Carry on muddling

In these uncertain times, politicians are often keen to point out areas where Britain leads the world. We have a suggestion: creating a measurement muddle. Examples follow.

One of our readers has drawn our attention to his Ageas Countrywide Avenues House & Home Insurance Policy. In the Policy booklet dated Oct 2017, under ‘Buildings and contents, section five, STORM’, it is stated:

“By a storm, we mean … winds over 55mph … Rainfall … more than an inch falls in an hour.  Snow … if 12 inches or more falls in a 24 hour period.”

However, when we consulted our home insurance policy, issued by Towergate Insurance, we read:

The property “Is free from rivers, streams or tidal waters within 500 metres of its vicinity”.

So, rain or snow falling on a property insured by Ageas will be measured in Imperial, but after it reaches the ground Towergate will assess the resulting risk by its distance away in metres. Hmmm.

On Wednesday, we picked up the Evening Standard and, while browsing the Homes & Property section, we noticed, even before we had passed page 3, the following:

“… Harry the Hermit, who won squatters’ rights to a half-acre plot on the edge of Hampstead Heath …”

“Glamour comes big for this power couple with 3,300sq ft of space …”

“For extra pampering, there is a 25-metre residents’ swimming pool, …”

So whether you are a hermit or a power couple, your property will be sized in Imperial, but as soon as you visit the pool you will need to think metric.

Pages 6 and 7, listing the winners of the New Homes Awards 2018, we noted references to:

“Generous-size houses, typically 2,000sq ft”,

“the lovely green backdrop of the 200 acre Syon Park”, and

“A vast open-plan living space stretches to 21.6 metres”.

But we weren’t quite sure what to make of this:

“a programmable mood lighting system has no fewer that 2,700 Kelvin warm white lamps.”

There again, if you are muddling through with two measurement systems, you can’t be expected to be expert in either.

The advantages of being the world leader in the creation of a measurement muddle are open to discussion. Britain does benefit from being the origin of the world’s most popular second language. But is our hybrid mix of metric and Imperial measurements likely to catch on? We think not. It took less than 200 years for the metric system to be adopted by all but a handful of the countries of the world, and in the 21st century there is no sign of a retreat. But that won’t, it seems, stop Britain carrying on muddling.

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25 Responses to Carry on muddling

  1. Ezra Steinberg says:

    I thought acres went out the window in the UK years ago. What happened???

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  2. Cliff says:

    I think the Evening Standard and The Independent are probably the most metric friendly UK newspapers. However, the Homes and Property section, which I think is common to both papers, looks like it was written in 1950 with all those square feet, acres and 20 foot reception rooms. Maybe it's written by ex real estate agents. Real estate seems to be the last industry in Britain still holding out against metric measurements. I don't understand why because buildings have been designed and built using international measurements for more than fifty years.

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  3. Ezra Steinberg says:

    It looks like some folks in Canada are tired of their own muddle:

    http://medicinehatnews.com/commentary/opinions/2018/01/26/canada-should-go-all-in-on-metric-conversion-or-simply-dump-it/

    Let's hope they decide to finish the job there once and for all!

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  4. Ezra Steinberg says:

    A great example of how muddling works (or more to the point, does not) is shown graphically in the 1995 movie "Free Fall: Flight 174" that depicts the story of the infamous Canadian "Gimley Glider":

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SpU0qV8E7mk

    Check the movie out starting at the 5:14 time mark up to 5:55 where the ground crew exhibits its confusion thanks to the muddling mayhem they had to muck with. A very graphic example of how NOT to convert a country to metric!

    Time for Westminster to convert road signs, lean on the BBC and other media to ditch Imperial, and chuck "stones" into the dustbin of history! 😉

    Once you lot do this, we here on this side of the Pond will hopefully use you guys as an example for us over here in the States to get cracking and convert to metric as well!

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  5. Daniel Jackson says:

    The last holdout is about to metricate. Liberian Government Pledges Commitment to Adopt Metric System

    https://www.liberianobserver.com/business/govt-pledges-commitment-to-adopt-metric-system/

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  6. Cliff says:

    Sales brochure for new apartment development in East London that has just come onto the market.
    http://www.galliardhomes.com/Orchard-Wharf
    The floor areas on the first page are given only in square feet. No mention of square metres at all. Admittedly by clicking the View Property tag a floor plan with the area in square metres and square feet is given but I really don't know why the area in SI units should be relegated to second place when SI units are the legal requirement for selling property in the UK.

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  7. Alex Bailey says:

    Sadly current political events really highlight how mixed up we are as a country where a vocal (and often well financed) few are managing to force their will on the rest of us.

