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Question about imperial units


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#1 Lode   Members   -  Reputation: 1001

Posted 25 July 2011 - 01:19 PM

So apparently (I discovered this today while playing with a calculator with unit conversions, in the past I thought that they weren't whole number multiples of each other), a foot is 12 inches, a yard is 3 feet and a mile is 1760 yard.

My question is, why is a different multiplier factor used for each? And, are people in the United States really good at dividing through 3, 12 and 1760 in their head?

#2 Luckless   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 2714

Posted 25 July 2011 - 01:30 PM

I'm Canadian, so I'm familiar with both systems, and to be perfectly honest I've rarely needed to convert on the fly, except for going from inches to feet.
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#3 JoeCooper   Members   -  Reputation: 338

Posted 25 July 2011 - 01:40 PM

I'm an American. I've always treated the mile as 5280 feet, and generally speaking you very rarely have to precisely convert these units. In fact I cannot remember doing so, ever, except for trivia purposes.

In special cases, like in an aircraft, one often just decides on a unit of measure for a purpose (like feet for altitude, knots for speed, nautical miles for distance) and uses it strictly for its purpose, never converting. (For special purposes, metric units are also a perfectly valid choice.)

I have, however, converted for kilometers and while I know the 1.609 conversion factor, if strict accuracy isn't necessary it's typical to treat a kilometer as 2/3 of a mile.

I also know that some organizations like NASA avoid shifting to metric if it's a pain in the rear; they have a mountain of tooling and schematics and so on built assuming English units...

I think the USAF might use metric, but I can't remember.

#4 ChurchSkiz   Members   -  Reputation: 809

Posted 25 July 2011 - 01:47 PM

Its usually not a big deal. You dont measure football fields in inches. Or car speeds in yards per hour. Or the length of your hair in miles.

Generally, you use the unit applicable to what you're discussing. You'd also say something like half a yard vs 1.5 feet or 18 inches.

When there's a conversion involved, you break out google or the conversion tool on most phones.

#5 zacaj   Members   -  Reputation: 655

Posted 25 July 2011 - 02:04 PM

This is what calculators are for :) Also, I hardly ever hear anyone actually using yards. Whenever yards are mentioned anywhere in fact, my default in my mind is to think feet. Then I realize what I just did and triple the number. Its always wierd when someone says 100yards, or something

#6 JoeCooper   Members   -  Reputation: 338

Posted 25 July 2011 - 02:12 PM

I second Zacaj's post; I just plain don't use yards.

There's also something called "stone" (for weight) that I think the English use but I've not heard it used in Oregon, Georgia or Florida.

#7 Bregma   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 7595

Posted 25 July 2011 - 02:38 PM

I second Zacaj's post; I just plain don't use yards.

There's also something called "stone" (for weight) that I think the English use but I've not heard it used in Oregon, Georgia or Florida.

So, you don't measure physical force in stone furlong per fortnight squared in those parts? Man youse bubbas are sooo backwards.
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#8 JoeCooper   Members   -  Reputation: 338

Posted 25 July 2011 - 03:20 PM

I'm actually switching to the post-quantified-unitary scale.

A truck, for example weighs roughly 15 to 25 fridge-mass.

But you can't know both if the fridges are filled or unfilled and their capacity at the same time, because knowledge is merely a social construct.

But I understand if it doesn't fly with y'all; it's only for intellectuals.

#9 alnite   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 2975

Posted 25 July 2011 - 04:26 PM

Don't think too much about it. I was born in a country where SI is used (wait, that's pretty much everywhere else..) and then moved to US. I had this mental image of how far/wide/long things are when somebody said 10km or 100m. Then I moved to the US, and people start saying gibberish like "100 feet" and "5 yards" which messes with my head. Then I got used to the Imperial units and now the SI confuses me.

#10 laztrezort   Members   -  Reputation: 1050

Posted 25 July 2011 - 08:02 PM

My professional career revolves around measuring things, so I'm fairly comfortable using either imperial and metric. However, I hate inches, also referred to as "architectural units." Inches and fractions thereof tend to hide precision (or lack thereof), and I find things much simpler using decimal feet.

To add a bit more confusion, there are actually 2 different kinds of feet - the International Foot and US Survey Foot, and they differ in length.

#11 ChaosEngine   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 4059

Posted 25 July 2011 - 08:13 PM

Away with your crazy metric and imperial units!

Area is measured in Football Fields (not sure about the code though)
Volume is measured in Olympic Swimming Pools
Height is measured in Stories or for big things any Large Well Known Building (LWKB) or for really big things Everests
Length is Buses or alternatively LWKB On Its Side
Energy is measured in Hiroshimas.
if you think programming is like sex, you probably haven't done much of either.-------------- - capn_midnight

#12 JoeCooper   Members   -  Reputation: 338

Posted 25 July 2011 - 08:18 PM

ChaosEngine, do you read The Register?

#13 Nypyren   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 9714

Posted 25 July 2011 - 08:32 PM

Away with your crazy metric and imperial units!

Area is measured in Football Fields (not sure about the code though)
Volume is measured in Olympic Swimming Pools
Height is measured in Stories or for big things any Large Well Known Building (LWKB) or for really big things Everests
Length is Buses or alternatively LWKB On Its Side
Energy is measured in Hiroshimas.


