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United States Politics Science

Petition For Metric In US Halfway To Requiring Response From the White House 1387

fsterman writes "Without any prompting from the U.S. Metric Association, a We The People petition to standardize the U.S. on the metric system has received 13,000 signatures in six days. That's half the number needed for an official response from the White House. It looks like ending the U.S.'s anti-metric alliance with Liberia and Burma (the only other countries NOT on the metric system) might rank up there with building a death star."
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Petition For Metric In US Halfway To Requiring Response From the White House

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  • Trouble with that... (Score:2, Informative)

    by AlphaWolf_HK ( 692722 ) on Monday January 07, 2013 @12:13AM (#42500695)

    As a more libertarian society (yes, we are, like it or not) the government can't just tell us or any private entity what standards we will use, which was the barrier to entry it had the first time we tried to adopt it. Right now the USDA mandates that food and drug labels use metric, and various government organizations internally use metric (we used it exclusively when I was in the Army) but that's about as far as you can go. Things like road signs are also up to the individual states, and given that most of them are bankrupt, it would be hard to convince them to add that to their budget.

    Personally, I prefer that day to day decisions like that remain ones that individuals make for themselves (or who knows what else the government can tell us what "thou shalt do") but it's just something that you need to consider.

  • Too Late. (Score:5, Informative)

    by edibobb ( 113989 ) on Monday January 07, 2013 @12:34AM (#42500887) Homepage
    Too late, we're already on the metric system. The Metric Conversion Act of 1975 and designated the metric system as the "preferred system of weights and measures for United States trade and commerce."
  • by fsterman ( 519061 ) on Monday January 07, 2013 @12:58AM (#42501099) Homepage

    The rest of the world uses metric, the efficiencies of mass manufacturing mean that it costs more to create version using imperial units. Switching is a one time cost, the savings [] are cumulative so eventually (given a ROI higher than inflation) you should make your money back.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 07, 2013 @01:08AM (#42501165)

    How exactly do you think the UK went metric? By killing everyone who grew up on imperial, and forcibly breeding the children in 1969? Seriously mis-understand how this is done dude..

    they legislated the problem away 73-80. I was in the cohort who left school friday being taught inches/ft and came back monday alive on cm/meter. I've never regretted learning the 12 and 20 times table.

    You'll be telling us people can't learn to drive on the other side of the road next (despite two economies having made the transition in the last 50 years)

  • by fsterman ( 519061 ) on Monday January 07, 2013 @01:12AM (#42501191) Homepage

    Here are a couple dozen examples [].

  • by shinzawai ( 964083 ) on Monday January 07, 2013 @01:15AM (#42501205)

    Europe is 5.9 times larger than Alaska.

    Europe has an area of 3,930,000 sq miles.

    Alaska has an area of 663,268 sq miles. [] []

  • Re:US Metric System (Score:3, Informative)

    by blueg3 ( 192743 ) on Monday January 07, 2013 @01:24AM (#42501275)

    What pair of Imperial units is a factor of 34?

    You should be able to see that 16 and 32 aren't "random" at all, they're powers of 2. Another extremely common ratio of Imperial units is 12, which is a highly divisible number.

    Metric is particularly suited to decimal notation. Imperial units are particularly suited to fractions.

    Yes, there are some weird Imperial units. No, nobody really uses them. There are lots of weird units, period.

    All systems of units are arbitrary.

  • by robot256 ( 1635039 ) on Monday January 07, 2013 @01:28AM (#42501309)
    Sure, we run our CAD programs in imperial, but guess what? That Chinese fab house rounds all your drill sizes to the nearest 0.1 mm, and that 1/16" board is probably only 1.5mm. And any machine shop worth its salt has a full set of tools in both imperial and metric, because anything we import is metric and they have to make compatible parts. I'm pretty sure at least foreign makes of cars use all metric parts even when assembling in the US, so they are compatible with the rest of the supply chain--it is U.S. makes that suffer by requiring "special" parts, or metric-imperial adapters and crap, unless they switched already too (ha!). It ought to be an obvious business decision even without government intervention, but there is just too much inertia for everyone to switch unless they do it at the same time.
  • Re:US Metric System (Score:4, Informative)

    by mjwx ( 966435 ) on Monday January 07, 2013 @01:37AM (#42501371)

    I would much rather arbitrarily use Mercuries melting and boiling point...Actually I'd like to use the point between it's freezing and when it turns to plasma. WTF is so non-arbitrary about water?

