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Wikitravel talk:Measurements

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Moved from Wikitravel:Travellers' pub by Evan

So, I'd like to start a measurements formatting guideline for the manual of style. The main issue, I think, is metric versus imperial measurements.

I think we're going to have to give both: "It's 15 mi. (24 km) to the next village...", but I'm wondering which should go first. Our spelling guideline is to use American spelling for consistency. This suggests one of two courses: we use imperial (American) first for consistency with that, or we use metric first for fairness and just because overall it's a better system.

Comments? --Evan 13:36, 27 Sep 2004 (EDT)

I think whatever is locally used should go first, and then the alternate should be in brackets. The reason is that the local used one is likely to be the 'official' measurements for things and the other is just an approximate conversion. I also think the conversions should be soft conversions. IE if something is approximately 15miles then the soft conversion (given that we are probably talking about 15 miles +/- 2 miles 25 km is a good approximation of that). However, if something is 15.0 miles then we would call it 24.1km. The conversion should not imply a higher degree of accuracy than really exists. -- Webgeer 13:49, Sep 27, 2004 (EDT)
Agree with you totaly, Webgeer. Driving a rented car in the USA means thinking in miles. Vice versa in the rest of the world. -- Hansm 14:07, 2004 Sep 27 (EDT)
Like Webgeer, I think the local standard is the most important. I mean, it'd be nice for us Americans to have all the French distances written in miles, but does it really do us any good? If we don't understand kilometers, we're going to be in a world of hurt reading road signs and reading the speedometer. Likewise, anyone visiting the US should plan on having a basic understanding of milage (i.e. 100km=60m, 100km/h=60mph). (Must. Resist. Urge to make fun of measurement system in which you cannot simply divide by the second prime number). -- Colin 14:15, 27 Sep 2004 (EDT)
So, I think I suggested that both imperial and metric would be listed. The question is which comes first. I'm very, very resistent to having local rules, and I'm much more interested in global ones. Is there a reason that "15 mi. (24 km)" would be useless in France? Or that "24 km (15 mi.)" wouldn't work in the USA? I think both are perfectly usable, but I'd prefer to do one universally. --Evan 14:29, 27 Sep 2004 (EDT)
Yes, having a universal rule for which comes first is a Usability Issue. A guide should provide the Most Usable number first. Consider four cases of usage:
  • A Eurpoean travelling in Europe and we print metric first. Reading our guides is easy and natural.
  • A European travelling in Europe and we print miles first. Each time the traveller looks for a distance, he reads it, and then says "doh! not that number! I need the one in parenthesis!". A hardship with no purpose.
  • A European travelling in the US, and we print miles first. While the traveller may sometimes consult the kilometers translation in parens to double check his math, he will be mostly paying attention to miles anyway. He has to deal with miles on signs, miles per hour on the speedometer, so he's getting used to this whole miles thing even though he thinks it's pretty stupid.
  • A European travelling in the US, and we print metric first. Whenever he reads the guides, the traveller mostly pays attention to the metric and ignores the silly miles stuff. But he gets a headache from switching back and forth between the miles on his speedometer, the kilometers in the guidebook, and the milage on the road signs.
So yes, I would argue against even having a second distance standard in parens. But I don't care that much really. What I do really care about is that we use native-standard first. I object equally to using kilometers-first for the US articles, and using miles-first for European articles. -- Colin 17:10, 27 Sep 2004 (EDT)
Worse than useless. I think if you were in France and asked someone for directions, showing your printed Wikitravel France guide with miles first, you would get a serious beating -- and rightfully so! :) (And vice-versa in Rednecksville, USA.) Seriously, not putting metric first in the non-US world is a silly, awful idea. -- Paul Richter 21:33, 27 Sep 2004 (EDT)
Surely the compromise solution of listing both forms of measurement is the most practical.... - and why not resort to "local rules" / local usage for articles? "When in Rome....." (!) I tend to think that insisting on some 'universal' means of quoting measurements will only serve to niggle / alienate some contributors for no good purpose.... (Playing Devil's advocate: If we must select a priority 'universal' form, however, shouldn't we go for metric, as the system used most overwhelmingly widely and by the vast majority of the world's population?) As someone who was raised in metric, yet still speaks / thinks of himself as being 5ft 11" in height, I say: Let's go for the compromise + local rules! Pjamescowie 16:14, 27 Sep 2004 (EDT)
Metric is clearly superior and should always go first. -- Mark 08:72, 6 Vendémiaire an 213 de la Révolution
To be serious though, I think this is a situation where we should sacrifice universality for usability, so I'm with Colin. Local is good for this one thing. My own experience is that when I am in Europe I think of temperature in metric, and when in the US in farenheit, but I really cannot do the conversion in my head. I know what hot and cold is.
I have to assume that driving speeds and distance are similar. So yes, please, let's sacrifice universality and consistency for this one thing. -- Mark 17:15, 27 Sep 2004 (EDT)
Evan, you're clearly in the minority on this one, and I will personally revert out any miles I see creep up outside the US. The traveller goes first, right? Metric is the worldwide standard, so kilometers alone shall suffice, but for the US X mi (Y km) should be used. Same goes for temperatures. And oh yes, for good measure I still object to the universal American spelling thing as well. Jpatokal 00:21, 28 Sep 2004 (EDT)
Before we get too carried away with puritanical zeal over this issue, can I ask please that nobody undertake blanket reversions for miles used in all contexts outside the USA? Rather, that we use the compromise of stating both metric and imperial (if you can't be bothered finding / doing the conversion, then someone else eventually will....), with priority given to local usage? It's not as simple as all that: the UK, for example, still employs miles for road distances on road signs, road atlases, etc. (for reasons best known to themselves) and such an approach will surely create confusion and aggravation. There may be other examples of this residual usage elsewhere in the world (anyone?)..... Let's be sensible here, effect a "traveller's compromise" and quote both, with respect to "quaint local customs" (such as retaining an outmoded system of measurements for everyday usage). Pjamescowie 01:50, 28 Sep 2004 (EDT)


