back to article Metric versus imperial: Reg readers weigh in

Our suggestion earlier this week that El Reg's Special Projects Bureau get with the program(me) and convert entirely to SI Units prompted the traditional lively debate among our beloved commentards. The consensus seems to be we should indeed kick imperial into touch, with a couple of exceptions, which we'll come to later. …


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  1. Code Monkey

    Henceforth, the SPB should use...

    Linguine, elephants per second, etc.

    For shame Reg. For shame!

    1. Erwin Hofmann

      Re: Henceforth, the SPB should use...

      ... hmm ... should be change, to metric, definitely ... and while you're at it (US) go and change to the better traffic system as well ... left-side-driving that is (it's not a national thing, it's doing just better) ... Explanation: The default "give-way-to-the-right" rule is used in Continental Europe and the US. Which makes absolutely no sens when driving on the right side. Consider this, driving on the right means sitting on the left in your car ... which hampers your sight to the right ... driving on the left, on the other hand, means sitting on the right side in your vehicle ... which gives you an un"hampered" view to the right ... hence giving the one with a handicap (no free view to the left) the advantage and therefor "give-way-to-the-right". Even more impressive is the effect on roundabouts. Left-side-driving turns clockwise, left, around and hence traffic inside the roundabout has naturally way of right ... no special traffic rules, or signalling needed ... it's just beautiful ...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Henceforth, the SPB should use...

        I think you've just forfeited your right to use ellipses as punctuation.

  2. Mondo the Magnificent


    Because 13.2 cm sounds much more impressive than 6" when it comes to men boasting about the size of their peckers...

    1. Anonymous Coward

      I hate to have to say this old chap...

      ...but you seem to be slicing almost an inch off your old chap with that conversion. It's 15.24cm for a six incher...

      1. Code Monkey

        Re: I hate to have to say this old chap...

        Well that's what Mondo's been calling 6 inches and he's sticking to it

    2. Velv

      Doesn't matter if you call it six inches or fifteen centimetres women still won't be able to park cars based on the size of the gap their husband tells them exists.

  3. Beachrider

    Actually, as an American...

    It's kind of amusing to see others fuss sooooooo much about it. It should be really obvious, by now, that we really don't give two shits about it.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Actually, as an American...

      its obvious that you don't give two shits, just look at your piddly little US Pint/Gallon in comparison with a proper imperial Pint/Gallon...

      Imp Pint > 0.5L > US Pint

      1. dkjd

        Re: Actually, as an American...

        But the amount of actual beer you get in a Pint glass, in a British pub, after the foam has settled is normally less than all of the above!

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Actually, as an American...

          >But the amount of actual beer you get in a Pint glass, in a British pub, after the foam has settled is normally >less than all of the above!

          Which is why if you get a pint that is noticeably short you simply ask for it to be topped up. And hope that they're not using metered pumps...

          1. Anonymous Coward 15


            If my girlfriend gave me that much head, I'd be a happy man!"

          2. Androgynous Cupboard Silver badge

            Re: Actually, as an American...

            I tried that once and the girl said she thought the pint marks on the glass were in the wrong place. My raised eyebrow and stony silence eventually convinced her otherwise.

            Needless to say I haven't been back to The Plough, Saint John's Hill, London SW11 since.

        2. Fibbles

          Re: Actually, as an American...

          "But the amount of actual beer you get in a Pint glass, in a British pub, after the foam has settled is normally less than all of the above!"

          I wish. Too many pubs these days seem to pour pints with no head what-so-ever.

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Actually, as an American...

          A UK Pint of beer can contain up to 12mm of head. (different glass shapes makes this a different volume).

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Actually, as an American...

            No, it is 4% volume. I've really no idea where this 12mm but it's nonsense, probably spouted by someone in a pub. On the other side you are not allowed any margin at all to be over-served (because of the implications for drink-driving), so in effect in a British pub you are always underserved by law.

        4. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Actually, as an American...

          "But the amount of actual beer you get in a Pint glass, in a British pub, after the foam has settled is normally less than all of the above!"

          You must have gone to one of those pubs we reserve for Americans...

          The worst bar I've ever been to for foam overdose was a in Salzburg, Austria. China mugs, not glasses, and the barmen had that special flick-o-the-wrist for the barrel's tap (yep, barrels) to ensure that you got nowt but foam. The pots are opaque and bloody heavy anyway, so you couldn't tell. Bloody rip off. Drinkers everywhere ***AVOID AUSTRIA***

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Actually, as an American...

      > It's kind of amusing to see others fuss sooooooo much about it. It should be really obvious, by now, that we really don't give two shits about it.

      Yeah; just don't mention manual vs automatic.....

    3. chivo243 Silver badge

      Re: Actually, as an American...

      If you were in grade 6 - 8 in the mid to late 70's you had to learn the metric system in the USA. America was supposedly going to the metric system, but all we got out of it was a 2 liter Coke bottle. I know both systems, and can do the conversions. I've lived in Holland for 14 years and still have a tape measure in feet and inches.

      So either is good, it's just a question of knowing a couple of conversions.

  4. Miguel Farah

    Metric, yes! Imperial AND OTHERS, bye!

    I'm a bit late to the debate, but I'd like to weigh in with something: maybe today it's "metric vs. imperial", but back in the day it was "metric vs. ALL OF THEM". There used to be a *lot* of distinct measuring systems, even within different regions of the same country (or even provinces, as in Spain). SI became the measuring system of choice because it's superior *and* it's unique: no more "french feet vs. english feet vs. Spanish feet (actually any of about 30 different "feet" in use there at the time) vs. Swedish feet".

    Hell, SPAIN decided to use a measuring system invented by the *French*. It must be good, right?

    America, get on with the 19th century and adopt SI once and for all, please.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Wot no mention of miles per hour and miles, for distance.... Just like the UK Pint (560ml not the US one!) I can't see Brits welcoming signs in euro-kph.

    1. Joel 1

      Where's my 8ml?

      AC, I think you'll find that should be 568ml. I'll have a topup, please, barman.

      1. Piro Silver badge

        Re: Where's my 8ml?

        568 is always how I remember it.

    2. hitmouse

      Which Imperial? UK or US?

      The fact that there are two widely sets sets of imperial units, with distinctly different weights and volumes across the Atlantic, is precisely why unambiguous metric/SI units are to be preferred even before you get into the ease of mental arithmetic.

    3. thejackle

      What's the problem with Brits welcoming signs in euro-kph. All cars have kph on the speedometer, if distances wre changed to km and limits to kph - where is the issue.

      Biggest problem is people mixing up Metric and S.I.

      A pint because it might not be a pint for long.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        They don't all have kph on. my old 56 plate merc had mph only on the dial (it could show kph on the digital display)

        1. Martin Budden Silver badge

          My '59 Volkswagen* has only mph on the dial, and all our speed limit signs** are in km/h. This has never caused me any problems because I have a brain and I know how to use it.

          *yes it is my daily driver

          **in Australia

    4. cotsweb

      " I can't see Brits welcoming signs in euro-kph."

      But what if you changed the actual speed limits at the same time, 70mph to 130kph on motorways for instance?

      I'll have a pint but I don't care if it is actually 560ml.

  6. Lee Dowling Silver badge

    I think the EU pretty much get this right (after much controversy and prompting): I don't care what you use. Just put the SI next to it.

    You can state it in badgers per field as far as I'm concerned, but the INTERNATIONAL STANDARD is SI, so putting that it alleviates any doubt in conversion (US vs UK gallons), lets the majority of people know what's going on, and doesn't stop people saying their beer is in pints (568ml), the kind of phrase that is inbuilt deeply into languages already.

    Aircraft heights? Despite being able to comprehend imperial measurement, 50,000 feet means nothing to me (why use feet for such a huge distance when they are several suitably large equivalent measures in imperial already?). State it in SI too and I can at least work what that means, some kind of comparison, how long my car would take to drive up to it, etc.

    Nobody cares what you measure in. Just put the SI next to it so we can at least have a decent comparison to a standardised unit that's universal (there are countries in the world that won't know what an inch/foot/yard/chain/furlong/mile is, but there aren't any countries in the world that won't know what a metre is - even if that's only by "it's about a yard").

