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Thread: *Bad Astronomy* uses *METRIC* as primary notation.

  1. #61
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    When the galactic overlords take over and enslave us they'll make us use what they use. It seems pointless to learn something new that we won't be using much longer.

    Even if the aliens take their time getting here, eventually we'll all have computer chips implanted in our brains that will automatically do all conversions and computations for us. Then it won't matter which system anyone uses.

  2. #62
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    Galactic Overlords probably won't use decimal, will they?

    It'll have a base equal to the number of fingers they have.

    Unless there's an evolutionary advantage to having exactly three fingers.

    Assuming they have fingers.


  3. #63
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    Assuming they have the same number of fingers all the time. 8-[

  4. #64
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    Quote Originally Posted by Alex W.
    Galactic Overlords probably won't use decimal, will they?

    It'll have a base equal to the number of fingers they have.

    Unless there's an evolutionary advantage to having exactly three fingers.

    Assuming they have fingers.

    Uh-oh, revealed too much there...

  5. #65
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    Quote Originally Posted by ljbrs
    I think that if one is going to be a scientist in today's world, one needs to use the units (SI) which are used in science. The students in the United States (my country) are at the level of the undeveloped countries when it comes to math and science, (Or so I have read somewhat recently in one of my various science publications -- SCIENCE or NATURE or PHYSICS TODAY, etc.) or in the many journals in the Science and Engineering Library (of my alma mater). Why waste one's time on terms never to be used in science? Then again, if one is going to become a historian of outdated and unwieldy mathematical, scientific, and engineering terms, one might want to reconsider. I, myself, would not want to be handicapped by such useless knowledge.

    ljbrs :roll:
    I am an aerospace engineer and in aeronautics we use the "english" system exclusively. I learned the metric system in grade school along side the standard units. I spent six years in the US Marine Corps where I got used to thinking about distances in kilometers. When I got out I went to school and started studying engineering. At first this meant taking basic science courses like physics where the professors often waxed philosophically about the uselessness of the english system. I always found the arguments a little elitist and rhetorical. Once I got into more advanced courses in engineering, I learned that I had to be fluent in both the english system and SI. I didn't find either system to be "unwieldy". I have never in my life felt "handicapped" by any knowledge. I would, however, feel handicapped if I ignored the english system and found myself working in the american aerospace industry and had no idea what an inch or foot-pound was.

    Quote Originally Posted by frenat
    Of course some planes also measure airspeed with a mach meter as well.
    Sorry, but I have to address this pet peeve of mine. Mach number is a dimensionless parameter that is the ratio of the aircraft's speed to the speed of sound (which is variable based upon the medium and local temperature). Mach number is an extremely important parameter that must be monitered on many aircraft, but a Mach meter is not used to extrapolate airspeed.

  6. #66
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    I think the main point is the advantages of everyone using the same system are many. Therefore the best thing to do is for those still using the outdated system to convert to the new one. It's going to happen sooner or later, so how about making it sooner :P

  7. #67
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jobe
    I think the main point is the advantages of everyone using the same system are many. Therefore the best thing to do is for those still using the outdated system to convert to the new one. It's going to happen sooner or later, so how about making it sooner :P
    While I agree that it will happen eventually, I have to point out that, unfortunately, a total conversion is an extremely expensive proposition. If the US government mandated that all industries phase out the standard system it would cost those companies big time. Now, in the long run, the companies would, no doubt, save money but large up front costs are hard to justify. Politicians are loath to support legislation that would cost their potential campaign contributors, especially if the law in question has no tangible benefit.

    One of the OP points that I strenuously disagree with is the assertion that US students perform poorly on standardized science tests because we use the standard (for lack of a better term) system. There is absolutely no evidence to support this assertion. A person can learn physics, chemistry, biology or any other science just as well using the standard system as a "more fortunate" student who has been brought up using the SI system.

  8. #68
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    Among other things, I write and produce planetarium shows, and I always try to use metric units (or relative sizes like "three times the size of Earth") in the programs. You'd think that since metric is part of the language of science, nobody'd have a problem with this, but there have been clients who have complained about all those "kilometers and things." Nonetheless, I continue to use metric when possible.

