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Inching towards metrics — no easy feat by any measure

Inching towards metrics — no easy feat by any measure

Mine measures 43.18 centimetres. Not huge by modern-day-standards, but good enough — and big enough — for my purposes. Yours may be bigger; it may even be smaller.

Innuendo aside, you may be wondering exactly what I’m talking about. Would it help if I said 43.18 centimetres equals seven inches? Ah, that narrows it down a bit (and definitely rules out one thing…).

What I’m talking about, of course, is my screen.

How about this then: what common ICT object measures 8.89 centimetres? Or what type of visual product commonly measures 15.24 x 10.16 centimetres?

It’s odd, isn’t it? Even though we live in a metric world – and have done for more than 30 years now – there are places where the imperial system still reigns.

The Weights and Measures Amendment Act became law on 14 December 1976. The actual swap from the imperial system to metric actually started in 1969, with the establishment of the Metric Advisory Board, which oversaw the changeover to the metric system over a seven-year period. Soon, Kiwis were merrily asking for litres not gallons of petrol, buying kilos not pounds of apples and travelling by the kilometre not the mile. Even the national game had to adapt, with rugby fields having to change the 25-yard line to 22 metres.

But, go into your local computer shop and ask for a 43.18 centimetre screen and you’ll doubtless get a few blank looks. On the other hand, ask for a 15, 17, 30 or 52 inch screen and you’ll be whisked off to view multiple screens in an instant. Indeed, ask for a 3.5 inch floppy (8.89 centimetres) or a six-by-four inch photograph (15.24 x 10.16 centimetres) and people will know exactly what you’re talking about. Screen and printing resolutions are measured in dpi – that’s dots per… hmmm… it’ll come to me in a minute — inchimetres?

I was out looking for a bike for my son the other day and they too are measured in inches.

And what about if I told you I was 187.96 centimetres tall? It might take a moment to visualise exactly how tall I am. Likewise, if I said I’m 74 inches tall. But, six feet, two inches on the other hand…

So, who do we have to thank for all this measurement madness? Surely, metric is metric and not ‘metric with imperial now and then’. Well, in a word… Americans.

Yep, our Stateside friends are to blame for things like screens and disks being measured in inches. I know because I asked someone at a well-known IT brand who told me, off the record, that “a lot of manufacturers are US and they don’t use the metric system”. A second reason for most manufacturers using inches rather than metrics is that the latter is more commonly recognised around the world. Although, I think this is something of a chicken-and-egg argument, because if everyone used metrics we’d all soon learn.

The imperial measurement system is firmly entrenched in the US. During my research, I did come across an interesting article entitled, ‘US dragging its feet as it inches towards metrication’. Could it? Will it? Don’t hold you breath — the article was dated March 1979.

So, it looks like we’re stuck with both the imperial and metric systems. Like League and Union, dark and light, white and red, Macs and PCs… I guess two’s company.

And long may it continue. Asking for something that measures 43.18 centimetres just isn’t right.


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