    1. RossOverThere

      I read this whole article, and down to this level of the comments, wracking my brains trying to remember when I'd ever heard anyone measure the height of an aeroplane in ANY units, let alone why imperial ones would be preferred. Not until Lee's comment did I realise that it meant the ALTITUDE of the aircraft. Thanks, Lee!

      1. The Original Cactus

        All this horsing around.

        Indeed. Altitude is measured in feet and height is measured in hands.

  7. Herer

    just be consistent

    when buying car tyres, the width and profile are measured in mm, but the diameter is measured in inches!

    metric and imperial measurements on the same thing!

    1. Blain Hamon

      Re: just be consistent

      Very yes. Cars are the worst. My favourite is car batteries, where you use a 10mm socket to hook up the battery, then secure it with a half-inch bolt.

    2. TeeCee Gold badge

      Re: just be consistent

      Yes, but with typical efficiency the Germans use metric rims too. Rather amusingly they went for nice round metric sizes, rather than just converting the standard inch sizes, so only those uniquely German metric tyres fit them.

      Never buy a German car (as opposed to a car made in DE for export) you'll either be on special order tyres at eye-watering prices forever or you'll have to swallow hard and buy a new set of wheels.

      Oh, Your post is incorrect. The profile is expressed as a percentage of the width, so on a 55 profile tyre the height is 55% of the width. e.g. Given a 195 / 60 profile tyre, the width is 195mm and the height is 60% of that, or 111mm.

  8. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Bragging, Huntsman?

      21.59 cm would be pretty impressive

  9. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge


    the only measurements that should really be used are

    Swimming pools for liquids

    Elephants for weight/mass

    Double decker buses for length

    This new pump weighs 0.05E, is 0.01DD long and can pump at a rate of 0.1SP/hr

    1. This Side Up

      Re: Sorry

      Surely you forgot "the size of Wales" for large areas?

  10. stuartnz

    Why drag hobbits into this? I live in the land that's apparently decided the only way to avoid bankruptcy is to let Peter Jackson milk Tolkien for all he's worth, and we've been all metric here for decades.Any furry-footed halflings here would be measured in in centimetres and their epic trek through carefully selected tourism sites would be counted off in kilometres while raking in the dollars - both regular, decimal systems.

    1. Erwin Hofmann
      Thumb Up

      ... and you drive on the left-side ... well done New Zealand ... this is paradise ...

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Imperial, metric. Both please!

    I'm quite happy to do engineering in SI units, but equally I only really grok bigger distances in miles, understand yards and can't be bothered with the left over bit when converting from metres, have no idea what someone's height is in metres and in particular want to drink in multiples of a pint because otherwise I get stiffed for the 68ml that aren't in far too many bottles of ale these days.

    Mentally it's good to have all the different units, and to convert between them.

    I've been doing it this way for half a century now and long may it continue!

  12. Joel 1

    Why are IT readers complaining about hex?

    I can't believe that an IT savvy readership are complaining about a nice hexadecimal system like ounces! As any fule kno, hexadecimal is extremely easy to halve, and halve again. There was a reason that dope dealers ran in fractions of an ounce (not to mention the handy fact that a half p coin was 1/16 oz, 1p was 1/8, and 2p was 1/4).

    Everyone assumes that the old 12 pennies to a shilling doesn't make any sense as we have 10 fingers, so why count in 12s? Of course, 10 fingers requires two hands meaning it is difficult to hold things at the same time. Whereas 12s makes perfect sense when you look at your finger knuckles (12) whilst being able to use your thumb as the the pointer. And all on one hand. Oh, and easily divisible by 2,3 and 4.

    Lets do away with all this decimal malarky, and move over to hex....

    Oh, and if you want metric, mine's a 568ml glass, thanks.

    1. Lee Dowling Silver badge

      Re: Why are IT readers complaining about hex?

      By that standard, binary is an infinitely better system.

      Addition, multiplication, subtraction become a doddle and you can get up to 1024 on your fingers without even struggling with thumbs and knuckles.

      I've always wondered when we'll start teaching kids in binary. So much easier to grasp if you've been born with it.

    2. Danny 4

      Re: Why are IT readers complaining about hex?

      Sounds like a great idea. We already adapt our thinking to the ways our pooters work so why not? It would be an optimal format in terms of storage and speed. Think of all the wasted cycles spent converting binary to and from decimal.

      There would be 256 pennies to a pound, or 100h as it would be known. 80h would be what we previously knew as ten-bob and so on.

      Thousands or K would be 400h and be accomplished by the simpler and faster 0Ah bit shift rather than all that faffing with multiply. Or we might even agree that 1000h is the new thousand.

      HDD makers would adopt the new units and there would be fewer complaints about apparent missing megabytes.

      What could possibly go wrong...

  13. Neil 23

    Confused by all these people banging on about a French system

    It was a Brit who invented the metric system, the French just named the units

    1. Andrew 98

      Re: Confused by all these people banging on about a French system

      So some folk want to avoid the Metric "French" system of weights by sticking with Imperial Avoirdupois?


  14. Velv

    Flight Level

    Planes don't fly in feet - they fly at Flight Levels.

    Flight Level Three Five Zero (FL350) being 35,000ft at a standard pressure datum of 1013.25 hPa (29.92 inHg)

    1. SkippyBing

      Re: Flight Level

      Partially true, planes above the transition altitude fly at flight levels based on the standard pressure setting to allow for coordination by ATC. Below the transition altitude they fly at heights above mean sea level measured in feet based on the regional pressure setting, that way you can plan your flight not to bang into that hill that's 1680' high which is quite tricky to do using flight levels.

      What's the transition altitude I don't hear anyone ask, well in most of the UK it's 3000', around London it's 6000' as it is in Scotland where the hills are a bit higher. But then in the USA it's 18000' as some of the hills are really big and they wanted it standardised across the country. God knows what the rest of Europe uses but I think they're trying to standardise it a bit more.

      1. druck Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: Flight Level

        Correct on flight levels and regional pressure heights above mean sea level (QNH), additional some air fields still use QFE which is height above the runway at the local pressure setting, which has the advantage of 0 being where the ground is.

  15. sabroni Silver badge

    Just because it's easier

    doesn't mean it's better.

  16. Smelly Socks

    oh please

    Metric only, no exceptions. I refuse in principal to vote.

    1/2L of beer is fine because that's the sort of measurements my beer bottles come in anyway. As for plane altitude, get a grip. Ever tried to convert 35000-38000 ft to miles high? it's not that I'm stupid or lazy but it's easier to convert 11000 meters to km (true story).

    facepalming jaded by imperial imbecility,

    and tyvm but get a grip,


    1. SkippyBing

      Re: oh please

      Why would you convert 35000' to miles? Airliners tend to fly at intervals of 1000' making feet a perfectly sensible base unit for measuring height and altitudes in, flying at 6.628 miles and then climbing to 6.818 is just asking for trouble. The metric equivalent would be something like 10700m and 11000m, but there's a certain error with the conversion.

      The fact is aircraft generally fly at heights and altitudes measured in feet (stand fast certain former and not so former communist states) so any reports about them will quote the height in feet as that's what the stick monkey will be reading off their instruments, any conversion is just going to introduce errors.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: oh please @SkippyBing

        "...what the stick monkey will be reading..."

        Sounds like you work in ATC. :-))

        Well done, that controller - made my day!

      2. druck Silver badge

        Re: oh please

        As already mentioned, flying at altitude is in Flight Levels which are nominally 100's of feet, based on the standard sea level pressure of 1013.25mb. When the pressure at sea level is lower the actual is height is also lower, and when the pressure is higher the height is higher.

        The only time the height in 1000's of feet is used, is when the crew make announcements to the passengers. If it was thought that the passengers would understand meters or even linguines better, then they are free to use that instead.

  17. Number6


    It has to be both. If I'm doing any sort of serious calculation then it's SI because the units are set up nicely for that. If it's for everyday quantities then it has to be Imperial because the units are more conveniently-sized.

    It's always fun knowing the more obscure Imperial units, too, such as the definition of an acre (how many people know that it's one chain by one furlong?)