  9. #69
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    Quote Originally Posted by Spacewriter
    Among other things, I write and produce planetarium shows, and I always try to use metric units (or relative sizes like "three times the size of Earth") in the programs. You'd think that since metric is part of the language of science, nobody'd have a problem with this, but there have been clients who have complained about all those "kilometers and things." Nonetheless, I continue to use metric when possible.
    This bothers me a little. First I openly acknowledge that the SI system is somewhat easier to use that the "standard" system. But if you are writing planetarium shows for the general American public, then why would you insist on using SI units? Why not just write them in Latin? Using relative sizes would obviously be best, but you have to face the fact that even if they have a passing familiarity with the SI system they are much more likely to have an intuitive feel for "standard" system. To the average American 3ft 4in conjurs up an actual distance, while a meter is an abstraction that he/she will recognize, but it won't have any physical meaning. However, if you write planetarium shows exclusively for the scientifically literate then I suppose that it makes sense to only use the SI system.

    I guess that the reason I keep coming back to the thread is that I sense an underlying current that if a person uses the standard system in regular life they must be stupid. I realize that this is not what is being said, but it seems like that is the atitude. Possesing a knowledge of any particular measurement system simply does not bestow any special status.

  10. #70
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    [quote="beck0311"]
    Quote Originally Posted by Spacewriter
    Among other things, I write and produce planetarium shows, and I always try to use metric units (or relative sizes like "three times the size of Earth") in the programs. You'd think that since metric is part of the language of science, nobody'd have a problem with this, but there have been clients who have complained about all those "kilometers and things." Nonetheless, I continue to use metric when possible.
    I had this elegant reply all typed in a couple of hours ago and when I went to press "submit" it all disappeared and I got a database error for the board. So, here goes again.


    This bothers me a little. First I openly acknowledge that the SI system is somewhat easier to use that the "standard" system. But if you are writing planetarium shows for the general American public, then why would you insist on using SI units? Why not just write them in Latin? Using relative sizes would obviously be best, but you have to face the fact that even if they have a passing familiarity with the SI system they are much more likely to have an intuitive feel for "standard" system.
    And as I made clear, I try to use relative measures whenever possible. If people are coming to a planetarium show or reading an astronomy book, they should not be surprised to be greeted with the language of science, which includes metric units. In astronomy, though, I'm usually working in light-years, parsecs, etc., so it's not a big problem.

    It's a question of using the right language for a given situation. You don't go to your mechanic and say, "My thingamajiggie on the end of the whosis is whanging." Well, you CAN do that, but your mechanic is likely to scratch his/her/its head and say, "huh?" No, you actually make an effort to figure out where the noise is coming from so you can say, "Whenver I drive this fast, this noise comes out the rear end by the tailpipe."

    When I go to the doctor, I don't say, "Gee Doc, my dingie is hurting." I say, "My elbow hurts" or "I think I pulled a muscle here... " and point to the offending part. It gives us a basis for communication.

    So, why should we expect scientists to change the units in which they work when they communicate with a subset of humanity that is still working in other units? Most of us in books or articles will cheerfully put up both units when we're saying that the Earth is 238,000 miles (380,000 km) from the Moon.

    That doesn't work too well in a show and I abandoned that double usage a long time ago. In a narration, we only have so much time to get the ideas across (some shows cover a lot of ground in about 30 minutes) and the simpler one can make the language, the better. So, I might say "The Sun is 150 million kilometers from the Earth" or even better, I might say, "The light from the Sun takes about 9 minutes to get here." It's less PRECISE perhaps, but it also avoids using units that the audience might not know.


    To the average American 3ft 4in conjurs up an actual distance, while a meter is an abstraction that he/she will recognize, but it won't have any physical meaning. However, if you write planetarium shows exclusively for the scientifically literate then I suppose that it makes sense to only use the SI system.
    I write them for people who come to the planetarium. Most of them show up expecting to learn something about science. This also means we teach and learn the language of science -- much as we're doing with the Mars missions right now. I can think of many science terms that have entered the mainstream vocabulary from science and nobody bats an eye about it. So, why should units be different?

    (Hell, how many of us use "Trek" terms, even? And they're not (arguably) strictly science terms.)

