Archonix on September 30, 2010, 04:32:19 am
Now forgive me if this comes across as odd or exoteric, though I am at least trying to relate it to the comic.

I find it odd that metric units are the dominant measuring system in the future envisioned here. Or even the present, but that's another rant. Obviously a liberterian or anarcho-capitalist would be at liberty to use any system of measurement he cared to but, still, I do find it odd that metric would be used. It's actually very restrictive, providing fewer factors for its major units, and is no more accurate than alternatives (false precision behind the decimal point notwithstanding). The emtric system was originally designed to replace the existing units, not because it was better than what came before, but merely because it was newer. Originally metres, centimetres and so on were meant to be accompanied by a 400 degree circle and a ten hour per day, ten day week. There was no logical explanation for why this was so, except that it was easier to divide by ten on your fingers. A 400 degree circle offers fewer factors and doesn't divide up nicely the way a 360 degree circle does.

But so far I'm just rambling without any particular rational basis. After all, metric is consistent isn't it? Everything fits quite well together. Though, the metre turns out to be slightly off its supposed measurement of one 10-thousandth of the distance between the equator and the north pole, and there are still inconsistencies on how units are written... and so on.

However, when you consider the history of English measurements, pre-metric measurements, the change to metric begins to make less sense. The claim is that the foot, for example, is based on some old king's foot and that metric replaced with with a rational and scientific measurement. Of course that's bunk: who has a 12 inch foot? Even with shoes it's somewhat rare, especially the shoes that were worn in ancient times. And it bothered me that anyone who believes in individual liberty would be so keen to use a system of measures designed deliberately to divorce people from the past and re-order their lives along "rational" and "scientific" principles - at the same time reducing their freedom in little ways - as part of a broader thrust to re-organise society along those same "rational" and "Scientific" principles in order to make the state total and the individual nothing.

Then I stumbled across a couple of pages and my life was transformed. Literally. Rather than claim that old measures are ad-hoc and derived to suit the need it becomes clear that they are entirely rational, more rational than metric in fact, when you realise that the length of a foot has been consistent over thousands of years, and that all english measures can be derived with just a little bit of astronomical knowledge.

Suddenly they make a hell of a lot more sense. The second link demonstrates how consistent the units are together once you realise their source.

But feel free to go on doing whatever you do. That's rather then point, I suppose... And apologies if this has to be moved. It seemed suitable given the subject matter and I thought the surrounding issues might foment a little debate.

Karadan on September 30, 2010, 10:26:31 am
I find it odd that metric isn't used in America, like it is everywhere else in the world.

I really don't see how a 400 degree circle doesn't divide up as well as a 360 degree circle.  90 becomes 100, 45 becomes 50, 180 becomes 200.  The only one that comes out poorly is an equilateral triangle, as 1/3rd of 400 doesn't come out to anything pretty.  But, I hardly see what 'things that were considered but not implemented' really has to do with the validity of the system as a whole.  I'm sure the US had plenty of things that were considered but not implemented, but that doesn't detract from the US.  Same with any other country.  Same with any organization.

As for the equator to the north pole, of course it is off.  There are two reasons for this.  The first is that all (non-counting) measurements ever are off.  The second is that the distance between the equator and the north pole changes, the earth is not a static thing after all.

So, the basis for the foot not being based on an actual foot is that people with that shoe size are somewhat uncommon?  I have a 12" foot.  My uncle has over a 13" foot.  My grandfather has somewhere in the same range.  I hardly think "feet that big are rare" is a valid argument.  English measurements are notorious for being based on inconsistent things.  A foot is (supposedly) based on an actual foot.  A hand is based on an actual hand.  A furlong (I believe that is the right measurement) is based on 'how far an archer can shoot an arrow'.  Thumbs (inches) were based on, you guessed it, a thumb.

Now, that's not to say that the measurements aren't standardized now, but the point is that the system was very ad-hock in how it was created.  There are 12 inches in a foot, 3 feet in a yard, and 1760 yards in a mile.  This makes dealing with the system difficult.  Both are equally accurate, but, good luck trying to do any math with those units.

