a defense of the imperial measurement system

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  1. I will go to my grave defending the US Customary System. For people in their actual lives, I believe the sizes of units in the US system are much more convenient and useful. Some are pretty interchangeable a kilogram and a pound, for instance, are close enough that neither one is all that more or less unwieldy. Others are much more consequential. If one wishes to measure, say, one's height, in the US system the obvious choice is in feet which yields a result that will always be between 1 and 10,the easiest numbers to conceptualize and the easiest to work with. In metric it's normal to use centimeters, yielding a 3 digit number the vast majority of the time which is much harder to work with mentally. Or one could use meters, which have the opposite problem. Decimeter could be used as a happy medium, but I've never seen anyone use it. Fahrenheit vs Celcius is another example, but that one has been explored to death and back

    Metric is great when doing science and engineering. It's much less great when doing things in average life. Even there, the US system has some better units. As someone mentioned elsewhere in the comments, the Pascal is a laughably small unit. The Tesla is an astoundingly massive unit. I fully understand why these units are the sizes they are and how they're derived, but the issue remains.

    My point here isn't to say that the US system is better than the metric system. It's not. My point is that both systems have strengths, weaknesses, and trade offs that make them suited to different things. Neither is objectively better.

    With one exception. Volume. The metric system isn't perfect here, either. Why is 1 Liter = 1000 cubic Centimeters or .001 cubic meter? Regardless, the US system is absurdly bad. Cups, teaspoons, table spoons, fluid ounces – it's insane, and it's everything the metric snobs say the US system is. Liter is a far better unit in every way.

  2. Farenheit is better than celsius for the common person, allowing more easily recognized milestones within the range of temperatures that are common to the human experience.

    Face is going to hurt 0 F -18 C
    Potential for snow 32 F 0 C
    Jacket weather 50 F 10 C
    Pants weather 60 F 15 C
    Room temp 70 F 20 C
    Really nice day 80 F 25 C
    Time to sweat 90 F 30 C
    Body temp 98.6 F 37 C
    Boil water 212 F 100 C
    Bake cookies 350 F 176 C
    Bake bread 450 F 232 C
    Bake pizza 750 F 400 C

    Generally, you're getting about 2 to 1 degree of precision for weather related temperatures, and you have to reeeeally remember some weird temps for cooking, except water boiling. But when has anyone ever looked at a thermometer to determine if their water is boiling and not just looked at the water and realized it's boiling?

  3. Its worth noting theres a load of deprecated metric units floating about, including – notably – the calorie (the Joule is the official measure of energy)

    Its also worth noting that in continental europe, theres still loads of roundings of the old units from over 150 years ago – and the french have a real fetish for Centilitres.

    Also my feet when Im wearing trainers is almost precisely one foot and I love it, it means I can semi-accurately measure without instruments like a tape measure

  4. Good video, but I will note that there's a massive difference between 7000 grains of barley and 1 litre of water. Both have their fluctuations, but conceiving of a litre of water is much much easier, and that interconversion (oh, there's about 25 litres there, so that's about 25 kilograms) is one I use all the time. Similarly, the fact that water doesn't have /precisely/ 0° and 100° for freezing and boiling of water is really not important on a human scale. The fact that we started out or journey with the system with these in mind still leaves them baked into the system as a really really nice set of heuristics!

  5. Well, I am now aware that length and distance are so sensationally different. Helps to support the idea that drumming up new terms for specialized purposes is too intuitive not to do. Even counting has its quirkly little units, like dozens and grosses and moles and stacks, for use in whatever contexts prefer it.

  6. You could start with Feet and Inches and build an entire system based in Multiples of 12.
    You could start with Feet and Palms and build an entire system based in Powers of 2.
    Whichever you prefer, some unit just got redefined
    and now there's a a four-digit decimal conversion.

