## The Greatest Battle of All: Metric or Imperial?

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## Metric or Standard?

Metric!
176
88%
Imperial!
25
12%

zenten
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SecondTalon wrote:Factor of scale. For the same reason you eyeball in centimeters and not meters. For the same reason I eyeball small things in inches and large things in feet...

This computer case next to me.. I figure it's about 25 inches high. Not two feet, because the scale's wrong. It'd need to be about three feet before I would eyeball it in feet... because of scale.

Centimeter is too small. Meter is too large. Decimeter is in between... why not use it?

But it's the same thing, that's what I don't get. 1.7 metres for height is just as easy to eyeball as 170 centemetres, or 1700 millimetres, because it's the same thing.

bigglesworth
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I see the written 1.7m and 170cm as exactly the same. Because they are. It's just the same numbers with a decimal place move.
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gmalivuk
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792 inches and 1 surveyor's chain are exactly the same thing. Sure, it's a bit more than just moving the decimal, but the principle's the same.

You might know more quickly that 35km is 3,500,000cm than I would that 20 miles is 1,267,200 inches, but you still say another town is 35km away instead of using centimeters.

One relevant fact is that no one really has a good understanding of big numbers. I can picture, at least on a map, 35 rods, each a kilometer long layed end-to-end. I can't (and neither can you, I bet) picture 3.5 million much smaller lengths laid end-to-end.
Unless stated otherwise, I do not care whether a statement, by itself, constitutes a persuasive political argument. I care whether it's true.
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Malice
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SecondTalon wrote:Centimeter is too small. Meter is too large. Decimeter is in between... why not use it?

Let me let you in on a little secret: nobody uses the decimeter or the decameter. They're just placeholders. They are the powers of ten which the human mind doesn't know or agree with. People tend to think in terms of small things (inches/centimeters), medium-sized things (feet/meters), and big things (miles/kilometers). There are no in betweens.

Hey, there's an argument against metric. Why go through the trouble to learn a system when you don't even use part of it? It's the appendix of the measurement world.

djn
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Malice wrote:Let me let you in on a little secret: nobody uses the decimeter or the decameter. They're just placeholders. They are the powers of ten which the human mind doesn't know or agree with. People tend to think in terms of small things (inches/centimeters), medium-sized things (feet/meters), and big things (miles/kilometers). There are no in betweens.

Hey, there's an argument against metric. Why go through the trouble to learn a system when you don't even use part of it? It's the appendix of the measurement world.

When at that scale, I imagine things in dm-size chunks and then say a number of centimeters. I'm not sure how that fits?
(e.g: My current monitor looks to be 4-5 dm wide, but if asked I'd say 40-50 cm. Usually; I have used decimeters in speech.)

Decameters are dead, though. "Meters" up to "kilometers", anything above 10 km is given in miles. For the 10km value of mile, of course.

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Malice wrote:Hey, there's an argument against metric. Why go through the trouble to learn a system when you don't even use part of it? It's the appendix of the measurement world.

Using that argument against metric would surely require some alternate system that didn't have reams and reams (interesting turn of phrase there) of redundant and slightly stupid units itself.

Bondolon
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Andrew wrote:
Malice wrote:Hey, there's an argument against metric. Why go through the trouble to learn a system when you don't even use part of it? It's the appendix of the measurement world.

Using that argument against metric would surely require some alternate system that didn't have reams and reams (interesting turn of phrase there) of redundant and slightly stupid units itself.

Well, sure, but now we're talking about "relevant to human psychology" vs. "relevant to scientific data" stuff. Feet, yards, inches, etc... came about through necessity. People needed units, and these agreed with the conceptions they had of size in the world. Metric came about from a desire for regularity in measurement. One is better than the other in certain respects.

edit: I'd posit that finding a happy medium there is basically impossible

Nimz
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Swordfish wrote:By the way, one internet for anyone who can correctly guess the scale of the temperature I posted as the lowest possible temperature that water can exist as a liquid in the atmosphere.
Just out of curiosity, is that one internet offer still available? If so, the answer: both Fahrenheit and Celcius.

