# Why don't people understand metric prefixes?

1. Jan 30, 2005

### JoshHolloway

You know, like Mega, Gigga, Kilo and the other common ones. Why don't people understand what these mean? It is so simple. This guy at my job just could not grasp the concept of these metric prefixes when I tryed to explain them to him today, and I just couldn't understand what he was missing.

2. Jan 30, 2005

### Moonbear

Staff Emeritus
I don't think it's inability so much as unwillingness. My parents are like that. The moment you mention metric anything, they just stop listening. It has its roots in bigotry I think. If my stepfather has to use a metric wrench, he'll gripe the whole time about it being one of those "Japanese" bolts. For whatever reason, he's decided that the metric system belongs to the Japanese. Don't ask me to explain that; I'm sure aliens dropped me on the doorstep as an infant.

3. Jan 30, 2005

### Gokul43201

Staff Emeritus
I read somewhere that dope dealers had a much better sense of metric units than the average American. Serious !

Why don't folks get the SI System ? Ask the people at NIST. They've been banging their heads against that wall for over 6 and a quarter periods, each 16 years long.

4. Jan 30, 2005

### Staff: Mentor

It just goes against the American way of thinking. "We" don't change to what other's are doing, "they" change to accomodate us.

I remember when they put "liters" on the gas pumps. :rofl: Oh yeah, Americans took to that, you can tell by the "gallons" on the pumps nowadays.

5. Jan 30, 2005

### Moonbear

Staff Emeritus
That's what's so baffling. Dope dealers have no problem grasping the concept of a kilo, yet the average American who hasn't addled their brain with dope still seems to struggle with it.

:rofl: :rofl:

6. Jan 30, 2005

### Moonbear

Staff Emeritus
Ooh, maybe the time is right to try that again. Can you imagine all the cars that would line up to get gas at a station with a sign saying 60 cents/liter? Of course it might only last a day before the customers caught on...

7. Jan 30, 2005

### JasonRox

The very next day there is multi-million dollar class action lawsuit. :uhh:

8. Jan 30, 2005

### Moonbear

Staff Emeritus
Yeah, you're probably right. There go my aspirations to pump gas for a living. :rofl:

9. Jan 30, 2005

### philocrazy

JoshHolloway

Join Date: Jan 2005
Posts: 0
Read my Journal Why don't people understand metric prefixes?

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You know, like Mega, Gigga, Kilo and the other common ones. Why don't people understand what these mean? It is so simple. This guy at my job just could not grasp the concept of these metric prefixes when I tryed to explain them to him today, and I just couldn't understand what he was missing.
-----------------------------------------------
mega = 1000000 metres
giga = 1000 000 000 metres
kilo = 1000 metres

centi= 1/100 metres
milli = 1/1000 metres
micro =1/1000 000 metres

10. Jan 30, 2005

### Integral

Staff Emeritus
I hate to be nit picky, put this is totaly wrong.

Why is Mega 106meters and not Hz or Amp or Joule?

Leave off the Meters on the right or add them to the left. Either way it doesn't matter.

11. Jan 30, 2005

### Moonbear

Staff Emeritus
Helps prove the point, doesn't it? How was dinner?

12. Jan 31, 2005

### Integral

Staff Emeritus
Dinner was great! We had a very nice vist. Poor Tsu, she was sort of drifting around, but a very good sport and still good company. I feel bad about dragging her out, she may have been better served (but not Thai!) by staying home and in bed. She promised to go home and go straight to bed.

Ivan, make sure she does!

13. Jan 31, 2005

### Tsu

I was DRIFTING???? Oh, dear.

You didn't drag me anywhere. I was a very willing (even if not too capable) participant.

OK. OK. I'm going... Just waiting for my Nyqiol to hit. Opps. Maybe it has...

14. Jan 31, 2005

### matthyaouw

Strange, it seems to be the opposite over here. Grams I have no problem with, but once I have to work with quarter ounces, I'm lost. It seems to be the unit of choice for the dealers. Another good reason for me to stay off the drugs.

15. Jan 31, 2005

### Artman

I did a sprinkler piping design for the US government. The job had to be done in metric units, and required siesmic consideration in the design. The problem is that we think in standard units. To convert to metric requires an intermediate step, at least until you master a few units. This is not just true of using the units but in thinking about how you are going to use the units. This is the real difficulty. What I mean is, in the job I did, I had to not only convert the pipe sizes to metric units, but I had to know what the capability of those units was for handling water and that figure had to be metric. It was not an easy project for me, but I know more metric now than I did before.