Large areas are also measured in Large Well Known States/Provinces.

Large volumes are also measured in Large Well Known Planets/Stars.

#14 JoeCooper   Members   -  Reputation: 338

Posted 25 July 2011 - 08:35 PM

Fame is measured in paparazis per hour.

#15 Hodgman   Moderators   -  Reputation: 47771

Posted 25 July 2011 - 10:29 PM

For perspective for you Americans -- most construction/architecture measurements I've seen here are in mm (1/25th of an inch), which are very precise, but result in very large numbers.
Move the dot to the right and you've got cm, about a finger width or a bit less than half an inch.
Move the dot two more places to the right and you've got m, very roughly equivalent to a yard (3.2 feet).

The only time I've had to really do conversions is when dealing with these mm values -- visualising 1500mm is hard, but visualising 1.5m is easy.

Has anyone worked with construction measurements in the US? Do you just use inches (and fractions of inches) for everything? Or do you mix other measurements in too?


For a non-american:
cm are a very common measurement for height -- e.g. 6' is 182cm. Visualising 200cm would be easy, but visualising 6'6" quite complex.
m and m2 are very common for regular lengths and areas -- e.g. visualising the size of a 100m2 flat would be instant for many.

#16 gavco98   Members   -  Reputation: 383

Posted 26 July 2011 - 01:31 AM

ChaosEngine, do you read The Register?


The Register - Official List Of Measurements
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#17 Katie   Members   -  Reputation: 1830

Posted 26 July 2011 - 02:32 AM

It gets more complicated than just metric or imperial. There are also things like "metric feet".

A metric foot is 300mm long. It's ~5mm short of an actual foot. Wood, annoyingly, in the UK comes in metric feet lengths. Yes, that's right. You can't buy an 8 foot spar. You can buy a 2400mm spar. The problem arises when you actually need 8 feet of wood because 2400mm is nearly, but not quite 8 foot.

Mutter.


The reason there are different conversion factors is that the units all arose for different things. A foot is about a foot length. A yard is about an arm length. An inch is the last part of a thumb. That sort of thing. A furlong is the distance a couple of oxen can pull a plough in one go before they have to rest. A chain is the width of a bit of land of an acre in area and a furlong long. An acre is the area you can plough with one plough team in a day -- and hence varied depending on what you consider to be "a day", "can" and "team" and hence on things like what the soil there is like.

All of these were then sort of standardised over several centuries, but the measurements needed to be close to what they'd always been, so they ended up with "funny" conversion factors between the units.


If you're doing engineering in imperial (my Dad used to) then yes, you get used to doing conversions and using things like the "poundal" and the "thou". I grew up in the metric era, but I grew up in a household which measured things in imperial. In a discussion in the office a little while ago, I described something as "about 10 thou" and one of the guys here said to the other (younger) team members "See!!! I told you it wasn't a made up unit..."

#18 phantom   Members   -  Reputation: 10099

Posted 26 July 2011 - 04:18 AM

I measure my own height in feet and inches, yet for most, if not all, other measuring I use mm/cm/m

I will tell you the distance between two places in miles and speeds in mph, yet a judge my running on Km and Kph.

I drink 500ml cans from 1 pint glasses.

Milk comes in pints, I measure it out in ml.

Last time I weighted myself it was done in stone, I then converted it to Kg so I could put it into the machine at the gym.

Welcome to the UK where we use both for various things just so we can confuse everyone :D

#19 ChaosEngine   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 4059

Posted 26 July 2011 - 04:31 AM

ChaosEngine, do you read The Register?


The Register - Official List Of Measurements


I may have shamelessly plagiarised borrowed been inspired by that article at some point :D

Phantom, I was the same as you, but living in NZ has slowly converted me fully to metric, to the point where I now don't know how much I weigh in stone. I assume it's less than it is in kilos!! :D
if you think programming is like sex, you probably haven't done much of either.-------------- - capn_midnight

#20 ChurchSkiz   Members   -  Reputation: 809

Posted 26 July 2011 - 07:26 AM

For a non-american:
cm are a very common measurement for height -- e.g. 6' is 182cm. Visualising 200cm would be easy, but visualising 6'6" quite complex.
m and m2 are very common for regular lengths and areas -- e.g. visualising the size of a 100m2 flat would be instant for many.


It's only complex because you've never used it. If you grow up your whole life listening to people talk about their heights, it isn't complex at all. I'm 6'5", so when someone tells me they are 6'2" I know right away how tall they are. Likewise, if someone told me they are 175 cm, I would have a dumbfounded look on my face...or like I was pooping my pants while I converted cm to inches in my head.

Temperatures work the same way. Yeah water boils at 100 celsius and freezes at 0, but how hot is 30 degrees? <pooping his pants look>

It's only complex when you aren't used to it. I'm sure if everyone in the US started using metric units, it would be normal after a month or so, and the same if you were used to metric units and had to come here.

I also know that my foot with shoes on is exactly 12" and my finger segment on my index finger is almost precisely 1". Which makes measuring things nice. I'm not sure what corresponding body parts are used in the metric system.




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