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The Logic Behind Metric Paper Sizes 1461

Posted by michael
from the forty-rods-to-the-hogshead dept.
Oily Pakora writes "Those of us in the United States are so used to our Letter and Legal paper sizes. We've seen the A4 paper size option in our printer trays and in printer preference menus. Metric sizes used almost everywhere in the world, save for the US and Canada. Here is an interesting article that discusses all of the aspects of metric paper. For those who enjoy a bit of math, did you know that in the Metric paper system, the height-to-width ratio of all pages is the square root of 2? This means that you can place two sheets of A4 side-by-side and they will equal an A3 sheet exactly, and two sheets of A3 will equal an A2."
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The Logic Behind Metric Paper Sizes

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  • by conner_bw (120497) on Friday May 14, 2004 @12:40PM (#9152755) Homepage Journal
    One for the road...

    Logic?

    The metric system is the tool of the devil! My car gets forty rods to the hogshead and that's the way I likes it.

  • 2 x A4 = A3 (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 14, 2004 @12:41PM (#9152759)
    News?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 14, 2004 @12:41PM (#9152765)
    That make me happy my rolling paper is not metric
    -B
  • Side-by-sideness (Score:5, Informative)

    by TyrelHaveman (159881) on Friday May 14, 2004 @12:42PM (#9152779) Homepage
    You can also put two 8.5x11 (Letter) sheets of paper side by side and it equals an 11x17 (Tabloid) sheet of paper...
    • Re:Side-by-sideness (Score:3, Informative)

      by N1RCV (560341)
      In the engineering world (in USA). Letter size is A size. Tabloid is B size. 2 B sizes (22x17) is C size. And 24x36 is D size.
    • Re:Side-by-sideness (Score:4, Interesting)

      by salzbrot (314893) on Friday May 14, 2004 @12:54PM (#9153001)
      That is true, but the 8.5 x 11 has a width-length ratio of about 1.29, whereas the 11 x 17 has a ratio of 1.54. A sheet of 17 x 22 again has the ratio of 1.29 and so on.

      The DIN A formats all have the ratio of square root 2. That makes it very easy to scale stuff up or down, e.g. if you use a copy machine: copy 2 DIN A4 (= DIN A3) on one DIN A4 without messing up the margins. Cut the sheet in half and you have 2 DIN A5 pages that exactly look like the DIN A4 pages, only half the size.
    • Re:Side-by-sideness (Score:5, Informative)

      by SSpade (549608) on Friday May 14, 2004 @12:56PM (#9153044) Homepage

      But 11x17 is not the same shape as 8 1/2x11.

      That's the real beauty of A4/A3 etc. All the sizes in a given series (A00, A0, A1, A2, A3, A4, A5... or B1, B2, B3...) are the same shape.

      So you can photocopy an A4 document onto A3 paper expanding it by the right proportion and it'll fit perfectly. And you can copy two A4 documents onto A3 paper and it'll fit perfectly. Or use psnup to put A4 formatted documents reduced to 2-up on A4 paper with no wasted space.

      Try that with letter or legal size....

    • by srussell (39342) on Friday May 14, 2004 @01:02PM (#9153140) Homepage Journal
      Yes, but the metric system is designed so that this ratio applies all the way from the smallest size up to the largest. So, two A4 is one A3, two A3 is one A2, two A2 is one A1.

      Putting them side-by-side isn't as interesting as cutting them in half, though. I discovered this when I started printing photos from my inkjet. Photo paper is generally available in the stores in limited sizes. I can buy a bunch of A4, and cut it in half, and I have two A5s. Do it again, and I have A6s, which is nearly a 4x6. Best of all, these paper sizes are all standard, which is good, because my printer doesn't like me to define my own paper sizes. With the American system, I have to measure and cut, which is more difficult.

      When you discuss the advantages of metric, it really is about convenience[1]. There's nothing that you can do with metric that you can't with the English system; it is just, generally, more difficult to do with the English system. If you don't care about convenience, and you live in the USA, then you probably don't have any reason to use metric.

      [1] Of course, using metric in the US imposes a certain amount of inconvenience from compatability issues, but that's another argument.

      • Re:Side-by-sideness (Score:5, Informative)

        by barawn (25691) on Friday May 14, 2004 @01:54PM (#9153956) Homepage
        When you discuss the advantages of metric, it really is about convenience[1]. There's nothing that you can do with metric that you can't with the English system; it is just, generally, more difficult to do with the English system. If you don't care about convenience, and you live in the USA, then you probably don't have any reason to use metric.