Now, I really really really really don't see this connection between metric and a totalitarian state that you're making.  There is no connection of history with the Empirical  system.  The 'foot' was different for different countries (Part of the reason everyone thinks that napoleon is short, his height was incorrectly converted), and was constantly changing.  I don't feel any sort of 'historical connection' when I use the foot, I don't feel any sort of 'totalitarian oppression' when I use a meter.  Instead I feel annoyance at the ad-hockness of foot->yard->mile.

I do admit the articles were fairly interesting, haven't had a chance to read through them entirely, but some interesting stuff there.  Especially dealing with how the foot and yard came to be.

Still, the fact that the foot and yard may have been created based on sound principles, is rather irrelevant.  What matters is its current usability.  Metric is infinitely easier to work with where science is concerned, and considerably easier to use in day to day life.  Any idea how many square feet are in a square yard?  What about a square mile?  Or an acre?  Well, sit down for a couple minutes with some paper and you can figure it out.  How many square meters in a square kilometer?  No problem, 1000^2 = 1,000,000.  That took all of a second or two.  Similarly, how many cubic feet in a gallon?  Well, go look up some obscure conversions and you may eventually figure it out.  How many cubic cm are in a ml?  Hey, 1, done.

I think it is this utility that would make it likely to be used in the future.  The people of EFT seem to use science far more than the normal American.  They need to be able to convert from cubic cm to ml to newtons to joules easily.  They don't want to have to look up numbers (or remember obscure conversions) every time they need to do math.

SandySandfort on September 30, 2010, 11:13:03 am
... it bothered me that anyone who believes in individual liberty would be so keen to use a system of measures designed deliberately to divorce people from the past and re-order their lives along "rational" and "scientific" principles - at the same time reducing their freedom in little ways - as part of a broader thrust to re-organise society along those same "rational" and "Scientific" principles in order to make the state total and the individual nothing.

First, this has nothing to do with individual liberty. Today, and in the future Belt, you can use whatever system of measurement you damn well please. If you want to say that your car is traveling at 161,280 furlong per fortnight, be my guest. While you are at it, feel free to invent your own language. However, if you want to communicate with others, pick a common language and an unambiguous* system of measurements.

Now here's  little test for those who believe that English measures are "easier." Without looking it up or using a calculator, you have 30 second to answer each of the following questions. The first one is a gimme:

1. How many feet in a mile?
2. How many inches in a mile?
3. How many teaspoons in a US gallon? Imperial gallon?
4. How many ounces in a short ton? Long ton?
5. How many square inches in an acre?
6. How much does an (liquid) ounce of water weigh? A cubic inch of water?

a. How many meters in a kilometer?
b. How many centimeters in a kilometer?
c. How many milliliters in a liter?
d. How many grams in a tonne?
e. How many square centimeters in a hectare?
f.  How much does a cubic centimeter of water weigh?

* In the English system, how many different "ounces" are there? I count 3, but there could be more. How many different "ton" are there? I count about 5. And what's up with "stones"?

macsnafu on September 30, 2010, 11:25:04 am
In many things, metric makes more sense--like with volumes.  Why the heck is there a "pint", and how many of them go into a "quart" or gallon?  In some things, it would simply be different, but just as easy once you get used to it. 

The big problem with the metric system is in the conversion process--converting is always difficult, no matter how much payoff will result.  The big success story with metric in the U.S. is the 2-liter pop bottle, although juices and other drinks still tend to be in ounces and quarts. 
I love mankind.  It's PEOPLE I can't stand!  - Linus Van Pelt.

Flinn on September 30, 2010, 12:18:17 pm
I've noticed that the American Military makes use of the metric system; klicks (kilometres) and calibers of various weaponry, such as 5.56mm M16 rounds, 7.62mm AK47, 20/30mm Gatling-style weapons. Though that might just be because of general world-wide usage of such terms, as there is the .50 cal BMG round for machine guns/sniper rifles and others.