    I guess that the reason I keep coming back to the thread is that I sense an underlying current that if a person uses the standard system in regular life they must be stupid. I realize that this is not what is being said, but it seems like that is the atitude. Possesing a knowledge of any particular measurement system simply does not bestow any special status.
    Nor did I claim any such special status. There isn't any status to knowing the different units, just as there is no special status for those who can speak several languages or can run fast, or juggle or whatever. These are skills and the more skills one has, the one more is able to perceive and understand the universe.

  11. #71
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    Quote Originally Posted by Spacewriter
    It's a question of using the right language for a given situation. You don't go to your mechanic and say, "My thingamajiggie on the end of the whosis is whanging." Well, you CAN do that, but your mechanic is likely to scratch his/her/its head and say, "huh?" No, you actually make an effort to figure out where the noise is coming from so you can say, "Whenver I drive this fast, this noise comes out the rear end by the tailpipe."

    When I go to the doctor, I don't say, "Gee Doc, my dingie is hurting." I say, "My elbow hurts" or "I think I pulled a muscle here... " and point to the offending part. It gives us a basis for communication.
    This is a borderline strawman argument. Using feet as aposed to meters is hardly the same as refering to your elbow as a "dingie".

    Quote Originally Posted by Spacewriter
    I write them for people who come to the planetarium. Most of them show up expecting to learn something about science. This also means we teach and learn the language of science -- much as we're doing with the Mars missions right now. I can think of many science terms that have entered the mainstream vocabulary from science and nobody bats an eye about it. So, why should units be different?

    (Hell, how many of us use "Trek" terms, even? And they're not (arguably) strictly science terms.)
    I tend to disagree that SI units are necessarily the "language of science", but I could be wrong since I am only an engineer. Things like energy, entropy, acceleration and power are the language of science, but the particular units that they are expressed in are simply a method for discussing the relative magnitude of these concepts.

    Don't get me wrong. I am not accusing you of anything, and I certainly appreciate the work you do, I have been known to frequent a planetarium show now and then, and generally enjoy them regardless of the units that they use .

    Quote Originally Posted by Spacewriter
    I guess that the reason I keep coming back to the thread is that I sense an underlying current that if a person uses the standard system in regular life they must be stupid. I realize that this is not what is being said, but it seems like that is the atitude. Possesing a knowledge of any particular measurement system simply does not bestow any special status.
    Nor did I claim any such special status. There isn't any status to knowing the different units, just as there is no special status for those who can speak several languages or can run fast, or juggle or whatever. These are skills and the more skills one has, the one more is able to perceive and understand the universe.
    I wasn't referring to you I was referring to the general attitude that is on this thread. You will have to forgive me. As I have mentioned, I work in aeronautical engineering which os one of those rare technology areas that still uses the standard system, and is quite likely to do so for the remainder of my career.

  12. #72
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    Quote Originally Posted by beck0311

    This is a borderline strawman argument. Using feet as aposed to meters is hardly the same as refering to your elbow as a "dingie".
    It was an analogy about language, not a direct comparison to units.


    I tend to disagree that SI units are necessarily the "language of science", but I could be wrong since I am only an engineer. Things like energy, entropy, acceleration and power are the language of science, but the particular units that they are expressed in are simply a method for discussing the relative magnitude of these concepts.
    I minored in telecommunications engineering in grad school and there's a whole HASH of units in that field!


    Don't get me wrong. I am not accusing you of anything, and I certainly appreciate the work you do, I have been known to frequent a planetarium show now and then, and generally enjoy them regardless of the units that they use .

    Quote Originally Posted by Spacewriter
    I guess that the reason I keep coming back to the thread is that I sense an underlying current that if a person uses the standard system in regular life they must be stupid. I realize that this is not what is being said, but it seems like that is the atitude. Possesing a knowledge of any particular measurement system simply does not bestow any special status.
    Nor did I claim any such special status. There isn't any status to knowing the different units, just as there is no special status for those who can speak several languages or can run fast, or juggle or whatever. These are skills and the more skills one has, the one more is able to perceive and understand the universe.
    I wasn't referring to you I was referring to the general attitude that is on this thread. You will have to forgive me. As I have mentioned, I work in aeronautical engineering which os one of those rare technology areas that still uses the standard system, and is quite likely to do so for the remainder of my career.
    Ah. I would imagine that you understood full well the problems engendered in the failed Mars Polar Lander mission then. That was a case of mismatch of units between standard and metric...

