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Author Topic: How do you convert non-metric distance units?  (Read 7282 times)
BartvanderWolf
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« Reply #20 on: August 11, 2013, 07:57:07 AM »
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Hi folks,

First I want to thank all those who have contributed so far, and may still follow. The collective of responses and thoughts has helped me a lot in getting a better understanding of how people tend to use 'imperial' units of length in various situations.

The biggest revelation was the immense unpopularity of using yards (save some sports related use).

Also the use of feet for very significant distances, but under a mile, is interesting. It seems like people want to avoid decimal fractions, even to avoid using fractional miles. Of course aviation uses feet to indicate even extremely larger altitudes.

The avoidance of using decimal fractions can also be found in using a combination of feet and inches, just use two non-fractional units instead of one. However, people won't panic if fractional feet are used, they just try to avoid it.

Also the context sensitivity can be helpful, e.g. when we want to use these units in Photography related measurements.

===============

I've never heard anyone use fractions of a foot, except for very rough estimates like "5 and a half feet."

Interesting. It's that 'fraction avoidance complex' Wink again.

I expect the same questions can be asked about the metric system, and answered in a similar way.

Indeed, but I know that better because I grew up with it. In metric, one mainly tries to avoid long sequences of zeros, either before the decimal fraction separator or behind it. It's easier to keep the numbers shorter because they can be read faster and with fewer interpretation errors. It's also why centimetres (1/100th of a metre) are popular, because the size of many objects in everyday life can be expressed in fewer digits when using centimetres.

So, unless your software routine is likely to be used in either an athletic or dress-making situation, I would not bother to include "yards." As for the other measurements, here are two possible approaches:

A.   Pick a useful range for each kind of result, perhaps something like this:
          If total distance > say 500M, give result in miles and decimal fractions (3.25 miles);
          If distance is between, say, 1M and 500M, give it in feet and inches, with decimal fractions of inches (17 feet, 3.25 inches); and
          For shorter distances, just give it in inches (27.596 inches).

B.   Or, let the user select the range from a menu, including some or all of the following possibilities:
          Miles, Miles and feet, Feet, Feet and inches, or Inches.
Eric, that's pretty close to how I had it set up already. I was looking for confirmation on the switching points.

Generally, it boils down to the level and degree of precision you need...
[...]
So, I would ask why are you asking? What specific dimensions are you using in what context?

Jeff, I'm writing a tool for photographers (output quality planning), but since the unit converter subroutine (I've pretty much finished it) is generic, it can also be used in other contexts (although I know there are different (international/nautical/survey) miles, depending on context). Feet and inches are officially defined in exact equivalent metric SI quantities, 0.3048 metres and 0.0254 metres (AKA 25.4 millimetres, trying to reduce the number of zeros and digits).

Inches (with decimal fractions) are commonly used to describe e.g. printed output (unless huge billboard sized), or display dimensions. Feet are used for focus distances (also marked on the lens, along with metres), although in photomacrography, inches (and decimal fractions) are more practical (or metric millimetres).

Inches are used to avoid fractional feet. But fractional inches are fine. Inches are handy because thirds and quarters of feet come out as whole numbers of inches.
[...]
For dividing miles, it's probably easier to use decimal points (6.25 miles) rather than miles, yards, feet and inches.

David, yes, it seems like the shorter/even numbers are what drives us to a certain degree.

For the rest, tradition dies hard, but for now it seems I'll have to add some sort of conversion capability to my tool to avoid mental disconnect in part of the world ...

I'll probably release my tool with already partial implementation of imperial units soon, watch for the announcement, but full implementation would delay the availability too much, because a significant programming effort and lot of testing is required.

It's not that converting numbers is hard, it's the complexity of the calculations under the hood that must not mix the units up. Some units will remain in metric, like focal lengths in millimetres, and sensel pitch in micrometres, but others may be expressed as various metric or imperial distances. Tricky business, easy to make mistakes, and users can make mistakes as well, so boundary condition checks are part of it all ...

