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Sunday, April 01, 2007

Doesn't Measure Up

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Note to the United States of America: get off your backwards butts and switch to the metric system.

Do you know who else still uses the Imperial System? Nobody. Just you...and a few third world Caribbean islands. Not even the bloody Brits who invented the ponderous system use it anymore. None of their other ex-colonies either. Except you.

I acknowledge proudly that the U.S.A. is at the leading edge of many, many things. Thus it is especially surprising when one observes such a reluctance to do things that just make better sense.

Aren't you sick of having two sets of tools for everything? Sick of adding sixteenths to sixty-fourths? Really, what's easier - adding by tens, or adding by twelves with fractions?

Ok, I know change is scary. I was a bit worried when I moved and had to start working in the metric system. My whole career up to that point was all about Imperial measurements; it was what I knew. I was even a bit proud of how many arcane measurements I was able to recall. How was I going to re-learn all those little unintuitive bits of knowledge that I needed to do my job like "a 2 x 4 is really 1-5/8" by 3-5/8"?

After one day on the job, I was no longer nervous.
"Oh a metric equivalent 2 x 4 in metric is a 50 by 100? I can remember that. But how big is it really? Oh, its really 50 by 100."
See, not hard. In fact its much easier. Stack a few and you can add it immediately in your head. Stack a few 3-5/8" and unless you're Rain Man you are going to be reaching for some paper.

So of course the argument is going to be "...but the Industry! Their machines are all set up in Imperial. It will cost a fortune to change them all over!"

To this I say: so what? Do what everybody else did - keep using them, but just call 'em by the metric measurements. So what if certain mills produce lumber studs at 44 by 92 for a few years? Its still easier to add up. And when the equipment needs replacing - replace it with metric. Plus it will help with international trade; you can buy and sell goods and supplies without trouble. Half the stuff in the U.S. has both Imperial and Metric screws anyway, might as well simplify.

They promised me when I was in grade school in the seventies that the metric system was coming. Well, it did come, and it made sense, and the world got on board. Except, of course, for the United States of America.

Other examples where the U.S. is backwater:
- Cell phone standards: U.S.A = CDMA; Rest of the World= GSM (superior technology)
- DVD standards: U.S.A. = NTSC; Rest of the World = PAL (superior technology)
- Shipping Channel Markings: U.S.A. = red means right; Rest of World = the opposite (oops... *crash*)


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