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The Logic Behind Metric Paper Sizes 1461 1461

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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  • 2 x A4 = A3 (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 14, 2004 @12:41PM (#9152759)
  • Re:Psst. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by StrawberryFrog (67065) on Friday May 14, 2004 @12:42PM (#9152782) Homepage Journal
    Come-on really, Do I want to measure a piece of paper using the square root of two?

    No, but it's very pleasant that an A3 page folded in half is exactly the same size as an A4 page. root-two is just the mathematical means to that end.
  • by FatSean (18753) on Friday May 14, 2004 @12:43PM (#9152786) Homepage Journal
    I mean, I guess for those who create and ship paper it makes fiting boxes together easier...

    But the average guy printing out documents could care less.
  • Oooo.... root 2! (Score:1, Insightful)

    by raehl (609729) * <> on Friday May 14, 2004 @12:43PM (#9152788) Homepage
    And this is interesting why?

    Two shees of 8.5x11 = one sheet of 11x17 too. WOW!
  • Yes, but... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by jbellis (142590) * <jonathan&carnageblender,com> on Friday May 14, 2004 @12:43PM (#9152797) Homepage
    Square roots of two are very mathematically cool, but... "ISO A4 is 6 mm less wide but 18 mm higher than the U.S. "Letter" format." [1/4" less wide, 3/4" taller.]

    I dunno, longer, less-wide paper means that the perimeter contains its writing
    area less efficiently. (A square would be most efficient for a
    rectangle.) So despite making my notepad almost 3/4" more unwieldy,
    moving to A4 actually reduces the area of the sheet by a small
    amount. (Do the math.)

    Sure it's silly to quibble about a square centimeter of area; I'm just
    trying to quantify my aesthetic objection to skinnier paper...

  • 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.
  • by aardvarkjoe (156801) on Friday May 14, 2004 @12:48PM (#9152887)
    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 jdavidb (449077) on Friday May 14, 2004 @12:48PM (#9152888) Homepage Journal

    You don't get it. It keeps going, recursively. Two A4's equal an A3, and two A3's equal an A2, and so on. The deal is that the paper is in such proportion that all A* papers are in the exact same proportion. That's not true if you double a 8 1/2 by 11. The proportion there is .77272, while the proportion for a doubled sheet, 11x17 is .647059.

    I'm betting the Golden Ratio comes into A4 paper somehow; anyone want to comment?

  • 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? ;)
  • Re:Yes, but... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by justforaday (560408) on Friday May 14, 2004 @12:49PM (#9152912)
    Sure it's silly to quibble about a square centimeter of area; I'm just trying to quantify my aesthetic objection to skinnier paper...

    are you sure it has nothing to do with it being what you're used to???
  • by Pxtl (151020) on Friday May 14, 2004 @12:53PM (#9152982) Homepage
    Constant aspect ratio. You don't have to remake your posters/flyers depending on what sheet you intend to print on. 11/17 != 8.5/11. It also makes shipping easier. Basically the only reason to stick with imperial measurements is inertia, as always.
  • Huh? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 14, 2004 @12:54PM (#9153005)

    (BTW the metric system sucks for times when you really do want to use fractions)

    Care to explain?

  • by RimmerExperience (456643) on Friday May 14, 2004 @01:02PM (#9153125)
    Hmm best and most logical always wins - like VHS over Betamax?
  • by Paulrothrock (685079) on Friday May 14, 2004 @01:02PM (#9153137) Homepage Journal
    And why the heck would you want to use fractions? They're hard to do addition and subtraction with. (But a little faster for multiplication and division.)

    1/4 + 1/8 = 3/8 doesn't make sense (1+1=3???) .25 + .125 = .375 makes sense.

    That's why kids have such trouble with fractions; until you *get* it, it's counterintuitive. That's why I buy tape measures with decimals and fractions. (Of course, when I'm measuring stuff my fiance insists I use feet and inches instead of just inches, so I have to multiply, add, then divide by twelve, then find the modulus!!!)
  • 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.

  • by Moderation abuser (184013) on Friday May 14, 2004 @01:03PM (#9153150)
    Because you can scale an A4 page down to A5 size and print two of them on each A4 sheet and they fit *exactly*. Saves paper.

