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Let's Go Metric!

The USA is just about the only country left in the world that sturdily keeps rejecting the metric system
but does it?

The only other country I've been in, recently, that still used inches and all those other crazy units was Jamaica.
Talk about being backward—no offense. Anyway, officially Jamaica uses the metric system.
Well, as will happen sometimes, the democratic God's Own Country government has been fooling you.
It's for your own good! but those guys in Washington still may have a point.
The only countries in the world not using the metric system are the USA, Liberia and Myanmar (AKA Burma).




The first time I encountered this hard-to-fathom resistance was in The Whole Earth Catalog. They made out like it was an evil government plot, meant to disrupt the good old American way of life. Inches were so much easier and humanized. Or so they claimed, and still claim. Very hard to follow; really seemed to mean it, too... No twinkles in the eyes, no tongues in cheeks. I am not getting into the pros and cons of all that, and don't need to, either; eventually, even Jack Ass will get the idea. By the way, you know why a foot is that size? Because Henry VIII claimed that was his shoe size. Really. The guy was almost dwarfish (but not what you'd call funny) enough to serve as his own court jester. A French foot is even longer!
Wise up, kids! Your cars, not only those evil yellow dwarfs from the East made in Detroit, have been metric for longer than you have may been around. You just don't know. What do you know? Your airplanes have been built metric long since, as well. Much to the regret of all their colleagues in the rest of the world, your pilots still have the quaint habit of stating their altitude in feet, so their aircraft instruments do the same thing. That their speed is in nautical miles/knots is more excusable; this has to do with navigation where 1 minute equals... but that's neither here nor there. Even so, this has been the cause of many a navigational fuck-up, like in Ernest K. Gann's The High and the Mighty.
(It's all the Babylonians' fault, really—if you want to know how, better check it out here).
All this is more about what funny things are occurring while the metric system is are, slowly but surely, millimeter by fraction of an inch, worming its filthy backhanded ways into the Great, inexorably crumbling Inch (Is-This-a-System?) Civilizations. Thus causing confusion galore, with somebody on some search engine, December 1997, even searching for "another name for metric foot".

Inch to Metric
In the 1960s, Kodak (since long before a staunch supporter of the metric system)
started listing their photographic paper sizes in centimeters.
The funny result, all over the world, was that the metric sizes disappeared

Inch sizeMetric size
New size
 4 x   5  9 x 1210.2 x 12.7
 5 x   713 x 1812.7 x 17.8
 8 x 1018 x 2420.5 x 25.4

Uncle Podger
He wanted half thirty-one and three-eights inches from the corner and would try to do it in his head, and go mad.
And we would all try to do it in our heads, and all arrive at different results, and sneer at one another.

Jerome K. Jerome - Three Men in a Boat [not Goat]!


Rocket Scientists
The Mars Climate Orbiter (formerly the Mars Surveyor '98 Orbiter) was one of two NASA spacecraft in the Mars Surveyor '98 program. It was intended to enter orbit at an altitude of 140.5-150 km above Mars. However, a navigation error caused the spacecraft to reach as low as 57 km (190,000 ft) where it was destroyed by atmospheric stresses and friction. The navigation error arose because the contractors for craft's thrusters did not use SI units to express their performance.
From Wikipedia: The metric/imperial mix-up
The metric/imperial mix-up that destroyed the craft was caused by a human error in the software development, back on Earth[1]. The thrusters on the spacecraft, which were intended to control its rate of rotation, were controlled by a computer that underestimated the effect of the thrusters by a factor of 4.45. This is the ratio between a pound force (the standard unit of force in the imperial system) and a newton (the standard unit in the metric system). The software was working in pounds force, while the spacecraft expected figures in newtons; 1 pound force equals approximately 4.45 newtons.
The software had been adapted from use on the earlier Mars Global Surveyor, and was not adequately tested before launch. The navigation data provided by this software was also not cross-checked while in flight. The Mars Climate Orbiter thus drifted off course during its voyage and entered a much lower orbit than planned, and was destroyed by atmospheric friction.
Multiple calculations which indicated that the probe was off course were ignored.



Road Signs
Under this heading come many more mistakes; essentially they're all the same, a factor 10x off.
Near my brother's place in Vancouver, BC (Canada) they put up a sign Next Exit 415 km.
Obviously, meant was 415 meters, but it took three months to replace that sign—hopefully with 400 m.



Translations
It used to be so that in English translations they always figured three feet to a meter, so all metric measurements invariably came out some 10% too small in feet. When, later on, translators started using calculators it grew much worse. Like 'His length was about 6 feet' came out 'about 1830 millimeters'. Writers who, for the good of the cause, decided to go metric wrote down things like 'approximately 177.8mm' for 'about 7"'. Not to mention 'the table was about 1 Ft. high with a diameter of 914.4 millimeters.'
Dragons abound. In Ed McBain's The Heckler some guy has to make a bomb, for some reason, you know how those needs come up. For the time delay, he has concentrated vitriolic acid eat through a layer of cork. It takes 4 hours to burn a 1/40th" layer of cork. Now, that's pretty thin, so McBain explains how you have to cut this thickness very carefully, because QUOTE a variation of millimeters UNQUOTE may result in the damn thing untimely blowing up in your face. Well, 1/40" (or .025") equals 0.635mm, so we're discussing micrometers (µm) here. To give you poor Yanks an idea, that's 5 to 10 paper sheets, depending. And cork is a notoriously irregularly-built material... I'd hate to walk around with a home-made bomb like that, wouldn't you?



Pounds
Like gallons, another headache. However, not so many funny mistakes are made here, except when someone states a kilogram weight in grams, and much too accurately, as you'd expect by now. The pitfall here lies in differences between English and US measurements, which in other units like inches and feet at least didn't occur. At least, not by the time the English went metric.
In W.W.II occupation by the Germans, the Dutch measurements of ons [ounce, only it's 100 grams] and pond [a 500 gram pound] were abolished. They are still officially forbidden, but in general popular use. So, every once in a while some butcher who has the temerity to use them on his price list gets fined. Maybe by a cop who for some reason doesn't like him? It's a thought.



Heroic Precision
INHABITANTS of the Lateu settlement on Tegua Island in Vanuatu, Steve Shinners read in The Australian last month, started dismantling their wooden homes in August and moved about 548.64 metres inland. We can only admire their dedication to precision in the face of global-warming-induced adversity. (New Scientist).
(548.64m = 600 yards)



Airliner Crashes
On July 23, 1983, an [airplane] left Ottawa with inoperative fuel gauges and 22,600 pounds of fuel in the tanks. The pilots thought they had 22,600 kilos. Less than halfway to their destination, they suffered a to-them totally mysterious power loss. [...] 'The man who checked the fuel on the 767, our first metric airplane, didn't appreciate that a litre of fuel weighs 0.8 kilo. He multiplied litres by 1.77, expecting to get the fuel weights in kilos when it gave him, in fact, pounds.'
Stephen Barley, The Final Call - Why Airline Disasters Continue to Happen



Fahrenheit/Celsius
This is a real scream. First, let's get rid of that stupid Centigrade name: Celsius devised it and honored be his name. Here again, it's incomprehensible why the anti-metric freaks would defend their precious Fahrenheit. It's supposedly more human, because the 100 degree point is supposed to be the human body temperature—only, it isn't. Not to mention the zero point which could be anywhere.
When conversing temperatures from F to C you use the formula 5/9*(F-32)=C. Problem is, when you apply this to convert a temperature difference from one system to the other it won't work at all, but who cares or even knows? You can even get a temperature difference that's negative, like -9º—huh? Took me a while to figure that one out the first time I ran across it.




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