Cheers,
Bart
« Last Edit: August 11, 2013, 12:47:57 PM by BartvanderWolf » Logged
Eric Myrvaagnes
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« Reply #21 on: August 11, 2013, 11:37:51 AM »
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Thanks for the follow-up, Bart.
I'm happy to see that you aren't trying to deal with cubits and/or furlongs as well.  Wink

I do wish the U.S. would finally get around to converting to the metric system, which makes so much more sense than our cumbersome system.
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kikashi
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« Reply #22 on: August 11, 2013, 12:59:35 PM »
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Thanks for the follow-up, Bart.
I'm happy to see that you aren't trying to deal with cubits and/or furlongs as well.  Wink

Must be a rush job  Wink

I do wish the U.S. would finally get around to converting to the metric system, which makes so much more sense than our cumbersome system.

But so much less fun, Eric. I remember being taught that the Imperial unit of thermal conductivity was the British Thermal Unit per hour per square foot per centimetre per degree Fahrenheit!

Jeremy
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kaelaria
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« Reply #23 on: August 11, 2013, 01:20:25 PM »
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I only use inches below 1 foot.  I'm not in to sports nor am I a hunter, I never use yards.  Those are the two typical (or some military which coincides with hunting as far as weapon range) groups that will use yards at all.  I use miles past 1/4 mile usually but sometimes 1/8. 
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BartvanderWolf
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« Reply #24 on: August 11, 2013, 02:20:15 PM »
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I remember being taught that the Imperial unit of thermal conductivity was the British Thermal Unit per hour per square foot per centimetre per degree Fahrenheit!

LOL, that's too complex for me to 'fathom'.

Cheers,
Bart
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SunnyUK
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« Reply #25 on: August 12, 2013, 07:00:29 AM »
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I work for a software company that wrote the landing software for one of the previous Mars landers. You know, the one nobody ever heard from after it touched down. That was down to someone in North America sending measurements in inches to someone in Germany who interpreted them as being in centimeters. Oooops!
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AlbertInfrance
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« Reply #26 on: August 16, 2013, 01:07:43 PM »
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For what it's worth I'm a Brit who has used both imperial and metric, plus I live in France now.

I spent the last 15 years or so of my working life as a software developer. On one contract for the British railway network I was amused to find that even in the 21st century all distances on the railways are measured in imperial. We had to populate the entire fixed asset database (track, signals, power networks...) with location data in miles and chains (22 yards).

And here in France canal distances are signposted in nautical miles.  Shocked
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Albert
Every photograph is an abstraction from reality.
Most people are more interested in the picture than the image.
Rob C
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« Reply #27 on: August 16, 2013, 04:34:51 PM »
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If you own a small boat, you speak about it in feet: "my boat is a thirty-two footer," but if you own a small, larger yacht (getting the picture?), you would probably refer to it as being twenty-five metres (82 and-a-bit feet, pretty much) which tells you something beyond size. It's the same difference as a Rolex and everything else: if it's not a Rolex it's a piece of string. Treat your wrist with love and care: you'll never have another.

Frankly, it isn't really about length very much - it's all about language and money: for as long as I could, I would render invoices in guineas... you could still do that in the 60s and early 70s, and it resulted in you getting a better return on your quotations than anyone thought. Language; it's not all bullshit, you know.

;-)

Rob C
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Ed B
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« Reply #28 on: August 16, 2013, 10:32:03 PM »
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US surveyors measure elevations in tenths of a foot. So an elevation of 365.7 is 365 feet and 7/10 of a foot. That's probably why it takes a four year degree to become certified. Cheesy
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Rob C
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« Reply #29 on: August 17, 2013, 02:38:06 AM »
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US surveyors measure elevations in tenths of a foot. So an elevation of 365.7 is 365 feet and 7/10 of a foot. That's probably why it takes a four year degree to become certified. Cheesy


All you need do here is go against the tide!

;-)

Rob C
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AlbertInfrance
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« Reply #30 on: August 17, 2013, 03:47:15 AM »
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And american boat builders work in feet, inches and eighths.

1'7'4+ would mean 1 foot, 7 inches and 4/8 inches (half in other words) plus a sixteenth, making nine sixteenths altogether.

Anybody remember 40-rod whiskey?
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Albert
Every photograph is an abstraction from reality.
Most people are more interested in the picture than the image.
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