Wednesday, May 24, 2006

How timely...

How timely.  I just wrote about how I cannot see the US adopting the metric system in my lifetime and here I see that the UK might be the same way.  

Old habits are hard to break.  I still wonder why all of our bulk soda is sold in 2 liter bottles though.  Seems strange, we buy milk by the gallon, beer by the ounce, but wine and soda by the liter.

I thought this was a nice insight.  Don’t make something better – make something different.  


Blogger Bill S. said....

Ah, but sometimes different isn't good enough. Witness IBM's foray into the OS market with OS/2 Warp. Could have been a contender, except they spent so much effort into making it "not Windows" that they missed the whole target. Sometimes better is actually.....well, better. :-D

Wed May 24, 08:14:00 AM EDT  

Blogger Tim... said....

That's wierd. People were getting prosecuted in the UK for selling fruit and veg in pounds and ounces years ago.

It was when they first switched the price tags over in the supermarkets. Most now have the metric stuff in big writing and the imperial stuff in small print!

Perhaps they will have to get rid of the smallprint in 2010...



Wed May 24, 08:39:00 AM EDT  

Anonymous Andy C said....

Weird. I just bought 2 pounds of apples from that market trader. Then he had the cheek to refuse to take my 3 shillings and sixpence as payment. Luddite !

Wed May 24, 09:16:00 AM EDT  

Blogger Laurent Schneider said....

wine is typically in a 0.7 or 0.75 bottle, eventually in multiple of a bottle from a quarter of a bottle (0.187L) to 24 bottles (a melchior, 18L). But 1 liter and 1/2 liter usually means cheap wine ;-)

Wed May 24, 09:45:00 AM EDT  

Blogger David Aldridge said....

Back in my student days we were very grateful for metric units. Every now and then you'd come across a US textbook on aerodynamics and have to wrap your head around pounds per square inch, slugs per cubic feet, and nonsense like that. Unit conversions were an irritating distraction from the real business.

Apparantly the problems continue -- I recall that a mission to mars was destroyed by a confusion between contractors over whether altitude was being transmitted in feet or metres. Doh!

Wed May 24, 10:19:00 AM EDT  

Anonymous Anonymous said....

ah the mars mission. A classic example.

Wed May 24, 10:43:00 AM EDT  

Anonymous Anonymous said....

> Back in my student days we were
> very grateful for metric units.
> Every now and then you'd come
> across a US textbook on
> aerodynamics and have to wrap
> your head around pounds per square
> inch, slugs per cubic feet, and
> nonsense like that. Unit conversions
> were an irritating distraction from
> the real business.

I felt that way too as an engineering student. Then I got my first manufacturing job in a plant whose construction started in 1915.

Since that time, I have come to value diversity for its own sake as much, or more, than consistency. The most dynamic and interesting ecological enviroments are edges (e.g. the edge of woods/prairie) where different systems interact. The Metric Committee had an interesting idea, but I am no longer as certain as I was in 1975 that it was an optimal idea.


Wed May 24, 11:11:00 AM EDT  

Anonymous Gary S said....

Often, discussion of old ways of doing things seem to lead in the direction of "My goodness those old people had it rough."

Here is a link that describes some aspects of the English system of lineal and area measurement in its own terms. I think the main emphasis is on numbers that are easy to do calculations with once you have memorized some of the numeric relationships within the system, which would be passed down as part of the trade if one were apprenticed as a surveyor for instance. The link:

The author does get a little precious toward the end when he ribs the metric system for defining the length of the meter in terms of wavelengths of light emitted from a cesium atom. 1: the English system uses the same wavelength of light to define an inch 2: This mode of defining units of length was introduced recently (within the last 50 years, I think). The meter was originally defines as one ten-millionth of the distance from the north pole to the equator.

Wed May 24, 12:05:00 PM EDT  

Anonymous Paul said....

Tom - I think you're a bit out of touch with what's actually going over her in the UK. Perhaps you should spend more time with us.