        That's not quite true - one of the reasons that the Imperial system is moderately convenient for building is that base 12 is divisible by 2,3,4 and 6, so you'll encounter less rounding error if you need to split things up into common numbers. Base 10 is only divisible by 2 and 5. (Incidentally, this is of course why one of the older civilizations used base 60 - it's divisible by 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6, and it's the reason we have 60 seconds in a minute, 60 minutes in an hour).

        So, for instance, if you want to break a 1' object into thirds, you can do it exactly. Try doing it with meters - it's 33 and a third centimeters. Most people would say "screw it, it's 333 mm" - but if you now take those "1/3 m" sticks and put 300 of them end to end, you don't have 100 m - you have 99.9 m, and you're a full ten centimeters short. In imperial, 1/3 of a yard is 1 foot. No rounding errors.

        There really *are* advantages to the Imperial system - most people, however, simply assume that Imperial sucks and leave it at that.

        Metric paper, however, is better designed than US. Being able to print 2 A4 on 1 without much work really kicks.
        • by SamSim (630795) on Friday May 14, 2004 @04:34PM (#9156359) Homepage Journal

          I would have infinitely greater respect for the Imperial system if all of it did indeed work in twelves, like with feet and inches. But inches are not divided into twelfths but sixteenths. Then there are three feet in a yard, 5.5 yards in a rod, 40 rods in a furlong, 8 furlongs (or a nice round 1760 yards) in a mile. 16 ounces in a pound, 14 pounds in a stone, 2000 pounds in a ton. Don't get me started on liquid measure. And ultimately, you have to measure so closely that you *have* to use decimal places of the smallest unit (like 11.6 inches or whatever) - which means tens all round.

          Remind me again what makes it easier to use?

          Just go with tens. Tens are simple.

    • by ajs (35943) <ajs&ajs,com> on Friday May 14, 2004 @02:36PM (#9154648) Homepage Journal
      Also, if you take 3 8.5x11 sheets, line them up along their longer sides, attach them to eachother, put a staple through the middle of the first and second sheet join and then hang them from a height of approximately eye-level it makes the idea place for a picture of a naked "girl next door".

      My buddy Heff taught me that trick.
  • Obligatory (Score:5, Funny)

    by swordboy (472941) on Friday May 14, 2004 @12:43PM (#9152789) Journal
    PC Load Letter!? WTF does that mean?!
  • Audi A4 (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 14, 2004 @12:43PM (#9152798)
    There's also an Audi A4, and if you put two of those side by side, people say "Look, isn't that a coincidence".
    • Re:Audi A4 (Score:5, Funny)

      by Golias (176380) on Friday May 14, 2004 @01:50PM (#9153890)
      Two Mini Coopers side by side == One Audi A4
      Two Audis == One BAM ("Big Assed Mercedes")
      Two Mercedes == One average European house.

      Wow, those Europeans can apply simple metric system math to everything!

      Meanwhile, in America:
      Two Mini Coopers side by side == One speed bump for a Hummer H2.
      Two Audis in the driveway == A good house to break into.
      Two Mercedes == Really, really tacky.
      Two Hummers == The energy consumption of a typical third-world country
      Two thrid world countries == A re-unified Germany. (I keed!)

  • by miketang16 (585602) on Friday May 14, 2004 @12:43PM (#9152799) Journal
    We claim to be one of the most scientifically advanced countries in the world, but we can't adopt a useful standard that the _rest_ of the scientific community uses. Seriously, what is the problem with metric? I find it so much easier to use than the English system. Our government should at least make the attempt to switch over.
    • So? Use metric for science-related stuff where it really matters. (Most in the US do anyway.) There's no good reason to go to the expense and trouble of switching from English to metric all at once. It's much more cost-effective to do it over the space of a couple generations rather than all at once.
      • by fireduck (197000) on Friday May 14, 2004 @01:20PM (#9153397)
        except that the US apparently sanctioned the metric system in 1886, and the American Bureau of Standards made the metric system it's standard in 1964. (nice timeline here [miketodd.net]). There've been various attempts to further adopt in more recent history, but basically the US doesn't want to change. The metric system is nonexistant as far as general use is concerned. The only "off the top of my head" metric use I can think of are 2 L bottles of coke. nothing else gets metric treatment.
    • by SkankhodBeeblebrox (581971) on Friday May 14, 2004 @12:55PM (#9153038)
      Your government did try to switch over, not once [wa.gov], not twice, but three [gsa.gov] times! (with limited success, according to the 2nd link)

      Also according to that 2nd link,
      "Federal agencies were required by this legislation, with certain exceptions, to use the metric system in their procurement, grants and other business-related activities by the end of 1992. "


      Not sure what that means to a typical U.S. Citizen, but it appears the U.S. will be metric someday :)
    • test.
      This happened years ago. I had a Chem. test and the question had something to do with densities - I can't remember. But the point is, I remembered that the density of water is one, all the units where metric, and calculating the density, volume, and mass were a no brainer with the metric system.

