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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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  • US Metric System (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 07, 2013 @12:06AM (#42500645)

    "Liberia and Burma (the only other countries NOT on the US metric system)"

    Right. And now the Metric system itself is from the US? Who writes this stuff.

  • UK as well (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 07, 2013 @12:07AM (#42500657)

    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.

  • by eksith ( 2776419 ) on Monday January 07, 2013 @12:11AM (#42500683) Homepage

    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.

  • by Kr1ll1n ( 579971 ) on Monday January 07, 2013 @12:13AM (#42500701)


    While not a bad thing for the US to move to the metric system, there are WAY too many other issues that should, but won't be addressed first.

    It's like having a house on fire, as well as an empty gas tank. For some reason, the empty gas tank (the lack of the metric system in the US) is WAY more important......

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 07, 2013 @12:14AM (#42500707)

    People do a couple calculations in college and then they think they know something. It's not simple like multiplying by 25.4. Start with a quarter inch bolt of which there are several thousand on an airplane. Then consider the hole for that bolt. Then consider the drill bit for that hole. Then think about the washer and the thickness of the sheet metal used to make the washer. Work your way back to the rollers that press out the sheets. Think about all the mistakes that are not made due to well understood measurement systems. There is so much to change.

    Metric is nice. No doubt about that. Changing over is a gargantuan undertaking. Don't underestimate the difficulty.

  • Pints (Score:4, Insightful)

    by DaveAtFraud ( 460127 ) on Monday January 07, 2013 @12:19AM (#42500747) Homepage Journal

    I would hate to see the other units disappear as well but, as far as I'm concerned, someone should always be able to order a pint of ale. Any metric twaddle that threatens that should be thrown out with the other trash.


  • by AlphaWolf_HK ( 692722 ) on Monday January 07, 2013 @12:20AM (#42500753)

    The weights and measures system you use doesn't make you more advanced or retarded (yes, retarded literally means the opposite as advanced) any more than say Chinese glyphs make them more primitive than using an alphabet. Metric is every bit as arbitrary as imperial, it's just a bit easier to do unit conversions with them.

    There are many things that almost everybody does which are harder than other ways (the English language is full of all sorts of inconsistencies and things that just plain don't make sense,) but we just keep doing them because it's what we're used to.

  • by Lord Kano ( 13027 ) on Monday January 07, 2013 @12:20AM (#42500755) Homepage Journal

    I don't have much of a problem with metric, but I don't think in metric. My children might be young enough to make the transition to metric thinking but this isn't going to happen in their lifetime because...

    1. Baby boomers are the biggest demographic group and they will reject a metric transition.
    2. If we have to wait for the baby boomers to die off, Gen X and Gen Y will be too entrenched in imperial thinking to make the transition.
    3. When the baby boomers die off Gen X and Gen Y will be the demographic groups driving elections and when we're in our 50s, there's no fucking way we'll go along with a metric transition.
    4. A lot of Americans like to keep doing things our way precisely because the rest of the world doesn't.


  • Re:That's a lot! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fredgiblet ( 1063752 ) on Monday January 07, 2013 @12:20AM (#42500761)
    No. But we should do something smart to help the entire population.
  • by fredgiblet ( 1063752 ) on Monday January 07, 2013 @12:23AM (#42500787)
    All but three countries in the world have done it. Are you saying we're unable to cope with an issue that nearly every country has managed to handle?
  • by fredprado ( 2569351 ) on Monday January 07, 2013 @12:25AM (#42500805)
    Governments impose standards all the time, because it is necessary. Entities like the FCC exist in great part to do this. Imagine for example what would happen if every US city had a different measure system. Nothing would match. Ever. Gee, you can break it down even more, imagine if everybody had his own measure system.

    Keeping using one badly designed measure system while the whole world use another clearly superior is not only stubbornness but stupidity.
  • by Cryacin ( 657549 ) on Monday January 07, 2013 @12:30AM (#42500863)
    Yeah, you're right. Metrics of 10 are much simpler than orders of 16, 32, 34 or any other random selection. You really have to think about how many inches are in a yard, but it's not hard to know that it's 1000 mm in a meter. The trend continues with 1000m making a kilometer, rather than yards to furlongs.