    If you are a *real* skinflint and have good eyes you can scale down to A6 and print double sided. It works quite well with a decent laser printer.

    The reverse is true obviously if you want to scale up. You can tape (A4 usually because it's the most common) pages together to make A3, A2 and A1 sheets and it all fits together exactly.

    Having said that, I kind of assumed that the same thing applied to US paper sizes. Surprised it doesn't.

  • 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 gfxguy (98788) on Friday May 14, 2004 @01:04PM (#9153156)
    BTW the metric system sucks for times when you really do want to use fractions

    Can you describe a few of these times? I'm being serious... as a novice work worker and DIY home improvement and maintenance guy, I find using mixed fractions very annoying. Yes, you get accustomed to them, but I hardly say that makes it acceptable (hey, people get accustomed to Windows crashing, and find it acceptable to have to reboot or reinstall - I'm not one of them).

    Besides, it's not like you can't use fraction in metrics, either - so you say 1/2 cm instead of 5 mm, if it floats your boat.
  • by scottme (584888) on Friday May 14, 2004 @01:06PM (#9153186)
    I'm betting the Golden Ratio comes into A4 paper somehow; anyone want to comment?

    RTFA - it's covered. They are not the same thing. But they are often confused.
  • by Too Much Noise (755847) on Friday May 14, 2004 @01:08PM (#9153226) Journal
    What if you have to divide by 5? or 8? How heavy is each patty then?

    It's easy to pick the numbers you like. There are always numbers a given multiplier won't divide nicely to.
  • 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...
  • Re:Yes, but... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by 0x0d0a (568518) on Friday May 14, 2004 @01:14PM (#9153330) Journal
    Because we read left-to-right before top-to-bottom, it's easier for people to identify and move to the next line of text if they have a skinnier piece of paper.
  • Re:2 x A4 = A3 (Score:5, Insightful)

    by boaworm (180781) <> on Friday May 14, 2004 @01:20PM (#9153400) Homepage Journal
    This whole thing reminds me of a thing Jerry Seinfeld did, making fun of chinese people eating with sticks. He said something about that he could not understand why they kept eating with sticks, since "they have seen the fork".

    It feels just like that hearing about "US Letter", Yards, Pounds, Stones, Miles et al. YOU HAVE SEEN THE METRIC SYSTEM ;-)!

    (btw, thanks France!)
  • Re:Huh? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 14, 2004 @01:21PM (#9153423)
    So? Why would anyone in their right mind want to use fractions, and turn them to decimals anyway?

    You can have 1/3 or 1/4 or 2^-x of a meter just as well as you can have 1/x of a foot. Just as long as you keep it in fractional notation, you'll not have a problem.

    Why, exactly, anyone would want to do that is far beyond me. Perhaps they're just used to feets and inches.

    I always prefer to use a metric ruler/tape measure, and I'm in the US; of course, I design stuff in metric. I won't try and convert someone else's designs to metric. To me, trying to divide 87" and 13/16 by any number is just fucking irritating. It's much easier to do 240 centimeters / 2 = 120cm / 4 = 60cm, it's tons easier to do in the head.
  • by deadlinegrunt (520160) on Friday May 14, 2004 @01:22PM (#9153435) Homepage Journal
    You are indeed an excellent troll.
    Kudos to you and how you offset your trolling habits with karma whoring.

    Here []
    Here []
    Here []
    Here []
    Here []
    and here []

    I am actually quiet impressed with how you fool the moderators. Skillfull indeed you are with your time. Quiet funny actually.
  • 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.

  • Re:oops (Score:4, Insightful)

    by edalytical (671270) on Friday May 14, 2004 @01:25PM (#9153477)
    Yes, but skinnier is easier to read. That's why newspapers are split into columns. It's easier to move to the next line if your eyes don't have to trace back 8 1/2 inches. Although, I don't think A4 is skinny enough to make a difference.
  • 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.

  • Re:2 x A4 = A3 (Score:2, Insightful)

    by king-manic (409855) on Friday May 14, 2004 @01:29PM (#9153533)
    lol, chop sticks are more versitile then forks. You can do eevry thign you do with a fork, but also some things you can't, like picking up a tiny grain of rice.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 14, 2004 @01:36PM (#9153636)
    Both systems work. Both systems, for the most part, do what the users need them to do. There's no good reason to switch from the one you know to the one you don't, unless you're moving to a place where the other system is used.

