Saturday, 12 August 2017

Friday Random Rambles

I initially grew up with the Imperial System of measurements and weights. The Imperial System was formulated as a 'rule of thumb' by an agrarian/barbarian society not overly concerned with absolute measurement. Twelve inches to a foot and sixteen ounces to the pound is an incredibly quirky system that could only arise in a pre-industrial society. The fact that the Imperial system worked so well over many centuries in the English speaking lands is a testament to its practical robustness. And today, the Americans are still happy to embrace this illogical but useful system.

Sometime in the 1960's, the British decided to embrace the logical Metric System. A system based on the rule of tens. Ten millimetres to a centimetre and ten centrimetres, to a metre and so forth. Weights also became destined to be decimalised. Now this is a sensible and pragmatic solution to weights and measurements. And let us be frank, the decimal system makes a lot of sense in our modern world. But here is the rub. Although the change in system occurred when I was a mere stripling, I still can't get to grips with the concepts of kilograms and metres. When someone says to me: 1 metre 75 centimetres (cm), this does not form a conceptual picture of length in my mind. I engage the brain and apply basic arithmetic and convert to feet and inches using the principle that 2.5 cm is very near to 1 inch. Sanity is restored (not really, I rely on the blue pills twice a day for that) and I can picture the height in Imperial terms. The same is very true with weights: by applying  the notion that 1kg is equal to 2.2 pounds I can grasp the item and weigh it according to my workable conceptual model. Clearly at my age I’m never going to be truly comfortable handling Metric quantities in a conceptual fashion. It matters little during my professional duties where I’m dealing with small quantities of materials being weighed. I really don’t have to conceptualise 00.257 grams. It is simply a matter of following a protocol.       

I’m not a ‘nay sayer’ when it comes to the Metric system. It is vastly superior to the Imperial System, although I acknowledge its eccentric lovable quirkiness and its historical and cultural value.


Just to be inconsistent, I still order beer in pints. Both in Britain and in my adopted country of New Zealand, a pint is still the standard measure for a foaming tankard of ale. And let’s be honest, who the bugger can visualise what 500 mls actually  looks like?             

17 comments:

  1. "A system based on the rule of tens. Ten millimetres to a centimetre and ten centrimetres, to a metre and so forth."

    Where would you be without an army of proof readers just itching to find fault? The clue's in the name: 1 centimetre = one hundredth of a metre.

    You're welcome. Have a nice day. :-)

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    1. Yea Frank, I just re-read it and noticed the fundamental flaw. I might just leave it as is- it synchs with my rather quirky nature.

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    2. That rather underlines the fundamental incomprehensibility of the metric system.

      I once saw a report in the Times referring to "50 kg bats", which obviously got through the sub-editors because it didn't immediately leap out at them that the figure was ludicrous.

      Or very, very scary...

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    3. I could point out that 50kg bats couldn't get off the floor due to fundamental aerodynamics. But that would make me a pedantic bastard, so I wont mention it, at all.

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    4. Yes, it seems that the biggest real-life bat weighs about 3½ lb (or 1.6 kg if you must).

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  2. Just visualise a pint mug witk an extra half inch of beer on top. That's 500ml. Or is it a half inch less? Something like that.

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    1. Two Franks commenting on one article. Tis enough to make my noodle move about within the prescribed law of articulation. Anyway Sir, 500ml is less. That I do know.

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    2. 500ml is half an inch less, an Imperial pint is 568ml.

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  3. You do the Imperial system a disservice by saying that metric is "vastly superior". Yes, obviously it is preferable for scientific and technical purposes because of the ease of conversion and the fact that the units form a logical system.

    However, for everyday usage, Imperial is superior precisely because it is intuitive and thus easily visualised.

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    1. Yea, I'm ambilent when it comes to the merits of both systems. Certainly for science it is vastly superior to the Imperial system. For every day life I prefer the Imperial because it actually means something conceptually. I suspect me and thee are a dying breed, at least in Britain.

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  4. You mention that imperial is better for everyday use as it’s easier to visualise conceptually and has a longer cultural history.
    Do you think it would have been better if imperial/customary units were decimalised and realigned to rounded metric values back in the ‘60s or whenever? Currency was decimalised but the same names (minus shillings) were kept and the pound remained the same. With weights & measures, the same names of units were not re- used. Do you think that would have helped? I’m thinking of wrinting something about this!

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  5. I'm thinking a clear cut with the old system and a full embrace of the new is for the best. Old farts, such as myself, have to deal with the inconsistency, but my son has no problem, at all.

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  6. I grew up with Imperial measurements, my first shock was decimalisation of our money in 1971, followed by the decline of pounds and ounces, I studied a science (rocks and stuff) at university where it was a mixture of Imperial and Metric as the founding fathers measured in Imperial, but latest research was Metric.

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  7. Malcolm, the inherent incompatibility of the two systems makes me want to burn stuff.

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  9. When I show some of the younger builders I employ just how old measurements can be related to spans, digits etc they are always puzzled as to why we changed.

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    1. Ain't that the truth. After all these years of being exposed to the metric system and while it is obligatory in my every professional life, I still relate to the Emperial system in regard to every day life.

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