2013, at 3:12 AM PST
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