    Of course, it doesn't help that the US has some different volumetric measurements to confuse things, such as 16 fl oz to a pint instead of 20 (which is why their gallons are smaller, still being defined as 8 pints). To add to the fun, the US fl oz isn't the same as an Imperial one either.

  18. Fuzz


    The problem with inches arises when things get small, I can't stand hardware reviews that tell me a laptop is 0.6 inches thick or a phone is 0.35 inches.

    While we're on the subject can we start a campaign for tool manufactures to make tape measures with metric on top and inches on the bottom? Or better still ones without inches at all.

    1. Steve the Cynic

      Re: inches (tape measures...)

      "While we're on the subject can we start a campaign for tool manufactures to make tape measures with metric on top and inches on the bottom? Or better still ones without inches at all."

      Where I live, the tape measures in the shops are in metres and centimetres only.

      Oh, in case you forgot, "where I live" is France, land of the foie gras takeaway pizza.

    2. TeeCee Gold badge

      Re: inches

      "...tape measures with metric on top and inches on the bottom..."

      That's funny, mine are all graduated along the sides and blank on the bottom. You should get one like this, then you can just turn it around to get the graduations you require.

  19. Mark #255

    I'd just like to point out...

    that the speed of light is 1 foot/nanosecond.

    However, even if that means that God likes imperial units, I prefer Metric.

    1. Lee Dowling Silver badge

      Re: I'd just like to point out...

      Maybe. If feet had any scientific reference base whatosever.

      Hell, even the metre's reference base is a ridiculous fraction of the size of the Earth, just to be convenient.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I'd just like to point out...

        Actually in 1983 they changed the definition of a metre to the length of the path travelled by light in vacuum during a time interval of 1⁄299,792,458 of a second.

        1. Lee Dowling Silver badge

          Re: I'd just like to point out...

          Again - <sarcasm> because that's such a natural fraction that even an alien would pick it.... </sarcasm>

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Metric sucks

    Imperial is superior for almost everything except perhaps explaining stuff to very stupid people who can't cope with anything they can't count on their fingers. I don't think we should worry about such people.

    1. Lester Haines (Written by Reg staff) Gold badge

      Re: Metric sucks

      A well-reasoned argument there. Good job.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Imperial sucks

      Metric is superior for almost everything except perhaps explaining stuff to very old people who can't cope with anything introduced after 1969. I don't think we should worry about such people.

      1. Slinfold

        Re: Imperial sucks

        So you deem someone in their mid-40's as very old do you?

        And are you saying that 'very old people' still can't cope with the decimal pound after more than 40 years?

        That was introduced after your cut-off date of 1969!

  21. Steve Graham
    Thumb Up

    Both the UK and USA legalized use of metric measurements for trade and official purposes in the nineteenth century. The idea of metrication as protectionism is ludicrous.

    In the USA, metric units on food packaging has been mandatory since 1994. Federal and military organizations officially prefer metric units. (That includes NASA, where metric units have been in use for about 30 years. The only issues are from suppliers, such as Lockheed Martin (Mars Climate Orbiter)).

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Metric all the way, of course.

    No exceptions for aircraft. Not a few have had trouble, even have had to come came down because someone mixed up the conversions to get things like how much fuel to take on board sorted. Besides, those things are supposed to go rather higher than your feet, unless you're on board.

    As for beer, just order a Maß, which is a litre. Might have to go to München to get your order understood though.

    1. SkippyBing

      Re: Metric all the way, of course.

      That's because you get metric and imperial aircraft, depending on where and when they were built. They do however almost all measure their height in feet and altitude in flight levels which are based on hundreds of feet. As many news organisations (the BBC) have proved inept at converting the numbers they're given into the metric equivalent I'd rather be told the original number, rather than what the work experience lacky thinks 2500' equals.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Original numbers?

        AFAIK Russian (and so eastern block) made aeroplanes have their altitude meters marked in metres, and so do small european aircraft that fly below flight levels. So I'd say it'd sooner depend on how the things are regulated. And in the west that's a case of the Americans predictably getting the numbers wrong again.

        If the numbers are too hard for the likes of the BBC, well, teach them. It's their job to inform and thus they need basic numeracy even if the rest of the populace can't be expect to get it right. I'm not willing to settle on making exceptions where to use metric just because of silly stuff like that. Also note that asking for the numbers in the original measurement system is quite different from asking for a specific measurement system. I'd say, ask for whatever is the original AND a metric conversion if the original wasn't metric. And do so consistently.

        1. Zolko Silver badge

          Re: Original numbers?

          in continental Europe, small propeller aircraft measure height and ascending speed in feet and feet/minute, while gliders measure them in meters and meters/seconds.

  23. kbb

    Mix and match

    Dunno why but I tend to use metric for very small units (millimetres), imperial for the next step up (inches, feet up to about 6ft), metres for things over that, but miles for large measurements.

    Why can't my satnav tell me the distance to the next junction in miles and metres goddammit?!

    Just my 2 hundredths of a pound.

    1. Lee Dowling Silver badge

      Re: Mix and match

      Like the old adage about temperature.

      When it's hot, we measure in Fahrenheit ("It's in the 100's today!")

      When it's cold, we measure in Celsius ("It's below zero!").

      It absolutely blows the mind of foreigners*, which may be enough of a reason to keep it.

      *Living with an Italian, before you think I'm xenophobic.

    2. julianh72

      Re: Mix and match

      Surely it's $0.02 worth (which is about 1.5 p, I think?)

      1. Slinfold

        Re: Mix and match

        "Surely it's $0.02 worth (which is about 1.5 p, I think?)"

        Well, we used to talk about "tuppence worth", i.e. two (old) pence worth, i.e. about 0.8333 p or £0.008333 (in both 'old' and 'new' £'s (disregarding inflation of course!).

  24. Ben Liddicott

    Was that an Imperial Inch, a US Survey Inch or an International Inch?

    """Dan Paul, writing from the other side of the Pond, objected:


    IMHO Screw Metric anything. The original reason for its formal adoption in Europe was to create barriers to trade with the US, just like ISO ratings were. """

    NOT TRUE. The big problem of the time is that while everyone used inches and miles, they weren't the same size!!!

    To this day there is an Imperial Inch, a US Survey Inch and an International Inch, as well as a Statute Mile and a Nautical Mile. There previously were several other different miles, differing in size by a huge amount. Similar issues exist with ounces and pints.

    There never was a Golden Age of Imperial Measurement, where everyone used the same units till the darned Frenchies came along.

    OTOH, I don't like that my satnav lets me choose from Miles/Yards, or km/metres. I prefer Miles/Metres when driving... I do people's heights in feet and inches, but weights in kilos... I cook in either imperial or metric...

    As long as you remember approximate conversion factors (e.g. 1 mile = 1600 metres, 1/4 mile = 400 meters), it generally doesn't make a lot of difference for most uses. But when it matters, you basically have to use SI units.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      What measure an inch?

      What, only three different sizes of inch? Luxury! Back in the day, etc.

      Yes, Virginia, there really are long lists of different sizes of length and weight and volume as every city of any note had the right to define the measurements of trade used within their walls. And having a nice blank slate to start with, the US did little better. Just look up how many pounds fit in a bushel. That depends both on the state you're in, and just what you're measuring. Which is just so much fun to administrate.

      All of that and much more is, of course, exactly why metric is such a good idea. We pick one (numbers 1) system and make sure it doesn't just work for making a boat or trading the harvest, but for everything to do with any measurement you'd like to take. And lo and behold, it does, regardless of whether you're measuring atoms or stars or anything inbetween.

      You could've had customary units "win" provided they'd scaled well. Which is to say, ten (or a hundred) inches per yard, a thousand yards per mile, and so on. Maybe a scale of two or twelve or sixteen would've worked, provided they would've been used consistently at every step (and provided we had 2 or 12 or 16 fingers). Buuut, that's not how it happened, and so metric is the result of learning from previous mistakes and coming up with a better system.

      Having grown up with the metric system, I have a very clear idea just how many milimetres fit in a megametre, but couldn't tell you how many inches there are in a mile to save my life. At best I'd have to convert both units to metric using half-remembered conversion factors then come up with an approximate answer; there's bound to be some absolute answer but I simply don't know.

