Monday, August 29, 2005

Metric v. Imperial System in the UK and the USA

EUobserver reports in an article by Lisbeth Kirk that Brussels pressures Britain to go metric.

We have never understood what advantage this is supposed to bring to the UK or anyone else for that matter. After all, the two leading nations of the world, the US and the UK, both still use the ancient inches and feet sexagesimal-type "imperial" system, which is still also visible in the fact that we have 60 seconds in a minute, 60 minutes in an hour, 24 hours in a day, and so on. Imagine - for the sake of consistency - now changing those as well to the metric system, e.g. so that we would have 100 deci-minutes in an hour or 30 deci-hours in a day.

It would be chaos.

To this we can add the powerful worldwide prevalence of the 360-degree circle, the change of which to a 300 or 400 degree circle would wreak absolute havoc in all the world's mathematics and measurement.

At the level of computer users, various attempts have been made here in continental Europe to replace the inch descriptions of computer monitors and screens with metric equivalents, to no avail, since it simply leads to mass confusion and time-wasting relearning with no logical benefit. Computer monitors are advertised and almost everywhere in Europe still described to be 15, 17, 19, 20, 21, etc. inches.

We not only print by dpi = dots per inch, but the well-known pixel = one dot. Our screen resolution is given in pixels. It would then be completely idiotic not to also measure monitor and screen sizes by the imperial system.

It would be even worse for our use and understanding of text fonts if also here we had to go from the imperial to the metric system, since font sizes are give in points, and 72 points = 1 inch. The standard 12-point type is thus 1/6 of an inch, except that Microsoft Windows magnifies fonts by 33% so that only Macs actually render 12-point type accurately, which in the past led to different website text resolution on Macs than on PCs.

The American Bar Association has an excellent article by Mark Senn on its website entitled "Reflections on Some Forgotten Terms of Land Measurement" (published in Probate Property, March/April 2002, Vol. 16, No. 2, pp 8-11, here as a .pdf, and based on a similar article originally published in 19 ACREL News No. 3, Aug. 2001, at 5) which contains a useful summary of the development of both the imperial and metric systems in human and land measurement.

In Germany, e.g. the inch is called a "Zoll" and so now the "new" meter-measuring folding rule is still called a "Zollstock", even though it generally no longer measures inches but rather centimeters and meters.

The inches and feet system will long be with us in one form or another.

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Cross posted to LawPundit.
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