    For the record, I too, have run into the attitude you refer to from those who somehow think metric is more superior... I've never seen one to be superior, but I do recognize some human need to find ways to feel superior... myself, I've always admired multilingual people...

  13. #73
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    Quote Originally Posted by Spacewriter
    Ah. I would imagine that you understood full well the problems engendered in the failed Mars Polar Lander mission then. That was a case of mismatch of units between standard and metric...
    Yeah, this was a rather large embarassment. Most of NASA uses the SI system, but here at Dryden we use the standard system almost exclusively since the aircraft companies we deal with have never wanted to go to the expense of changing over to SI. The interesting thing with the Mars Polar Lander was that during the transit to Mars it kept drifting and needed minor corrections, every time it drifted the correction needed was always related to a factor of about 4.5. The number was bothering engineers, but nobody could really figure out where it came from. It turns out that the number was the conversion pounds and newtons (4.448 N = 1 lb). I am not sure that the problem could be fixed enroute, but as a test engineer I am personally offended by the fact that they didn't discover this problem during the verification and validation process (but then again it was a "faster, better, cheaper" program :roll: )

  14. #74
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    Quote Originally Posted by Donnie B.
    Don't be too smug. This board is loaded with scientists and engineers, and we use "metric" every day.

    If you want to help convert us heathen, why not set up a fund to pay for switching over all our road signs, real estate records, and measuring cups? <IMG SRC="/phpBB/images/smiles/icon_biggrin.gif">
    Don't forget about re-tooling the vast majority of our machine shops and industry.

    I can't speak for most of the American schools, but where I went to school, we used metric in our science classes. Most of us objected, but the teachers pointed out that the rest of the world used it and that was just tough.

    If you want confusing, though, you should try my job. We have casting stations made in the US that do all of their readings in metric. (i.e. temperature, mass flow controllers and distance movements). So when you go to fix something on the station, what is it? It's a half-inch bolt, and I just grabbed my darn metric wrenches. Then we have the British, Swiss, German and Japanese made equipment, and I've got a half-inch wrench that doesn't quite fit. It gets better. Our machine shop... Yup, you guessed it, inches. I just wish my job could decide on one unit.

    "My car gets four rods to the hogs-head and that's the way I likes it."

  15. #75
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bob The Confused
    Quote Originally Posted by Donnie B.
    Don't be too smug. This board is loaded with scientists and engineers, and we use "metric" every day.

    If you want to help convert us heathen, why not set up a fund to pay for switching over all our road signs, real estate records, and measuring cups? <IMG SRC="/phpBB/images/smiles/icon_biggrin.gif">
    Don't forget about re-tooling the vast majority of our machine shops and industry.

    I can't speak for most of the American schools, but where I went to school, we used metric in our science classes. Most of us objected, but the teachers pointed out that the rest of the world used it and that was just tough.

    If you want confusing, though, you should try my job. We have casting stations made in the US that do all of their readings in metric. (i.e. temperature, mass flow controllers and distance movements). So when you go to fix something on the station, what is it? It's a half-inch bolt, and I just grabbed my darn metric wrenches. Then we have the British, Swiss, German and Japanese made equipment, and I've got a half-inch wrench that doesn't quite fit. It gets better. Our machine shop... Yup, you guessed it, inches. I just wish my job could decide on one unit.

    "My car gets four rods to the hogs-head and that's the way I likes it."
    Your sig reminds me of the classic physics assignment to re-work a problem in non-standard units (in order learn unit conversion). The favorite was velocity in terms of furlongs per fortnight.

  16. #76
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    It's the Simpsons. Grandpa Simpson is complaining about the metric system and he shouts that out.

  17. #77
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    Stop complaining just change the meter (or whatever you want to call it) so that light travels exactly 300 000 km a second and be done with it
    ps love the simpsons
    pps its the stonecuters that keep the metric system down
    ppps and the "martions [type O] under wraps"

  18. #78
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    Quote Originally Posted by mickal555
    Stop complaining just change the meter (or whatever you want to call it) so that light travels exactly 300 000 km a second and be done with it
    But that would ruin the ultra-geekyness of knowing that c = 299,792,458 m/s!