      If we're going to be approximate, well, I can do that in metric too. One and a half kilometres, half a kilometre. For the fuzzy "it's about that much" you do on the road that's just as good enough. The one thing where metric is a bit poor is in expressions. One point six gigametres? Boooring!

  25. Charles E

    Imperial Units are god's law.

    If god had meant for us to use Metric, he would have made the distance between King Henry's nose and thumb a meter instead of a yard.

    1. Peter Simpson 1
      Thumb Up

      Re: Imperial Units are god's law.

      [Bill Cosby]

      Riiiiight! What's a cubit?

      [/Bill Cosby]

      //metric for me, 25/64" bigger or smaller than 3/4"?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: 25/64" bigger or smaller than 3/4"?

        Any fule knows 3/4" is 23/64" bigger!

    2. AndrueC Silver badge

      Re: Imperial Units are god's law.

      > If god had meant for us to use Metric

      another good reason to be an atheist then.

  26. heyrick Silver badge

    Somebody asked why all the American-bashing.

    Well... "IMHO Screw Metric anything. The original reason for its formal adoption in Europe was to create barriers to trade with the US, just like ISO ratings were."

    If, and only if, American measurement systems were actually the same, there might be a vestige of a point here. However this person is being typically American with his "screw everybody else, we're right" attitude.

    In my house there are three sets of cooking/measurement tools. Metric, UK imperial, and that godforsaken crap with cups and stuff the Americans seem to like.

    "Metric serves no better purpose than English/Imperial measurement." - depends upon how you look at it. Both serve to measure stuff. One, you can scale a pie for eight to feed two with ease. The other is somewhat more complicated. I just wanna make a damn pie, not sit a maths exam!

    But my favourite must surely be... "I was told by a professor once that what makes a measurement accurate is the number of divisions in the scale" That alone surely justifies the icon a hundred...sorry, two hundred and forty-four (or something) times over!

  27. Kevin Johnston

    Mix'n'match units

    As technical types there is no reason why we should not be able to use any units we choose for a job just as long as they are appropriate. The thing which no-one seems to have mentioned is that the defined unit implies the tolerance to be used so if a length is defined in mm then it should be accurate to within 0.5mm whereas if you declare something as 6" then it would be expected to be within 0.5". If your 19.5" rack mount unit is a 1/4" skinny it would still fit but would you be so sure of a 490mm unit fitting in a 495mm rack?

  28. Tom 13

    Anyone who can't operate in both

    his local standard measurements and metric is not a proper boffin, and does not even deserve to be a boffin's assistant.

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    My brain works like this;

    Metric - mm for measuring stuff smaller than an inch.

    Imperial - for measuring stuff bigger than an inch.

    Simples. Fractions of an inch are hard to guess. Kms are hard to visualise.

    As an expat living in Ireland where all distances are in Km - I still and I'd bet everyone my age, have to convert to miles to understand a speed/distance. But all the kids are growing up where Km is the norm. Can't see the fuss myself over changing... (apart from the cost) but I can imagine the letters to the Daily Mail....

  30. Jemma

    Is that a hobbit over there?

    No, its a hobo and a rabbit, but theyre making a hobbit...

  31. MJI Silver badge

    Various things

    Driving on right - no way, Napolian never invaded us!

    Ireland - I noticed the speed limits, they said 100, but too much traffic to get over 80mph. I mentioned this to the people I was visiting, they said it was km/h, I said and the ferry comes from the UK, I did not know Ireland was metric speeds and distances,

    I use both systems, miles, mph, metres, mm, kg, pints, gallons, litres ect

    I want a mile & metre satnav, I hate mile & yard.

    1. TeeCee Gold badge

      Re: Various things

      Driving on right - no way, Napolian never invaded us!

      According to my Czech colleagues he never got there either and they drove on the left until WWII. Apparently the Germans drove on the right and you tend not to argue when the thing coming the other way is a tracked vehicle weighing tens of tons and covered in heavy armour. Post WWII they found that the same holds true as much for a JS2 as it did for a PzkwIV.

  32. Wanda Lust


    I've only cursorily scanned the comments but dozens are very useful units. I can count to 144 using my two hands. No doubt if we looked at the history of weights we'd find some explanation why 14s and 16s were the multiples there.

    But, today, even my pen counts so I don't need to use fingers, toes, staves on a barrel, whatever.

    1. Lee Dowling Silver badge

      Re: Dozens

      Binary - I can count to 1024* just on my ten fingers. Beat that.

      *technically 0-1023, but who's counting?

  33. MJI Silver badge

    Important dimensions

    We all know a foot is 4mm long.

    Except when it is 7mm long.

    smaller ones are too varied and the EU uses 3.5mm

    1. IvyKing

      Re: Important dimensions

      But is standard (Stephenson) gauge still 16.5mm with a foot being 4mm long??

      On this side of the lagoon, it's 3.5mm all the way, though I had one neighbor who preferred 3/16".

      1. MJI Silver badge

        Re: Important dimensions

        Well I am not skilled enough for 18.83mm and too much stock for even 18.2 so unfortunately it scales back to 4' 1.5" or so.

        As to S good luck to them! 4mm is so easy to work with, most doors are 8mm wide

  34. Peter Jones 2

    Easiest way to convert a country to SI?

    Mandate that instead of a pint of beer, it's a litre of beer. For the same price.

    Guaranteed overnight conversion, courtesy of well-lubricated new SI zealots.

  35. AndrueC Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    I'm 45 and I was also taught in metric. The only imperial measurements I use are miles and mpg. I also used stones for body weight until a decade ago then I switched my digital scales over and within a couple of days I was happy to quote my statistics as '1.8m and 75kg' :)

    Imperial is still good for 'human scale' measurements though. 'A few centimetres' isn't really as good as 'a couple of inches' and 'a bit less than half a metre' isn't as helpful as 'a foot'.

    But still - as soon as you need accuracy or want to talk to foreigners metric is best. I also prefer to work in decimal and avoid fractions. Oh and unit multiplier prefixes are cool although I've seen 'kilofeet' banded around a few times.

    To those who think the conversion is a pain - yes. It is. So don't bother. Just switch over and be done with it. It only took me a couple of days to understand what 75kg meant and surely being an imperial luddite doesn't mean you are more mentally challenged than me :)

  36. Murphy's Lawyer

    No, you must also include the International Standard for suckage: the Lovelace (1 Lovelace being of course, the force in dynes required to draw a sphere massing e Troy ounces along a perfectly fitting tube at a constant speed of pi attoparsecs per microfortnight).

    I'm surprised that nobody remembers that one...

  37. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    The best units to use are the ones where the figures don't get too large or unnecessarily precise by implication due to the number of digits in front of the decimal point. Scientific metric prefixes are an abomination. Why restrict yourself to quantizing your measurement only in the closest power of 1,000?

    I am able to do mental arithmetic so I find myself using whatever units the appropriate tools are calibrated in. Which usually puts comfortable bounds on the magnitude of the numbers I need to work with.

    Also, it is correct for right handers to drive on the left, as roughly half the world population does. The fad for switching to the wrong side is a Napoleonic hangover and really ought to be rescinded for the safety of the nine tenths majority.

  38. Noons

    Imperial times...

    I tend to agree with the ninnies who point out that days have 24 hours, weeks have 7 days and years 365 or even 366 as irrefutable evidence that SI is unnatural. Of course it is unnatural, but so is clean water, or steel, or anything else that we modify from a natural state into one that's evidently more useful to us.

    Having said that, I'm ready to lose the argument, if the natural units folk agree to replace the notoriously metrical decade and century with generation and lifetime. I hereby propose that a generation be defined as being equal to the voting age (18 years) or the age of consent (16 years), or the average of both (17 years). A lifetime would of course be the life expectancy, somewhere around 78 years, I think, making a lifetime equal to about 4.588 generations.

    These units of time are so useful that they are already widely used, even if lacking a more precise definition. To make them even more natural and friendlier for general use, their definition should adapt to local custom, law and statistics, and subjected to review every so often, say every generation (which would itself be newly defined, thus making history a much more joyful enterprise).