In menues in Canadian restaurants I often see boottled beers measured in ml and draught beer in Oz. -- elgaard 08:23, 2004 Sep 30 (EDT)

First draft[edit]

So, taking into account the discussion above, I started a first draft of this document. I think I captured the consensus opinion, but please review.

One exception: some people seem to think that providing distances in miles or height in feet at all outside the US is wrong. I think that Americans traveling outside the US will be better served with converted units provided in parentheses; I don't see a good reason for omitting them.

Finally: I tried to take into account the improbable situation that a country uses neither metric nor imperial units, but I couldn't think of an example. If anyone can come up with one, it'd be appreciated.

Comments and criticisms welcome. --Evan 13:29, 30 Sep 2004 (EDT)

It looks great and is easy to understand the way you've described it. -- Colin 15:20, 30 Sep 2004 (EDT)
Good stuff. I believe that reason and practicality has prevailed. I've just made a few corrections to British usage.... I know for a fact that some European countries also retain the 'pound' in various informal ways, but this probably won't affect the average traveller, so I'll not pursue this one.... Pjamescowie 16:38, 30 Sep 2004 (EDT)

Accuracy[edit]

I added a few words on the accuracy of measurements and made some minor changes to the examples so they show accuracy appropriately. -- Huttite 19:38, 2 Oct 2004 (EDT)


Populations[edit]

For example: "Population 32,207,113 (July 2003 est.)" from Canada. I dont think the exact number of canadians some unspecified day last summer is very interesting. Maybe "32 million" or "32,2 millons"

Populations always change, and are probably a year out of date if they are from a census. Also what population are you talking about, Resident Population, Visitors too? Those there overnight or there for the day? Statistians get awfully anal about this. I think the nearest million is enough, or 1 - 2 two significant digits in other cases. Enough to give an idea of size. Within 20% in other words. We should avoid decimal points and commas. - Huttite 20:18, 3 Jan 2005 (EST)

Digits or Words?[edit]

Should we express measurements in Digits (0-9) or Words?