  7. It's funny when you look at the history….both systems were completely arbitrary at first, but while metric decided to go the route of science and change all of its stuff to fit better, imperial said "no, we're not going to change." Now metric is like "we're better than you"….yeah, but what if the expansion of the universe causes a planck gap in all the atoms of the universe and the speed of light changes, now a meter will be a little bit longer. Then imperial responds "the temperature of a healthy horses internal ass after a nice morning jog will always be exactly 100, never changes! Always reliable system." Metric lost the will to continue fighting from sheer dumbfoundedness of what transpired….metric has left the chat.

  8. if i remember correctly the main reason why the us hasnt switched over to the metric system is because you dont really gain that much by replacing all of the street signs in the us along with many other things which could cost a predicted hundreds of billions of dollars upwards to a trillion dollars all to make communication slightly easier when you live in a age where you can search up feet to meters

  9. why is nobody talking about the fact that the distance light travels in a nanosecond is almost exactly one foot

    seriously what kind of a coincidence is that

  10. also, a completely arbitrary defense i heard a while back – imperial sometimes sounds more nicer in literature. compare "i traveled miles and miles to see you" vs "i traveled kilometers and kilometers to see you" or "i inched forward" vs "i centimeter-ed forward"

  11. Listen. I’m from the UK and 25 and it feels wild that I prefer metric for most things but I can only fathom people’s heights in feet and inches, distances between towns and cities in miles, and people’s weights in pounds and stone.
    A stone being 14 pounds is a wild decision that I’ll never understand but like you said in this video, a stone is a more convenient measurement than a pound and I don’t ever understand how heavy an American is when they give their weight in just pounds.

  12. The only criticism I have about the point that 'nobody has to convert between miles and feet' is units of speed. Imperial speed is generally measured in miles/hr, which is an entirety useless unit for short distances without converting, and feet/s is basically never used! Like, if I asked you how fast Usain Bolt can run, you'd measure in miles per hour and never feet per second, despite the fact that it's physically impossible to sustain maximum sprint speed for an hour. Thus, at least in practice, miles and feet are a part of the same system because they're linked together by velocity and acceleration units by convention

  13. Like you said who in da US really uses a link, rod, chain, furlong, or league regularly besides maybe racers tho a mile is basically out on its own fa no reason why not jus try ta put it together den & Fahrenheit still sucks at least dey could jus make a small tweak ta put it back or sumtin ta Celsius like we will wit our 'miles section' in 23'

  14. So as someone who is unfortunate to live in the UK, the single most frustrating thing about the "imperial system" is how different the systems (plural) are between countries. For example, we still use "pint" to refer to volume when it comes to beer and milk, with the value of an "imperial pint" being 568 ml (3 s.f.). The US (liquid) pint has a value of 473 ml (3 s.f.), which is about 20% off. Being someone who uses the internet a lot, remembering to do this conversion when talking to Americans is so difficult, and I hate it.

  15. One thing I find interesting about the metric system is the variation in usage across countries. For example, in the English-speaking world, decimetres and decametres are rarely used: we'd say 10cm or 10m, but I'm told that they are used in Sweden.

    Another interesting thing is the relationship between the metric system and the SI. SI is "pure", so the only unit of volume is the cubic metre. There is no need for derived units, such as litres, or for the metric prefixes. (Incidentally, this explains why the base unit of mass has a prefix. It doesn't. The SI doesn't have prefixes. The unit of mass is called a kilogramme, end of story. But the metric base unit of mass is the gramme, defined as one thousandth of an SI kilogramme.)

  16. As a practicing NASA fluid dynamicist, I obviously have strong opinions on this one. To be fair though, I agree that most of the "issues with imperial" you cover here are needlessly nitpicky by anti-imperial folks and actually not really problems. Also, base 12 is kinda nice, and subdivisions of inches being powers of 2 is also pretty nice. Ok, with nice things about imperial out of the way, the fact that imperial units for different properties are practically unrelated is a fundamental problem that makes learning science and engineering significantly harder.