    It's abundance. The fact water can be found everywhere and purified easily makes it a good point to start with.

    Besides using an object as reference, be it water or mercury is the exact opposite of arbitrary.

    1. Based on random choice or personal whim, rather than any reason or system.

    An arbitrary system has the boiling point at 21 and the freezing point at -453.

    Also, "Mercury's" not "Mercuries".

  • by 1u3hr ( 530656 ) on Monday January 07, 2013 @01:39AM (#42501383)

    For this to even remotely succeed, at least two generations of kids need to grow up with the metric system (or at least have it along side imperial). Then, when they enter the workforce, metric will seep into common usage.

    Meanwhile, what of the generations of existing trades that rely on imperial? I.E. Carpentry, plumbing etc... It isn't just a simple matter of teaching metric either. All these industries and their supporting industries must switch or provide parallel measures (of course, the old timers will stick to imperial in that case, since it's there too). That's very, very, very expensive both in material and time.

    And yet, somehow, the other 180 countries in the world managed to do it.

    In Australia, it was in the 1970s. A few years of "soft" conversions, where you just have to give a metric equivalent, then "hard" conversions where various official weights and measures go to solely metric, "rounded" quantities (e.g. 25 mm instead of 25.4 mm to replace one inch; 100 km/hr instead of 60 mph. Once weather reports stopped giving Fahrenheit equivalents supermarkets and butchers etc all started using kilos there was a burst of resentment but people got over it. The building trade went to mm early on. Rulers still often have inches on one side, but are needed less and less.

    But Mexicans already know how to use use metric, so I guess you'll probably go metric about the same time you change your official language to Spanish.

  • by adolf ( 21054 ) <> on Monday January 07, 2013 @01:47AM (#42501439) Journal

    AFAICT, American cars are metric and have been for some time.

    The only "Imperial" stuff I come across are those used in construction: Plumbing, electrical, steel building components, and other of that sort of ilk, none of which is frequently exported.

  • Re:US Metric System (Score:5, Informative)

    by AlphaWolf_HK ( 692722 ) on Monday January 07, 2013 @01:51AM (#42501465)

    Simple would be relative. In the west, we use Arabic numerals, which are base 10, or powers of 10. Systems such as binary are base 2, or powers of 2, and after working with it for a while you can figure those numbers in your head as easily as anything else. We divide those into nibbles, bytes, words, dwords, qwords, etc. A kilobyte is 10 bits, which doesn't fit into those divisions, but we stick that label on it anyways.

    Imperial lengths work in a similarly awkward way, and are countable in powers of 3. For example, 12 inches to a foot, 3 feet to a yard, 1780 yards to a mile. Mass appears to go into powers of 14. I don't think that was by design, but it is one way to look at it.

  • Re:US Metric System (Score:2, Informative)

    by Leuf ( 918654 ) on Monday January 07, 2013 @01:57AM (#42501497)

    I do woodworking for a living and get along just fine with imperial. It can be a bit of a pain any time you need a calculator to divide something, say 7-3/8" divided by 5, and then have to convert the answer back to the nearest fraction to actually do anything with it. But when you do it often enough you memorize all the decimal equivalents of 1/16 pretty quickly. Even though I've got rulers with metric on one side and could easily use that instead in those situations I don't.

    The biggest thing I find is an imperial tape or ruler is graduated such that the 1/2 inch marks and longer than the 1/4 inch marks which are longer than the 1/8 inch marks and so on. A metric ruler/tape has longer marks at 1/2 cm but everything between is the same length. So not being used to that, it takes me longer to register what the measurement is with metric. That annoys me. So any experiment with using the metric side of the ruler usually ends in about 30 seconds because I'm instantly annoyed at being slowed down.