    Not to mention how many inches are in a meter.
  • Re:Pints (Score:1, Insightful)

    by DaveAtFraud ( 460127 ) on Monday January 07, 2013 @12:32AM (#42500869) Homepage Journal

    Somehow ordering "a half litre" doesn't role off the tongue that way "pint" does. Ditto for cup of coffee. I just can't see myself saying, "I'm just not awake until I've had my first 250 ml of coffee in the morning."


  • by kwerle ( 39371 ) <> on Monday January 07, 2013 @12:34AM (#42500885) Homepage Journal

    I don't understand why there is a problem. We should require metric and allow both. Done.

    Eventually (in 3 generations, I figure), companies will stop bothering with imperial. In the meantime, everybody wins.

  • by the eric conspiracy ( 20178 ) on Monday January 07, 2013 @12:35AM (#42500895)

    Many countries that have officially gone metric still use local units for things like building materials.

    Your objection really isn't an issue.

  • Re:Pints (Score:5, Insightful)

    by donscarletti ( 569232 ) on Monday January 07, 2013 @12:38AM (#42500915)

    You can buy a pint of beer in Australia too, despite the country being otherwise completely metric.

    You call it a pint because it is seved in a "pint glass", which by law holds 570 mililitres of beer, rather than the beer served one imperial pint of liquid (which, for historical reasons, it also happens to be).

  • by Phrogman ( 80473 ) on Monday January 07, 2013 @12:42AM (#42500949) Homepage

    And this is the death knell of US Metrification as a likely future event: The irrational bigotry and hatred of the French exhibited by so many Americans, solely because when the US waged an illegal war based on false premises and deliberate lies, the French decided not to participate based on their own interests and their own democratic system.
    Anything French must seemingly be spat upon the moment it is mentioned. Anything French must be inferior, cowardly, belittled etc, simply because its French, and they didn't want to come play in the first Gulf War when the US told them to. Its sad.

  • by Marcika ( 1003625 ) on Monday January 07, 2013 @12:52AM (#42501047)
    Yup. The UK metricated in the 1970s, long before they started having railways or steam engines or spinning jennies.
  • by Cinder6 ( 894572 ) on Monday January 07, 2013 @12:56AM (#42501083)

    Honest question here: Assuming you're an American, how would the US switching to the metric system enhance your life? Most people don't run around doing dimensional analysis, and people who have grown up with the current system don't have trouble with it. If you like the metric system, there's nothing stopping you from using it. For my own way of thinking, we have a lot of bigger problems to tackle before we spend money switching everything over to metric. Such a switch would have short-term negative effects (due to confusion and misunderstanding of how different units relate to each other), and I just don't see there being much benefit for the average person in the long-term.

  • by AK Marc ( 707885 ) on Monday January 07, 2013 @01:00AM (#42501111)
    There's nothing special about the meter. The "special" part is meter and liter are related, as are kg and liter, so everything is related. That and the relation for increasing and decreasing units or prefixes is the same base as our counting system. Not special about any particular unit, but better for large and small numbers being related. Or do you know how many inches in a furlong off the top of your head?
  • by NFN_NLN ( 633283 ) on Monday January 07, 2013 @01:02AM (#42501127)

    Metric is every bit as arbitrary as imperial, it's just a bit easier to do unit conversions with them.

    The metric system is not arbitrary. There is only one unit each of length, mass, volumes, etc. It is also coherent.


    "Each variant of the metric system has a degree of coherence – the various derived units being directly related to the base units without the need of intermediate conversion factors. For example, in a coherent system the units of force, energy and power are chosen so that the equations

            force = mass × acceleration
            energy = force × distance
            power = energy / time

    hold without the introduction of constant factors. Once a set of coherent units have been defined, other relationships in physics that use those units will automatically be true - Einstein's mass-energy equation, E = mc2, does not require extraneous constants when expressed in coherent units.[18]

    The cgs system had two units of energy, the erg that was related to mechanics and the calorie that was related to thermal energy so only one of them (the erg) could bear a coherent relationship to the base units. Coherence was a design aim of SI resulting in only one unit of energy being defined - the joule.[19]

    In SI, which is a coherent system, the unit of power is the "watt" which is defined as "one joule per second".[20] In the US customary system of measurement, which is non-coherent, the unit of power is the "horsepower" which is defined as "550 foot-pounds per second" (the pound in this context being the pound-force), similarly the gallon is not equal to a cubic yard (nor is it the cube of any length unit).