      I once got into a friendly argument with an engineer over the merits of the metric system. His argument "Foot-Lbs. I know what that is - that's obvious! Newton - what the fuck is a Newton."

    • by madman101 (571954) on Friday May 14, 2004 @01:08PM (#9153235)
      IMHO, the metric system is doomed in the US because it's not American. That's not meant to be funny, sarcastic, or anything other than a simple fact. Well, perhaps it's meant to be a comment on the American psyche...
      • Actually, it has to do with apple pie. Since there is nothing more American than apple pie, the apple pie recipe is considered sacred. It has been passed down from generation to generation since the start of this glorious nation. Unfortunatly, it has been passed down on the female side of our ancestry, and we men have been telling our women that:

        |------| = 10 inches, when in fact
        |---------| = 10 inches.

        This has caused them to become totally confused with regard to units of measure, and they are thus unable to convert imperial to metric units. Thus, if we were to switch to using the metric system, we would no longer be able to bake apple pies, a situation we are just not willing to accept.
  • by USAPatriot (730422) on Friday May 14, 2004 @12:43PM (#9152803) Homepage
    I am of the firm belief that the metric system sucks. It is a global conspiracy created to cause the downfall of all things that we know and love. Upon careful examination it is clear that the metric system is at least indirectly responsible for most of the world's problems, including but not limited to:

    * Government conspiracy
    * Microsoft Windows
    * Rap Music
    * Hondas and their drivers
    * Transistors
    * Pokemon
    * Jerry Springer
    * Televangelism
    * Toxic waste
    * The Republicans
    * The Democrats
    * Defective and bogus hardware
    * Wrenches that dont fit
    * Starbucks coffee
    * Communism
    * Soccer
    * The Euro
  • by Your_Mom (94238) <slashdot.innismir@net> on Friday May 14, 2004 @12:45PM (#9152829) Homepage
    I can't deny it anymore.

    I just read an article on metric pages and found it incredibly intresting.

    At one point I said "Wow, Cool"

    I think I've gone beyond 'geek'.

    I feel dirty.
  • Pulp Numerology (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Bingo Foo (179380) on Friday May 14, 2004 @12:45PM (#9152834)
    Hey, if pulp numerology is your thing, look here. [virgin.net]
  • by teamhasnoi (554944) <teamhasnoi&yahoo,com> on Friday May 14, 2004 @12:47PM (#9152868) Homepage Journal
    remember that two 8 1/2 x 11 sheets equal an 11 x 17 sheet and four 4 x 5 cards can fit on a 8 1/2 x 11 sheet of paper. A ream of paper is 500 sheets and if you divide that by two, you get 250 sheets which really means nothing; I needed two extra facts for my post about math.
  • More usefully... (Score:5, Informative)

    by MartinG (52587) on Friday May 14, 2004 @12:48PM (#9152880) Homepage Journal
    you can place two sheets of A4 side-by-side and they will equal an A3 sheet exactly,

    More usefully, you can fold an a4 piece of paper in half and it will fit nicely in an a5 envelope.
    • Re:More usefully... (Score:4, Informative)

      by srleffler (721400) on Friday May 14, 2004 @05:13PM (#9156817)
      you can fold an a4 piece of paper in half and it will fit nicely in an a5 envelope.

      Not quite. The envelope would be exactly the same size as the folded paper, which would be too tight a fit. The A4 paper folded in half fits beautifully into a C5 envelope, however, and if you fold it in half again it will fit in a C6. If you don't want to fold your document, you buy a C4 envelope. What a neat system.

  • by MagnaMark (468484) on Friday May 14, 2004 @12:48PM (#9152890)
    This clever side-by-side feature applies to the 8.5 x 11 (letter) and 11 x 17 sizes that are quite common in the US and Canada as well.

    I'm not sure about "legal" paper and the rest.