I am capable in both the USCS and SI and can convert between them, usually in my head. That said, I prefer USCS. SI is a necessary evil for working in the sciences, and I use it. I'm not as proficient at looking at something and giving the SI value vs. USCS value. E.g. I can estimate 10 ft more readily than 3 m. That being the case, at the end of the day, if I want to make sense of the answer, I'll convert to USCS. I know by looking at a Fahrenheit or a Celcius temperature whether it is hot or cold without having to do any conversions, but for me there is a line at 104 F. Below that is tolerably hot. Above that is ridiculously hot.

For those who claim that everyone should use the same units, metric is more commonly used, ergo metric should be the units used: as was stated by a previous poster, SI came about in the 18th century. If you used that argument then, everything would be measured in imperial units now

Edit: 64th post! Woohoo!! <-- same as the number of squares on a chessboard. well, little squares.
LOWA

zenten
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gmalivuk wrote:792 inches and 1 surveyor's chain are exactly the same thing. Sure, it's a bit more than just moving the decimal, but the principle's the same.

You might know more quickly that 35km is 3,500,000cm than I would that 20 miles is 1,267,200 inches, but you still say another town is 35km away instead of using centimeters.

One relevant fact is that no one really has a good understanding of big numbers. I can picture, at least on a map, 35 rods, each a kilometer long layed end-to-end. I can't (and neither can you, I bet) picture 3.5 million much smaller lengths laid end-to-end.

Because we use base 10? If we used base 12, a base 12 version of SI would be a good idea. If we used roman numerals for everything, then yes, there would be no advantage. Maybe for you there is no difference between moving a decimal around, and multiplying/dividing by any given integer, but for most of us mere mortals there is.

Teshi
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From people I've talked to in fully metric countries (Canada's population hasn't gone all the way, which is why I had to look up a metric conversion for my height above) it isn't hard at all. You would just need to be able to eyeball within about ten centemetres anyway, which isn't hard. If you say "he looks to be about 170", and it turns out he's 172 people aren't going to laugh at you.

I forget why we are discussing this, but I can well believe that. I am used to hearing feet applied to people so naturally I am used to thinking about people in terms of height. However, I think that in a semi-converted place like Canada- where people are familiar with both centimetres and feet people would be more likely to use the most eyeball-appropriate measurement.

It would be very hard to actually determine if this was the case though, because of all the extraneous factors. You'd have to introduce people to new measurements and ask them to measure things in your invented measurements and even then they'd have to be different enough from centimetres, inches, feet and metres in order to not get mental correlation between the three systems (invented, metric and imperial).

I don't know, my argument makes sense in my head, but, like I said, it's merely my own speculation.

gmalivuk
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Nimz wrote:I know by looking at a Fahrenheit or a Celcius temperature whether it is hot or cold without having to do any conversions, but for me there is a line at 104 F. Below that is tolerably hot. Above that is ridiculously hot.

It's funny you should use Farenheit for that particular temperature, seeing as it's exactly 40ÂºC.
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zenten
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gmalivuk wrote:
Nimz wrote:I know by looking at a Fahrenheit or a Celcius temperature whether it is hot or cold without having to do any conversions, but for me there is a line at 104 F. Below that is tolerably hot. Above that is ridiculously hot.

It's funny you should use Farenheit for that particular temperature, seeing as it's exactly 40ÂºC.

There are people who think that 39ÂºC is tolerable?

Nimz
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zenten wrote:
gmalivuk wrote:
Nimz wrote:I know by looking at a Fahrenheit or a Celcius temperature whether it is hot or cold without having to do any conversions, but for me there is a line at 104 F. Below that is tolerably hot. Above that is ridiculously hot.

It's funny you should use Farenheit for that particular temperature, seeing as it's exactly 40ÂºC.

There are people who think that 39ÂºC is tolerable?
Actually, yes. I live in the desert, though, so the lack of humidity helps out tremendously. If I was in a more humid area, my threshold would be much lower.
LOWA

22/7
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zenten wrote:
gmalivuk wrote:
Nimz wrote:I know by looking at a Fahrenheit or a Celcius temperature whether it is hot or cold without having to do any conversions, but for me there is a line at 104 F. Below that is tolerably hot. Above that is ridiculously hot.

It's funny you should use Farenheit for that particular temperature, seeing as it's exactly 40ÂºC.

There are people who think that 39ÂºC is tolerable?

Though it's not exactly relevant, yes, I do. I live in Dallas, and we will often get weeks where the high temperature is well over 100F (or 38+ for Centigrade). After a short period, say a week, one gets quite used to it.
Totally not a hypothetical...