My thought is we use Digits (0-9) and make this a recommendation. Here are my reasons for this suggestion:

  • Numbers are easily translated.
  • Numbers appear on signs.
  • It is easier to match symbols.
-Huttite 20:18, 3 Jan 2005 (EST)
One thing that prompted me to make this an issue was an anonymous user made edits to Altiplano (Bolivia) that changed numbers into words. There are some arcane gramatical or style rules that suggest that numbers be written as words in text. One style guide I have suggests:
  • Use words, not figures at the beginning of a sentence and for numbers one to nine. Otherwise figures should be used for numbers greater than nine, and they must always be used before a symbol.
I take this to mean that measurements should always be expressed as numbers, since the measurement unit is able to be expressed as a symbol. -- Huttite 21:57, 3 Jan 2005 (EST)

Uh-oh. It isn't true that the US uses the Imperial system. Check wikipedia. The clue is the term "Imperial" - it's a UK system. The US standard system is similar, but differs in some important respects. In the UK a pint is 20 fl oz, not 16. So, a pint of beer is going to be bigger than you might expect, and your tank won't hold as many gallons of fuel. You'll get more miles to the gallon, though! User:ianeiloart

Capitalization[edit]

Starting from mega, the prefix symbols are capitalized. A tonne is a megagram, 1 Mg, and Charlotte is 7.3 Mm from Belo Horizonte.

The symbol for liter is either L or l. Originally it was l, since it's not derived from someone's name, but for typographical reasons L is allowed. Until the CGPM decides one way or the other, I think we should allow both.

The symbols for volt and hertz, which appear in electrical sections, have the first letter capitalized. -phma 20:53, 24 February 2006 (EST)

Conversions[edit]

I had no idea until today that we had a policy which states that measurement conversions should be provided in an article! There has been no action on this page for four years, and it seems to me that this policy is not being implemented at all. In all the star nominations I have seen or been involved with for example, not once has there been a request for a conversion of units to be shown in brackets after the local norm. I see this is also the case with at least some older star articles.

It seems that this is a policy which has fallen on hard times and nobody seems to miss it. In this day and age is there really anyone out there who cannot relate 5 km to a distance in miles, or vice versa? I would like to propose this need for a conversion in brackets is removed as a guideline. Thoughts?--Burmesedays 22:13, 18 May 2010 (EDT)

Bump. Maybe it is just my tidy mind being over-obsessive, but I really would like to sort this out. Apart from anything else, if including conversions is still a formal formatting guideline, then we have a pile of star articles that do not meet the "perfectly formatted" criterion.--Burmesedays 21:15, 20 May 2010 (EDT)
I think it would be fine to strike that section. --Peter Talk 22:06, 20 May 2010 (EDT)

mm vs. cm for precipitation[edit]

The unit that precipitation levels are in should be mm, as it is much more commonly used than cm in this context. 96.45.9.28 23:44, 1 October 2010 (EDT)

I moved this over from Template talk:Climate, figuring this was the better place for a discussion. I'm in agreement with the anonymous user: centimeters are customary only for snowfall, but millimeters for both rainfall and combined precipitation measurements, the latter of which tends towards "rain equivalent" numbers for snow. The Big Wiki also uses mm in their standard climate template. — D. Guillaime 02:02, 2 October 2010 (EDT)
I also agree. Besides that mm is pretty much the standard everywhere as far as I'm aware, whenever I see a precipitation level number, I almost unconsciously compare it with the 576 mm of rainfall my hometown receives annually, to get an idea of how much rain the number in the table represents. I guess there should be many other people doing this as well, so I'm in favour of switching to mm. – Vidimian 03:33, 2 October 2010 (EDT)
For reference, this change is now complete. — D. Guillaime 01:43, 5 September 2011 (EDT)

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