    And don't worry everyone, Microsoft is aware [microsoft.com] of the problem! To quote: "The paper sizes in the United States and Canada (such as letter, legal, and so on) do not satisfy the needs of all users in the world market."

    Fear not! They'll solve this problem by embracing and extending the ISO paper-size standard. The new sizes will be MS-A4, MS-A3, etc. Of couse, you will only be able to print to these pages from MS apps, but what else is there?
    < / slashdot obligatory off-topic M$ bashing for karma>
  • by revery (456516) * <charles@NoSpAm.cac2.net> on Friday May 14, 2004 @12:48PM (#9152896) Homepage
    This means that you can place two sheets of A4 side-by-side and they will equal an A3 sheet exactly, and two sheets of A3 will equal an A2."

    And of course, 5 sheets of almost any metric sized paper folded into origami lions will inevitably merge to form Voltron, a robot so powerful that it will usually let it's enemies kick it's butt around for a good 15 to 20 minutes before it forms the blazing sword and finishes the fight.
  • by Cloud K (125581) on Friday May 14, 2004 @12:49PM (#9152899)
    For those of us living in A4-using lands, it's a real pain in the arse trying to set everything (especially in Windows) from Letter to A4! Then you think you have it susses and sure enough... "PC Load Letter" - aaargh!

    Do you have any idea how much trouble and stress you've caused by making Letter the default even with UK set as the country? ;)
    • by Uma Thurman (623807) on Friday May 14, 2004 @01:09PM (#9153251) Homepage Journal
      I have some idea, yes. You see, I've laid tile in the past, and one of the things you do is center the pattern on the floor, with equal sized partial tiles at the edges. This requires division of the distances by 2. It's really cumbersome to divide 34 7/8 inches by two in your head, for example.

      So, I went out to get a metric tape measure. Couldn't find a single one in my tiny Texas town. Eventually, I went to the Internet (Amazon.com) to find it. I wanted to get a tape measure with just centimeters on it, but had to settle for one with both inches and centimeters.

      Just so I'm never stuck without a metric tape measure again, I bought two of them. Cost me $25 apiece.

      Signed, an American who loves the metric system, was scientifically trained with the metric system, and if made emperor of the universe would provide free metric system education to the population at government expense.
  • by garglblaster (459708) on Friday May 14, 2004 @12:52PM (#9152952) Journal
    This is my personal opinion, however:

    I think the metric system is like Open Source:
    It's going to win in the long run -
    simply because it's the logical way to go!

    If you look at the evolution of things, there have always been different ways of doing stuff, but in the end one of them won - simply because it was undeniably the best way to go - and the others lost out..

  • by Potor (658520) <{moc.liamg} {ta} {1rekraf}> on Friday May 14, 2004 @12:54PM (#9153018) Journal
    I am a Canuck expat in Europe, and I grew up with 8.5x11 paper. Now, however, I shudder when I see it. A4 is so much more aesthetically pleasing to me, probably because it looks less clunky than its fatter and shorter American cousin. And, since the headline asks, I have found the scaling of the metric series to be very handy; it is easy to ask for precisely the size of paper you want.
  • by bperkins (12056) * on Friday May 14, 2004 @12:54PM (#9153020) Homepage Journal
    OOOoo! Look at me! I use the metric system!

    I only know how to divide by ten!
  • by SlipJig (184130) on Friday May 14, 2004 @01:04PM (#9153155) Homepage
    The height-to-width ratio of the pages isn't solely responsible for the fact that metric pages "add up" when placed side-by-side. They also have to be the right size, and that has nothing to do with the metric system. I could design any arbitrary measurement system, and a paper standard based on it that would have the same properties.

    On an unrelated note, one benefit of the English system is that measurements tend to be divisible in more ways. For example, 10 is evenly divisible by 1, 2 and 5. 12 (upon which much of the English system is based) is evenly divisible by 1, 2, 3, 4, and 6.

    Not that I think that's a reason not to switch over :)
    • by Medevo (526922) on Friday May 14, 2004 @06:24PM (#9157488) Homepage
      Yes, things like 10/3 and 10/6 are ugly and repeating, but they aren't that hard to thing about (1 or 2 thirds).

      But there is always 12/9... 1 and 1/3

      Metric when divided by the numbers below results in 3 whole numbers, 2 simple fractions (10/4 = 2.5), 3 nice repeating fractions, and 1 ugly fraction (10/7)

      Imperial results in 5 whole numbers, 3 simple fractions, 1 nice repeating fraction, and 2 ugly fractions

      While Imperial has a higher ratio of nice clean whole numbers when divided, can you tell me 12/7 or 12/11 without a calculator, 10/7? Isn't nice either but all you can really glean from this is that there will always be ugly numbers no matter what system you use.