    I went to a combined 10 years of undergrad + grad school for aerospace engineering, and I still have no intuitive sense of what a Slug is, when to use it, or why to use it. And that is really just a microcosm of the general inability of imperial to aid in intuitively using and learning about dimensional analysis. The humongous problem in imperial is the confusion between mass and force. That might seem like an isolated issue, but it contaminates calculations including pressure, torque, density, viscosity, and others, as well as a bunch of parameters that use obfuscated flavors of force like surface tension, shear, dynamic pressure, etc. I am a fluid dynamicist at NASA, and in practice even though many of the projects that I work on are designed in imperial, we always switch to metric to run simulations/models/experiments and then switch back, because doing fluid dynamics or thermodynamics in imperial is basically insane.

    But putting aside the practical issues, the way imperial tends to treat each physical property as a totally isolated measure with bizarre, unintiuitive conversions really hinders broad, meta-understanding of science and engineering. I think it's like the way the language you speak can effect the way you think, so too the units system you internalize can effect the way you conceptualize physical properties and parameters. Imperial leads to a view where properties are isolated, and any connections to other properties are wierd and arbitrary and sort of treated as an unimportant novelty. Whereas, metric tries much harder to enable intuitive connections between seemingly disconnected, yet fundamentally linked properties. So not only is the practice of science and engineering greatly helped by developing an intuitive sense for the metric system, but also training and recruiting young minds over to the cause of STEM is also greatly helped.

  17. Not through the whole vid yet, just about a third through, and you telling me that the imperial measurement system is just like english, a twisted amalgam of other systems, makes so much sense. May update comment later with further thoughts.

  18. Ok now you have to make an internally consistent set of measurement units that are based on seximal, defined in neat ratios to the universal constants, and scaled to anthropometric sizes.

  19. What I find interesting is the difference between Imperial and US Customary Gallons. The US system uses the Old English Wine Gallon, which is 231 cubic inches. It was standardized in 1706, and was the volume of a cylinder 7 inches in diameter and 6 inches in height. The Imperial Gallon, on the other hand, was defined in 1824, and was the volume of 10 pounds of distilled water at a temperature of 62º F and at an atmospheric pressure of 30 inches of Mercury. Two totally different methods of defining the Gallon.

    Both systems of volume (at least down to Ounces) was set based on this definition, with both systems having four Quarts to a Gallon, two Pints to a Quart, two Cups to a Pint, and two Gill to a Cup. To compensate for the difference in gallon sizes, the Imperial system then claimed there were FIVE Ounces to a Gill, while Imperial had FOUR Ounces to a Gill. This means an Imperial Pint is 20 Ounces while a US Customary Pint is 16 Ounces. Oh, and the Ounces are slightly different between the two (28.413 ml for Imperial, 29.5735 ml for US Customary).

    On top of all that, the US system ALSO has the US Food Labeling Fluid Ounce, which is exactly 30 ml, just to tie in with the Metric side of things again.

  20. As far as I'm concerned, any units are valid, as long as you mark what the units are and in computing these days there's ways to mark for specific units and ensure you can't add or subtract different kinds of units without converting them to the same first.

  21. Big love on the viddy. Have some of my own thoughts to contribute.
    I've noticed a few videos on similar discussions talk about a decameter (or dekameter?) I've never heard a non American use that phrase. One meter, 10 meters, 100 meters. And then we'd say a kilometre.
    Which is kinda janky for sure!
    For context I live in Australia, so I'm unsure how everywhere else may do it precisely.

    Following on from that and on your point about a foot being a great measurement; most people I know refer to their height in feet and inches. Like we all know both. Or at least approximations of both. But most people will short hand use feet in my experience.

    Also if you ask someone how much cake they want they will without fail put their fingers up and say "about an inch". Like it's just a part of the lexicon.

    I grew up with a Canadian mum and my grandmother still doesn't know metric very well and I've always been the converter for her. I also play a lot of Dungeons and Dragons where the entire system is based in feet and pounds. If it's something you care about at all it takes maybe 15 minutes to get a base lime knowledge in both that means you can at least roughly estimate a conversion.

    Anyway, thanks for listening to my TED talk. Also, A4 paper size ratio is fucking bullshit and way worse than converting between inches and cm. Fight me

  22. All things considered it shouldn't have been a surprise to hear it brought up that the base-ten conversion factors across metric units are kind of a drawback, but it was a nice treat to hear it.

