Saturday, September 30, 2023

Metric Wankers

Our European friends (or maybe just Russian trolls) like to tear us down for using "English" measurements, but it turns out, they still use them, too!

Back when I was a kid, American cars all had "English" sized nuts and bolts on them.  Everything was in inches, not millimeters.  And we're talking English measurements, not other British abominations, such as "Imperial" or "Whitworth" sizes.  They really got some balls for attacking us for using a system they devised.  What's next?  Attacking America for speaking... English?

What is really funny though, is that, overseas, the "English" measurement system is still in use in "Metric" countries, particularly the UK.  Go into any "pub" and ask for a "half-liter" of beer and they will look at you cross-eyed.  You mean a "pint" doncha, mate? they would say. Exactly. Yes, the almighty Pint still rules in the pub.

And when you pay for your Pint, you do so with "pounds" - Pounds Sterling - which were originally based on the value of a pound of silver.  The image of the monarch of the UK does not appear on the Kilo but the Pound.  Speaking of archaic things, the monarchy?  Well, after all, the inch was based on the length of the King's knuckle, and the foot based on the length of his... uh... foot. That's right!  His foot!

Of course, we are just getting started.  This article talks about how they lowered the speed limit in parts of Wales to 20 - MILES PER HOUR.  Yes, that's right, while the rest of Europe (and indeed, Canada and Australia as well) lists speed limits in Kilometers per hour, the UK still uses good old American MPH.  And in talking about car performance, the "0-60" times are in miles-per-hour and gas mileage measured in MPG.

It gets worse, not better.  When weighing yourself or going on a diet, you talk about how many "Stone" you weight (14 pounds each, not kilos) and maybe talk about "losing a Stone" which sounds like a constipation issue or something wrong with your kidneys.  "Stone" is a more archaic measuring element than even Americans use - and yet they ding us for not measuring our strawberries by the kilogram (but oddly enough, we go by the Pint!) or measuring temperature in degrees Celsius (myself, I use degrees Kelvin - so much more flexible!).

And speaking of temperature, there really is no reason to use the metric system for such a colloquial measurement as room temperature.  The problem with the metric system is that while it makes sense from a scientific point of view, it really is irrelevant in terms of forecasting the weather.  The granularity of the 0-100 scale of the metric system (as opposed to the 32-212 scale of Fahrenheit) requires that we add a decimal point and a third digit in order to provide the range and granularity of the old-school measurement system.

In other words, it doesn't really matter which system you use, provided you are consistent.  And the system which works best for scientific measurements may make less sense for colloquial measurements.

And lest you think I am only picking on the British, Europeans, while far more "Metric" than the Brits, occasionally lapse into using "English" measurements for many things as well.  Ireland, part of the EU has exceptions or "derogations" to use old-school measurements in certain situations.  But the Brits seem to use "English" measurements the most - hence Brexit, I suppose.

The problem arises when the two systems clash - and the problems are not as simple as using conversion factors.  For example, in blueprints, you have measurements and tolerances provided.  When you convert English to Metric (or vice-versa) you end up with oddball numbers that go off into more decimal points that your instruments can accurately measure.  You are better off sticking with one system and one set of instruments, than trying to "convert" from one to another.

Real disaster can strike when people don't understand the relative values between numbers.  The "Gimli Glider" incident, while saved by heroic pilot action, was cause by pilot incompetence, trying to convert gallons of fuel to liters to pounds to kilograms - confusing not only the two systems, but weight and volume as well.  We would be better off going with one system.  Sadly, in aviation, we still use feet and nautical miles (which are not miles!) except for Russia, who uses meters and an upside-down artificial horizon.

We've also lost satellites and space probes due to conversion errors - making thrust vectors in pound-feet instead of kilogram-meters or whatever.  In scientific endeavors, it pays to use a common system.  Alas, even NASA has been stuck with English measurements, at least in the past, as Congressmen, convinced that the Metric system was a Communist plot, dictated that the agency stick with inches and pounds.  The standard fastener for the ISS is a one-inch bolt.  Thanks Republicans!  Keeping us in the dark ages since 1952!  Fortunately, they are moving toward Metric, but that presents the dangerous situation where mixed measurements are used - causing confusion and lost satellites.

Will the US ever go Metric?  In a way, it already has. Cars today, made in America, are nearly all-metric (if not in fact, all of them).  And many other products are moving in that direction as well, particularly if they are products which have an international market.  Kind of hard to sell an American car in Europe if it requires the mechanics there buy all new wrenches.

But mocking America for "not using the metric system" is just a cheap shot, particularly coming from the British, who have yet to let go of their own colloquial measurements.  In the end, it really means nothing whether you measure flour by the cup or kilogram, other than weight might be more accurate than volume.  Claiming moral superiority because your speed limits are in KPH is really a very thin reed.

And again, you have to ask yourself, is this a real issue, or just something coming from a Russian troll factory, to divide the West against itself?