Sunday, March 23, 2014

USA: how about you start using standard units?

Standards exist for a reason: making it easy for people to understand each other.

Not all standards are created equal. Some standards are very square, easy to understand and they make sense. Other standards may have some minor qualities but are overall cumbersome and they're just a legacy from a distant age of obscurantism. Granted: I'm being emotional about this!

To put it in plainer words: there's a smart system and a not-so-smart system. That's why international experts have been gathering to discuss the issue and have decided that the smart system should prevail while the not-so-smart system should die.

The metric system is smart. Everything works based on magnitudes that can be divided by 10, which happens to be the base we use for mathematics.
1 cm = 10 mm
1 m = 100 cm
1 km = 1000 m

I am currently interested in everything there is to know about woodworking. And of course the most plentiful resources are in English language. But Americans are sticking to a not-so-smart system and that's a massive pain in the neck to have to convert because of the laziness of peope using the not-so-smart system.
1 inch = 16 sixteenths of an inch
1 foot = 12 inches
1 yard = 3 feet
1 mile = 1760 yards

Really, USA? Really? You know you can do better than that! In reality, the USA have decided to switch to the smart system since the 1970's. But the USA have been sitting on their hands since then.

Practical case

So I want to know the ideal height of a workbench for me, considering my height. I measure 1.73m which easily converts to 173cm if I want to use a finer unit. I googled for information and found this:
On most benches, the working surface is somewhere between 33" and 36" high. If you're average height (between 5'9" and 6'0"), that's usually a comfortable height. But even a change of 1" up or down can make a big difference in how easy it is to work at the bench

So OK... Am I the average height? The average height is given here in a combination of 2 units: feet and inches. Because a single unit would be too simple. So I need to first convert my height into inches. Then I need to convert inches into feet... but only take the integer value for the number of feet while converting the rest back into inches.


So then I find myself a bit short of the average height (but I knew that already), so maybe I'll just scale things proportionally to me. But if I want to do that, I need to calculate a ratio, and that means going back to a scale using a single unit (inches only or normal metric units only). And I need of course to convert the standard workbench height into the normal metric unit.


This article certainly sounds somewhat whiny but here are important facts:

 - The USA decided that they should adopt the metric system almost 40 years ago. 60% of the USA's population wasn't born when that decision was taken. To which you may add roughly 10% in order to account for immigrants (and not counting twice the young immigrants who are under 40 years old).

 - Only 3 countries in the world use the USA's system: USA, Liberia, and Myanmar.

So please USA: start using the metric system already!

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