Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The Standard System vs. The Metric System

I have posted the following before, but not here. This is really a re-worked version of the previous post anyway. Enjoy.

There are two major systems of measurement in the world: The Standard system, and the Metric system. While most of the world uses the latter, the US is stuck with the Standard system.

I was taught the metric system in grade school, and then it pretty much just became that parenthesis on the grocery store label (as well as the occasional wrench in the garage). More and more of my wrenches are metric, but I was told in grade school that we would be changing over to the metric system entirely.

What happened? Why have we not switched?

Living in Brazil has given me much time to think about the differences, as well as to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each. Here are a couple:

  • It is much easier to do the math in the metric system; it is based on increments of 10, 100, 1000, and so on. I can tell you what 1.36 meters would be in centimeters without a calculator (and I am terrible at math). Without using a calculator, or writing anything down, and in less than one second tell me what 1.36 yards would be in inches.
  • The only good thing I really have discovered about the standard system, is that measuring temperature in F is more accurate.
  • The previous point is cancelled out, though, if one uses decimals after temperatures in Celsius.
  • For the most part, science uses the metric system exclusively (there are other scales for temperature especially, such as Kelvin).
Why doesn't the US just simply transition to the much simpler metric system?

I guess there are a couple of good reasons, like changing the speed limit and mile-marker signs. Kilometer marker signs would run a few million-billion dollars. Also, changing peoples minds about the metric system would be difficult. In many ways, though, those are really pretty small things.

Maybe I am just ranting. At any rate, wherever you are today, I hope it was less than 38º C.

1 comment:

  1. I had no difficulty switching to the metric system. I first became aware of metric in 1975, the year of the Metric Conversion Act, a very weak law. The first sign was gasdoline being sold by the liter. soon metric rulers and scales were appearing in great numbers. I was only 8 years old then, but learned it almost immediately. I tried measuring my penis in centimeters, and it nearly won me over to metric. When the interest in converting to metric faded, there were only a few metric tools available. In Science in high school, we were instructed to use metric. I proceeded immediately, without being taught how it works, as I have known for many years. All my body measurements went metric in 1983, and my weight 10 years later due to the lack of metric scales.