Death Match: mi vs. km

I know the metric system makes more sense than the English system in that its units are proportioned on an easy pattern and all that.  Celsius is part of that more rational system but it really doesn't matter what the standard is (i.e. where freezing and boiling are placed and how many paces one counts in between), so I don't really have a dog in that fight.

One thing I never did like is the European/South American way of writing dates: the third day of August is 3/8, and not 8/3 as in the U.S.  The idea, I have been told, is to start with the smallest unit and work up: 3/8/2007 follows a more rational pattern than 8/3/2007.  I suppose that's true, but I still think the U.S. way is better.  Having the month first gets your mind closer to what the actual date will be, as the days of August are more similar to each other than the thirds of each month are to each other.  Then you identify the specific part of that hot and sunny month (or that chilly and rainy month if you're in the Southern Hemisphere).  The response to this could be that we should write the year first, but I already prefer that way so ha!

What am I failing to consider here?

Bonus points: do Randians favor the metric system because it's more rational, or favor the English system because the metric system is for socialists? 

Share this

On dates, I always prefer

On dates, I always prefer YYYY-MM-DD so that a lexicographic sort (such as the one done by the ls command on the Unix operating system) sorts correctly by date. Failing that, I think the Europeans have it right -- either way, I prefer going either from most significant to least significant, or least significant to most significant, but the US method is simply irrational.

On the metric system, these days, there is no choice in the sciences -- it is impossible to do calculations except in SI units for practical purposes.


Except for Perry's point about sorting, I've never found anything better than VAX VMS format:


Today's date is written 03-Aug-2007. The two character days are easy to parse, and consistently using a three character abbreviation for each month may be English-centric, but it prevents confusion between which numbers mean months and which mean days. Four character years don't require tortuous Y2K logic.

I also prefer 24 hour times with colons--it makes adding and subtracting times easier and is more economical than all of those AM/PM suffixes.

If someone accuses me of doing things the European way, I tell them about wonderful old computer operating systems until they get bored and leave me alone.

Like Perry E. Metzger, I

Like Perry E. Metzger, I prefer the YYYY-MM-DD format, because it's not language-dependent and there can't be any misunderstandings (also it's very useful for naming and sorting backups).

The d/m/y or m/d/y format is very confusing on software or on websites, because some use d/m/y even if American.

Ze metric sistem iz ze best,

Ze metric sistem iz ze best, get over it. Not because it's unit are more rational... 40,000 km for the earth is very crude, but because it's coherent: how many inches in a mile : 6360... wtf?

And yes, the mm/dd/yyyy system is terrible! Especially for programming. It makes sense that the lexical order matches the time order... in the US I always have to fall back to yyyy/mm/dd but mm/dd/yyyy is intrinsequely bad, bad bad.


Randians probably believe it is the proper function of government to provide an objective measure of distance and weights. Like justice and foreign wars.


Religious wars

Formats and measurement systems all have their adherents. However if one were all that much better than another then people would switch. Maybe the mile is 5XXX number of feet, but the reason many people can't tell you off the top of their head exactly how many feet are in a mile is presumably that they simply do not need to know. On the very rare occasions when they need to know, they can look it up and do whatever conversions they need. So, that one can easily say exactly how many millimeters go into a kilometer is only a weak point in its favor, in practical terms.

The only major problem arises when there is a possibility of confusion. If you see a date written like so:


then is that a February date or a May date? Notice, however, that there is little doubt about whether it is a 2007 date. That is because the two major formats both put the year at the end. This point clues us into the source of the confusion about the first two numbers: the confusion is not the fault of either format, but is the fault of their coexistence.

To disambiguate, my company has settled on writing out the month. As it happens, that (American) company also places the day first and the month second. Given that this is our standard, then it's not quite accurate to say that the American standard is to put the month first. It may be dominant in the US, but in at least one large American company it's virtually unseen.

Also, pretty much any ruler in the US gives both meters and feet. Pretty much any Pyrex measuring cup gives both milliliters and "cups".

Mark Twain

"What am I failing to consider here?"

Well, for one thing, putting specifics first is poor writing style. Some languages have the adjectives second and that distracts the mind. If I were to say, "Look at the horse black" your mind already forms the idea of what you think is a generic horse, perhaps brown, and then you have to readjust the image in your mind after the fact. This is especially true if the specific is out of the ordinary. So those languages that have the adjective second are objectively harder to process.

Herbert Spencer wrote about this in his "THE PHILOSOPHY OF STYLE."

12. We cannot more simply do this than by considering the proper collocation of the substantive and adjective. Is it better to place the adjective before the substantive, or the substantive before the adjective? Ought we to say with the French--un _cheval noir;_ or to say as we do--a black horse? Probably, most persons of culture would decide that one order is as good as the other. Alive to the bias produced by habit, they would ascribe to that the preference they feel for our own form of expression. They would expect those educated in the use of the opposite form to have an equal preference for that. And thus they would conclude that neither of these instinctive judgments is of any worth. There is, however, a philosophical ground for deciding in favour of the English custom. If "a horse black" be the arrangement, immediately on the utterance of the word "horse," there arises, or tends to arise, in the mind, a picture answering to that word; and as there has, been nothing to indicate what _kind_ of horse, any image of a horse suggests itself. Very likely, however, the image will be that of a brown horse, brown horses being the most familiar. The result is that when the word "black" is added, a check is given to the process of thought. Either the picture of a brown horse already present to the imagination has to be suppressed, and the picture of a black one summoned in its place; or else, if the picture of a brown horse be yet unformed, the tendency to form it has to be stopped. Whichever is the case, a certain amount of hindrance results. But if, on the other hand, "a black horse" be the expression used, no such mistake can be made. The word "black," indicating an abstract quality, arouses no definite idea. It simply prepares the mind for conceiving some object of that colour; and the attention is kept suspended until that object is known. If, then, by the precedence of the adjective, the idea is conveyed without liability to error. whereas the precedence of the substantive is apt to produce a misconception, it follows that the one gives the mind less trouble than the other, and is therefore more forcible.

So if I say October 1st you may already be thinking the 31st and halloween before tell you the day. Whereas if I say 31st of October this isn't going to happen. It's the extra "of" part that is inconvenient in English and why we mostly say it the other way. This tendency to priming of the mind would be especially true of your birthday. I know when I hear the month of my birthday I tend to expect to hear the day next.

There are rare days where you are primed the other way for instance if I were to say "The fourth of June" it will tend to interrupt the flow of thought.

I’m now going to meet you on the third rail of cultural criticism. (See how you didn’t think third of August when reading that). So big deal we screw up the order of our dates. With the French it’s their adjectives, a much more commonly used tool of communication.

How does Twain fit in all this? Well at least with us it's only the measurement system that is all messed up. Pity the Germans for with them it's their entire language. Mark Twain had something to say on that in his article "The Awful German Language".

You should read it. It’s hilarious and especially so if you ever took aGerman Language course in school.