Steroid wrote:
bigglesworth wrote:If your economic reality is a choice, then why are you not as rich as Bill Gates?
Don't want to be.
I want to be!

bigglesworth
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In the Times, there was a letter suggesting that for dramatic effect, cold temperatures can be given in centigrade (scary minus sign) and hot temperatures can be given in Fahrenheit.
Generation Y. I don't remember the First Gulf War, but do remember floppy disks.

Nimz
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Temps colder than -40 would be even scarier in Fahrenheit, thanks to the smaller size of a degree. Absoulte zero (rounded to the nearest integral degree in both systems) is -460 F versus -273 C.

*wonders if Bradbury's novel would have sold as well under the title Centigrade 232 7/9
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Number
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Well, there are three main benefits to Imperial measurements that I can think of
1) For reasonable distances (< 10 miles), unit conversions may be harder to screw up. An incorrect exponent is easier to miss when using Metric conversions, especially with bad handwriting.
2) The Imperial system can seem more natural, probably because it was based on body measurements (foot, yard), not on water. Anyone can guess a reasonably sized object in feet without any knowledge of units, given the name, whereas the meter lends itself to not-pretty fractions or decimals for those who can only tolerate denominators of at most 2 (1.7 meters versus ~5.5 ft)
3)Converting back and forth between Imperial and Metric makes other unit conversions easier in the future. It gets across the idea that there are convenient/preferred ways to handle units, not to mention multiple perspectives.

The downsides are more obvious, including, if my memory is correct, a space shuttle crash due to unit conflicts.

And as far as I remember, the mile is named after the Roman concept of milia passuum, or thousands of paces. I wonder what that comes out to in feet and meters.
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Number wrote:The downsides are more obvious, including, if my memory is correct, a space shuttle crash due to unit conflicts.

Yes and no. That wasn't really an issue of the Imperial system, but of having multiple systems. Of course, it can just as easily be blamed on the fellas who didn't add units, or the other fellas who didn't ask what the units were. Obviously, there's enough blame to go around.
Totally not a hypothetical...

Steroid wrote:
bigglesworth wrote:If your economic reality is a choice, then why are you not as rich as Bill Gates?
Don't want to be.
I want to be!

Andrew
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Number wrote:2) The Imperial system can seem more natural, probably because it was based on body measurements (foot, yard), not on water. Anyone can guess a reasonably sized object in feet without any knowledge of units, given the name

That's not really true. If your foot is a foot long, you have massive feet, and if you have small feet (say, if you're a child learning about units) then your foot might not be half a foot long. I'd say that makes it more confusing, not less. And the unit "hand" is measured the other way -- across the hand. There are three hands in a foot. What sense does that make? None that I can see.

And then there's chains and links -- a link is almost 8 inches. That's a sodding enormous chain. And most Poles I've met are only 5 feet tall, whereas the unit called a pole is 16.5 feet. And a pound coin weighs nothing like a pound. And then there are all different sized cups...

bigglesworth
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Nimz wrote:Temps colder than -40 would be even scarier in Fahrenheit, thanks to the smaller size of a degree. Absoulte zero (rounded to the nearest integral degree in both systems) is -460 F versus -273 C.

*wonders if Bradbury's novel would have sold as well under the title Centigrade 232 7/9

To clarify: the writer of the letter was using this in the context of weather reports. I hope it is only rarely -460 F near you, if so wrap up warm.

And to the previous two posts, a foot is something i almost never think of. I'm just not that interested in my feet. Which are only close to a foot. Why should i think of the dimensions of Henry I whenever i need to measure something?
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Andrew wrote:And then there's chains and links -- a link is almost 8 inches. That's a sodding enormous chain. And most Poles I've met are only 5 feet tall, whereas the unit called a pole is 16.5 feet. And a pound coin weighs nothing like a pound. And then there are all different sized cups...

Ok, first no one actually uses links and chains to measure things (outside of surveying, maybe?), much like the decameter (and decimeter?). Secondly, I think what you mean by different sized cups is different sized pints? Otherwise, we have different fractions of cups, if that's what you mean, but I don't think it is.
Totally not a hypothetical...