    And just to throw my own two cents in...
    I was born after Canada switched to metric, but not so long after that my father hadn't stopped refering to everything in miles, pounds, feeds, ounces, quarts, gallons, etc, etc. I measure my height in feet, and my weight in pounds. I buy my pop by the litre (or 355 ml)...unless I'm buying from a fast food joint, in which case I buy by the ounce...and distances in centi/kilometres...unless I'm looking at something over a foot in length, but under 50... And most bizarrely of all, I'm not very good at converting between the unit systems. I don't know what an ounce is, or what a mile is. Off the top of my head, I don't know my height in metres, and can only estimate my weight in kilograms.

    Fun times.

  19. #79
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    Your sig reminds me of the classic physics assignment to re-work a problem in non-standard units (in order learn unit conversion). The favorite was velocity in terms of furlongs per fortnight.
    Ah yes, the old furlong-firkin-fortnight system of engineering undergrad fame. My car gets 1440 furlongs per firkin. This system has the advantage that firkin can be used as an adjective as well as a unit of volume.

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    Ah yes. I've often measured Microsoft programs performance in firkins.


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    Quote Originally Posted by Ut
    I was born after Canada switched to metric, but not so long after that my father hadn't stopped refering to everything in miles, pounds, feeds, ounces, quarts, gallons, etc, etc. I measure my height in feet, and my weight in pounds. I buy my pop by the litre (or 355 ml)...unless I'm buying from a fast food joint, in which case I buy by the ounce...and distances in centi/kilometres...unless I'm looking at something over a foot in length, but under 50... And most bizarrely of all, I'm not very good at converting between the unit systems. I don't know what an ounce is, or what a mile is. Off the top of my head, I don't know my height in metres, and can only estimate my weight in kilograms.

    Fun times.
    Same here. And the funny thing is I use the same units for the same things as you, all the way on the other side of the continent.

    I also measure air temperture in C, water temperature in F, distance over land in km, distance over water in miles, height in metres, depth in fathoms, meat by ounce, drinks by ml (except liquor, which is pints or oz for beer and wine and ml for spirits).

    Dating someone younger than me has revealed that a more recent generation is free from this unit-hell. Thus, I've made a decent effort to learn conversion, but I still get funny looks every time I bring up Imperial units.

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    According to this, even Americans understand SI better than Imperial.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Joe87
    Ah yes, the old furlong-firkin-fortnight system of engineering undergrad fame. My car gets 1440 furlongs per firkin.
    What's the unit of mass?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Joe87
    Ah yes, the old furlong-firkin-fortnight system of engineering undergrad fame. My car gets 1440 furlongs per firkin.
    Quote Originally Posted by jnik
    What's the unit of mass?
    It's usually taken to be a firkin of water (around 34 kg), and also just called a firkin, with the confusion of whether you're talking about a volume or a mass resolved through context.

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    We lost a Mars probe over this...

  26. #86
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    I prefer the metric system to the English system... Come on, would you rather have centimeters, meters, and kilometers (scaled by factors of multiples of 10) or inches, feet, and miles (scaled in a fashion that makes no sense!)? Grams, kilograms, and tonnes (again, multiples of 10) or ounces, pounds, and tons (more numerical nonsense)?

  27. #87
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    maybe we should have a poll.

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    Quote Originally Posted by publiusr
    We lost a Mars probe over this...
    No, we didn't!

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    I heard that there was a fist fight over the loss of one of the two defunct probes.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Donnie B.
    Don't be too smug. This board is loaded with scientists and engineers, and we use "metric" every day.

    If you want to help convert us heathen, why not set up a fund to pay for switching over all our road signs, real estate records, and measuring cups? <IMG SRC="/phpBB/images/smiles/icon_biggrin.gif">
    The last time we tried the signs, we had to give up after everyone blew holes in them. "English units or death!" seems to be the general opinion of the US public.

    I think SI should be the only system used in scientific endeavors. Internet sites are the worst. At least half of them still use calories for scientific heat measurement even though nobody uses calories anymore!

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