Units of Measure


I think Korea does the same thing and starts counting at 1 instead of 0. They’re always having to say things like “I’m X in international age.” or “I was born in 'XX” as a result.


It’s probably most of East Asia then, I’d bet anywhere with Chinese cultural influence.


“Welcome to Earth. Here’s your fencepost error.”


Meanwhile - and I’m sure it’s because I’m in a car-centric travel area - I almost always give distance of travel in units of time.

“It’s like 5 minutes down the road.”

“That’s a good half hour each way.”

“How far is it? Eh, it’s about 3 hours one way.”

I only talk about distance when I’m talking about relatively short ones, up to about 100’. Past that, we’re talking time almost exclusively.


We can’t use time because the subway is unpredictable as fuck!


Syncing an independent audio source across multiple video channels requires some manual fine-tuning.


So is the goddamn New York State Thruway.

My commute is reliably 25 - 33 minutes one way, except when it’s an hour and a half.


When I lived in Michigan, I gave distance in terms of time assuming an average speed of 60MPH.

This was shockingly accurate across almost any distance outside of a purely local residential neighborhood.


My favorite thing in medieval research is looking back at the various assizes issued by English kings.

Motherfuckin’ kings used to be able to change units of measure.


“The inch is now this long” says one king.

Years later:

“Fuck that guy, the inch is now this long.”

It’s like the ultimate expression of human kind - we give you absolute power and you use it to squabble about how to quantify your dick.

Let’s not even get into the fucking bushel. Good lord the bushel. What a fucking mess that thing is.


Look up the origin of the length units from which the acre is derived.


In my normal life, when I chose the measurement, I use metric. It’s just obviously the right way to go.

But in unique situations, other units come up…

Because I work on cruise ships, I often think in nautical units. Mostly knots for speed, but also nautical miles. And degrees for wind direction, along with cardinal directions for more general direction measurements. Also wind force, and sea condition/state, and other things I can’t think of right now.

When driving in the UK: miles and miles per hour.

When watching sports, the heights of athletes is often given in feet and inches, even if other measurements are metric.

At the US Open and Wimbledon, serve speed is measured in MPH (and displayed as such on screen and in the stadiums) while the rest of the world uses KMPH. Also, depending on the location and commentary, motorsports will sometimes go with MPH and sometimes KMPH.

When people talk about rough numbers of something between 20 and 100, they will often say “tens of this thing” but I’m big fan of saying “dozens” or “scores”. It’s not so much a measure but a way of communicating something going up by chunks.

When making music, I switch from time to beats per minute and also time signatures then divisions of the beat depending on time signatures. I rarely manipulate music things more precisely than 1/32 of a beat but it does happen.

For manipulating sound and with effects processing I’m often working in milliseconds.

For photography I work in seconds and thousands of a second for shutter speeds, but also F-Stop numbers for adjusting lens apertures.

Fuck Fahrenheit.

Fuck pounds and stones.


Just thought of another.

In juggling, we often communicate throw height with a number, but it isn’t a height in metres or feet. Instead it’s based on the siteswap value of the throw if juggled in a pattern with an appropriate number of objects. Tell a juggler “throw this ball as a four then as a seven” and they will do almost exactly the same as every other juggler.



Since I do a lot of design work on small things I’m pretty used to tenths, hundredths, thou, and cuz a thou is pretty small for most machining work I do maybe a half-thou is as small as we go.

I really like the decimal inch system.

Milimeters are OK but I always struggle with whether to round to the nearest tenth or hundredth.


I would like to use metric across the board, but, living in the US, I’m more or less conditioned to be more comfortable with Customary/Imperial/WTF you want to call those units for day to day use.

Sometimes the units are close enough in size that it doesn’t matter a heck of a lot, though. I mean, a meter is only a little bit longer than a yard – close enough for eyeballing and estimating. The same goes for quarts vs. liters (and by extension, gallons which equal 4 quarts). Centimeters, while not being particular close to any single alternative unit, is roughly the width of my pinky finger, so close enough for eyeballing and estimating again.

The metric units in common use that I don’t get intuitive senses of their scale are the kilometer, the kilogram, and degrees Celsius.

Let’s leave out the more scientific ones like the weber, tesla, coulomb, etc. I’m not even sure they have equivalents in US Customary.

Oh, and then there’s the whole MKS vs cgs thing… but that’s yet another debate. :slight_smile:

Now I’m having flashbacks to my college electricity and magnetism classes…


Yeah I’m pretty well aware of that. I frequently go back to original texts for recreation purposes. Things like “boil for the length of time it takes you to walk your fields” or “for the span of 10 Lord’s Prayers.” At some point, the acre was defined as the area that a team of oxen could plow in one day.

This of course is for the English acre. The Normandy acre is another monster entirely.

Cool semi-related factoid. You know how super-official matzoh is supposed to be baked to completion within 18 minutes of preparation? Yeah, 18 minutes is a fabrication. Turns out the original original measurement was “bake for the length of time it takes to walk between [two monuments in ancient Jerusalem].” Then later a bunch of rabbis decided that it meant two different monuments that were separated by a quarter and a twenieth of an hour (which in the original language meant something other than what we mean today), and then that “quarter and twentieth” was applied to our current time measurement at some point.

It’s pretty wild how these things evolve.


I think this was a thing of the day once, but my favorite unit of measure is still the Smoot. The only object to officially be measured in Smoots is the Mass Ave Bridge in Boston, which is cannonically 364.4 smoots and one ear.


I am a dumb American and I can’t estimate or measure for jack, but I have a friend who measures exclusively in metric, even setting his car to display in metric. I swear he’s doing it to confuse everyone around him.


bleh math is too hard


Even though I live in the US, I forced myself as a kid to learn the metric system and 24-hour clocks (because, yeah, I was a weirdo). It helped when chatting with non-Americans on the semi-early internet (late dial-up to early broadband eras). I still grok things like inches, feet, cups, pints, and miles per hour, but I can’t estimate pounds or Fahrenheit degrees very well. I have no internalized concept of an acre or really a mile (I also tend to think of distance in terms of time, though it’s super inaccurate).

I use milliseconds a lot when coding, but I guess the only uncommon units I use regularly are shaku and sun, which are used in sword measurements. I kinda wish decimeters were more common, since they’re really human-scale and easier to think about than tens-of-centimeters.


Emily and I ran a 5k race today.

I’ve talked about this a lot elsewhere, but in the US, it’s standard to do splits in miles regardless of the race distance. So a 5k or 10k race has official mile splits. Usually there is zero signage in kilometers.

This race even had the clocks at each mile so you could check your pace.

The cadence of a 5k in the US ends up reliably being broken up into:

  • First Mile
  • Second Mile
  • Third Mile
  • Finish Sprint

This is how we tend to talk about, think about, train for, and pace ourselves during a race. I wonder if people in places where it’s all just kilometers think differently or pace differently.

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