    I swear to Me, I'm getting *really* tired of hearing people who naturally assume that the "other" system is the "wrong" system or somehow non-standard. As long as it works, use what you're most comfortable with and leave it at that.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 14, 2004 @01:58PM (#9154017)
    > Take a meter (100 cm) divide by 3 - you get 33.3333333 repeating. Find that on a ruler.

    33.3 cm is precise enough. Metric rulers are divided in cm's which are divided in mm's. There are few applications where greater precision than mm is needed. (And I suspect that metric is used in all those application as well.)
  • 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.
    So? The same is true of many of the non-metric sizes. You can place two sheets of A side-by-side and they will equal a B sheet exactly, and two sheets of B will equal a C, and so on up to E at least. (I've never seen F, but presumably it would be the size of two Es.)

    If you're going to brag about a feature, at least brag about the part that is better. With metric paper sizes, the described relationship exists, and the paper sizes all share the same aspect ratio, so you can reduce or enlarge to different paper sizes without having to worry about the margins.

  • Re:2 x A4 = A3 (Score:2, Insightful)

    by gwjgwj (727408) on Friday May 14, 2004 @02:07PM (#9154177)
    who has boiling water and ice when they're hiking?
    Who has cold salt water when they're hiking?
  • by s_wardman (696436) on Friday May 14, 2004 @02:13PM (#9154279) Homepage Journal
    If we wanted consistent numeric dates we could always use the format described in ISO 8601:1988 and write 2004-05-14. It also has the nice property that if you wanted to sort a list of dates in chronological order, you can sort it as a string (at least for the ASCII, ISO-8859-x, and UTF-8 encodings).
  • by Mattintosh (758112) on Friday May 14, 2004 @02:15PM (#9154317)
    The superiority of Fahrenheit makes them jealous. How is it superior? Resolution.

    To illustrate, in Celcius, 0 is the freezing point of water, 100 is boiling. In Fahrenheit, 32 is freezing, 212 is boiling. In Celcius, there are 100 integral degrees separating these two points. In Fahrenheit, there are 180.

    So it's 33 degrees Fahrenheit outside this morning... that's 0.555555555555-> degrees Celcius. By noon, it gets up to a whopping 40 degrees Fahrenheit. That's an oh-so-easy-to-calculate 4.44444444444-> degrees Celcius.

    "But," you whine, "32 is such a stupid number to base your calculations from!" Agreed. It is. So let's use something everyone agrees on - absolute zero. Celcius becomes Kelvin, Fahrenheit becomes Rankine. Now we have a logical starting point AND higher resolution.

    We're not so crazy after all.
  • Re:2 x A4 = A3 (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jorlando (145683) on Friday May 14, 2004 @02:21PM (#9154411)
    I can use the same cold salt water, inside my mout is 36 fold it six times and have the same (lack of) precision in Celsius... so???

    The Celsius scale was created using certaind standards: water, level sea.

    proceding: measure the temperature when the water is freezing and call taht 0 degrees

    measure the water again when it's boiling. let's call that point 100 degrees

    divide with evenly spaced scales these two points in the termometer.

    AFAIR the Farenheit scale was made the same way, the 0 being the freezing point of water and some salt and the 212 point water boiling. but the distance betwenn the water (without salt) freezing and boiling should be separated by 180 points

    every scale is arbitrary. the only absolute is the measurement, that must be consistent among different scales. the resources to build a scale are the same, be it F, C, K or some funny scale that you seem fit for your purposes.
  • by reidbold (55120) on Friday May 14, 2004 @02:22PM (#9154448)
    A0 by the sounds of it.
  • by Cryptnotic (154382) on Friday May 14, 2004 @02:31PM (#9154570) Homepage
    the same irregular number

    It's an irrational number, meaning that it cannot be represented by a ratio of two integers. For any rational number r, there exist two integers x and y, such that x/y = r.

    But anyway, regardless of the choice of a standard ratio of height to width, there will always be a need for other ratios of height to width. All you have to do is look at photography to see all kinds of weird ratios for film and print sizes (e.g., 4:5, 2:3, 4:3, 1:1, 6:17).

