I have an idea that will help transition America to the metric system.

(I think meters are actually pretty reasonable, though.. you’ll see)

We transition to a metric system, one based on the foot. Out with the meter, in with the foot.

Call it American metric.

It’s the 40 yard dash, the ten foot pole, the feet that fit size 14 shoes. In retrospect, that last one is a bit absurd. And that first one is technically yards, but when I say yard your head says 3 feet.

When I ask how tall is Mt Everest you’ll say something crazy like 29 thousand feet, when maybe a mile (or a furlong, or a kilometer..) would be a more useful measure at that scale. Our own day-to-day speech, if you look at it, wins out hugely in favor of the foot.

The basic conversions are:

SI metric foot metric
25.4 mm 1/12 foot (an inch)
.3048 m 1 foot
304.8 m 1 kilofoot
1 km 3.28 kilofeet

So, roughly:

Distance

foot-metric approximately
7.2 nanofeet diameter of a DNA helix
200 microfeet thickness of a human hair
3 millifeet thickness of a credit card
1 foot .. everyone knows this, that’s the point
1 kilofoot 3 football fields
100 kilofeet 25 minute car trip
1 megafoot 3 hour drive, as tall as Pennsylvania
100 megafeet circumference of Earth
1 gigafoot distance from Earth to the Moon
24 terafeet distance from Earth to Pluto
807 exafeet distance to Sagittarius A**, near center of Milky Way
79 zettafeet distance to Andromeda Galaxy, a very near-by galaxy
993 yottafeet distance to GN-z11, a most far-out galaxy

The Orders of Magnitude on Wikipedia is a great resource.

Speed

I think anything per hour, unless we can all go base-60, is hard to think about the 3600 factor between seconds and hours. So transitioning to anything-per-second is a great move (IMHO), and miles-per-second is just inconceivable.

feet-per-second » miles-per-hour

foot-metric speed approximately
1 foot / second .68 mph
100 feet / second 68 mph
100 feet / second 110 km/h
1 kilofoot / second speed of sound
4 kilofeet / second a bullet, leaving a rifle
56 kilofeet / second Voyager I, from the Sun
1 gigafoot / second speed of light

1 foot / second is just over 1 kilometer / hour

So those little yellow numbers on your car dashboard are a decent reference point: if you’re going 60mph, you can see you’re at 96.6km/h, which is 88f/s. 1

Plus, you know how the speed of light is either 3e8 or some weird 186-something number? It’s actually really reasonable as 983,569,089.2.., which is just 2% off an even c = 1 gigafoot / second.

To be exact, the speed of sound is ~1.125 kilofeet / second, so 1 kf/s is 12% low. But, rejoice in the fact that as altitude rises & temperature drops, the speed will decrease towards 1 kf/s, which is accurate around -40F / -40C.

Area

size thing of approximate area
1 sq ft you know this, Chief
100 sq ft a small room
10,000 sq ft a decent-sized front & back yard, ¼ acre
1 sq kft 5-6 Walmart Supercenters
100 sq kft 3 Central Parks
10,000 sq kft Prince William County
1 sq mft 3 Hawai’is (the big island, three of ‘em)

Why?

I think it’s nice to scale things in terms of 10s (1, 10, 100..), but also in √10s: 1, 3, 10, 30, 100, 300.. etc.

10 feet is between 1 m and 10 m. 100 megafeet is between 10 Mm and 100 Mm. Basically:

5 ft, 5 m, 50 ft, 50 m, 500 ft, 500 m..

We don’t have to transition away from feet to gain metric: we can have both feet & meters. ¿Por que no los dos?

I wish we all just used metric, but as long as we’re seemingly not going to drop a foot-based system, we might as well make it our own foot-metric.

Taking it to perfection

I think the meter is pretty arbitrary anyways, so they should just readjust the meter (or the yard) to match √10 feet. Just for fun, we could call it a leg, but I’ll call it a meter:

1 m = √10 ft = 37.947.. in

That way, 1 m = 3.16227 ft, and 3.16227 m = 10 ft, so on & so on. I don’t think the rest of the world will oblige, though. We actually adjusted our foot to be 0.3048 m back in 1959, so maybe they could return the favor, and be a little irrational and set the meter back to 1 m = √10 0.3048 old-meter = 0.964.. old-meters. We adjusted our unit by 2 parts-per-million, and they’d have to change by 3.6%, but hey it’d be a great signal of their, uh, willingness to advance mankind.

And maybe later, we can switch to base-12.

  1. It would’ve been really cool for the DeLorean in Back to the Future to have to hit 88 feet / second, which is certainly more realistic than the 88mph they portray, given the engines those things actually had. 88 feet / second is exactly equivalent to 60 miles / hour. Exactly. Yeah. Oh well.