  • Re:US Metric System (Score:4, Informative)

    by GodInHell ( 258915 ) on Monday January 07, 2013 @02:05AM (#42501559) Homepage
    This whole article is based on a common (and false) myth.

    The U.S. is a signatory to the international treaty of the meter. Our yards, pounds and gallons are defined on the meric scale and have been since the 1890s. The problem is not that the Gov't hasn't adopted the meter, its that the public has decided not to use metric measurements and has openly opposed efforts to convert public signage to metric.
    see, e.g.
  • Re:US Metric System (Score:5, Informative)

    by Viceice ( 462967 ) on Monday January 07, 2013 @02:08AM (#42501577)

    Also, In temperatures, 0'C is Freezing point of water, 100'C is boiling point.

    In Volume/ Mass/ Weight, 1000sq/cm = 1 Litre = 1 kg of water.

    All these have practical applications in real life.

  • Re:US Metric System (Score:4, Informative)

    by Belial6 ( 794905 ) on Monday January 07, 2013 @02:09AM (#42501579)
    No, it isn't. Lumber is the biggest example of a screwed up measurement system. It isn't even Imperial. A 2x4 isn't 2"x4". A 4x8 isn't 4"x8". If switching to metric would fix the screwed up measurements of lumber, that alone would make it worth while.
  • Re:US Metric System (Score:5, Informative)

    by thrich81 ( 1357561 ) on Monday January 07, 2013 @02:35AM (#42501781)

    E= mc2 certainly does have an arbitrary constant embedded within it -- if expressed in metric units the speed of light is an arbitrary constant. For this reason most high energy physics uses so called 'natural units' where the speed of light = 1 and units of mass are the same as units of energy (i.e. the electron rest mass is 511 kilo-electronvolts). And what is an electronvolt of energy? -- it's the energy which one electron-charge gains accelerated through one volt. Notice that the only metric unit referenced in this usual measure of mass is the volt; no kilograms or units derived from kilograms. So once you get deep into the 'hardest' of the hard sciences you don't find metric units used for much -- that says something about the arbitrariness of metric units (and their more exactly defined successors, the SI units).

  • Re:US Metric System (Score:5, Informative)

    by hawguy ( 1600213 ) on Monday January 07, 2013 @02:51AM (#42501901)

    Aside from the earth not being spherical, its size isn't static either.

    That's why the meter is no longer defined by a distance of a physical object - it was defined as 1,650,763.73 wavelengths of the orange-red emission line in the electromagnetic spectrum of the krypton-86 atom in a vacuum, until 1983 when it was defined as the length of the path travelled by light in vacuum during a time interval of 1299,792,458 of a second. (more info here [])

    And water at what temperature?

    Unless you're a scientist, you generally don't need to account for the small change in density over temperature. If you are a scientist, then you know it's 4 degrees C and you're already using the metric system.

  • Re:UK as well (Score:5, Informative)

    by locofungus ( 179280 ) on Monday January 07, 2013 @03:44AM (#42502165)

    Yes, we drive in miles. Stones and pounds are on the way out, ditto feet and inches which are only used to measure people. Anyone born before about 1960 tends to use stones and feet exclusively, anyone born after about 1980 uses metres and kilos. Those of us on the cusp tend to switch depending on who we are talking to.

    Fahrenheit (I even had to go and look up the spelling) has completely disappeared. I have absolutely no idea what the weather in Fahrenheit means other than doing some mental arithmetic.

    The mile will probably stay for motoring. Much like the guinea and furlong for horse racing and the chain for cricket. I don't know if the pint will finally disappear in the pub. I suspect not but the gill has gone. L.s.d. is not even on the radar of most people born before about 1980. With the replacement of the shilling coin in 1990 and the florin in 1992 the final links and reminders of our old money system escaped from public consciousness.


  • Re:US Metric System (Score:4, Informative)

    by pjt33 ( 739471 ) on Monday January 07, 2013 @03:54AM (#42502221)

    Add to this paper measurement, letter being 8,5x11 inches in north america but 15cm x 30 cm in Europe.