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 14, 2004 @02:33PM (#9154597)
    No, it not a fact. Your just America bashing. The idea that Americans don't accept anything that wasn't invented hear is the stupidest thing I've read in long time. There are tons of items and concepts that were not specifically invented here that Americans use every day.

    What you think the day the Declaration of Independance was signed there was ban on adopting all ideas and cultural practices from the rest of World? Um Okay.

    FYI the metric system is being used in the US. In fact it was legalized as a form of measurement by Congress in 1866. They also passed the the Omnibus Trade and Competitiveness Act in 1988 "which designates the metric system of measurement as the preferred system of weights and measures for United States trade and commerce." tric.html

    Anyway, nice Troll. You've unsuccessfully tried to paint every single American as acting the same way and believing the same things. Its bad enough when Trolls try to say every Slashdoter thinks the same way. Saying an entire country does it just makes you look like a jackass.
  • by Jott42 (702470) on Friday May 14, 2004 @02:56PM (#9154920)
    You are kidding, right?
    You know, ther is this nice thing called decimals. So the temperature goes from 0.5 degreed Celcius to 4.5 degrees Celsius. With a resolution of half a degree, which is standard, you get 200 steps from ice to boiling. But that comparison is meaningless, as you could just as easily add resolution to the Fahrenheit scale.
  • Re:2 x A4 = A3 (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Pfhreakaz0id (82141) on Friday May 14, 2004 @03:01PM (#9155000)
    Here's my guide to American's for non-americans:

    1: WE LIKE BEING DIFFERENT. The fact that is irrational is only a bonus.

    2: We like the fact that our system is hard for those who didn't grow up with it to understand. Ditto for language.

    3: It's not hard if you've grown up with it. Sorry, but I can do division of inches and parts of inchees( I do woodworking. I do things like 'divide 12' 5/8" into 4 equal parts" in my head all the time. (answer 3' 5/32").

    4. We don't give a shit.

    5: we Like that we like sports other countries don't.

    6: We don't really care that everyone else uses metric.

    7: Did I mention we don't give a shit?
  • by lazarus corporation (701348) on Friday May 14, 2004 @03:14PM (#9155205) Homepage
    It comes in remarkably useful when you design a poster at A4 size. You can then enlarge it on a photocopier to exactly fit A3 size for larger posters, and also reduce it to exactly fit two A5 (or 4 A6) hand flyers on a sheet of A4 paper: a real-world example that I've used many times.
  • Re:2 x A4 = A3 (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 14, 2004 @03:48PM (#9155649)
    Cold salt water is 0 degrees. Inside of your mouth is 96. Make those marks on a piece of paper with whatever you're using (assuming you have the tools to make a thermomemter), and fold it in half (five times over if you can). You'll now have a thermometer with nice whole numbers where the folds are (0, 3, 6...)

    In the highly inprobable case I needed a thermometer on a desert island, I would need a narow glass tube that is equally wide throughout the whole length. Ok, now assume the even more improbable case that I had this tube.

    I can measure the temperature of cold non-salty water and mark a 0 (after all you HAVE to have some non-salty water with you, or else any thermometer won't save your life). I can measure my body temperature and mark 36.3 (it's 36.7, but to hell with precision). Now I'll fold the paper 10 times and get 3.63 C-grades. Add one of these 3.63 to the whole 36.3 scale, make a mark and write 40 there (36.3 + 3.63 = cca 39.93). Take the scale from 0 to 39.93, fold it four times, then each part 10 times and you get 1C. Done.

    Now, this is clearly somewhat more complex then yout Fahrenheit case. So be it, each time you have to recreate a C thermometer on a desert island (with sand, a palm and a convenient glass tube), it will take you a few minutes longer. On the other hand, NOT using the metric system means that you have to convert feet to inches to yards to betelgeusian miles almost every time you add two lengths together. Now I find it more convenient for a system of measurements to be optimised for the latter case, but perhaps I just do not shipwreck as often as you do.
  • Re:2 x A4 = A3 (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 14, 2004 @03:50PM (#9155683)
    isn't that why you have a magnetized screwdriver?
  • Re:Huh? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 14, 2004 @03:54PM (#9155753)
    Insightful? Idiotic!

    1/3 of a cm is just as valid as 1/3 of an inch - there is nothing about the metric system that forces you to use decimal number representation, but it is more convenient to work that way.