      Metric has a huge advantage with units and scientific notation, how many inches are in a light-year? With metric turning light-years into cm is a lot easier.

      At the end of the day though, most of the advantages or disadvantages of using either are nullified by using technology. Creating a worldwide standard system is more important to remove issues in calculations between the two systems.

      They are all relative systems as well, as long as unless one system has some "magic relationship" with nature I haven't heard of (metric is based off natural things yes, but water was a bad choice) its simply a choice and a system of standards.

      Medevo
  • Just as Interesting (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Momomoto (118483) on Friday May 14, 2004 @01:05PM (#9153177) Homepage
    It's frightening how well they've thought out things like this. From the article:

    Technical drawing pens follow the same size-ratio principle. The standard sizes differ by a factor sqrt(2): 2.00 mm, 1.40 mm, 1.00 mm, 0.70 mm, 0.50 mm, 0.35 mm, 0.25 mm, 0.18 mm, 0.13 mm. So after drawing with a 0.35 mm pen on A3 paper and reducing it to A4, you can continue with the 0.25 mm pen. (ISO 9175-1)


    Call me an incorrigible geek, but that little tidbit made me giddy.

  • by rilister (316428) on Friday May 14, 2004 @01:06PM (#9153202)
    Honestly, US companies are genuinely converting to Metric, believe it or not. I work in a consultancy and work with a variety of clients, including a bunch in the worlds of science and medicine.

    Since I design things (not code), I have to ask what units they want their things in - I remember one conversation with a wholly US based company going like this:

    "What units do you want the database delivered in?"
    - [SARCASM BOLD] "We are a scientific company.[/SARCASM BOLD]>
    "Oh, right."

    They made me feel pretty stupid for asking. I'd say across the product industry it's something like 50/50 right now.
  • Another Cool Ratio (Score:5, Interesting)

    by donscarletti (569232) on Friday May 14, 2004 @01:21PM (#9153420)
    Although having paper with a 2^0.5 aspect ratio is by far the most practical solution it is not the most aesthetic solution. Photos and slides use an aspect ratio that is not used by any other type of paper. That ratio is (1 + 5^0.5) / 2 or approximately 1.61803399 .

    This number is otherwise known as the "golden ratio", it was discovered back in classical Greece and it was known to be the most aesthetically pleasing of all ratios. The Parthenon in Athens was built so that its length and width were dictated by this ratio, it was also used by many Renaissance artists to draw the human body so it seems "perfect".

    It is impossible of cause to prove mathematically that this ratio is the best looking of all irrational numbers any more than it is possible to prove mathematically who is the most attractive human, however it's endurance seems to suggest that it has some base to it. It has links with Fibonacci numbers, it also is encountered when drawing regular pentagrams and decagons.

    Due to the aesthetically pleasing nature of this ratio I think it would be fairly cool to have a series of paper sizes based on this ratio for artistic uses, rather than the practical but bland "A" series or the fairly pointless American and Canadian series.

    • Actually... (Score:4, Informative)

      by cr0sh (43134) on Friday May 14, 2004 @02:48PM (#9154825) Homepage
      This number is otherwise known as the "golden ratio", it was discovered back in classical Greece and it was known to be the most aesthetically pleasing of all ratios. The Parthenon in Athens was built so that its length and width were dictated by this ratio, it was also used by many Renaissance artists to draw the human body so it seems "perfect".

      These supposed "truisms" are actually mostly false - most are due to attempting to find the ratio where it didn't exist in the first place (ala Hoagland's "City of Mars" "mathematical layout", the Great Pyramid's "mathematical layout", etc)...

      If you want a great book on the subject of the phi, check out the book "The Golden Ratio" by Mario Livio (ISBN 0-7679-0816-3) to learn more about it than you would ever care to know...

  • Metric & The US (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bobej1977 (580278) * <.moc.oohay. .ta. .nosimajer.> on Friday May 14, 2004 @01:25PM (#9153473) Homepage Journal
    I used to support using the metric system in the US after going through converting the different units in physics during high school and college, but I've since reconsidered.

    I was once talking with some of family and I happened to say something like: 'It was 2 meters from me...' Immediately, one of my uncles interjected a joking comment about how I was the 'product' of the 'new' Math. We then proceeded to go off on a tangent about the merits of the two systems and how expensive it would be to switch to metric.

