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PostThe Metric System (Ronald Hilton, USA, 09/30/00 6:31 am)
As a Positivist believing in "Order and Progress," I cannot tolerate the disorder of incompatibility. I pointed out the incompatibility of railroad gauges as an example, but Ron, who is from Australia, said that without different gauges the railroads of Australia would not have been built. I floored him with two arguments: 1) his argument did not justify the half-inch difference between French and British rail gauges and 2) It made no sense or half of the world to drive on the left and half on the right. Now, in what I judge to be a revanchist act, he comes up with another argument in favor of confusion, but he clearly has mixed feelings. He says:
"Good for you, Ronald. [A mere courtesy!] A year or two ago I was driving to Birmingham and noticed that, although the UK had gone metric, the road distances were still indicated in miles, which Martin Packard would approve. However, to use the abbreviation m for mile is something I cannot approve, since by international treaty, to which the US [UK?] subscribes, the abbreviation m is agreed for the mete.
Not to worry. Many of the reasons for going metric have become moot because of computers that can change from mph to km/hr at the flick of a switch. Your friendly petrol bowser can present dollars per gallon or dollars per liter without the need for special mechanical gearing.
The market will decide whether a manufacturer in the US finds it more economical to use metric sizes or one of the various American bolt sizes in equipment for export to Germany. And the German manufacturers will decide whether to invest in US rulers, calipers, micrometers and bolts to serve the US market.
There are some nasty features of going it alone, however. A screw-cutting lathe is able to cut screw threads at 8 threads per inch, or 10 threads per inch, etc., if one simply replaces a pair of gears with one of several sets that are kept on hand. But there is no replacement gear that converts to metric. There would be if metric threads were characterized by so many threads per cm, but they are not. Metric screws are specified by their pitch, measured in mm per thread.
My comment: Down with confusion! People will forget to flick the switch. And don´t forget the millions lost when a sky probe went astray because NASA was mixed up between meters and yards. All this reminds me to include something on the globalization of measurements in the conference agenda.
The US system does have its defenders, including Bienvenido Macario from the Philiipines, but in a long statement defending it he seems to back my position. "In 1994, I was an observer in an international Geothermal workshop in Manila. One of the speakers is a Stanford alumna who, realizing the need to bridge the two systems of measurement, decided to give figures in both English and its metric equivalent."