16. Jan 31, 2005

### Gokul43201

Staff Emeritus
An interesting counter-question involves the large number of international students in the US. MOst of us have grown up with metric (SI) units, but come here and have to very quickly get used to picturing lengths in 32nds of an inch, volumes in ounces and gallons, distances in miles, temperature in fahrenheit (this is just criminal; who even knows what sal-ammoniac is ?), pressure in psi and so on.

I, personally have - through a lot of hands-on work - gotten very familiar with the crazy units here but I'm not sure how others are doing. I know one girl from Japan (who's been here 6 years) who just can't get used to them.

Last edited: Jan 31, 2005
17. Jan 31, 2005

### Andre

Right, the difference is that big that even combined US-Europian space missions crashed, because one end talked metric and the other in feet and ounces.

Tera=1,000,000,000,000
Peta=1,000,000,000,000,000
Exa=1,000,000,000,000,000,000
Zeta=1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,
Yota=1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000

and on the other end

nano=1/1000,000,000
pico=1/1,000,000,000,000
femto=1/1,000,000,000,000,000
atto=1/1,000,000,000,000,000,000
zepto=1/1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,
yocto=1/1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000

18. Jan 31, 2005

### brewnog

At my uni, most of the aerospace engineering and mechanical engineering courses are identical for the first year except that the wingies use Imperial units and the clankies use metric.

Another thing, can you guys over the pond please stop calling them "British" units? You're the ones who still insist on using them!

19. Jan 31, 2005

### Monique

Staff Emeritus
Yeah, completely illogical measures.. how many inches go into a foot? 12 I believe. I say let's use a system based on counting to 10 to keep life simple.

I remember never getting how to relate fahrenheit to celsius.. so I just decide that 60s is when you wear a jacket, 70s is when you can go out without a jacket, 80s is very light clothes, 90s is stay near an airconditioner..

20. Jan 31, 2005

### Moonbear

Staff Emeritus
I don't have any problem working in either system as long as everything I'm doing at one time uses the same system (I don't like having to do conversions). The only place where it's hard to adjust to one or the other is ordering food at a deli. I have a hard enough time figuring out how much meat or cheese I want in pounds let alone grams. Why oh why can't I just order 8 slices of cheese to go with 16 slices of meat to go on my 8 buns that come in a package? I don't care what it weighs, just toss it on the scale and stick a price on it. (Okay, I'm deli-challenged).

That's about how I cope with temperatures in celsius when I travel. I don't really care what the conversion is, it doesn't matter what number it is, just tell me when I need to wear a jacket, shorts, or stay indoors because it's too hot or cold to want to step out of climate-controlled buildings. Or, I can just look out the window and see what other people are wearing.

Then again, I work with the metric system in the lab all day and British units the rest of the day (sorry brewnog, I don't know what else to call them...that's where we got them from even if you guys had the sense to convert to metric). If we made all our units into the easy metric system, our kids might never learn any math...at least now they need to learn some fractions and how to use multiples of 4 for everything...well, until you get to teaspoons and tablespoons, and they have to learn some 3s.

Using weight measures for cooking sure is better though. It's a lot more consistent than worrying about whether you fluffed the flour enough or too much when you scoop it into your measuring cups.

21. Jan 31, 2005

### Zorodius

Were it but for the fact that we have ten fingers, we'd never have become fond of the number 10 in the first place. 12 is a very beautiful number, because it can be easily split into halves, quarters, or thirds, but 10 cannot. It's lamentable that we don't use the metric system in everyday life in the US, but at least there are some advantages to be found. For instance, fahrenheit degrees are smaller than celsius degrees, and therefore more accurate when rounding to integers.

22. Jan 31, 2005

### Integral

Staff Emeritus
!

Absolutely!

Beyond that if you wish to eliminate round off errors from a table of values you should use of 2-n as the step value. This is, of course the American inch subdivisions, the metric system favors the use of .1-n which leads to the round off error since .1 is an infinitely repeating binary fraction.

23. Jan 31, 2005

### Integral

Staff Emeritus
For a period of time I was doing some high temp furnace design. This, of course, involved finding appropriate insulation material. You cannot believe how many different ways the units for Thermal conductivity are expressed in English units. Fortunately I had a HP28c calculator which had conversions for every unit you can think of in ROM plus the ability to combine them to create your own conversion factors. I have to admit I set up conversions for each of the English units to Metric which was simple and consistent $\frac W {m C}$ IIRC.

24. Jan 31, 2005

### matthyaouw

We call them imperial units. To which empire it refers however is beyond me.

25. Jan 31, 2005

### dextercioby

The Second Empire of Napoleon the III-rd??

Daniel.