Steroid wrote:
bigglesworth wrote:If your economic reality is a choice, then why are you not as rich as Bill Gates?
Don't want to be.
I want to be!

bigglesworth
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Generation Y. I don't remember the First Gulf War, but do remember floppy disks.

Bondolon
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The imperial system for cooking IS rather solid. Even though the measurements are non-scientific, they are perfect for units within a dish. Metric is really poorly adapted to cooking, and, though I'd probably follow it if I had to, I'd recognize that the units are much more awkward

bigglesworth
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Are they? Aren't millilitres more accurate than cups or 1/4 cups? 50 ml is an easily measurable amount, and there are five of them in 250 which is of similar size to a cup, which only has 4 1/4 cups in it.

Cookery is a field in which long decimal place differences have little effect on the product, and measuring devices take the "rough quantity knowledge" supposed advantage away.

And that's only for that example.
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Andrew
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bigglesworth wrote:Don't do much cookery? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Measuring_cup

Seems to me that giving units names that will confuse people unfamiliar with them is a bad thing. There's nothing in my kitchen called a millilitre.

zenten
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Andrew wrote:
bigglesworth wrote:Don't do much cookery? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Measuring_cup

Seems to me that giving units names that will confuse people unfamiliar with them is a bad thing. There's nothing in my kitchen called a millilitre.

My drinking cups are all different volumes, and I'm pretty sure none of them are actually a cup.

Plus there's the whole dry measure versus wet measure thing. Even in normal North American baking a cup of flour is not the same volume as a cup of milk.

bigglesworth
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Andrew wrote:
bigglesworth wrote:Don't do much cookery? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Measuring_cup

Seems to me that giving units names that will confuse people unfamiliar with them is a bad thing. There's nothing in my kitchen called a millilitre.

There is in mine. My measuring jug has 1000 of them, and 50ml gradations. Doctors use ml as well. Should they put fractions of fluid ounces into patients?
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gmalivuk
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zenten wrote:Plus there's the whole dry measure versus wet measure thing. Even in normal North American baking a cup of flour is not the same volume as a cup of milk.

Yes they are the same volume, since anyone cooking will be using the same measuring cup for both the flour and the milk.

The difference only actually comes into play when you're talking the much bigger pecks and bushels of things, which are a certain number of dry quarts, which are bigger than liquid quarts, 1/4 of which is the cup we use for cooking things.
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22/7
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bigglesworth wrote:
Andrew wrote:
bigglesworth wrote:Don't do much cookery? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Measuring_cup

Seems to me that giving units names that will confuse people unfamiliar with them is a bad thing. There's nothing in my kitchen called a millilitre.

There is in mine. My measuring jug has 1000 of them, and 50ml gradations. Doctors use ml as well. Should they put fractions of fluid ounces into patients?

And guess which side of the pond the two of you are on.

And it doesn't actually matter what system doctors use, as long as they put the right amount in. To say that one system should not be used in measuring IVs or shots is ridiculous.

gmalivuk wrote:Yes they are the same volume, since anyone cooking will be using the same measuring cup for both the flour and the milk.

The difference only actually comes into play when you're talking the much bigger pecks and bushels of things, which are a certain number of dry quarts, which are bigger than liquid quarts, 1/4 of which is the cup we use for cooking things.

Thank you gmalivuk. I would have said it earlier, but I was asleep.
Totally not a hypothetical...

Steroid wrote:
bigglesworth wrote:If your economic reality is a choice, then why are you not as rich as Bill Gates?
Don't want to be.
I want to be!

zenten
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gmalivuk wrote:
zenten wrote:Plus there's the whole dry measure versus wet measure thing. Even in normal North American baking a cup of flour is not the same volume as a cup of milk.

Yes they are the same volume, since anyone cooking will be using the same measuring cup for both the flour and the milk.

The difference only actually comes into play when you're talking the much bigger pecks and bushels of things, which are a certain number of dry quarts, which are bigger than liquid quarts, 1/4 of which is the cup we use for cooking things.

That's really not what I've been taught when it comes to baking.

This site seems to support that: http://www.exploratorium.edu/cooking/co ... ments.html

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Ah yes, but the vast majority of people only use one or the other, as most of us are not professional (or really even amateur) chefs. And so the measurements are done using all dry or all liquid measurements.