    The concept of coherence was only introduced into the metric system in the third quarter of the nineteenth century; in its original form the metric system was non-coherent - in particular the litre was 0.001 m3 and the are (from which we get the hectare) was 100 m2. A precursor to the concept of coherence was however present in that the units of mass and length were related to each other through the physical properties of water, the gram having been designed as being the mass of one cubic centimetre of water at its freezing point." []

  • by MrLizard ( 95131 ) on Monday January 07, 2013 @01:07AM (#42501157)

    Every time I read one of these articles, I sense this bizarre attitude that getting 25,000 signatures somehow means that a law will be passed or that something meaningful has been accomplished or that it's important to sign/not sign whatever bit of garbage is being bandied about at the moment. The "We The People" site is about as important, useful, or relevant as a pop-up poll promising you a free iPad for responding. The "response" from the White House is virtually always "We've read your stupid petition. Here's your response: It's stupid.". Laws are not passed in America by direct democracy, and, even if they were, you'd need about a hundred million votes, give or take, not 25,000. 25,000 signatures -- in a population of 300+ million -- are nothing. You can get 25,000 people to sign virtually anything. To get a law to the President's desk, you need to convince 50% of Congress to do something -- actually, more than 50%, given the many procedural obstructions that exist. Absolutely NO MEANINGFUL, CONCRETE, OR SIGNIFICANT ACTION WILL EVER BE TAKEN SOLELY AS A RESULT OF A PETITION ON THAT WEB SITE. Every time a web site or news service acts as if signing a petition on "We The People" is somehow different from writing "I wish the magic fairies would give me a pony!" on a scrap of paper and then keeping it under your pillow, it adds to the "slacktivism" of the American people and undermines any actual progress towards any desired goal, regardless of your political leanings. THE SITE IS A JOKE. It means NOTHING. It will not influence a single vote in Congress. It will not cause the President to take any action he was otherwise not going to take. Every moment wasted signing a petition, asking someone else to sign a petition, asking someone NOT to sign a petition, etc, is a moment wasted from your life (yes, like the moments I wasted writing this). You would accomplish more for yourself watching "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo", because at least you'd be entertained. (I assume, I've never actually watched it. If I want to see drunken redneck idiots, I can drive a mile to my local Wal Mart.)

  • by mjwx ( 966435 ) on Monday January 07, 2013 @01:14AM (#42501199)

    Metric is every bit as arbitrary as imperial

    0 C - point at which water freezes, 100 C - point at which water boils.

    Yep, totally arbitrary. Lets not even start with Kelvin.

    it's just a bit easier to do unit conversions with them.

    By "a bit" you mean an imperial shitload (2.4358 Metric fucktons) easier. I know there is 1000 millimetres in a metre, 1000 millilitres in a litre, 1000 milligrams in a gram. Same with centi, deci, kilo, mega and so forth. How many furlongs are there in a mile, inches in a furlong? How do we start dealing with tiny fractions of an inch or many hundreds of thousands of miles?

    It's also a lot easier to convert between different measurements in metric. 1 millilitre is 1 cubic centimetre (CC) of water (1 cm x 1 cm x 1 cm), 1 litre is 1000 CC's.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 07, 2013 @01:17AM (#42501221)

    Not to disagree with your point. But I would say that the main problem with units like foot and inches is not the base per se, but the inconsistent bases across the spectrum.

    If it used base 16, for example, across the board, then it would be just as sane as metric. Eg 1/16 inch, 1 inch, 16 inch to a feet, 16 feet to a yard, 256 yards to a mile, etc.

    Instead, we have a mishmash of lengths that used different base at every level. If base 16, or 12 or whatever, really has some good, why not apply such goodness across the board?

  • by Runaway1956 ( 1322357 ) on Monday January 07, 2013 @01:18AM (#42501229) Homepage Journal

    Perhaps you don't understand the term "arbitrary". Some people got together, decided that this system is "better" than any other system, and now the world wishes to impose this system on everyone in the world.


    I'll agree that a base 10 system is much easier to use, and to convert into other measurements than imperial measurements. But, "easy" doesn't preclude "arbitrary".

  • by quacking duck ( 607555 ) on Monday January 07, 2013 @01:25AM (#42501279)

    Economics and timing is a poor but convenient excuse, it's only been used for the last three decades to justify not doing anything.