Wed May 24, 12:48:00 PM EDT  

Blogger Niall said....

another entirely luddite reason I like imperial measurements. We sold a house back in 2000. The estate agent (or realtor if you insist) had "digital tape measures". This meant that when the details came back they had measured each room and described them as, for example, 5.4864 metres by 3.9624 metres. Helpfully the small print did mention that all measurements were approximate and should not be relied on for , for example, fitting carpets. This department of spurious accuracy stuff never happened when everything was in feet and inches (or indeed spans and cubits).

Wed May 24, 03:50:00 PM EDT  

Blogger jimk said....

The whole Mars fiasco was because NASA didn't convert the units. Lockheed Martin is mainly a Department of Defense contractor and everything is in English units. (also defined in their agreement with NASA on how they were going to transmit data to NASA)

DOD drops 2000 pound bombs not 909KG bombs.

Part of the problem is that people are so used to relying on computers for the answer that they don't know what the answer is approximately. (big difference between 32 and 9.8 as in 32 ft/sec^2 vs 9.8 m/sec^2

Wed May 24, 07:23:00 PM EDT  

Blogger Noons said....

The whole question of imperial versus metric is just another anacronysm that has lingered on and on. About time someone takes a position and imposes one system for all. For once the EEC developed some guts!

Metric at least has the merit of being based on science rather than the length or weight of various appendages of long dead and mostly irrelevant people.

Never understood how a country like the USA who claims to be an advanced society, has let this backward system linger on and on.

At least in the case of the UK, they'll simply be forced to change and that's it, end of story. If only the entire world did the same to the US things might finally become saner...

Please, no "hate replies": I don't give a toss which system is in place PROVIDED everyone uses the same.

Wed May 24, 10:30:00 PM EDT  

Blogger Kurt Graustein said....

On the topic of "better vs different", it seems that your reference a couple days ago to Pirsig's "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" has something to say to the contrary:

"What's new?" is an interesting and broadening eternal question, but one which, if pursued exclusively, results only in an endless parade of trivia and fashion, the silt of tomorrow. I would like, instead, to be concerned with the question "What is best?," a question which cuts deeply rather than broadly, a question whose answers tend to move the silt downstream.

Perhaps I'm applying it in totally the wrong context (I just started reading it today), but his argument is that better might be better.

Thu May 25, 12:43:00 AM EDT  

Blogger Thomas Kyte said....

Kurt -

I'm not sure they are contrary at all.

On one hand, you have "puruit of the best", on the other hand you have "how do you change the game - take it to a new level"

Taking it to the next level might not be better - but it could result in a much "better better" (perhaps in a different area alltogether) than just incrementally making something a tiny bit 'better'

Thu May 25, 06:27:00 AM EDT  

Anonymous Anonymous said....

estate agent (or realtor if you insist)
I insist you be proper and correct using the term realtor.

word verification: gypsiym

Thu May 25, 09:47:00 AM EDT  

Anonymous Anonymous said....

> Never understood how a country like
> the USA who claims to be an advanced
> society, has let this backward
> system linger on and on.

Perhaps part of my thinking on this subject is the result of having been under the lash of highly-compensated "business process reengineering" and "change management" consultants several times over the last 20 years. Can organizations clog up to the point where change must be forced on them? Certainly. What is the track record of those consultants? In my experience 25% success, 25% neutral, and 50% destruction of the organization they contracted to "improve". Of course, they get paid up front.

With that kind of track record I am no longer so hell-bent to change things for the sake of consistency or theory as I was in my 20s.


Fri May 26, 10:18:00 AM EDT  

Anonymous Mark from NY said....

About "different"...

Several years ago (maybe late 90s...definitely before iPod came along) Apple had a "Think Different" ad campaign. Each ad would show a picture of some great guy in relatively recent (I think they were all recent, anyway) history: Einstein and Ghandi were among them... Sure these were great guys, but "different" in and of itself is not what made them great people. Different in and of itself is not necessarily a good thing. And while I hate referencing Hitler in arguments, they might as well have shown him in one of their ads...or Mao Zedong... You get the idea.

Kind of made me feel like Apple didn't have anything good to say about their products, just, "Don't conform to the mainstream, man. Buy a Mac and be different, man. Einstein was different. So was Ghandi."

Now that iPods are mainstream, I'd love to see an MP3 player marketed with the same slogan...

Fri May 26, 10:35:00 AM EDT  


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