Again, this is a generally, but the idea is that if the recipe calls for a certain kind of cup, it will request it. The funny thing about all this is that I was looking up recipes for smoothies maybe a week ago and about half of them were in a combination of metric and USCS (usually metric for the "amount of fruit" and USCS for the measurements of the yogurt/milk).
Totally not a hypothetical...

Steroid wrote:
bigglesworth wrote:If your economic reality is a choice, then why are you not as rich as Bill Gates?
Don't want to be.
I want to be!

zenten
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22/7 wrote:Ah yes, but the vast majority of people only use one or the other, as most of us are not professional (or really even amateur) chefs. And so the measurements are done using all dry or all liquid measurements.

I dunno, that seems like an argument against the US system to me, as it is just another barrier to becoming a good cook.

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Something I've always wondered: when you're learning scientific equations in the US, do you learn nice, simple SI equations or do you have some hideous imperial equations with ugly constants?

I like metric because it's what I've learnt, I like base 10, and SI equations are nice. However, I find that feet and inches are very useful sizes and I'll often use them in a casual estimate ("how big is that computer case of yours?" "How long a cable do you want?" etc.). And, of course, pints are the only way to measure beer

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zenten wrote:I dunno, that seems like an argument against the US system to me, as it is just another barrier to becoming a good cook.

Ehh. Professionals have to new systems all the time. Hell, even professional football players have to learn a new set of rules when they make the jump from college to the pros.

As for "good" cooks, I would be quite surprised if "good" cooks measure out everything very painstakingly. My mother is not an amazing cook, but the dishes that she makes that are indeed very good are usually done to taste. And a buddy of mine who recently opened up his own restaurant doesn't usually make sure that *exactly* 2 1/4 cups of whatever just went into whatever he's making. He usually gets it pretty close and once he's familiar with a recipe does a lot of estimating or guess work. Now, I'm no chef, but I would assume that a 1.1% difference in the volume of something will not throw off too many recipes.
Totally not a hypothetical...

Steroid wrote:
bigglesworth wrote:If your economic reality is a choice, then why are you not as rich as Bill Gates?
Don't want to be.
I want to be!

bigglesworth
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22/7 wrote:And it doesn't actually matter what system doctors use, as long as they put the right amount in. To say that one system should not be used in measuring IVs or shots is ridiculous.

Apologies, i was only basing that point on dimly remembered American medical dramas where people shout for ccs of stuff.
Generation Y. I don't remember the First Gulf War, but do remember floppy disks.

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bigglesworth wrote:
22/7 wrote:And it doesn't actually matter what system doctors use, as long as they put the right amount in. To say that one system should not be used in measuring IVs or shots is ridiculous.

Apologies, i was only basing that point on dimly remembered American medical dramas where people shout for ccs of stuff.

Haha, yes they do indeed measure certain meds in "ccs." But what I meant was, it doesn't matter if they use 1/4 ounces of something as opposed to ccs or mLs, it's all the same amount of something, just with a different number and unit attached. The only really important thing is that everyone working in that room is on the same page.
Totally not a hypothetical...

Steroid wrote:
bigglesworth wrote:If your economic reality is a choice, then why are you not as rich as Bill Gates?
Don't want to be.
I want to be!

gmalivuk
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zenten wrote:That's really not what I've been taught when it comes to baking.

This site seems to support that: http://www.exploratorium.edu/cooking/co ... ments.html

That site only supports you if 1 cup is actually 250 mL, which it clearly isn't because there is no definition of the quart that is exactly 1 liter.

Cynical Jawa wrote:Something I've always wondered: when you're learning scientific equations in the US, do you learn nice, simple SI equations or do you have some hideous imperial equations with ugly constants?

How are USCS physical constants any uglier than SI ones? Unless you're using Planck units, all the constants are a bunch of arbitrary looking sequences of digits.
Last edited by gmalivuk on Fri Aug 24, 2007 5:46 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.
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zenten
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gmalivuk wrote:
zenten wrote:That's really not what I've been taught when it comes to baking.

This site seems to support that: http://www.exploratorium.edu/cooking/co ... ments.html

That site only supports you if 1 cup is actually 250 mL, which it clearly isn't because there is no definition of the quart that is exactly 1 liter.

Oddly enough, most recipes that use both systems will say they are equivalent.

bigglesworth
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they're equivalent enough for cooking.

And in any case, what's 50ml (1.7 ounces) when cooking something as big as a quart?
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zenten
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