    When working in inchs you need to work in 1/8, 1/16 or 1/32 - what is the difference?

    There are lots of fractions that don't fit into either division.

    To take an example from the parent, 1/3 of an inch can't be directly measured with a standard US ruler - they are in 1/16 or 1/32 of an inch.

    At least with metric you have a chance! I think most people will have just as much luck measuring 3.3mm than 10 2/3 * 1/32 from a ruler!

    I spent my first 12 years and the last few years in the imperial/US system, and the middle part in the metric system, so I can claim to have first hand experience with both systems.

    US/Imperical sucks.

    It only makes even vauge sense if you're still calculating by counting your fingers and toes. You may not have noticed, but there are calculators and digital calipers there days.

    If you want to stay in the past, OK, but don't claim there is any reason except you don't want to change.

    (Though I think gills per furlong is a great measurement for fuel economy) .esq.

  • by wersh (765553) on Friday May 14, 2004 @04:03PM (#9155925)
    To all of you who are complaining about sqrt(2) bein g a bad factor because it's irregular and to all you who keep saying that you can put two 8.5x11's together to get 11x17, you're missing the point.

    Take a moment to think about it mathematically. Paper has two dimensions, length (L) and width (W). If you take two pieces of paper of size L x W and put them side by side, the new paper's size would be of width L and length 2W. So we have to sizes of paper here: L x W and 2W x L. What would really be nice is if the proportion of the width to the length of both sets was equal, that way you could keep doubling or halfing paper infinitely. So mathematically, you want to solve for W/L = L/2W. If you solve the only solution to that problem is L = sqrt(2) * W. So if you want to half paper or double paper and keep the same proportion, you have no choice but to use sqrt(2). It's not some number somebody pulled out of their ass.

    As for the crowd who keeps saying that the English system is better because 12 is divisible by 2, 3, 4, and 6 while 10 is only divisible by 2 and 5, you people need to think a bit more about the numbers too. I think I can divide 12 centimeters into thirds much easier than I can divide 10 inches into thirds. Since you people obviously aren't concerned about the actual specific length involved (given that your only complaint in comparing meters to yards or inches to centimeters is divisibility) and are only concerned about divisibility, you can easily accomodate any divisor in either system merely by choosing a size that is divisible by your divisor. Neither the metric nor the English system accomodates dividing a length into seven portions evenly using a single unit (or the multiplier), but if you use seven or fourteen or twenty-one of a given unit, it works pretty damn well in any system you care to use.
  • Re:2 x A4 = A3 (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jrq (119773) on Friday May 14, 2004 @04:09PM (#9155994)
    I thought not being on the metric system had already cost many millions of dollars, in destroyed Mars probes. []
  • Is fresh water... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by pluvia (774424) on Friday May 14, 2004 @04:17PM (#9156119)
    ... the same as distilled water (pure H2O)?
    I was wondering about that 0C too, thanks to the gp for clarifying.
  • 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.

  • No, what happens (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Friday May 14, 2004 @04:41PM (#9156446)
    Is you realise it's not as big a deal as the rest of the world makes it out to be. I am totally fluent in the metric system, having taken lots of lab science and being a Canadian citizen and spend lots of time in Canada. I am also totally fluent in the US system, being an American citizen (I'm both) and living in the US my whole life.

    Transitioning back and forth is no great feat at all, I just use whatever system those around me are using. When I was a surveyor's assistant, most jobs were in US units, but government jobs were metric. No problem, set the gun (digital theodalite) to metric and go.

    What you discover is that, for day to day usage, the units are irrelivant so long as you are farmilar with them. All the fancy inter unit conversions that are what make the metric system really cool, you just don't use. What you need to have is a sense of how much a unit is. To be able to estimate how many feet, or metres, soemthing is away. To have a feel for how fast 60 mph, or kph, looks from a car. To know about how hot or cold 40 degrees F or C is.

    In the lab it's different, metric is the only way to go or your calculations will be needlessly complex, but in everyday life it makes no difference at all.

    You also find that if you use both systems, different things are more natural to you in one or the other. Air temperature I do better with in Farenheight, liquid and solid in Kelvin cooking however is Farenheight again. Driving I think in mph, but ballistics I think is metres/second.

