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Question about imperial units

32 posts in this topic

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?
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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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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.
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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.
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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
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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.
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[quote name='JoeCooper' timestamp='1311624754' post='4840165']
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.
[/quote]
So, you don't measure physical force in stone furlong per fortnight squared in those parts? Man youse bubbas are [i]sooo[/i] backwards.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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 [b]really [/b]big things Everests
Length is Buses or alternatively LWKB On Its Side
Energy is measured in Hiroshimas.
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[quote name='ChaosEngine' timestamp='1311646382' post='4840336']
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 [b]really [/b]big things Everests
Length is Buses or alternatively LWKB On Its Side
Energy is measured in Hiroshimas.
[/quote]

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

Large volumes are also measured in Large Well Known Planets/Stars.
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For perspective for you Americans -- most construction/architecture measurements I've seen here are in [font="Lucida Console"]mm[/font] (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 [font="Lucida Console"]cm[/font], 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 [font="Lucida Console"]m[/font], very roughly equivalent to a yard (3.2 feet).

The only time I've had to really do conversions is when dealing with these [font="Lucida Console"]mm[/font] values -- visualising 1500[font="Lucida Console"]mm[/font] is hard, but visualising 1.5[font="Lucida Console"]m[/font] 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.
[font="Lucida Console"]m[/font] and [font="Lucida Console"]m[sup]2[/sup][/font] are very common for regular lengths and areas -- e.g. visualising the size of a 100m[sup]2[/sup] flat would be instant for many.
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[quote name='JoeCooper' timestamp='1311646709' post='4840339']
ChaosEngine, do you read The Register?
[/quote]

[url="http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/08/24/vulture_central_standards/"]The Register - Official List Of Measurements[/url]
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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..."
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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
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[quote name='gavco98' timestamp='1311665491' post='4840401']
[quote name='JoeCooper' timestamp='1311646709' post='4840339']
ChaosEngine, do you read The Register?
[/quote]

[url="http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/08/24/vulture_central_standards/"]The Register - Official List Of Measurements[/url]
[/quote]

I may have [s]shamelessly plagiarised[/s] [s]borrowed[/s] 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
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[quote name='Hodgman' timestamp='1311654597' post='4840378']
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.
[font="Lucida Console"]m[/font] and [font="Lucida Console"]m[sup]2[/sup][/font] are very common for regular lengths and areas -- e.g. visualising the size of a 100m[sup]2[/sup] flat would be instant for many.
[/quote]

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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[quote name='ChurchSkiz' timestamp='1311686809' post='4840503'][quote name='Hodgman' timestamp='1311654597' post='4840378']For perspective ..... [b]For a non-american[/b] [who uses variations of [font="Courier New"]m[/font]]... Visualising [feet and inches and acres is] complex ...[/quote]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. It's only complex when you aren't used to it.[/quote]Ugh. Yes. That is why.

[img]http://images.memegenerator.net/instances/500x/9062312.jpg[/img]

[quote]Yeah water boils at 100 celsius and freezes at 0, but how hot is 30 degrees?[/quote]30+ is a nice summer day [img]http://public.gamedev.net/public/style_emoticons/default/smile.gif[/img] 40+ is a sweltering summer day. 50+ is a die-of-heat-stroke day. 20+ is room temperature. 10+ is a cool day. 0+ is a very cold day. Minus anything is a frozen day.
140 is a slow cooking temperature. 180 is moderate. 220 is very hot.
You are now accustomed to degrees Celsius! [img]http://public.gamedev.net/public/style_emoticons/default/biggrin.gif[/img]
[i][size="1"]N.B. subjective interpretation of temperature affected by locale of reference.[/size][/i]
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[quote name='Hodgman' timestamp='1311654597' post='4840378']
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?

[/quote]

Unless metric is being mandated for some reason, measurements are typically given in feet, inches, and fractions of an inch. E.g. 21' 1-1/2" And yes, it can be confusing, even after working with it every day. Surveyors (and to a lesser degree, civil engineers) typically use decimal feet, e.g. 21.12'. Rarely do things need to be measured during typical construction which have a tolerance of less than 0.01 of a foot.

As I hinted above, the problem I have with fractional inches is that it hides precision: given 21.12', I can be sure of what the sought after precision is (but not necessarily the accuracy), but with 21' 1-1/2", an architect may just be rounding off to the nearest 1/2" and I would never know (this happens occasionally and does cause problems).
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The measurements all make sense when you look at how they came about. A mile is 8 furlongs. The reason it is 8 dates back to Romans having 8 stade in their mile, which was originally 1000 roman paces. The yard is most likely related to the distance of an average pace. Horses are measured in Hands because everyone has hands and can easily approximately measure horses. Inches have similar origin to ounces as they both derive from latin's one twelfth.

An acre is the approximate measure of the land one man and one ox could plow in one day.

Farenheit degrees is slightly more complicated, but it takes other things into account that the celsius scale does not and was also created before the metric system decided to use water as it's baseline for most of it's measurements.

The weirdness is much more to do with all these measurements which make perfect sense with their original uses being converted to other units with completely different uses.
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[quote name='way2lazy2care' timestamp='1311690042' post='4840544']
Farenheit degrees is slightly more complicated, but it takes other things into account that the celsius scale does not and was also created before the metric system decided to use water as it's baseline for most of it's measurements.
[/quote]

Fahrenheit is a good measurement of human tolerances. Greater than 100 degrees and you are definitely in danger territory for heat stroke. 32 degrees is freezing, but it's much of a hindrance for most people. Things don't get really uncomfortable until you're below 0 Fahrenheit (When I lived in Iowa, after winter, just above "freezing" was shorts weather). It's not uncommon for most places in the USA to reach these temperatures throughout the year.
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[quote name='Hodgman' timestamp='1311687526' post='4840511']
0+ is a very cold day.
[i][size="1"]N.B. subjective interpretation of temperature affected by locale of reference.[/size][/i]
[/quote]

Very subjective.

0+ is a cool to chill day, but still acceptable shorts weather if you don't plan to be outside for extended periods of time.


Personally I use feet, inches, and fractions of an inch for construction. But I only do that because 90+% of building materials sold in Canada are still cut to Imperial measurements. (This is for economic reasons. Mills producing stuff here can then produce the same stuff and ship it down to the US Market, and we can buy materials off the US Market without getting weird looks when we ask for something in cm.)


The moment metric cut materials become common here, I'll toss my imperial tapes in the back of the tool box and forget about them.
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