    I was big on dozenal until jan Misali galaxy-brained me on base 6, and now I'm totally sold for that tbh

  23. Trade deal: The rest of the world adopts Fahrenheit, the US adopts Metric for everything but temperature. Win win. We'd all be mildly better off if of the two major temperature scales both otherwise unrelated to metric, Fahrenheit was the one that got arbitrarily stapled to it instead of Celsius.

  24. The foot is a useful enough measurement that a whole bunch of civilizations made it or something very close to it independently, so it's worth keeping around, like an antique hammer

  25. I know you might not do this, but I made a conlang
    myself, basically its kinda like watered down old norse, kind of like just off the point where Icelandic diverged from the Scandinavian languages. Honestly, its not fully developed, and I don't have any keybiard to express how well… Anything would be expressed in ipa. Well some phonology I guess is that like the Scandinavian languages it lacks the Norse ð or þ, which have softened into d or t. Yet again, no keyboard so I can't really express the vowels. Also some words I have: basically just simple ones like the ones on a swadesh lists. Jag, Du, Min, (I you me) and some other words I have are some verbs such as gengen (to go.) Its somewhat related to German "gehen"

  26. i don't have strong feelings one way or another on which system of measurement to use but i do appreciate that the smaller imperial units of length are people-sized. like most people have conveniently-sized body parts that make them useful for estimating lengths (eg your forearms from elbow to wrist are about a foot, your wingspan is about as wide as you are tall so it's probably somewhere between 5 and 6 feet, your hands are about 6 inches from wrist to tip, etc.) like if someone were to tell me about a thing that's like 4 feet long, that's a lot easier for me to visualize than if they told me it's 120 centimetres since 4' is the distance between my right fingertip and left armpit. 120 cm is close to the same length but since i don't have any physical benchmarks for centimetres, it's mostly useless to me unless i do the mental math to find out how many more inches than a yard that is

  27. I see someone already mentioned barleycorns as the basis for shoe sizes, but I haven't seen anyone mention the imperial unit of mass yet: the slug! (the mass required to weigh roughly 32.2lbs on earth)

    A pound is a unit of force and kilogram is a unit of mass so they don't really line up one-to-one, except that it works because we're all on the same planet.

    This information will not be useful to anyone, but I want to sound like I know things.

  28. mate i have absolutely zero clue what all of the units for weight we have here are, i only ever use kg, sometimes i hear people say things like "i'm 12 stone" and i could not tell you what that means at all, i can't even guess if it's light or heavy or average

  29. the single biggest problem with imperial systems is that the units do not have the same values in the UK and the US

    whenever Americans talk about fuel economy I always think "wow, your car must be so expensive to run" before remembering that the US has smaller gallons for some reason

  30. Honestly, i think a foot is perfect for casual distance measuring, its nice size to hold around and sure 100cm works just as well but it seems weird to measure something in 100s

    The inches thing is weird tho pls fix that

  31. It's probably worth mentioning that Fahrenheit is a little more widespread than the rest of the imperial units. I've been to Europe multiple times and I've seen Fahrenheit signs every now and then.

  32. In a kitchen or whatever, it is really easy to measure the size of a parellelepiped and see its volume, or its weight in water. I do this quite frequently. It must be quite a pain to do it in the US

  33. note: doing scientific calculations in imperial units is much, much worse, which makes sense because they weren't designed for it. and yes, American engineers do this for some reason
    why does the "k" in "ksi" stand for kilopounds? why is pressure always measured in psi (which uses inches) when most other units typically use feet? why is a "mil" a specific unit rather than a prefix?

  34. Metric makes fun of imperial for using silly body parts as units of measurement, but your "objective" base 10 system is just derived from the number of fingers on a human's hands. It's already looking archaic what with computers running on base 2.

  35. I gotta say though, the relation between volume of water and weight in metric is surprisingly useful in everyday life, just because so much stuff is mostly water or close to water in density.
    However, I totally agree with you on how handy a foot is. I wish there was a metric unit that's around 1/3 meter. And converting is rather easy. However, tell me a mountain is 13,000 feet high or whatever and I have no idea how much that is, funnily enough.