    That's why there's no big care to transition. For 99.99% of the population is just doesn't matter. The US units work just fine, since they aren't dealing with any inter-unit conversion (like the mass of 1000cc of water or something). Those that do, ie scientists, learn the Metric system and can use it proficiently. It's not hard to know, and use, both in your life.
  • by AnalogFile (772030) on Friday May 14, 2004 @05:09PM (#9156787)
    I still find VERY confusing is the way fuel consumption is reported. Gone is the familiar Miles/Gallon where bigger is better only to be replaced by Liters/100Km where smaller is better!

    I was born with metric and do not understand Miles/Gallon (well, I do. Just not used to them). But I can relate very well as I was used to km/l (that's kilometres per litre) and still have problems figuring out the l/100km everybody is using now.

    However I think there's a stronger reason than cospiracy. After all you are measuring a consumption and what you consume are the litres not the kilometres. So that's what should be at the numerator. Think it this way: how would you expess a cost instead of a consumption? Dollars per 100 miles would make much more sense than miles per dollar. Switch that to metric and consumption and what you get? Litres per 100 kilometres. Makes sense. Even if it doesn't figure.
  • Re:2 x A4 = A3 (Score:2, Insightful)

    by mattis_f (517228) on Friday May 14, 2004 @05:23PM (#9156921)
    Ok... Lets translate your inches and feet to metric system - the guy is then looking to see how many 1 decimeter boards he can get out of (about) 1 meter of wood. There are ten decimeters on one meter... I don't see how using 4 inches and 3.5 feet makes it any easier.

    For the carpenter guy it's just a matter of what system he's used to using, for scientists it's good because everything fits together. So... We really just need one system. :-)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 14, 2004 @05:28PM (#9156959)
    I was told of the ultimate reason against imperial by and Engineer. Take a 5 year old and ask him/her to add 1mm + 5 + 12 + 25 and he may do it in his head. As an engineer to add 1/2" + 3/8" + 1" and watch him bring out the HPcalc
  • 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.

  • Re:2 x A4 = A3 (Score:2, Insightful)

    by gotih (167327) on Friday May 14, 2004 @06:44PM (#9157619) Homepage
    what is this, flamebait? chomp.

    americans don't know shit about the rest of the world. the rest of the world knows tons about america. not only do we export movies and tv shows, the rest of the world has informative news programs with correspondents reporting honestly on life in other countries and shedding light on global issues rather than focusing on the bad parts of a city like a teenager fretting over a breakout of zits (bad neighborhoods, like zits, will improve and possibly disapper with time and care but don't try to attack either).


    yeah, so does the rest of the world (except maybe japan). so stop trying to impose your values on them.

    2. and 3. together are absurd. you could have at least seperated them a bit.

    5. countries all over the world like sports which are not popular here. they like the sports but don't give a fuck who cares.

    6. and one cares if you use the british system.

    4, 7. "we don't give a shit" now that's a position to exalt with gusto! spoken like a real two year old who just learned to say "no".

    grow up...
    become a kid.

    do i need to mention that america is not the center of the universe? military power, check. influencial, check back in 6 years. the highest standard of living in the world, uh, no [].

    why do I spend my valuable time with people I'd much rather kick in the eye?
  • Re:2 x A4 = A3 (Score:5, Insightful)

    by perky (106880) on Friday May 14, 2004 @07:18PM (#9157875)
    We don't give a shit.
    On the contrary - you've spent over 100 billion dollars in the last year showing just how much you hate other people doing things differently.


  • by fireman sam (662213) on Friday May 14, 2004 @08:29PM (#9158365) Homepage Journal
    "For non-UK (and probably Aus and NZ)"...

    As an Australian, I take offense to being equated with those in the world who are so self centered that the do not know anything that is outside their own borders (You know who I mean).

    In Australia, we have fish and chip shops where you can still go in and buy a "minimum chips"*.

    *Minimum chips - a standard measure for the sale of chips that equates to about 10 large fries from McDonands. and costs between $2 - $4 dollars.

    BTW. The only difficulty with using the metric system is the transition from the other way. It can be compared to switching from Windows to Linux, may be confusing at first, but it is much easier in the long run. Plus, in Australia, we get to drive a 110

  • Re:2 x A4 = A3 (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Guppy06 (410832) on Friday May 14, 2004 @08:54PM (#9158504)
    "Get it?"

