Why Don't We Use the Metric System?

This is a discussion on Why Don't We Use the Metric System? within the A Brief History of Cprogramming.com forums, part of the Community Boards category; Who's the smart-ass who decided that our units of measurement should stay different from that of the rest of the ...

  1. #1
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    Why Don't We Use the Metric System?

    Who's the smart-ass who decided that our units of measurement should stay different from that of the rest of the world? Why use units that seem completely arbitrary? For example, who decided that a foot is 12 inches and that a mile is 5280 of those feet? Aren't those numbers a little arbitrary? Who decided to measure weight in pounds, which is made up of 16 ounces, and that 2000 pounds shall be called 1 ton? Again, the numbers seem arbitrary.

    As humans, we've learned to count in base 10. We have 10 fingers. We're usually best at counting and representing numbers in powers of 10s. The metric system uses multiples of 10 to work. A kilogram is 1000 grames. Kilo means 1000, 1000 is a power of 10, so there you go. They didn't pick some arbitrary number like 16275 or something stupid like that.

    Our tempetature scale is retarded too. 32° is freezing and 212° is boiling? Don't be a smart-ass. Just use 0° and 100°. And whoever thought up Kelvin as a temperature scale was a real smart-ass too. "It's like Celcius, but you add 273°! And when you have 0° Kelvin, it's Absolute Zero." Don't be a smart-ass. That'd be like me inventing a temperature unit called Krak. It's like Farenheit, but you subtract 212. When it reaches 0, the temperature is boiling. That'd make me a real smart-ass.

    So my question is: if the rest of the world uses the metric system, and it ultimately makes more sense for us to measure things in terms of 10s, then why do you continue to use our stupid system of inches, miles, pounds, ounces, tons, etc.?
    Last edited by Krak; 07-08-2005 at 12:12 AM.

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    Because we are american.
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    mov.w #$1337,D0 Jeremy G's Avatar
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    Yes, we adopted the Kelvin system because we wanted to entertain the smart-ass.

    God, what kind of dumb statement is that? Its a valid and more practical scale of all of them. At the coldest temperature possible you have 0. As in 0 heat. See the sense in that? If not just shut up any ways.



    No wait, shut up anyways, regardless
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    Change takes time, especially in such a conservative country.

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    Mayor of Awesometown Govtcheez's Avatar
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    You're pretty upset for a pretty stupid reason.

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    We use base 10 because we have 10 fingers. That's the only reason, and I'm sure you'd all agree we'd be more efficient using base 20 if we didn't have to wear shoes all the time.

    Now, people of ancient times weren't stupid and probably had good reasons for picking 12 inches as the length of foot. This leads to only one sane solution: humans of the past had 12 fingers and this is why a foot was 12 inches. Possibly, some inbre^H^H^H US politicians still have 12 fingers, and thus the decision to stick to base 12.
    Last edited by nickname_changed; 07-08-2005 at 04:48 AM.

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    ... arjunajay's Avatar
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    One story goes that one NASA space mission failed simply because the scientists from diff. countries used diff. systems of units...
    The no:s 12 and such arbitray no:s depend on the size of feet and fingers of diff. kings and queens who invented them...

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by krak
    Our tempetature scale is retarded too. 32° is freezing and 212° is boiling? Don't be a smart-ass. Just use 0° and 100°. And whoever thought up Kelvin as a temperature scale was a real smart-ass too. "It's like Celcius, but you add 273°! And when you have 0° Kelvin, it's Absolute Zero." Don't be a smart-ass. That'd be like me inventing a temperature unit called Krak. It's like Farenheit, but you subtract 212. When it reaches 0, the temperature is boiling. That'd make me a real smart-ass.
    If you plot temperature v's pressure for an ideal gas (which doesn't exist ) and extrapolate back, the T-axis intercept gives the theoretical measure of 'absolute zero' in celsius (-273.15). The only arbitrary quantity is the definition of a 'Kelvin' which is taken to be the same as 1 degree Celsius for pretty much the same reasons that the metric system is preferable to using farenwidths and cubits - it's a lot simpler to work with.

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    Last edited by Ken Fitlike; 07-08-2005 at 07:26 AM.
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  9. #9
    and the hat of wrongness Salem's Avatar
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    > Why use units that seem completely arbitrary?
    Perhaps through study, they would seem less arbitrary.

    12 is very common in ancient number systems
    - 12 signs of the zodiac
    - 12 months in a year
    - 12 hours in a day (ok, twice)
    - 12 inches in a foot
    Why 12?
    Well it has many more divisors than 10 for example (1,2,3,4,6), which makes it a lot easier to divvy up quantities of stuff into other quantities.

    > and that a mile is 5280 of those feet?
    That would be the Romans - A mile being a corruption of 'mille' (or something) meaning 1000 (paces of a Roman soldier). Hence by marching at a known rate (say 100 paces a minute), you could easily work out how long it was going to take you to get anywhere.

    > that 2000 pounds shall be called 1 ton?
    Your silly american tons maybe, but your classical imperial (British) ton is 2240 pounds (20 hundred-weight).
    Though I suppose it's pretty close to the Metric tonne of 1000Kg.

    > Our tempetature scale is retarded too. 32° is freezing and 212° is boiling?
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fahrenheit
    All very logical in the time in which it was invented - notions such as absolute zero not being known about.
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    Mayor of Awesometown Govtcheez's Avatar
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    > The no:s 12 and such arbitray no:s depend on the size of feet and fingers of diff. kings and queens who invented them...

    They based the system of measurement off a system of meaurement, huh? "Your foot is 12 yazzes long, so that will be a foot. Also, yazzes will be called inches!"

    > 12 months in a year

    That's only been true since Augustus, though. Besides, that only applies if you use our calendar, which many people don't.

  11. #11
    erstwhile
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    All systems of measurement are ultimately arbitrary - a metre, for example, is defined as the length of the path travelled by light in vacuum during a time interval of 1/299 792 458 of a second.

    The length of a Roman 'pace' is similarly arbitrary and, unfortunately, not even consistent: Longshanksix of Londinium probably has a bigger one than Welosttheolympicbidix of Gaul's, although that didn't seem to bother the Romans.

    edit: Anyone know why the Babylonians favoured sexagesimal (base 60)?
    Last edited by Ken Fitlike; 07-08-2005 at 08:23 AM.
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  12. #12
    Mayor of Awesometown Govtcheez's Avatar
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    They had 60 fingers?

  13. #13
    erstwhile
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    Good answer that man!
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  14. #14
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    Well, the number 12 is as natural as the number 10 in terms of counting. You can count each of your fingers as 1 (and have a base 10); you can count each segment of a finger on one hand (three segments per finger, divided by two joints) using your thumb as a place marker (equivalent to holding up a finger counting the "normal" way), and end up with base twelve; if you combine thise with "normal" counting on the other hand, you get base 60.

    Most units were invented for convenience. For example, the nautical mile which is 6076 ft, may seem arbitrary, but it corresponds to the arc length on (an idealized spherical model of) a great circle on the Earth of 1 minute.
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  15. #15
    erstwhile
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    >>may seem arbitrary<<

    No, it's still arbitrary - what is 1 'minute'?
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