J Thomas on September 30, 2010, 12:25:51 pm
I really don't see how a 400 degree circle doesn't divide up as well as a 360 degree circle.  90 becomes 100, 45 becomes 50, 180 becomes 200.  The only one that comes out poorly is an equilateral triangle, as 1/3rd of 400 doesn't come out to anything pretty.

If you want to divide in your head, 12 or 144 or 360 are better units than 10 100 1000. You can divide 360 evenly by 2, by 3, by 4, by 5, by 6, by 8, by 9, by 10, by 12, 15, by 18, by 20, etc.

You can divide 1000 evenly by 2, by 4, by 5, by 8, by 10, by 20, by 25,  not as good.

But if you use a calculator, it doesn't matter except it's easier on the calculator if everything is the same base. However, if there was a market it wouldn't take much to get BCD calculators that generalise to binary-coded trinary, binary-coded duodecimal, etc. Or you enter a base and it displays everything in that base until you change it.

Once it isn't people doing their own math in their heads, it doesn't matter much at all.

A 400-degree circle isn't good for triangles but it's fine for pentagons. Triangles are important, though. It might be worth an extra effort to avoid rounding error in the sum of their angles.

Quote
The people of EFT seem to use science far more than the normal American.  They need to be able to convert from cubic cm to ml to newtons to joules easily.  They don't want to have to look up numbers (or remember obscure conversions) every time they need to do math.

If they have computing power easily available, then the advantages of anything-but-decimal are much smaller than otherwise. And unless they're majority from USA, why would they switch to our units?

Archonix on September 30, 2010, 01:26:45 pm
.

Now, that's not to say that the measurements aren't standardized now, but the point is that the system was very ad-hock in how it was created.  There are 12 inches in a foot, 3 feet in a yard, and 1760 yards in a mile.  This makes dealing with the system difficult.  Both are equally accurate, but, good luck trying to do any math with those units.

Well that's just it, they weren't created in an ad-hoc way, the basic measurements (yard, inch, foot) were derived by the use of the motion of the stars and a time standard.

I pointed out that the metre is slightly off; a 1 yard pendulum gives a very exact 2 second swing. If the meter had been precisely x percent of the distance etc it would not produce a 2 second swing, but the fudged length is close enough to a yard to produce almost the same time period, give of take a few thousandth of a second.

The problem is that time has not been kind. Citing the mile as an example, it was originally 5000 feet long 6 furlongs), but was changed by Elizabeth the 1st to make it match up to some other distance (state inteference screwing things up for the little guy anyone?). Some English measures are derived from the land, such as the furlong (the length of a furrow in a field, which is quite handy to know in an agrarian society) but they aren't what I was originally considering. Without a body to protect the standards, of course ad-hoc additions can and will creep in, but that doesn't detract from the basic merits of what they started with.

The fact that the French used a short foot doesn't mean much when you recall that the ancient greek and egyptian foot measures are almost precisely the same as the English foot. Most societies used a similar measurement, of a similar length, over most of recorded history. Aberrations may creep in but they are the exceptions, not the rule, and merely prove the staying power of these basic measurements. All the rest, I agree it seems very odd and unworkable but that doesn't change the fact that the claims that metric is better are based on a misunderstanding of what the old units actually were. What they weren't was things like teaspoons and jugs and crap like that: they were the inch, the foot and the yard. In comparison to the metre they are far more flexible and far more useful.

Quote
Now, I really really really really don't see this connection between metric and a totalitarian state that you're making.  There is no connection of history with the Empirical  system.

The Metric system was designed by the revolutionary French as part of their new society. The French revolution grew out of a desire to completely remake man and society around new "scientific" principles; the metric system was part and parcel of that. The fact that it's still used now is merely a testament to the inertia of state-sponsored ideas that have been allowed to set their roots down.

Quote
Still, the fact that the foot and yard may have been created based on sound principles, is rather irrelevant.  What matters is its current usability.  Metric is infinitely easier to work with where science is concerned, and considerably easier to use in day to day life.