    If this proposal is met with success, I shall put forward an even more ambitious new unit of length: the ghoti, sometimes also spelled fish. As any angler knows, this is the ultimate unit for its flexibility. It allows pretty much any length to be described as "as big as a ghoti I once caught", making everything 1 ghoti long. As for square or cubic ghoti, not sure how that would work. My mate Picasso is working on it, and he's looking at it from all sides.

    ...OK, it's Friday, I obviously need a beer...

    P.S.: And the IT angle? Obviously, ghoti and chips... to go with the beer!

  39. TseTT

    Nut and Bolts

    Don't get me started on metric nuts and bolts!!

    How is it, I can get a BSW (Whitworth) nut and bolt undone that have been together in the open for decades, yet the equivelent metric version is seized solid , shears off or the hex head rounds off !

    BSW and BSF all the way for me!

    The icon is for what I think of metric, Spawn of Satan!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Nut and Bolts

      Ahh that's because Mr. Whitworth and his associates did a lifetime's worth of research on thread profiles, stress risers and shear torques on the materials (iron) he wanted to fasten before finalizing his standard. The metric and UNC people just drew simple zig zags on paper and used round numbers. As materials got a lot better, it didn't matter so much. Science, see?

      Anecdotally, US built Merlin engines had to be built with Whitworth tooling. They tried using the native fasteners but there was not sufficient strength designed into the castings to allow their use. Hence maintenance involved a set of Whitworth spanners for the engine and AF wrenches for the Holley carbs.

      1. IvyKing

        Re: Nut and Bolts

        I heard it was the other way around, where the Packard built Merlins used SAE threads and were supposedly bit stronger than the original RR built Merlins.

  40. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Some talk of centimetres, some talk of kilograms;

    Some talk of decilitres to measure beer and drams.

    But I'm an English workman and too old to go to school,

    So by pounds I'll eat, by pints I'll drink

    And I'll work by my three-foot rule!

  41. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Oz did it correctly

    They switched all at once. Canada went metric decades ago but we have this honking big neighbour and trading partner who did not go metric. So we have a typical Canadian muddle. Kids are taught SI and SAE and Imperial. Highways are marked in kilometres, temperature is given in Celsius, most fluids (petrol, milk, water) are purchased in litres, and everything else is mixed.

    (Incidentally, I once worked for a company that made products in both SI and SAE. The former has about half the standard sizes of nuts-and-bolts than the latter. An SI-designed box has half the number of screw sizes and that was always a good thing.)

  42. EddieD

    Aye Lester, that as well :)

  43. Steve Hosgood

    Metric is not necessarily the same as decimal

    One of the poll options was listed as "SI Units only, under punishment of a lick of the cat o' nine tails (imperial), or ten tails (metric)".

    Whilst amusing, it is worth noting (because some of the posters here evidently "don't get it") that though the major multiples of the metric system are powers of ten, there's nothing non-metric about 24 hour days, 60 minute hours, eggs by the dozen or any other non-decimal multiples.

    The S.I. unit for time is the second. Speeds are therefore in m/s fundamentally, but in practice all over the world, road speeds and speed limits are always given in km/h. Nothing wrong with that, despite the hour having a non power-of-ten number of seconds in it.

    The point is that it's the standard everywhere in the world (except for the USA and here). By not using that standard in daily life, we're crippling our country's ability to compete.

  44. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    But as a good brit I convert willy nilly back and forth in my head anyway.

    I use imperial with screen size, speed on the road. hight and weight. of humans including breast size. Oh yeah and pints

    I had a french friend who I could drive to murder by talking about 6 inches and 5 mm

  45. Roger Mew

    Mmm OK a Livre de Fromage

    For the dim wits that say use metric, well for information, I can buy a livre de fromage, about 500 gram here in France, many bolts of cloth are measured in feet or yards. A TV screen here is in puces. At the end of the day some things "fit" being marked in "inches" some in mm certainly my wife says I should lose a few pounds, that the ruddy ovens marked in centigrade have inexact temperatures, recipes never seem quite right in kilos, and then we come to vehicle tyres, oh yes for example 145x 16, yes very good so we have now on a motorcycle 90x90x19, it was a lot easier when it was all Imperial, so we had a 3.00x 19. What really gets me is going down the UK motorway, I have to brake like fcuk to get into a service center in 1 meter, then find its actually another 1k+

    They need to put both on road signs, as all new motor bikes HAVE to have the speedo in kilometers. Tried working out how many miles to the gallon, or perhaps litres to the 100 kilometers.

    You HAVE to have both, not just chains, nor hectares (they use them in France) etc but for clarity both.

  46. Thomas Allen

    Hope you get tons and tonnes of comments on this one.

  47. cortland

    I plead

    Guilty to to being American, but when I was stationed in Germany, I could buy a one-pound loaf of bread; 500 grams, doing almost ten percent better than a pound avoirdupois.

    FWIW Department: "Mile" is a decimal unit; 1,000 standard paces for a Roman legionary.

    Grams,ounces, slugs,newtons, acre's, hectares... I remember actually using farthings -- IIRC, once. Even in 1953 one wasn't enough to buy anything.

    From Wikipedia:

    "The blob or slinch (a portmanteau of the words slug and inch[8][unreliable source?]) is an inch version of the slug (1 slinch = 1 lb[sub]f·s^2/in = 12 slugs) or equivalent to 175.126 kg.[9] Slang terms for the slinch include the slugette.[10][11]

    Metric units include the "glug" in the centimetre-gram-second system, and the "mug", "par", or "MTE" in the metre-kilogram-second system.[12]"


    Beer, ''cause a point a pint is enough.

    1. Slinfold

      Re: I plead

      "I remember actually using farthings -- IIRC, once. Even in 1953 one wasn't enough to buy anything."

      Oh! It was! You could buy 4 sherbert flying saucers for 1d, and some other children's sweets were 4-a-penny, i.e. 1 farthing each. I know because I served in my father's confectionery shop.

      I remember seeing fuel priced at somehting like 4/11¼ (4 shillings and eleven pence farthing) per (UK) gallon. In fact fuel is still effectively priced in farthings, except we call it 0.1p instead of a farthing. [ 1p = 2.4d; 2.5d = 10 farthings; "d" means 1 old penny, from the Roman "denarius".)

  48. Richard 51

    Americans and their imperial rubbish

    If imperial is so good how come NASA continue to f**k up missions through bungling the arithmetic of imperial measurements.

    And who in their right mind thought it a good idea for me to buy fuel in litres and have the bloody display on my car tell me that I am achieving 36 miles per gallon?

    I believe most countries, including the US signed a UN charter to convert to metric which the Europeans promptly did but the Yanks and sometimes Brits are still holding out.

    Lets just get on with it and get the pain over. Mines a litre of beer please!

    1. Tom 13

      Re: come NASA continue to...?

      'Cause they keep outsourcing the work to EU types who can't handle it!

    2. Pedigree-Pete
      Thumb Up

      Fuel in Litres,consumption in MPG

      Agreed, when will manufacturers quote in Miles/ltr

  49. This Side Up

    Metric would save lives

    And bridge strikes.

    We have a lot of continental drivers in the UK, both resident and visiting. A great many British drivers drive on the continent. It will save lives in the long run if we all use the same units for speed limits and height and width restrictions. Weight limits are usually in tonnes anyway.

  50. cortland
    Paris Hilton


    Why not the calendar of the French Directorate, too?

    Vendémiaire, Brumaire, Frimaire, Nivôse, Pluviôse, Ventôse

    Germinal, Floréal, Prairial, Messidor, Thermidor and Fructidor

    or in Enlglish,

    Grapey. Foggy, Frosty, Snowy, Rainy, Windy,

    Seedy, Flowery, Grassy, Picky, Hotty and Fruity

    Eh, let's rename the seasons as well:

    Grumpy, Sneezy, Sleepy and Dopey.

    Amen to that one.

    Paris, because she'd think it was cute.

    1. Daggersedge

      Re: Dopey

      This has nothing to do with the current argument about metric/imperial measurments. The calendar to which you refer hasn't been used in a very long time in France and no-one is calling for its return.

      Having said that, if it makes your day, there are apps that will give you the current date in that calendar: aujourd'hui, nous sommes 24 vendémiaire.

