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2 Interacting with units

To invoke units for interactive use, type units at your shell prompt. The program will print something like this:

     Currency exchange rates from on 2014-03-05
     2860 units, 109 prefixes, 85 nonlinear units
     You have:

At the ‘You have: prompt, type the quantity and units that you are converting from. For example, if you want to convert ten meters to feet, type 10 meters. Next, units will print ‘You want:. You should type the units you want to convert to. To convert to feet, you would type feet. If the readline library was compiled in then <tab> will complete unit names. See Readline Support, for more information about readline. To quit the program under Unix, press <Ctrl-C> or <Ctrl-D>. Under Windows, press <Ctrl-C> or <Ctrl-Z>; with the latter, you may also need to press <Enter>.

The result will be displayed in two ways. The first line of output, which is marked with a ‘*’ to indicate multiplication, gives the result of the conversion you have asked for. The second line of output, which is marked with a ‘/’ to indicate division, gives the inverse of the conversion factor. If you convert 10 meters to feet, units will print

         * 32.808399
         / 0.03048

which tells you that 10 meters equals about 32.8 feet. The second number gives the conversion in the opposite direction. In this case, it tells you that 1 foot is equal to about 0.03 dekameters since the dekameter is 10 meters. It also tells you that 1/32.8 is about 0.03.

The units program prints the inverse because sometimes it is a more convenient number. In the example above, for example, the inverse value is an exact conversion: a foot is exactly 0.03048 dekameters. But the number given the other direction is inexact.

If you convert grains to pounds, you will see the following:

     You have: grains
     You want: pounds
             * 0.00014285714
             / 7000

From the second line of the output you can immediately see that a grain is equal to a seven thousandth of a pound. This is not so obvious from the first line of the output. If you find the output format confusing, try using the --verbose option:

     You have: grain
     You want: aeginamina
             grain = 0.00010416667 aeginamina
             grain = (1 / 9600) aeginamina

If you request a conversion between units that measure reciprocal dimensions, then units will display the conversion results with an extra note indicating that reciprocal conversion has been done:

     You have: 6 ohms
     You want: siemens
             reciprocal conversion
             * 0.16666667
             / 6

Reciprocal conversion can be suppressed by using the --strict option. As usual, use the --verbose option to get more comprehensible output:

     You have: tex
     You want: typp
             reciprocal conversion
             1 / tex = 496.05465 typp
             1 / tex = (1 / 0.0020159069) typp
     You have: 20 mph
     You want: sec/mile
             reciprocal conversion
             1 / 20 mph = 180 sec/mile
             1 / 20 mph = (1 / 0.0055555556) sec/mile

If you enter incompatible unit types, the units program will print a message indicating that the units are not conformable and it will display the reduced form for each unit:

     You have: ergs/hour
     You want: fathoms kg^2 / day
     conformability error
             2.7777778e-11 kg m^2 / sec^3
             2.1166667e-05 kg^2 m / sec

If you only want to find the reduced form or definition of a unit, simply press <Enter> at the ‘You want: prompt. Here is an example:

     You have: jansky
     You want:
             Definition: fluxunit = 1e-26 W/m^2 Hz = 1e-26 kg / s^2

The output from units indicates that the jansky is defined to be equal to a fluxunit which in turn is defined to be a certain combination of watts, meters, and hertz. The fully reduced (and in this case somewhat more cryptic) form appears on the far right.

Some named units are treated as dimensionless in some situations. These units include the radian and steradian. These units will be treated as equal to 1 in units conversions. Power is equal to torque times angular velocity. This conversion can only be performed if the radian is dimensionless.

     You have: (14 ft lbf) (12 radians/sec)
     You want: watts
             * 227.77742
             / 0.0043902509

Named dimensionless units are not treated as dimensionless in other contexts. They cannot be used as exponents so for example, ‘meter^radian’ is not allowed. If you want a list of options you can type ? at the ‘You want: prompt. The program will display a list of named units that are conformable with the unit that you entered at the ‘You have: prompt above. Conformable unit combinations will not appear on this list.

Typing help at either prompt displays a short help message. You can also type help followed by a unit name. This will invoke a pager on the units data base at the point where that unit is defined. You can read the definition and comments that may give more details or historical information about the unit. (You can generally quit out of the page by pressing ‘q’.)

Typing search text will display a list of all of the units whose names contain text as a substring along with their definitions. This may help in the case where you aren't sure of the right unit name.