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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Location
    Tucson, AZ
    Posts
    9,942

    Default Everything Just Got a (Tiny) Bit Farther Away

    One of the problems (but just one) with using the Imperial or 'English' system of measurements rather than the metric system like most of the rest of the world, is that the units of the Imperial system are so poorly defined.

    The value of a pound, for example, differed throughout history, at one point being defined as the weight of 9,600 wheat grains. It ranged anywhere from 350 to about 465 grams. Even more confusingly, the pound is both a unit of mass and a unit of force, two entirely different things.

    Similarly, the foot was literally, if randomly, defined as the length of a king's foot, and also varied with both place and time (and monarch), ranging anywhere from 295 to 340 mm.

    Then there's the fact that there are, even today, different meanings to the same term such as a 'long' ton, a 'short' ton, and a tonne - all different.

    So... Today comes the news that the U.S. is officially changing from the 'U.S. Survey Foot' to the 'International Foot'. The International foot is about 1/8th of an inch shorter than the US foot, meaning that the U.S. just got 28.3 'feet' wider. We'll need to adjust driving distances and times accordingly, i.e. not at all.

    AZBuck

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jan 1998
    Location
    Las Vegas, Nevada
    Posts
    10,475

    Default It could affect thousands of real estate transactions

    That is a bit of geographic trivia that is quite surprising. You'd think that such a change would mess with millions of legal descriptions in this country.

    I wonder why it was worth it to even make this change?

    Mark

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    Location
    South of England.
    Posts
    11,532

    Default

    Hmm. I wonder if you will adopt a 'proper' gallon next ! ;-)

    Dave.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Location
    Tucson, AZ
    Posts
    9,942

    Default Inertia, Tradition, and Need (or Lack Thereof)

    Mark, what most people don't realize is just how isolated humanity was until relatively recently in our history. One might know one's own village, maybe also know a couple of other nearby villages, and maybe, just maybe, know who one's monarch was, but that was about it. Travel beyond a few miles/kilometers was uncommon and commerce was also carried out mostly at a local level. The need for standardized units of measure simply didn't exist nor did the means of enforcing them. Thus the multiplicity of measures.

    Case in point: Think about time. Even well into the 19th century there was simply no need for standard time, and most localities set their 'watches' to local solar time as told by a sundial. Only at sea did the need for an accurate timepiece become necessary, and then only to solve the 'longitude problem'. It wasn't until the coming of the railroads that there was a general need for standardized time. Indeed, it was the railroads, not any government entity, that set up standard time zones in North America, and then only so the trains could run 'on time'. That wasn't until 1883, less than 140 years ago.

    Similarly, weights and measures were adopted on an as needed basis, and there really wasn't much need. Not until the Industrial Revolution, international trade, and long-term contracts was there any need for an agreed upon system. Since the British Empire was dominant in a large part of the world, their system became the de facto norm. But as science called for more and more precision and relatively simple conversion factors, the system that said there were 320 rods per mile, 16 ounces (weight) per pound, and 128 ounces (volume) per gallon (U.S. not Imperial, Dave) became untenable. Thus the scientific world, and soon much of the rest of the world switched to the more logical metric system. But not the relatively isolated (geographically) United States. We are late to this game and taking our own sweet time about joining the rest of the civilized world.

    One final story from my own history. At my thesis defense, I was asked a question about how the energy from an impacting meteor might get partitioned. I had no idea, but the rule of thumb in such cases is to start simple, answer what you do know, and hope the questioner moves on before you prove your ignorance. I made the mistake, however, of starting by talking about a meteor of so many pounds of mass. The professor let out a low chuckle and said "Oh, we're going to do this in English units!" at which point I saw my out. Still sticking to what little I did know, I started ticking off things like the density of the meteor in stone/gill and its speed in furlongs per fortnight, all completely 'correct' but totally useless, until my committee was in full-throated laughter. I never did get around to answering the original question.

    AZBuck
    Last edited by AZBuck; 12-15-2019 at 05:58 PM.

  5. #5

    Default

    Here, Here! Or, is it Hear! Hear! Pronounced the same but written differently, lol. Digressing, thank you for the abbreviated standards lesson :)

    And, ISO is not always In Search Of... in a tabloid magazine ;)

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jan 1998
    Location
    Las Vegas, Nevada
    Posts
    10,475

    Default The density of the meteor in stone/gill

    Quote Originally Posted by AZBuck View Post
    I started ticking off things like the density of the meteor in stone/gill and its speed in furlongs per fortnight, all completely 'correct' but totally useless, until my committee was in full-throated laughter. I never did get around to answering the original question.
    AZBuck
    I enjoyed this trip down memory lane -- and your great story.

    Thanks for sharing! And a very Happy Holidays to you.

    Mark

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Location
    Melbourne, Australia
    Posts
    7,159

    Default furlongs per fortnight,

    My favourite default measure!

    Lifey

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