Metered out

Morgan Freeberg left this notion hanging around:

The metric system is all about preening. “Ooh, look at me!! I designed a starship, and to show how advanced it is I’m measuring the hull length in METERS!!” Silly. The meter is just as arbitrary as the yard, which is rumored to have been the distance between King Henry I (Beauclerc)’s nose to his thumb with his arm extended. The meter is 1/10,000th the distance between the equator and the North Pole. So it divides by ten, big whoop, it’s still arbitrary.

How you going to cut a 1m board into three equal pieces? Metric is for multiplying, imperial is for dividing. When you’re REALLY building something, it’s much more commonplace you need to divide. Metric system sucks.

The meter has since been redefined — it’s now based on the speed of light, which is probably less changeable than the size of the planet — but it’s still kinda clunky: how far that light travels in 1/299792458 second. (Especially when you consider the definition of a second: the duration of 9192631770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the cesium-133 atom.) By comparison, King Henry’s arm seems almost, um, real.


  1. fillyjonk »

    6 November 2016 · 2:10 pm

    Same is true for quilting – yards and inches are a lot easier to work with than meters and centimeters.

    I’m a scientist, and also believe in having two strings to one’s bow, so I use them both but for different purposes, though I admit I have a clearer grasp of quantities in Imperial. I know what a pound of something “feels like,” not so much a kilogram.

  2. Ole Phat Stu »

    6 November 2016 · 2:33 pm

    Donald Knuth’s first paper was on the Potzrebie system of measures and published in MAD magazine. An enjoyable read :-)

  3. ETat »

    6 November 2016 · 3:14 pm

    Was just thinking yesterday, how I lost my instinctive grasp of measuring something in Metric.
    Half of my life in Imperial weighed down the other half in Metric…but I still think it’s an easier-to-operate system, and more precise than Imperial. Metric is to engineering tolerances like Imperial to carpentry…

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