Ask me anything — ISO 8601 edition

Some standards in the US are really absurdly eccentric and irrational. It’s the only advanced industrialized country that uses the British system of weights and measures. It uses foot, pound, gallon, degrees Fahrenheit instead of meter, kilo, liter, degrees Celsius. (Please stop with the centigrade thing already.)

The other two countries — Liberia and Myanmar –which have the same insanity are not exactly technologically advanced. Even the UK follows the metric system (with a few exceptions such as it is illegal for metric road signs and illegal to sell draught beer in metric.)

Given the US’s historical links with England, it is reasonable that its lingua franca is English. However they differ in spelling. Draft beer in the US, draught beer in the UK (see previous para.) Color v colour. Aluminum v aluminium. Center v centre. And there are differences in the naming of things. Elevator v lift. Trunk v boot. Hood v bonnet.

I have come to like the American conventions and standards. The light switches, for example. The placement is brilliant — a few inches away from the door opening. Thus if you open the door with your left hand, you can find the switch with your right hand, and vice versa. And to turn on the light, you flip the switch up (the opposite of that in India.) Talking of doors, exit doors in the US always open outward, never inward.

But the most absurd of the many ways the US conventions differ from the rest of the world is its representation of dates. It’s day month followed by the month day — MM/DD — instead of the rational DD/MM. Thus the date spoken of as “nine eleven” would be taken by the rest of the world to be 9th of November, and not the September the 11th as in the US.

The US ought to follow ISO 8601. Here’s the handy reference pic from the wiki:The format makes sense since we read from left to right. The most significant bits are on the left and significance decreases are we move to the right.

I like the date and time format. 2019-12-14T11:00:55+00:00. Year Month Day Hour Minute Second Offset from Zulu.

So there we are. The US is absurdly ridiculous. It should stop (note the big stop sigh at the top of the post.) Fortunately, the US stop sign has become universal.

But all that American insanity is compensated for by the fact that it has a Bill of Rights, the first two bits of which are precious. The First Amendment (freedom of religion, speech, press, association, redress of grievances) and the Second Amendment (the right to own guns) are the sanest things that a country can have.

So what’s on your mind?


The CIA World Factbook notes:

At this time, only three countries – Burma, Liberia, and the US – have not adopted the International System of Units (SI, or metric system) as their official system of weights and measures. Although use of the metric system has been sanctioned by law in the US since 1866, it has been slow in displacing the American adaptation of the British Imperial System known as the US Customary System. The US is the only industrialized nation that does not mainly use the metric system in its commercial and standards activities, but there is increasing acceptance in science, medicine, government, and many sectors of industry.

Categories: AMA -- Ask me anything

7 replies

  1. Your thoughts on CAB in India?
    Your thoughts on NRC in India?


    • I have heard mention of the Citizen’s Amendment Bill recently. Since I don’t follow news, I don’t know what it’s about. I generally ignore these things. I don’t bother with what the politicians are doing and what reaction their actions provoke. A friend in Delhi wrote to me about some violence in New Friends Colony. Nothing new about communal violence. As long as the government has the power to discriminate, communal violence is almost guaranteed.

      What’s NRC? Never heard of it.


  2. The metric system in many ways is a ‘decimal’ system for the simple fact that humans have 10 digits on their hands. Alpha Centaurians I suspect have a different system. The old English system has its merits:
    1)I gallon = 4 quarts = 8 pints–Its easier to separate a certain quantity into 2 equal halves than say, into 10 equal tenths. It accidentially conforms with the binary system.
    2)I pound sterling = 20 shillings; 1 shilling = 12 pennies.
    The number ’10’ has only 2 & 5 as dividers. ’20’ has 2, 4, 5, 10 as dividers. ’12’ has 2, 3, 4, 6 as dividers. The latter two have their advantage in certain exercise of distribution.


  3. It’s day followed by the month — DD/MM — instead of the rational MM/DD.

    Don’t you mean the other way round where the US is concerned? I got confused reading your next line about 9/11.


  4. I have recently moved to Australia from India. When it comes to these standards and conventions I quite like this country – driving on the left like back home, use of metric (so good to see weather expressed in Celsius rather than Fahrenheit, for one) and standard domestic AC voltages (220-240V @50 Hz – again America is the exception here with 110-127V @60 Hz, although these days most gadgets come with adapters that support both electricity conventions)


    • I find the driving on the right better than driving on the left. First, driving on the right means that the driver sits on the left side of the car, which means that in case of manual transmission, the gear shift is on the right. As a right-handed person, that makes it easy for me. But of course, I haven’t driven a manual transmission car in the US for ages. So that is not much of an issue.

      Second, most of the world drives on the right. Here’s a nice article on that at worldatlas.


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