  36. I don't get why Canadians and British make fun if America for this as they still use some imperial units anyway, some often more than Americans. America is just honest about it.

  37. As a Canadian, I have always thought that a metre is too long. And centimetres are a little too small. No one uses decimetres. That being said, I’m also a carpenter well versed in feet and inches, and I’d still like it if our Country switched to metric units for construction. 🤷‍♂️

  38. I dont even understand why you would use 10 as a scaling factor. Like 1000g is so obviously 1kg that whats the point of even having another unit at that point? 2.437kg is no simpler than 2437g. Personally I think that “weird” conversion factors like 3,12,22 etc are the only ones that are worth having.

  39. So I’ve never heard of a "hundredweight" but the UK system of measurement is absolutely insane. Beer and milk is in pints, soda is in milliliters. Small distances are sometimes in meters and sometimes in feet, but large distances are in miles, unless you’re doing science in which case everything uses metric. Weight for cooking is usually in metric but weight of people is in stones and pounds. No-one uses ounces because for weights smaller than a pound we use grams. Area is in square feet but volume (e.g when measuring the capacity of a storage space) is pretty much always in liters.

  40. I absolutely hate Metric. It is easier for many people, but not everyone. The utter sameness of everything means I seem utterly incapable of remembering any of it. The somewhat arbitrary number differences of Imperial measures make it so I'm able to differentiate between them and remember what is what.

  41. lmao, UK person here (who is in the nice age cusp of being comfortable with both imperial and metric systems to function)

    Stone is basically used to refer to human weight. Generally, I find it a more palatable number than the three-figure numbers you tend to find with lbs – since you're dividing through by fourteen.

    To me, 10 stone is a very comfortable number to hear to refer to a person (140lbs / 63.5kg). It's as arbitrary as anything else here, of course, but eh.

    I honestly find US people referring to human weights in lbs, and I'm just "o____o wut" .

    tbh, this is one where I would refer to kg in any setting other than personal informal use. But I also don't go on the scales if I can ever help it soooo

  42. I do a lot of woodworking, and dozenal is objectively better than decimal, if you work in feet, inches, and fractions. The only problem is when you convert from base-10 to 12. I'll straight up say it: base-10 was the wrong choice. If we had a base-12 metric system (which almost happened!) it would be the best of all worlds.

  43. I kinda want the foot to be refined by 30cm exactly. They're both pretty close in length so it shouldn't be too much of a problem and rulers and tape measures would line up nicely. I've come across situations where I wanted 1/3 of a length but I had a metric ruler, I couldn't quite get it right. Who knows, maybe those healthcare loving Europeans would grow to like the 🦶.

  44. Imperial uses base 12 in some places for interesting reasons.

    The most dumbed-down and simplified reason is that base 12 was used before base 10 was pushed as the accepted standard. And the base 12 units in imperial were used before base 10 became a thing, so they stuck as base 12.

    There is a lot more indepth explaination required for the full story, but this is a very dumbed down version

  45. To be fair, barleycorns are actually still used in the present-day US.

    They're hidden behind "shoe size," but the difference between any two consecutive shoe sizes is a barleycorn: 1/3 of an inch.

  46. i know its not particularly possible to work otherwise because of the cube rule, but i don't like how volumes line up with measurements. a meter square is 1000 litres, and the base unit for volume is the millilitre so its a million millilitres. a cubic decimetre is a litre, a cubic centimetre is a millilitre. the powers of ten never lines up. i don't like that.

  47. I ahave always felt that while the metric system is undoubtedly better than imperial, it is also lacking. I agree with many of the same reasons listed in the video, with the primary reason being the foot being a very nice unit for human scale things, whereas neither a meter or any of it's derivatives are nice for that. Don't get me wrong, I think we ought to switch. I don't think we should let the imperfections of a system stop us from accepting that it is better than what we use now.

  48. Now that you explained that miles and feet come from two different systems of measurement, everything makes more sense. Obviously when converting between systems there are going to be wacky numbers.


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