  51. david 12 Silver badge

    The sky didn't fall in

    On the other hand, we didn't have the second coming of the Messiah either when metrification was introduced to Australia.

    It was widely acknowledged as a historic re-alignment of our trade relationships from Mother England to Europe, and did trigger useful re-standardisation in some areas (pipe diameter is an example), but it had no useful effect in other areas.

    Production workers couldn't handle imperial conversions, so pre-metrification no production specification required imperial conversion. When producing something like a car, the length was specified as 18559 thou. Post metrification, production workers still couldn't handle decimal points, so the length is now specified as 4714 mm. The putative ease of converting between mm and metres had no benefit. AUS manufacturing did not become more productive when the length of a car changed from 18559 thou to 4714 mm.

    And you can't attribute all metrification to the enforced metrification of socal measurements. Medicine was already metric in AUS, as it is the UK and the USA: it was metric in all three countries long before SI.

  52. This Side Up

    We need to sort out this mess.

    The food industry is the worst offender. If I got to the pound shop or the 99p shop or my local newsagent I can buy a 2 litre bottle of milk. If I go to the supermarket I have to have 1.136 litres or 2.272 litres. If I buy tea it's in convenient 125 or 250g packets; coffee comes in 454g packets. Most things are metric, so let's get rid of the anomolies once and for all. While we're at it let's use Joules (or MJ) for energy rather than Calories or

    The only two exceptions I'd make in the short term are beer glasses in pubs and glass milk bottles for doorstep deliveries. That's not because I have any objection to drinking a "large" (500ml) or a "small" (300ml) glass of beer, but because I don't want to impose additional costs on publicans and dairies. I'd ban the introduction of new imperial size glasses and bottles except for souvenir shops, home use etc. Wine and spirits are already sold in metric quantities and pubs should switch over for beer when new glasses are needed. Their remaining old glasses can be sold to pubs that wish to remain 'imbeerial' for a bit longer. Something similar could be done for dairies.

    The government and the media seem to think metric is fine for engineering, commerce, aggriculture, fisheries, construction, ... but not for the general public who are a completely different set of people that can't cope with all this new-fangled stuff. I was taught metric units in school (cgs not SI) and that was 55 years ago. The excuse that we can't handle metric units is just nonsense. We changed to decimal currency in 1971. Who would seriously want to go back to £sd now?

  53. AceBitbucket

    The ONLY sensible solution

    Clearly, there is too much nativism here. The metric system might work--if they could come up with a definition of the basic units that everyone would agree on. I mean, its been how many years and they are still fiddling with their definitions. And don't get me started on joules. The only logical method is to return to our roots. May I humbly(?) suggest we adapt our ancestral measurement system as illustrated here:

  54. Sosman

    I like the comments

    Most of these humorous comments are better than those of the self opinionated 'retentive 'serious' debaters.

  55. Slinfold

    Not yet an old fogey

    I don't consider myself an old fogey - of course, others may differ! - I'm in my early 60's.

    In principle, I agree metric should be used for everything.

    In practice, I was brought up using metric (before "SI" was commonly heard of) for science and technology, and imperial for everything else. The decimal pound came in shortly after I left university.

    So, yes, like others I frequently convert between the two in my head. And if I'm measuring something roughtly with a ruler, I generally use whichever side of the ruler gives the 'easier' or 'more rounded' figure.

    But having used imperial for everyday measurements during my 'formative years', yes I do still think in imperial for lots of things. I think of my height in feet and inches - which is how it was first given on my passport! - (I don't even know what it is in metric); my weight in stones (which, of course confuses the Americans!); my waist in inches; etc..

    I think that until the generations brought up using 'traditional measurements' have largely died out, their use will continue to some extent. Rods, poles and perches have died out with older generations. Why can't we just accept the status quo?

    As regards whether measurements used 'officially' should change:

    - I believe we still have road distances and speeds in miles because of the cost of changing all the road signs. I have no strong feelings either way.

    - For things like aircraft heights where there has to be some international acceptance, I guess the US influence will always have an affect.

    - But for lots of things we have changed during my lifetime: for food and other everyday items, kg and litres are now standard; fuel is sold in litres (but I still think of fuel consumption in miles per gallon!).

    Let's accept some of our differences and that some fundamentals do take a lifetime (literally) to change.

    P.S. Are there international standards for the spelling of units, specifically 'litre' instead of the American 'liter', and 'metre' instead of the American 'meter', which to me is a measuring device such as a 'water meter'?

    1. julianh72

      Re: Not yet an old fogey

      RE: Your commentr:

      P.S. Are there international standards for the spelling of units, specifically 'litre' instead of the American 'liter', and 'metre' instead of the American 'meter', which to me is a measuring device such as a 'water meter'?

      It's "metre" not "meter", and "litre" not "liter". I have always held that if a country doesn’t actually _USE_ a unit system, then they have no right whatsoever to even offer an opinion on how it’s units should be spelled!

      (In the same way that even though I think “soccer” is an awful sport which would be vastly improved with a slightly wider and higher goal to get higher scores in games, as a non-follower of the game, I don’t get to influence the rules – or even decide what it should be called!)

      (And don’t get me started on “aluminum”!)

  56. Tony Chesser
    Thumb Up

    As a yank...

    Yes, I know, "Yank" is a Brit term for someone in the US. This is a Brit site. When in Rome ...

    I have no problem with going SI. Indeed, physics and chemistry courses, offered at the college level, are all SI. We don't talk about ounces of this dissolved into gallons of that. We don't deal with 32 feet / sec^2 for gravitational acceleration. We deal with grams, liters and 9.8 m / sec^2. Trying to apply physics in daily life tends to be difficult, as we have no frame of reference for meters / sec on velocity, being used to miles / hour.

    Frequently, I've found that a set of metric (SI) wrenches is workable for both standard and metric nuts, bolts, etc. I'm much more likely to find a metric wrench which is "close enough," when dealing with standard (Imperial) bolts, than I am to find a standard wrench which is "close enough" for a metric bolt. This is, of course, because the divisions are much smaller in metric (1 millimeter) than in standard (1/16 of an inch).

    There's only one problem with SI units: how do you get an even 1/3 of anything? A lot of imperial units are based around multiples of 12, which is evenly divisible by 2, 3 and 4. 12 inches in a foot. 60 seconds in a minute (5 * 12) or minutes in an hour. 24 hours in a day (2 * 12). 5280 feet in a mile (440 * 12; you get divisions by 5, 8, 10 and 16 in the bargain).

    Working with computers, as I do, we run into a completely different problem. 1/10 is NOT exactly described by an IEEE-754/854 standard floating-point number. Ergo, any computer is going to either use some ancient BCD format to describe it (and describe it exactly) or it will have to store an approximation of it (more commonly the case). In that respect, Imperial is no better than SI because there's no exact match for 1/3 (or 1/12), either.

    Wondering if we need a numbering system built around divisions of 30, so that we can evenly divide into 2, 3 and 5.

    Note: I work with IBM proprietary hardware, quite often. The CPUs in those things support BCD formatted numeric data and some of the languages, such as RPG and COBOL, actually prefer that format for numeric data. Ergo, those support SI, even though that's considered a "legacy" numbering format.

  57. G R Goslin

    Practical Units

    The snag with this debate is that most of the debaters (combatants?) are too young to know real units of measure, having been brainwashed at school. The old Imperial units are practical uniits for practical people. Most Metric units are too low or too high to be practical. Look at the metre. Far to large for a practical measure, so it has to be divided up, decimetre or millimetre, and even these are wrong. In Engineering, my Engineering at least the thou ruled A practical measure, you didn't need mant to make a difference. In Metric parlance it has to be the Micron, far too small. You need twenty five of the little bugger to make a thou. Likewise with the rest, it's either milli or mega to get a significant unit. I'm with the Yanks on this one, even if their pint is too small.

    1. Robert Helpmann??

      Re: Practical Units

      Right! Most units of measurement grew out of a need to actually do something rather than from some theoretical starting point. The most important thing is to make sure that all parties agree on what a given unit is if all are using the same units, or what the conversion between them are if not.

