Wednesday, June 24, 2009

new poll

I have added a poll on favorite ways to measure. If you have things to add, feelings about metric vs. English, leave a comment here.


  1. Peter Rhodes11:13 PM

    Are you kidding? English or metric - man that's a no brainer, it's metric every time. You only have to use it to see the ease, the clarity and the simplicity of counting from 1 - 100 in incremental steps rather than in fractions of ever increasing denominators. Not to mention adding and subtracting measurements!

    I had the incredible fortune (no pun intended) of working with Canadian furniture maker Michael Fortune when he came to Australia earlier this year. He said Canada had recognised but not embraced the metric system a while ago. After 12 weeks of working with the metric system here (because he had no choice) he was fully committed to returning to Canada and converting his entire studio and shop!

    Walk towards the light! M E T R I C

  2. Now I'm curious whether Michael Fortune made the shift when he returned to his more normal hemisphere.

    I think one of the things that bugs kids and adults about the English system is fractions. One of the things that bug me about the metric system is all those tiny little lines and having to count them, but I guess, in time, I could get used to metric. However, even after 12 weeks I might be inclined to wander back to more comfortable ground.

    One of the things I like about the English system is that it grew from the human body. Inch and foot, though now being relatively precise standards, were once non standardized derivations of our own physicality. The metric system is derived from impersonal abstraction.
    That probably makes no difference in daily use, but does hint at other more personal means of measuring.

  3. Having grown up with the English system, I'm much more comfortable with it. The metric system makes more sense - what's not to like about units of ten. I fabricate a lot of parts for motorcycles and find myself converting metric numbers back to English anyway. If I need to drill a hole for an 8mm bolt, I multiply by .040" and then convert the decimal to a fractional size drill bit. It's a long way to go just to drill one hole. Granted, metric size drills would solve the problem but those aren't readily available at the local hardware store. Perhaps if the U.S. had stayed the course to convert to metric back in the '70's, this would all be academic by now.

  4. Human beings are binary, divided left and right, and if you look at an inch, it is divided in half, then each of those is divided again in the middle to make quarters, and then each of those are divided again to make 8ths, etc. It is easy and natural for us to look at things and choose the middle.

    A friend yesterday was telling me about the American Craft council technique for jurying work. You assign numbers in the range one through five with the exception that 3 is never to be used. It is intended to prevent indecisive outcomes, with the juror prevented from taking the most natural middle of the road position of neutrality.

    There is a strange balance in the English system that we never consider from an investigative standpoint. We know very clearly that the adoption of metric was not a matter of rationality, but of feelings, and when you get into the area of feelings, you are drawing just a bit closer to the essence of our humanity. So, I consider this divide, metric vs. English to be indicative of things below the surface, unexamined and that deserve examination for what it tells us about ourselves and how we work.

  5. Your comment about mid-points is a great one, there is something very satisfying to me about mid-points and about symmetry. Which makes the base-8 system make a lot of sense.

    That being said, the japanese have a cultural approach to groupings that is based around 5's, 5 eggs, for example instead of 6. Which also makes a lot of sense.

    The thing about numbers in general is that, though they can be very useful, they can also be a trap. A 17 1/2" chair seat is recommended by all of the books, but it is an average and does not feel right to people that are either short or tall. A 29" table can be the same way. I try to work with my clients based on their physicalities, which often enough are better expressed in story sticks instead of yardsticks. As well, the human finger can (I have been told) feel a misalignment of parts or a thickness variance of about a thousandth of an inch, so I seldom look to a ruller or micrometer to tell me whether another shaving should be taken off, I tend to trust my fingers.

    I learned with inches, though, and of course the familiar always seems more sensible. So if I have to come down on one side of the line or the other, I guess I would choose inches.

  6. I am a born and bred Texan and I will firmly cast my vote for metric. I grew up with a equal mixture of both systems. We had 15m sailplanes and 12 ft pole vault poles. Being in the shop with my Dad was one of my real joys growing up. He would use a mixture but the default was mm. Now in my job, I talk about “nanometers” all day long. Some people in the chip business still talk about “mils” but it is quite rare and always produces a stare.

    In engineering school we had to work problems in the system the problem was given in. Anyone know the units of viscosity in the English system? Most of the students in the class dreaded when we had to work problems in English. We would work them out again in metric to check our work. My chemical engineering intuition is almost all metric but I had no problems solving in both systems. How many delays or even disasters have occurred because of unit translation issues. Perhaps my woodworking projects are not as critical as a 747 landing gear or the design of a distillation column at a refinery, but I still think they are important, important enough to get right.

    It is interesting to think about your arguments for a base 8 system and the symmetry it can bring to design and thought about the dimensions. I always found the base 10 system easy to think about. There is something hard wired in my mind – a link to my hands! I have 10 fingers! So really the metric system has come from the human body as well. My arm is nearly a meter long and my hand is 1 dm wide and my finger is 1cm. I don’t know I am sure we could argue each way but my joinery and projects have been coming out just fine. I have been converting back and forth a bit. I am stuck with those 19mm and a 9.5 and a 6.35 mm router bits…

    Thanks so much for the wonderful blog, I have really enjoyed going back over the older posts and doing some searches for interesting topics. Your thoughts on pedagogy are inspiring for me, especially since I have such an important task ahead of me in educating my daughter. She is getting close to 2, maybe time to make deci centric thinking part of her world.

    Any suggestions for wood choice for these fun learning tools? Pink ivory at 10cm maybe a bit pricy… walnut seems natural for the brown stair.