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  8. Martin Vlietstra says:

    For those who are not scientifically-inclined, a 2700 kelvin light emits an orange glow (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black-body_radiation#/media/File:Color_temperature_black_body_800-12200K.svg for an illustration). This sounds like estate-agent speak for "dingy".

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  9. Ezra Steinberg says:

    So, I get that the UK is in a metric muddle and that local radio (even the BBC) can reflect that.

    But the BBC World Service touts itself as "the world's radio station". So, why on earth would a foreign reporter who is located in a metric country and reporting on a news item from that country use Imperial?

    Unfathomable!

    This Egyptian reporter (with a clearly Arabic accent) was telling the listeners about how the government there is cutting back on the allowed cultivation of rice (which needs lots of water) because Ethiopia is building a dam upstream on the Nile river. Important bit of news, I agree. But what on earth is he doing reporting on the area of cultivated land to be reduced by referring to "acres"????

    Maybe I should use the BBC feedback channel and ask them what they could possibly thinking when they allow this sort of thing. I am sure that news segment was recorded so it could have been done properly using "hectares". (And is it not a bad sign that an Egyptian reporter still assumes in 2018 that English listeners will not understand metric? So much for "global Britain", eh? 😉

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  10. BrianAC says:

    @Ezra Steinberg says: 2018-05-25 at 17:00 I thought acres went out the window in the UK years ago. What happened???

    Well, carry on muddling is what has happened, in that we are for sure a world leader.
    Totally confusing conflicts that bemuse me are the construction industry being fully metric, but the selling of their products in Imperial. Land registry in hectares only for many years but again the product sold in acres, even official government literature. The NHS being also fully metric but babies weights translated into lbs and oz. Body weight for overweight and slimming totally stones and gravel, yet body building and healthy issues all metric (quite telling that one, those that take care use metric). Local parks and gardens mostly metric, but paper hand outs in Imperial. One that is consistent is bedding, asleep on the job, everything (almost) is still in ft and inches, it is like shopping back in the 1960's! again this despite a 1.5 m x 2 m bed being much better than a 4 ft x 6 ft bed. Maybe we can add to this the media, where we are getting a situation of UK presenters using at least some metric (getting rapidly more again now) and overseas presenters in metric countries still using Imperial.
    That is global Britain today, forward thinking and open for international business.

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  11. Ezra Steinberg says:

    The BBC does it again:

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-england-cornwall-44870464/teenager-takes-footage-of-9ft-shark-in-st-ives-harbour

    Long live the muddle???? 🙁

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  12. Jake says:

    @ Ezra Steinberg:

    The BBC seems to be doing it all the time. I heard the scale of the terrible fire on the Wanstead Flats reported as covering so-many football pitches. I realise the 'football pitch', along with the 'Nelson's column' and the size of Wales are used informally as an indicator of scale, but I really have no idea how big a football pitch is (despite having accompanied my son to his football team's matches for several years when he was young). It seems the BBC knows it shouldn't use acres but is reluctant to use hectares. Why don't they give the dimensions of the area in thousands of square metres. Everyone surely knows what a square metre is by now.

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  13. Daniel Jackson says:

    "The 9ft (2.74m) creature was seen close to shore in St Ives on Monday."

    I would be curious to know if someone actually got into the water and was able to measure the shark to come up with this exact 9ft (2.74m) length. If not, both are fake measurements. How do we know it really wasn't exactly 2.5 m or even 3 m?

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  14. Mary says:

    Daniel's comment (2018-07-19), I suggest fake measurements and fake measures should be considered to be 'fake news'.

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  15. Jake says:

    @ Daniel Jackson:

    My thoughts entirely about the shark. Especially the figure in metres to two decimal places! I'm sure the length in feet was just a rough guess by someone standing and observing the situation. And then the journalist provides a very concise conversion to a metric figure. The joys of the measurement muddle!

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  16. Ezra Steinberg says:

    @Daniel Jackson

    Good point, Daniel.

    What really puzzles me is why Imperial came first. Of course, the article should have just used metric, but in the past at least these BBC articles relegate the Imperial to second place inside parentheses. This article really seems like it has gone backwards.

    So much for getting any help from the BBC to unmuddle things.

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  17. Daniel Jackson says:

    Ezra, the answer is quite simple. The BBC is an institution that of itself cannot make decisions. People who are a part of that institution male decisions. Whereas in the past one person may have made policy for the BBC and establish the metric system as mandatory, recent policy may not enforce the former policy and allow individuals to choose whatever unis they want out of personal preference. So, if a reporter/editor is an imperial supporter, their unit choice is going to be imperial. Metric will become the afterthought with the metric value being as silly as can be in the hopes the reader will be so turned off they will fall in line and become imperial supporters too. The same is true with a metric supporting reporter/editor.