    At that point though, I was struck by how his comment was loaded with negative connotation, which obviously did not stem simply from an aversion to the cost of a hypothetical switch to metric. I realized that the source of his distaste for metric was really just the instinctive reaction social animals use to build communities. The 'Us Vs. Them' filter that we all use to clump ourselves into social groups.

    From this perspective, a human perspective, it makes complete sense to have differing systems of measurement. There would be obvious advantages if we all spoke the same language, but no one is proposing that we make everyone learn Chinese (quit being ethnocentric!). Even if everyone DID speak Chinese, people would still use their native languages at home, en familia. Why? Because the stratification of languages helps us to identify our social groups. In this way, we're 'The people who use miles', and they're/you're 'The people who use kilometers'. Communities, when you come down to it, are just sets of these bifurcations.

    Taking all that into consideration, I've thrown in with the english system curmudgeons. Why? For the same reason I'm in favor of driver's tests in 16 languages. Because being human ain't about being efficient, it's about communities.

  • by bob_shoggoth (15253) on Friday May 14, 2004 @01:27PM (#9153508)
    The simplest reason A4 won't take off in the US is that A4 doesn't fit in our file cabinets! We'd have to get rid of our file cabinets and folders and get new ones. Any A4 papers I have get all messed up in my filing cabinet as they don't fit!

    As an American physicist, I use SI units for work, but happily use US units for everything else. I don't know why it just pisses off the rest of the world that we like Farenheit, inches, etc. WHO CARES! Why doesn't Europe get ONE FREAKING TYPE OF ELECTRICAL PLUG!

    I found it funny that the article predicted the US switching, as I really don't see it happening.

    Can anyone tell me why any A4 paper I get in Europe has a purple tinge to it? I find that very annoying.

  • by Qbertino (265505) on Friday May 14, 2004 @01:32PM (#9153579)
    The funniest (sadest?) thing is that you kicked the british out and kept the worse thing they had voluntarily. The *imperial* system!
    Even thought the french helped you! That's the real loser part.

    BTW: It was Napoleon who established the metric system big time in large parts of his area of influence.
    Shame he couldn't follow the other guidelines:
    Universal Rule Number One: Never start a land war in Asia.
  • Holy crap. (Score:4, Funny)

    by Gannoc (210256) on Friday May 14, 2004 @01:58PM (#9154027)
    For those who enjoy a bit of math, did you know that in the Metric paper system, the height-to-width ratio of all pages is the square root of 2?

    Slow News Day of the Year Award nominee here.
  • by GlobalEcho (26240) on Friday May 14, 2004 @03:07PM (#9155109)
    Though all the speculation about US backwardness and hostility toward foreign systems is certainly entertaining, there's a benign historical explanation that I find compelling. It goes something like this:

    Recall that industrial mass production is essentially a 20th century invention, and that by the 1940's it still had not really spread beyond the U.S. and Europe. In World War II, most European industrial capacity was destroyed at one point or another, providing a clean slate to rethink standards for every industry, and to adopt logical standards with no switchover cost.

    After WWII, Europe wisely went to the metric system. Developing countries wisely adopted it as well. But the U.S., with its factories intact (and now back to making cars and vacuum cleaners) was saddled (and remains cursed with) with tremendous switching costs. The expense in lost customers and supplier confusion is too great for a company in most industries to unilaterally change. And agreements to change all at once are very hard to achieve.

    Empirical evidence:

    Newer US major industries (e.g. semiconductors) usually work in metric

    (As noted elsewhere) US science is in metric; because switchover costs are lower scientists could switch almost right away.

    Well-meaning attempts to effect a switch have been ignored by industry (because of the cost)

    US industries with a big international component are often metric (bicycle manufacture)

    I suppose the conclusion to draw is that the US is unlikely to switch until either something destroys its industrial factories, or the "old" unswitched industries become so dwarfed by new metric ones that it is actually cheaper for them to change.

    • Actually (Score:4, Informative)

      by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland@ya[ ].com ['hoo' in gap]> on Friday May 14, 2004 @06:20PM (#9157444) Homepage Journal
      the US was on course to be completly metric years ago, unfortunatly Reagon cut the funding. I remeber learning the metric system in grade schools in the 70's. Some road signs started appearing that had both speeds on it, as well as speedomoeters. Every public displayed thermometers showd Celsius and Farenheit. Factories had begun the process of changing over, then no more funding.
      But, if the only way to get elected is to 'cut taxes', what do you think is going to happen?

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