Dividing by ten is superficially easier but provides much less flexibility. it's all about factors. Taking the basic English units of the yard, foot and inch (which are not derived from body parts despite the mythology) and ignore all the subsequent historical additions; the second; and the 360 degree circle and you have an eminently workable system of measurements you can standardise on, with more factors than just 2 and 5 to work with, and consequently much easier divisions into useful pieces.

Or, at least, they're workable for me as I find it a lot easier to work in fractions than decimals. The fact that they're derived from an astronomical standard just makes it easier for me to feel smug about it. :)

quadibloc on September 30, 2010, 05:04:05 pm
First, this has nothing to do with individual liberty.
In Canada, the government certainly did impose the metric system in a heavy-handed way that caused many individuals financial losses, despite there being little public enthusiasm for the move.

But it is true that the metric system is superior in one important way - because everything is measured in the same units, whether small or large, it is instantly possible to compare the size of a book to the distance to the Moon. No multiplying by the number of inches in a foot and the number of feet in a mile.

Thus, even in the United States, while customary measures may be the units of everyday life, the metric system is what scientists use to avoid adding needless complications to their daily work. In the Belt, science and engineering will play a bigger role in everyday life than they do in many places on Earth today.

It wouldn't surprise me at all, though, if in a free society like that pictured in this comic, people would use metric at work, and yet buy groceries by the pound, cloth by the yard, and beer by the quart, if that's what they're used to.

WorBlux on September 30, 2010, 09:56:02 pm


Now here's  little test for those who believe that English measures are "easier." Without looking it up or using a calculator, you have 30 second to answer each of the following questions. The first one is a gimme:

1. How many feet in a mile?
2. How many inches in a mile?
3. How many teaspoons in a US gallon? Imperial gallon?
4. How many ounces in a short ton? Long ton?
5. How many square inches in an acre?
6. How much does an (liquid) ounce of water weigh? A cubic inch of water?

a. How many meters in a kilometer?
b. How many centimeters in a kilometer?
c. How many milliliters in a liter?
d. How many grams in a tonne?
e. How many square centimeters in a hectare?
f.  How much does a cubic centimeter of water weigh?

* In the English system, how many different "ounces" are there? I count 3, but there could be more. How many different "ton" are there? I count about 5. And what's up with "stones"?



I think there is something to be said about significant digits.  Sure it may be fun and a good test of basic math to know how many grams in a ton, or inches in a mile.  Once you get beyond a fathom or two, you really stop caring about the number of inches.  We use about 2 digits in everyday use, 3 or 4 in most industries and research, and only use 5 or more in very high tech manufacturing or in physics research. And 2 digits is about all that can be intuitively understood.


Imperial units were developed with the human scale in mind.   After about 100 inches it's easy to switch to feet and fractions thereof and after about 100 feet you can switch to yards, which is intuitively understandable and more accurate than truncating a column We have a much better intuitive grasp of halves, thirds, and quarters than of tenths.

SI is great if you want to be logical and methodical, Imperial is just fine if you want to go about your life.
« Last Edit: September 30, 2010, 09:59:19 pm by WorBlux »

wdg3rd on October 01, 2010, 12:10:26 am
As Neil pointed out some years back, if you miss a decimal point (or almost anything else) doing "English" arithmetic, you'll notice immediately.  Multiplying metric numbers and slipping a decimal point, you won't know until it's too late, especially if there have been conversions.  As has been demonstrated a couple of times by the American Statist Space Authority, officially metric but inclined to screw up, badly.
Ward Griffiths        wdg3rd@aol.com

Men will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.  --  Denis Diderot

Scott on October 01, 2010, 10:42:41 am
The way I look at it, it's a matter of what for Belter culture is historical precedent.

In the present day, most of the world, except for the United States, uses metric, whether we like it or not. A United World government would almost certainly impose metric on recalcitrant hold-outs. Astronauts from all nations in the present day use metric, and problems caused by conversions between metric and Imperial are likely to be resolved by eliminating Imperial. So, by 2097, when our strip begins, metric is what people everywhere know, and the Imperial system is considered archaic, to the extent people know about it at all. The majority of Belters and Martians, by the way, do not hail from the old United States -- they come from scores of different nations, most of which have used metric for going on two centuries.