    The war between metric and imperial is being fought street to street and door to door with the combatants fighting for supporters in the media and in the shops. The only way for the muddle to end will be for a pro-metric leader to come to power and outlaw imperial once and for all.

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  18. BrianAC says:

    Jake says: 2018-07-19 at 10:58 @ Ezra Steinberg:

    I don't know what version of the BBC news you are referring to, but mostly the fire size of those around Manchester were referred to correctly as "4 square kilometres" by the fire departments and in the early TV reports. That did later translate into various obscure units once the PR (or PC) brigade woke up and got to work on their multitude of muddled measurement mania.

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  19. Ezra Steinberg says:

    @BrianAC

    "multitude of muddled measurement mania"?

    Shakespeare would have approved. 🙂

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  20. Jake says:

    @ Brian AC

    If I remember correctly, the report on the Wanstead Flats fires was on BBC London News. Perhaps that's why you didn't see it.

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  21. Ezra Steinberg says:

    I guess it its the technical writer in me (having worked for several very large high tech firms) that cannot fathom the poor quality of editing that goes into the narration script sof a TV program like BBC's "Africa".

    The quality of the video, music, etc. is superb (as is always the case for these BBC productions). And I happen to like Sir David Attenborough's presentation. The content of the narration is quite good as well except for one mind boggling exception: measurement units are all over the map.

    I know what good editing looks like and that ain't it. One key that editors respect is consistency. At least within the confines of a single series one would expect a single editor to enforce that. Yet I keep hearing (even in a single episode) every possible variation of units from Centigrade to later Celsius and even Fahrenheit (all by itself!), then "thousands of miles" followed by "hundreds of kilometres", a crocodile being so many metres long (all by itself; no mention of "feet"), then later a giraffe being so many metres tall immediately followed by the measurement in feet ... and on and on it goes.

    Just from a technical editing standpoint this hopelessly jumbled muddle is quite unprofessional and totally out of line with the high standards these programs otherwise adhere to. One might think it would be a matter of professional pride to get the consistency and accuracy bits right ... but apparently not, sadly.

    I'll keep watching, though, and wincing each time the narration goes off the rails when it comes to units of measure. 🙁

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  22. b says:

    @Ezra Steinberg, 2018-08-07
    Professional consistency is one point, viewer (or 'end user') understanding of the subject matter is something else. Always having been a man of facts, it is the factual information I like, not so much the narrative (aka waffle) if it goes overboard. As years progress I find it more difficult to rationalise a plethora of jumbled up facts and figures.
    My guess is that the vast majority of people, including the editors, do not even realise this is happening. For my part I have given up even trying to watch anything on TV now, there are better ways to get annoyed.
    On the credit side pretty much a first, given the current aspect of Mars, the distance from Earth was given in km. The embedded video logo was that of the European Space Agency (ESA) so metric expected; BBC put up a graphic attributing it to NASA! That is how good they are.

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  23. BrianAC says:

    Apart from "leading the world", it is a pity the media folk cannot "follow the world".
    Of the 21 Formula One races a year, only one is in a non-metric country (USA) with UK a half-in half-out country. So one would think the main presenter with three years travelling the metric world would at least realise that 'other countries' use metric, not imperial measures!
    Last weekend, presenter interviewing French racing driver waffles something like "... how do they fit you into an F1 car, you must be what, about 6 foot?!" French driver, speaking better English than the presenter looks confused, but quickly replies, "I am one eighty six, I don't know what that is ...". Aussie guest presenter steps in with, " Oh! Two more than me!"
    Very puzzled look on presenter's face, it looked like he did not even know what had just been said, let alone understand it.
    For the record I would not know what '6 foot' is either unless I had looked it up recently.

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  24. BrianAC says:

    I had to laugh at this one in an article about lemons (referring to greenhouses in Spain) in the 'Metro' paper: -
    "It is the largest concentration of greenhouses in the world covering 300sqm and can be seen from the ISS." Only 300 square metres, that don't seem very big to me.

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  25. Martin Vlietstra says:

    Wording in insurance documents risk being dissected in a court of law whereas newspaper reports are (and government guidelines) unlikely to attract the same attention. Hence the frequent use of imperial units in situations where the writer faces a risk of hostile comments (or loss of votes) from those who are unwilling to change or who promote the imperial system as part of a political campaign which, by and large, is unrelated to units of measurement.

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