      As an aside, while the definition of many metric measurements have changed for the sake of accuracy and repeatability, the kilogram still has a way to go ( The goal is to tie the definition of a kilo to the Planck constant.

      Before any on the non-metric side of the fence comment on the differing kilos, please state which is heavier: a pound of lead or a pound of gold.

    2. Slinfold

      Re: Practical Units

      "Look at the metre. Far to large for a practical measure,"

      While I agree with many of your sentiments, if you're saying a metre is too large to be a practical measure, surely you're saying that the yard is also (since they are within 10% of each other), whereas I would say that the yard IS a practical measure for some things, while the foot is for others.

      Of course, I don't think that the American's use yards either.

  58. julianh72

    Metric all the way ...

    ... and get rid of all references to Imperial units, as long as we can still see conversions to elephants, blue whales, Sydney Harbours ("Sydarbs"), furlongs per fortnight, etc

  59. John Ellin

    Just the pints of beer

    Aircraft should not have their altitude given in feet, rather their Flight Level should be posted. Although this number bears a remarkable resemblance to the altitude in feet, it does so without mentioning said imperial unit. Win-win.

    1. SkippyBing

      Re: Just the pints of beer

      Aircraft don't give their altitude in feet, they give their height in feet, there is a difference.

  60. Sandtreader

    Cat-o-ten-tails? Shiver me timbers!

    Cat-o-nine-tails are made by unlaying twice-laid 3-strand rope, me hearties. Neither man nor Devil can make a cat-o-ten-tails.

  61. Scott Wheeler

    SI is great if you have to do any conversions between units as you do in engineering, but in daily life we don't do that. I don't need to know the mass of five pints of beer in pounds, or to determine how much its temperature will rise in Fahrenheit if I apply 5BTU of heat. It's a pint: all I need to know is how much it costs.

  62. Wade Burchette

    Leave metric to the scientists

    You can have the imperial system when you pry it from my cold dead hands! The English language just sounds right with imperial. "I walked miles and miles" sounds right; "I walked kilometers and kilometers" doesn't flow off the tongue. I'll admit that starting at 32 degree for freezing is weird for Fahrenheit. But there are 180 degree between freezing and boiling in Fahrenheit, making it a more precise measurement than Celsius which has only 100 degrees between the two.

    1. G R Goslin

      Re: Leave metric to the scientists

      Not so. Round here the boiling point of water is not 100C. I checked, and it's 98.4C It's only 100C at a set pressure (at notional sea level). A lot odf us don't like getting our feet wet and live a reasonable height above the waves. So 0-100C is not a rational measure.

    2. wjong

      Re: Leave metric to the scientists

      Sorry but you are misinformed. Fahrenheit is not more precise than Celsius and Celsius is not more precise than Fahrenheit. Neither is more or less precise than the other, and it's the same for the metric Imperial/USC debate.

      It is true however, as you say that because Fahrenheit has 180 degrees or divisions between freezing point and boiling point that the degrees are smaller than the 100 degrees that Celsius has. If we compare 180 to 100 then because the 180 scale has a smaller degree then it is more precise. What determines precision and accuracy is scale, not whether it's Fahrenheit or Celsius. I have a Celsius thermometer on my desk it's indicting 17.8 degrees Celsius. It measures to a 10th of a degree Celsius, it therefore has 1000 divisions between freezing point and boiling point. When compared to the 180 divisions of the Fahrenheit scale the 1000 division scale has smaller divisions and is more precise. If I had a Fahrenheit thermometer that measured a 10th of a degree that would be 1800 divisions between freezing point and boiling point and therefore more precise than the 1000 division of my thermometer. So it's ..scale ..that determines precision not Fahrenheit or Celsius.

  63. Beachrider

    As soon as the USA goes to Metric...

    Then our European friends will go to base-16 number...

    Actually, Isn't Europe part of Asia. Not a continent from a science perspective. Our West-Asians friends...

  64. Brian Allan

    The $$$ Cost is Phenomenal!

    I don't think any government at the moment wishes to expend the billions of $$$'s required to convert units. Just take a look at Canada. Billions of $$$'s later for signage, training programs, printed materials, law suites, seminars, conferences, international meetings, etc., ad nauseum over the past 20 years and we're still only part way to converted. Carpenters still refer to wall studs as 2x4's, even though they are actually 1-1/2"x3-1/2" in size. Sheets of plywood are 4'x8'. Radios still announce temperature in both units. Thermostats are still set to degrees F. Fields are still acres (and sometimes hectares). Pipelines are inches, although their length is in km (or meters). The spelling of metric units can be metres or meters depending upon whether you side with Anglo/Franco phones on this issue. Ocean depths are meters, fathoms, feet or miles. Young people who have never used Imperial units cannot even converse with oldsters who don't normally have a "feel" for metric units.

    It is a frigging mess!

  65. G7mzh

    Why not both?

    There's no reason why the two systems can't run in parallel - metric for scientific and accurate measurements, imperial for day-to-day use. Or are modern kids too think to learn a system they can't count on their fingers? I learnt duodecimal and hex at school (and converted between them), no problem.

    We should keep quiet about the hobbit being a unit of measurement, otherwise we'll have a fat american lawyer trying to claim ownership of Wales.

  66. Will Godfrey Silver badge


    I don't have any difficulty using either Imperial or Metric, or even a combination of the two. I would guess the same is true for anyone with even a modicum of mathematical ability.

    ... and if they don't have that ability, maybe they should let other people do the measuring.

  67. Dylan Fahey

    I'm American, but one of the smart ones

    1. I found it amazing that Europe uses anything other than metric.

    2. Miles, feet. It's stupid, inaccurate and based on nothing scientific.

    3. Next, stupid americans will be saying it's un-christian to go metric, and the dreaded, It's un-american to go metric. Here in America, we have a bunch of citizen sheep, that shop at walmart, watch fox news, and are stupider than bag of rocks. I'm ashamed sometimes. But we do need a dumb slave work force, and a happy one. A smart slave work force doesn't stay happy and always asks for more money. Can't have that.

    Anyways, back to metric. Metric is based on science. That's something the ignorant religious wing-nuts here in America just can't stand. Telling them that the world is over 4,000 years old and that the metric system is based on real science, will, quite frankly, make their heads explode.

    4. Go metric. I hate having to have two tool sets for everything. It's cost a bunch of money.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I'm American, but one of the smart ones

      Not to mention the fact that it's fun watching religious wing-nut heads explode!

      If our local senator, governor and the president all get re-elected (they're all democrats/liberals), I'd like to collect funds and get some billboards done, congratulating them on their re-election. I'd call the group:

      The Coalition for Making Conservative Nutjob Heads Explode

      We have billboards from some Conservative radio station urging voters "This time, get it Right!" Why not throw it back in their faces? Let them be depressed for another 4 years.

      Gotta tell 'em "No" every so often. Send 'em back to Walmart for more pork rinds, Moon Pies and cheap beer.

    2. Irony Deficient

      stupidity, inaccuracy, &c.

      In the States, the yard and pound avoirdupois (and thus the mile, the foot, the ounce avoirdupois, the grain, &c.) have been defined in terms of the meter and kilogram respectively since 1959. (The UK did the same in 1963.) Both the US and the UK have had metric miles and feet for decades now. Since the Imperial and US customary units of length are defined in terms of the metre, so are their respective units of volume: their gallons are defined in terms of the litre, which in turn is defined in terms of the m³. With metric gallons, one also has metric pints!

      (Remember, metric ≠ SI. The liter is metric, but not SI; the dm³ is SI.)

  68. furt1v3ly

    What we need for your IT nerds to step up to the plate and have it detect what country I'm in and give me the units that I want. And if you can work out a nice preference system where I can choose from some choices when logged in so much the better:

    [All SI]

    [SI except for beer]

    [Mostly Imperial]

    [All Imperial]

    [Elephants, Furl/Forts, and such]

  69. mistergrantham


    Imperial units employ one syllable, which may be spoken with a stylish drawl.

    Metric units have many syllables, requiring one to yammer like a Spaniard.

    1. Irony Deficient


      Acre, gallon, bushel, furlong, hundredweight. Gram, watt, volt, joule, mole.