By the way, a meter isn't much more than a yard; if you divide a meter by 3, you have something close to a foot; if you divide a meter by 40, you have something close to an inch. A litre is pretty close to a quart. It's possible that eventually off-Terra cultures will come up with informal measuring units which are derived from metric but are more suitable for daily-life uses.

Roland on October 05, 2010, 02:56:15 am
Another great advantage of the metric system is the international standartisation of measuring. In this context it is not important which system, but THAT a system was picked.
U.S. people tend to have the image of being self-absorbed around here, so it may not be a matter of importance to them. But  in Europe, and very expecially here in Germany, which was divided into hundreds of independent kingdoms, duchies and arch-baronies before the Kaiserreich, it was a matter of commercial success as well as scientific progress.
Imagine to try to install a railroad between berlin and munich when you have to cross dozends of territorial borders, each petty country with its own time zone! The result would have been a time schedule of lovecraftian proportions.
Or try to buy grains on the international market. Lets say the offer is made  per ton. How much weight is it, now, when there are dozends of different tons? Or maybe this time it even means volume tons, for it's not uncommon to use that for loads? No problem with metric tons, sir!
But it had to be the metric system, not despite, but BECAUSE it was an artificial system. No-one would have agreed to use an other traditional system but the own one. This metric system, now, clean and shiny and all-new, that was another thing. Its french revolution origin surely helped, because it had the odeur of progress and reason, plus it was french, wich meant "international pop culture" those days.

Seems to me there is no future but metric in a culture of international origin like the belters' one.

terry_freeman on October 05, 2010, 04:45:34 am
Since you mention time zones, it is fair to say that railroads voluntarily chose to adopt uniform time zones, instead of the local time in each of hundreds of different cities and towns along the way.

As for metric, it might win out. As an American, I am more comfortable with foot-pound-second for daily use, but if ever I should need to deal with orbital mechanics, kilometers would be easier to work with than miles; metric units match scientific notation well.

That said, I wish the French had been bold enough to adopt base 12 or base 60. There is no reason why the number of fingers should be the sole determinant of one's preferred number base.

quadibloc on October 05, 2010, 06:06:10 am
That said, I wish the French had been bold enough to adopt base 12 or base 60. There is no reason why the number of fingers should be the sole determinant of one's preferred number base.
It is true that numbers like 12, 60, and 72 turn up quite a bit in measurement systems. It is convenient to be able to divide things into various numbers of equal parts without having to resort to fractions - or, perhaps more to the point, repeating decimals.

Given, however, that our names for numbers are derived from base 10, as are both Roman and Arabic numerals, had the French been so bold, the metric system would just have sunk without a trace, like the French revolutionary calendar. By conforming to our pre-existing system for dealing with number, the virtue of the metric system was obvious: it made measure conform to number, making arithmetic with measures simple and automatic.

However, the virtue of dividing things into thirds and quarters easily was recognized to the extent that the metric system used the second, rather than, say, the milliday, as its unit of time. I suppose one could have a second metric system, in which the unit of weight is 864 grams or 27 grams, and the unit of length is 864 millimeters or 27 centimeters - so that anything measured out in the second metric system could be divided into thirds in the first one. But the consistent scaling would break down if one tried to find the equivalents of Newtons and Joules and Ohms in such a system. But no one tries to build derived units from the day instead of the second... so one could, I suppose, have supplemental "everyday" units of length and weight.

A pound is 453.69 grams, and an inch 2.54 centimeters. What if a "metric pound" were 453.6 grams... equal to 81 times 7 times 0.8 grams? Or if a "metric inch" were 2.52 centimeters, equal to 9 times 7 times 0.04 centimeters? That's probably too crazy an idea, even if it fits with the precedent of the relation between the day and the second.

Roland on October 09, 2010, 04:54:53 am
Quote
Since you mention time zones, it is fair to say that railroads voluntarily chose to adopt uniform time zones, instead of the local time in each of hundreds of different cities and towns along the way.

Yep. Precisely. And that was a big step towards unity.

 

anything