    I do, but you don't.

    "The cube meter is the volume of one ton of fresh water at sea level at the equator at zero degrees Celcius."

    No, a meter is the distance light travels in 1/(299,792,458) second. Period. A cubic meter is nothing more than that distance cubed.

    "The cube meter is the volume of one ton of fresh water at sea level at the equator at zero degrees Celcius."

    How many things are wrong with this statement?
    1. The kilogram is a unit of mass, not weight. And density is a ratio of mass per unit volume, not weight.
    2. The accepted (i. e. legal for engineering use) average value of average gravitational acceleration on the surface of the earth is just that: average. The internationally accepted standard is 9.80665 m/(s^2). Why would you use the extreme of ~9.780327 when very few people live there? You should be avoiding extremes anyway when it comes to defining things anyway.
    3. "Sea level?" What's that? High tide? Low tide? Ebb tide? Neap tide? (To make life easier for everybody, the standardized "accepted" answer is 101,325 Pa.)
    4. Why would you want to use the freezing point at any given pressure, anyway? If you so much as sneeze you throw everything out of whack (energy from sneeze melts some amount of water and/or sublimates some of it to water vapor, throwing off density, local absolute pressure and a host of other factors you look like you were trying to control)
    5. Oh, wait you're not using the freezing point, you're using 0 degrees Celsius. 0 degrees Celsius isn't the freezing point of water, it's simply 0.01 Kelvin below the triple point of water. You see, with all the difficulties of basing a temperature scale on freezing and boiling points (with all the variables involved there), the science/engingeering community said "Fuck it!" and based everything on the triple point of water (273.16 Kelvin a/k/a 0.01 degrees Celsius, 1 Kelvin = 1.8 degrees Rankine and 0 degrees Celsius = 32 degrees Farenheit, all by definition). Now, with 0 degrees Centrigrade, yes, that was (by definition) the freezing point of H20 at 101,325 Pa, and it's "close enough" to Celsius for average, everyday work, but it certainly isn't really the same thing.
    6. The density of water ice at 0 degrees Celsius is around 918 kg/(m^3). You're off by around 10%. Better luck next time!

    "1 ton is 1000 kilo gram."

    Is that a US ("short") ton or a UK ("long") ton? If you choose "US," you've just introduced another 10% or so of error. Either way, as a metric proponent you should be using the word "megagram" instead.

    "each kilo gram is thus 10cm*10cm*10cm, which happens to also be a liter."

    No, a liter is nothing more than a fancy name for "cubic decimeter." And one liter of water at 3.98 degrees Celsius is 0.9999750 kilograms. And, for reference, at the other extreme of 374.14 degrees Celsius (a/k/a the critical point of H2O) it's down around 0.316957 kg or so (but you'll have to push 22.1 MPa for that trick).

    "1 gram is 1 millionth of a ton, "

    A gram is simply 1/1000 of a kilogram. A kilogram is currently defined by a sign pointing to a particular chunk of metal that says "about this much" in French. (And a pound is currently defined as 0.45359237 kg.)

    "so if a bottle of water is 1000 grams (1 kilo gram), it is also 1 liter. "

    According to my steam tables, saturated liquid water at 25 degrees Celsius had a density of around 0.997 kg. I figure it's probably also around that number at 101,325 Pa as well.

    "So now I know the volume, the weight, and the measurement of the container. Pretty nifty no?"


    "Density is expressed in a ratio from fresh water at zero degrees at sea level at the equator."

    Change "density" to "specific gravity," "zero degrees Celsius" to "3.98 degreees Celsius," "sea lev

  • by DunbarTheInept (764) on Friday May 14, 2004 @09:49PM (#9158790) Homepage
    The fact that the D/C/B/A1/A2/A3/A4.. standard has that cut-in-half aspect ratio is a good thing, but it has ZERO to do with the fact that it's measuring things in metric, and everything to do with the fact that it's a newer standard invented with machinery in mind. The same efffect could have been had with inches as with centimeters, and if there was some compelling reason to re-do the paper sizes in America, the same thing would probably happen.
  • Re:2 x A4 = A3 (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DunbarTheInept (764) on Friday May 14, 2004 @10:07PM (#9158899) Homepage
    The metric system is sensible in that it matches our numbering system. But, the metric system is nonsensical in that our numbering system isn't a very good one, and shouldn't really be used to map a physical entity you are going to have to divide a lot. There aren't enough common denominators of 10. If we had been born with six fingers ( My name is Anigo Montoya) on each hand, and thus had a base-12 numbering system, then the imperial system would make a lot more sense than it does now. It divides things up into parts easier.