    It would have been more economical to start phasing out imperial 30 years ago, but instead millions of additional dollars have been wasted making, for example, signposts in miles and speed limit signs in mph.

    It will *never* be a "good time" to change to metric, but the longer you *don't* change, the more money you've wasted and the more it will cost when you finally do change over.

    Hell, it would've been more economical to stop printing $1 bills years ago, seeing as $1 US coins have been available for ages. But no, new $1 bills are still made, and so people continue using them.

    Instead of saying it's not economical or bad timing, just say some of the real reasons: Americans on the whole are resistant to change, don't want to learn a new and generally better way of doing things, or just want to be different somehow from the rest of the world (except such nice company as Liberia and Burma).

  • by Nefarious Wheel ( 628136 ) on Monday January 07, 2013 @01:30AM (#42501329) Journal

    ... The other way lies committees and madness.

    But you repeat yourself.

  • by AK Marc ( 707885 ) on Monday January 07, 2013 @01:36AM (#42501361)
    Inches in a league? Feet in a knot (47 feet 3 inches)? Square inches in an acre? ounces in a ton? Heck, most people wouldn't pull out 128 oz in a gallon without help, though you'll find a half-gallon milk on a shelf next to a 16 oz cream, and comparing them natively is difficult.
  • Re:Pints (Score:4, Insightful)

    by quacking duck ( 607555 ) on Monday January 07, 2013 @01:36AM (#42501363)

    As a Canadian who has ordered beer in most of the provinces, I can confirm that we order it in pints.

    And that's OK. because it's a set size and it's not something that further conversion is going to be done on. You are never going to have to know how many mL of beer you just received.

    Actually, as a Canadian you have probably been scammed on pints []. The US pint (473 mL) is less than a imperial pint (568 mL), and there's a "metric" pint that's exactly 500 mL. In Canada there hasn't been consistency or regulations as to which "pint" bars need to serve, so you might expect a British pint when ordering but actually get beer in an American-sized pint glass. 100 mL difference isn't a lot in absolute terms, but we're talking up to 20% difference in expectation vs. reality.

    So no, a pint of beer in Canada is NOT a set size.

  • by gagol ( 583737 ) on Monday January 07, 2013 @01:42AM (#42501399)

    All systems of units are arbitrary.

    Some are arbitrary and logical, easy to work in your head... Some are a bunch of disparate measurement systems that makes almost no logical sense what so ever. If I have to choose, I take the logical one, thank you.

  • by bloodhawk ( 813939 ) on Monday January 07, 2013 @01:44AM (#42501405)
    The costs involved in producing parts and machines that need to be done in both metric and imperial is reduced thus reducing consumer costs on imported items. Costs involved for producing items for export are also reduced, reduced confusion all around for a small amount of short term confusion.
  • by gavron ( 1300111 ) on Monday January 07, 2013 @01:55AM (#42501473)

    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.

    There is no way that anyone short of a politician would claim that the UK is "Metrified" (or metrificated) and yet they do.

    Sorry, I know it's great to paint the US and Liberia as "holdouts". The truth is there are a lot of houldouts that JUST DON'T GET COUNTED.


  • by fsterman ( 519061 ) on Monday January 07, 2013 @01:57AM (#42501499) Homepage

    Metric is every bit as arbitrary as imperial

    Imperial units internal relationships = arbitrary
    Imperial units external relationships = mostly-arbitrary (generally measures of someones body parts)

    SI internal relationships = non-arbitrary
    SI units external relationships = semi-arbitrary (generally measures of physical phenomena that are roughly universal)

    The metric system is at least 1 unit of arbitrariness less arbitrary than the imperial system.

  • by Belial6 ( 794905 ) on Monday January 07, 2013 @01:58AM (#42501513)
    There is value in standards though. If the rest of the planet was using Imperial units, I would support any stragglers to convert to that. As it is, most of the world uses metric, so I support the move to metric.
  • by Grey Ninja ( 739021 ) on Monday January 07, 2013 @02:01AM (#42501527) Homepage Journal

    I would wager that 1/3 of a meter is "1/3 of a meter"? How much is 1/5 of a foot?

  • by quacking duck ( 607555 ) on Monday January 07, 2013 @02:04AM (#42501547)

    Economics and timing is a poor but convenient excuse, it's only been used for the last three decades to justify not doing anything.