      ¡Honestamente, y’all!

  70. John Savard

    Partial Agreement

    Engineering and physics definitely do need to use the metric system. But that is not a valid excuse for annoying ordinary people as they listen to weather forecasts to find out what to wear, or housewives baking for their families or shopping for groceries.

    Indeed, though, a whole generation has grown up with metric, so it's not as if any country is likely to go back now. Still, it was tragic that autocratic measures were used to make the changeover, instead of doing it gradually, waiting for a broad favorable public consensus, and ensuring conversion costs would be minimal.

  71. Colin Bain


    Having worked in hospitals and various medical establishments, I wonder if the metric system is more prone to dosage errors in the decimal system. It seems so much easier to slip a factor of 10 or even 100 without thinking about it. It seems to me that the Imperial system avoids as many. It requires real concentration to work out dosages in the Imperial system.

    1. Irony Deficient

      handwritten SI prefixes

      At least in the States, micrograms on prescriptions are purposely written as “mcg” rather than “µg”, since it can be difficult to distinguish a handwritten “µg” from a handwritten “mg” — and in some cases, a thousandfold error in dosage could be fatal.

  72. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Why is there no Imperial-only option?

    1. AndrueC Silver badge

      Re: Poll

      'cos it'd get no votes.

  73. JimBroad
    Thumb Up


    While we are writing the rules... For beer, why don't we have conversion round up to a litre, now all of you pint punters would end up with a proper ONE in your mugs. Still complaining?

    If its too much you can always ask for a half( or maybe a 9/16ths;)) like my wife does with pints.

    Seriously... Why resist such a logical system as Metric.

    And why hate on the French? I imagine adoption of arabic numerals faced similar obstacles... I'm there are more than a XII people here that agree.

  74. wjong

    There's only one problem with SI units: how do you get an even 1/3 of anything? A lot of imperial units are based around multiples of 12, which is evenly divisible by 2, 3 and 4. 12 inches in a foot. 60 seconds in a minute (5 * 12) or minutes in an hour. 24 hours in a day (2 * 12). 5280 feet in a mile (440 * 12; you get divisions by 5, 8, 10 and 16 in the bargain).


    I often see this comment that 10 cannot be divided into a 1/3 evenly. It's true of course, but it's not a problem for metric measures. Metric wallboard has dimensions of 2400 mm. by. 1200 mm. Can that be divided into 1/3 ? Yes.

    One kilometer is 1000 meters and when divided a 1/3 is 333.3333 meters. It's not evenly divided, but four decimal places is more than enough accuracy, for the distance of one kilometer, and one can add more accuracy if required. Where the dividing by a 1/3 problem can be a problem is with small dimensions, but can one divide an inch into 1/3.. No. The 1/3 problem is minimized and in practical terms eliminated by increasing the accuracy of measurements in metric and in Imperial/USC.

    1. Irony Deficient

      composite unit advantages

      wjong, as there are three barleycorns (or twelve lines) in an inch, the answer is yes, one can evenly divide an inch into thirds.

  75. wjong

    The snag with this debate is that most of the debaters (combatants?) are too young to know real units of measure, having been brainwashed at school. The old Imperial units are practical uniits for practical people. Most Metric units are too low or too high to be practical. Look at the metre. Far to large for a practical measure, so it has to be divided up, decimetre or millimetre, and even these are wrong. In Engineering, my Engineering at least the thou ruled A practical measure, you didn't need mant to make a difference. In Metric parlance it has to be the Micron, far too small. You need twenty five of the little bugger to make a thou. Likewise with the rest, it's either milli or mega to get a significant unit. I'm with the Yanks on this one, even if their pint is too small.


    It's difficult for most of us to change and unlearn what we have used since childhood. If we are comfortable with Imperial or USC measures we think in these measures even when we are using metric and conversion can cause errors. We only really appreciate metric measures when we use them, and I emphasize the word USE.

    It's not true that metric measures are too small or too large. One has to USE them to know them. In the building industry only three linear measurements are used. The kilometer = 1000 meters, the meter = 1000 millimeters and the millimeter. We don't use decimeter or centimeter. In engineering the "thou" is  the supreme measurement in Imperial/USC,it's equivalent in metric is an unnamed unit that is smaller than a tenth of a millimeter but larger than a hundredth of a millimeter. There are 1270 per inch so it's a little smaller than the "thou". (a thou being 1000th of an inch)

    To clarify ..As we shift to smaller units in metric it's often assumed that the next divisor must a tenth of the previous unit. This is not always correct. We know that a base 10 system can be divided by 2 and 5 as well as 10. As an example you will see that on an Engineers steel rule millimeters are divided into 1/2 millimeters. That is they are 5/10 of a millimeter. Not the assumed 1/10 of a millimeter. So we take an inch for example = 25.4 mm dived by 10 = 254 divided by 10 again = 2540 ..this is how many 100th of a millimeter are in an inch. This  more than double the "thou" and some machine tools can work to this level but if we want to bring it closer to the "thou" we dive it by 2 as the base 10 allows and we have 2540 divide by 2 = 1270 .. A bit smaller than the "thou". So just as we can use larger units we can also use smaller units also.

  76. Irony Deficient

    Can’t we all just get along?

    Personally, on the matter of units, I agree with the motto of the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize laureate: In varietate concordia. Let each author and commentard use the units with which he is most comfortable. If a reader doesn’t know what a given unit represents in his preferred system, and is unwilling to do anything to increase his knowledge to aid his understanding, then that would reflect poorly only on the reader.

    Lester, I disagree with you on the rightness and propriety of “flying at 35,000 feet”; five digits in the magnitude is at least two too many. This is a case where the furlong would be appropriate — e.g. “flying at 53 furlongs” (or thereabouts).

  77. Andreas Schaefer

    if personal attributes are concerned

    I have to point out that 15,24 cm sounds more than 6 inches.

    On the other hand a 40 inch waist sounds way slimmer than a 101.6 cm one. So for clothes lets establish imperial measures as standard

    On the third hand I am in favor of giveing the pint to the rest of Europe as special measure for consumable liquids : beer, milk, wine, cider, .. after all for LCD screens, bicycles and hard/floppy disks the continent allows the otherwise banned unit 'inch' - those are industry standard. If you can convince Bavarians an Belgians to quaff their beers by the pint ( just point out that it about 10 percent bigger that the usual half liter ) that battle would be half won.

  78. bep

    Don't convert

    As an Australian I have to agree that the way the conversion was done here was the best approach. A gradual approach won't work, and suggesting you maintain two or more systems and expect people to convert between them is the worst idea of all. It's true that many imperial measures still remain; they still talk about acres in real estate and for some reason computer screens are in inches but TVs often (but not always) in cm, but really, you won't take long to get used to your weight in kg, your height in cm, road speeds in km/h and the temperature in celsius so long as that is all you hear.

  79. I am replete.

    Peter Melia

    Not many of you out there remember, but in the old system you could go into any shop and order, say, 2 lbs potatoes, 4 carrots, 3 pints of milk, half a gill of cream, and hand over a quid, worth 20 bob. Without any hesitation she’d reply, “That’ll three and sixpence ha’penny love, and if you can give me a couple of half crowns that’ll save breaking into your pound note”.

    Nowadays, you’ll order, say, 2 kg potatoes, 4 carrots, 2 litres of milk, 1 box of cream and stick a credit card in a slot. She’ll punch it all in and the machine will tell us the amount and the change.

    A smaller shop will have the assistant struggling with a calculator.

    The point is, the first shopkeeper was really, really mentally agile, and so were everyone, the workshop floor worker would work out his wages taking into account deductions, calculate extraordinary betting odds, all in his head.

    When we did a mental calculation we had a good idea of the size of the end result. Now a child can have no idea of what is number crunching might end up with, and whether it’s wrong or right, or even near.

    So the end result might well be more efficient calculations, but in fact we are all becoming numerically more illiterate.

  80. Trustme
    IT Angle

    No Contest

    Telling a girl that you're a whopping 15.24 centimetres sounds so much better!

  81. captainketchup

    Height in imperial...

    ... I can't believe there was any question - the "1.609km high club" just doesn't have the same ring to it...

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