    The idea solution would be to have a counting system that makes more sense than base 10, and then have a measuring system that matches it.
  • by juhaz (110830) on Friday May 14, 2004 @10:25PM (#9158977) Homepage
    I was going to post the same thing, but I'll give you a MAJOR advantage of the US sizing system (A,B,C,D,E)...

    Every single size sheet can fold down to an 8.5x11 size. This makes it VERY easy to keep a binder full of technical drawings.

    Huh? What are you trying to say? That this doesn't work with metric papers? Every sheet from 4A0 will (well, would, given thin enough paper) fold down to miniscule A10 or more practically to A4.

    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."

    Turn this backwards and it says: you can fold a sheet of A2 to just A3, and you can fold an A3 to exactly A4.

    The same ratio is nice for a few things, but the doubling the length of the long edge is MUCH more convienent for those of us that actually use large paper sizes in everyday life.

    Good then, that both systems use doubling of one edge to help folding, eh? Ratio is just extra bonus to help scaling, it doesn't prevent this.
  • by pwarf (610390) <> on Saturday May 15, 2004 @05:26AM (#9160248)
    I'm an American, and I use the term "customary units" (using it as a technical term, not whatever units are customary) to refer to inches, feet, pounds, slugs (non-metric unit of mass), etc.

    While maintaining the aspect ratio of paper is a nice trick, I hope that elegantness of the solution for division didn't trump ergonomics or convenience. I believe A4 is negligibly different from 8.5" by 11" ("letter" size), so it sounds like it doesn't matter.

    By the way, "legal" paper (8.5" by 14") is the size it is so that you can photocopy "letter"-sized paper and then affix signatures and legal stuff at the bottom. Having a standard size that is longer than the commonly used sizes makes sense for these purposes. I'm curious: Is there something equivalent in international standard paper sizes?
  • by more (452266) on Saturday May 15, 2004 @08:46AM (#9160558)
    The right way to design software is to use all units in metric inside the system, all ratios as 100% = 1.0, not 100.0, etc. Simple principles like these remove a lot of unnecessary bugs. Unfortunately, there are many text books, even recognized books like Large Scale C++, that use imperial units in examples. Using imperial units or even scaled metric units (like cm) is asking for trouble. Stick to m, kg, s, etc. and do the conversions only when needed: in user interface and system interfacing.
  • by CaptainAvatar (113689) on Monday May 17, 2004 @03:28AM (#9171351)
    2) overlooked conversion costs. The enormous number of books that are still useful, but would become obsolete if no one knew miles, feet, inches, etc. anymore. Just think of all the obsoleted cookbooks alone.

    Pish, tosh. You just have conversion tables where necessary - Australian cookbooks still often have these up the back of the book, a generation after we switched to metric. Older ovens often have the conversion printed on them or people would pin up a converstion table on the fridge. Sure, it's irritating, but if we could handle it, I'm sure you Yanks could too.

    The cultural cost. This is the most overlooked, but there are so many books and poems that are an important part of our culture that would be less accessible if people weren't familiar with the units. To give a small example, I don't ever use leagues, so this was the first time that I realized that the 20000 Leagues in Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea is nearly ten times the diamter of the Earth! To some extent conversions can be done, but losing personal familiarity with older units does cost some understanding of the text for most readers.

    That's a fair point (I didn't realise that about 20,000 Leagues under the Sea! Well, I'm sure I must have checked in my geeky childhood but have forgotten. I guess then it refers to the length of the submarine voyage around the world, rather than the depth under the sea, as I had always assumed.) But even so lots of people here still know what a mile is, what a foot is and so on. I still express my height in feet and inches, not cm, because it's familiar and customary. But we use metric for all the important stuff :) What I'm saying is that even a fully metric system does not preclude the use of some customary units on an informal basis.

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