    Really? At least 90% of the letters I receive are A4, which is 29,7cm x 21cm. I don't know any European paper format that has an aspect ratio of 2.

  • Re:UK as well (Score:4, Informative)

    by FireFury03 ( 653718 ) <slashdot@nexusu[ ]rg ['k.o' in gap]> on Monday January 07, 2013 @04:09AM (#42502317) Homepage

    I don't see how a country that drives in miles, weighs in stones (pounds for other things), and sells things by the gallon counts as metric.

    I've not seen anything weighed in stones/pounds or sold in gallons for a loooong time. However, I will agree that using miles on the roads and pints for beer (which are both units that haven't been taught in schools for *decades*) is insane. Even more fucked up is that british law relating to road signs states that for short distances, such a sign should be placed multiples of 100 metre away from the hazard but must say "yards" on it - i.e. a "low bridge 200 yards ahead" sign is actually 200 metres from the low bridge. (Placing metric units on the sign, or selling beer in half-litre measures is, of course, illegal).

  • It's convenient for political organizations to pretend everyone agrees with them.

    As of this writing (January 2013) the United Kingdom still uses MILES to measure distance, MILES PER HOUR to measure speed, STONES and POUNDS and OUNCES to measure weight, and FLUID OUNCES to measure volume.

    Certainly not true. I've not seen stones, pounds and fluid ounces used in years. I guess people born before the mid-60s might still use them in conversation, but younger generations don't and you won't find them being used in any kind of technical or commercial setting.

  • Re:US Metric System (Score:5, Informative)

    by DrXym ( 126579 ) on Monday January 07, 2013 @06:00AM (#42502891)
    Ireland went one step further and went metric on their roads. Similarly civilization did not collapse. In fact most of the major road signs were switched overnight and the whole transition took a few days. Most speed limits went up or down to the nearest multiple in KPH. So we drive at 50KPH (31MPH) instead of 30MPH, 120 KPH instead of 70MPH etc. I still drive a car which a speedometer in MPH but it has KPH on the inner dial. Ireland still keeps pints as a unit of measurement in bars but imperial is pretty much gone elsewhere.

    I'm sure it would not stop right wing newspapers like the Daily Mail, Telegraph, Express from freaking out if ever the UK went the whole hog but it really is no big deal.

    Switching from driving on the left to the right could be a tad harder though...

  • Re:US Metric System (Score:5, Informative)

    by xaxa ( 988988 ) on Monday January 07, 2013 @06:45AM (#42503101)

    letter being 8,5x11 inches in north america but 15cm x 30 cm in Europe.

    That would be a very elongated piece of paper.

    A4 paper is 210x297mm, and is never called "letter", always A4. The odd lengths are because the ratio of the sides is 1:sqrt(2), which means an A4 sheet cut in half (called A5) or doubled (called A3) has the same ratio as the A4 sheet, so a document can be very easily scaled or reduced to a sheet twice/half/etc times the size.

    A0 has area 1m^2. Paper weight is measured in g/m^2, i.e. the weight of a piece of A0 paper. Since A4 is (A1-half, A2-quarter, A3-eighth) a sixteenth of that, I know that each sheet of A4 paper in the ream by our printer (80g/m^2) weighs 80/16 = 5 grams.

  • Re:US Metric System (Score:4, Informative)

    by jcdr ( 178250 ) on Monday January 07, 2013 @08:07AM (#42503433)

    letter being 8,5x11 inches in north america but 15cm x 30 cm in Europe.

    Completely wrong. Here is the reality: []

  • by Captain_Chaos ( 103843 ) on Monday January 07, 2013 @08:19AM (#42503485)
    Without knowing it, Americans are already on the metric system, albeit indirectly, as the US customary units are defined in terms of metric units. The inch is formally defined as being exactly equal to 25.4 mm. There is no "standard inch" or an independent definition in terms of so many wavelengths of light or something like that. Same for the pound, which is defined as 453.59237 g.

Friction is a drag.