    So you think a choice of measurement units is more important than an economy?

    I addressed such false dichotomy already [].

    Hell, it would've been more economical to stop printing $1 bills years ago, seeing as $1 US coins have been available for ages. But no, new $1 bills are still made, and so people continue using them.

    Dig that grave deeper. It'd have been more economical to just drop the dollar coin altogether. Somehow your little opinion on such things is more important than the blatantly obvious consensus of hundreds of millions of people.

    The blatantly obvious consensus of hundreds of millions of people is that Internet Explorer is a great browser, and Windows XP remains a great operating system for 2013. That is obviously as false as your statement, because it's inertia, familiarity, and habit that keeps them going, not because they remain the best option years after their introduction.

  • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 ) on Monday January 07, 2013 @02:16AM (#42501639)

    Not having to have two sets of wrenches and not crashing landers into Mars come to mind.

  • by ratbag ( 65209 ) on Monday January 07, 2013 @03:29AM (#42502093)

    250ml, 500ml, 1l, 2l and 4l are typical sales units for dairy products in the UK. And before you say "look, they're using powers of two, metric is all a sham", those particular sizes map quite closely to the old sizes, making it easier for uber-conservative (and ardently anti-European) Britons to accept and understand metric.

    I'm not conservative or anti-European and I prefer to work in base 10, with consistent ratios, not having to remember the different number of ounces in a pound, vs the number of pounds in a stone, vs the number of fluid ounces in a pint. I like that I can think of a litre of water and have an immediate feel for what a kilogram weighs, or what 100mm looks like.

    I'm 43 years old, so I went to school post-initial-metrication, but there are still plenty of hold-outs my age and older who "can't stand metric", including my otherwise-sane wife. But at least we're 30 years further along the metrication process and can report that the world won't end if you do get with the program(me).

  • by afgam28 ( 48611 ) on Monday January 07, 2013 @04:05AM (#42502289)

    The reason that the metric system is better than the imperial system is because of its advantages in scientific and industrial applications. And so the reason that the US should adopt the metric system is so that future scientists and engineers have an intuitive feel for the units.

    But there are a few day-to-day advantages. The biggest one that comes to mind is unit pricing at the grocery store. The whole point of unit pricing is to make it easy to compare the price of products that are sold in different volumes, and in countries that use the metric system this is easy. But in the United States, you'll often see products side-by-side that cost $X per pint, $Y per quart, and $Z per ounce. It's not easy to compare these prices because the unit conversions are not simple to do in your head.

  • by Clueless Moron ( 548336 ) on Monday January 07, 2013 @05:35PM (#42510415)

    You missed the whole point. "E=mc^2" works in metric because the units are coherent. Use the SI base units (kg, m, s) and everything works out. If you use old stuff like slugs or pound-force for mass and btu for energy, you're going to need some arbitrary conversion factor in the equation depending on which particular units you used.

    The "10" business is a very small part of it; that's just to make it easier to do the math when you scale stuff. What DOES matter is that the unit of Force (for example) is exactly related to the base units: F=ma, so the base units are kg*m/s^2, and that is how you define the Newton.

    In the bad old days you had to decide what units "mass" was (slugs? oz? lb? tons?) and then acceleration (ft/s? yards/s? inches/s?) and in the end you end up with some funny conversion factor depending on what you want "Force" to be in. So instead of "F=ma" you end up with "F=kma", where "F" is "poundforce", "m" is "oz", "a" is "ft/s" and "k" is some stupid conversion factor just to make the numbers work out with the units you happened to choose. And so you'll get a different conversion factor depending on which particular units you chose for mass and acceleration. Ouch.

    "Slugs" are in fact the old unit of mass created to try to sort out this idiotic mess for mass, but hardly any Imperial fanatics even seem to be aware of it. In the end it was best to throw out all that garbage and realize that you only need three basic measurements: mass, distance, time. Everything else can be derived from that through physics equations. And so SI was born: "kg, m, s". Everything else is a derived unit, and so no conversion factor is EVER necessary. The multiple of 10 stuff is just to make it easy to scale numbers, and you can scale the meter down as tiny as measuring atoms to as big as measuring galaxies, but it's still just a meter with a prefix for an exponent.

You can measure a programmer's perspective by noting his attitude on the continuing viability of FORTRAN. -- Alan Perlis