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Metrication matters - Number 1 - 2003-06-10


1 Feedback - notes and comments from readers 2 Editorial 3 Oddities - measurements from around the world 4 Tips - pointers and methods to make your measurements easier. 5 Signs of the times 6 Quotations 7 Q&A - readers' questions and answers 8 Rule of thumb 9 History 10 Hidden metric

1 Feedback

1 Feedback Don't be silly. This is the first edition.

2 Editorial

I wonder why the USA is the last nation in the world to admit the extent to which they use the metric system of measurements. For example, of the 10 000 parts in a modern car, made in the USA, all of them are measured in millimetres to the nearest tenth of a millimetre. But because the speedometer is labelled with the letters 'mph', drivers in the USA are generally convinced that they are driving an 'English Units' automobile.

3 Oddities

The modern word 'dollar' used in many countries as a unit of currency, originally came from the German word for a large silver coin, 'thaler', and this in turn derived from 'Joachimsthaler' named after Sankt Joachimsthal, which is just north of Prague.

4 Tips

Most people walk at about 100 metres per minute. It takes me 12 minutes to walk from our home to the post office, so I estimate that the Post Office is 1200 metres away. I used the odometer on my car to check that the distance is 1.2 kilometres.

5 Signs of the times

The internationally accepted symbol for the metre is the lower-case letter m without a full stop or period. However this does not stop creativity. In Geelong, I have found the following incorrect versions of the lower case letter m on signs, in newspapers, and in advertisements: M, Mt, MT, Mt., MT., Mtr, Mtr., Mtrs., mr, mr., me, m., ms, ms., mt, mt., mts, mts., mtr, mtr., mtrs, mtrs., or my personal favourite Mtres. Please let me know if you can add to my collection.

6 Quotation

It is India that gave us the ingenious method of expressing all numbers by means of ten symbols, each symbol receiving a value of position as well as an absolute value; a profound and important idea, which appears so simple to us now that we ignore its true merit. But its very simplicity and the great ease which it has lent to computations put our arithmetic in the first rank of useful inventions; and we shall appreciate the grandeur of the achievement the more when we remember that it escaped the genius of Archimedes and Apollonius, two of the greatest men produced by antiquity. Pierre-Simon de Laplace, (1749/1827) In H. Eves Return to Mathematical Circles, Boston: Prindle, Weber and Schmidt, 1988. Pierre-Simon Laplace worked on the original metric system in the 1790s.

7 Q&A

As there are no readers questions or answers, I will begin with one of my own. Have you heard of a unit called Tweddel? What was it used to measure?

8 Rule of thumb

For many women their thumb is 20 millimetres wide at the base of their thumbnail. For most men their thumb is 25 millimetres wide. In this, and with other 'handy' measures women vary much more than men.

9 History

The Netherlands claims to have been metric for longer than any other nation. Although France was the first to adopt the metric system, they went back to the old 'mesures usuelles' for a time in the early nineteenth century. Allowing for this it is true that the Netherlands has used metric units for longer than anyone else.

10 Hidden metric

As vinyl records developed, in the 1920s, they were designed and made 250 millimetres and 300 millimetres in diameter. In English speaking countries, they have been called 10 inch and 12 inch records ever since.


Pat Naughtin Geelong, Australia

Pat Naughtin is a writer, speaker, editor, and publisher. Pat has written several books and he has edited and published many others. For example, Pat was the lead writer of a chapter of a chemical engineering encyclopedia, and recently he edited the measurement section for the Australian Government 'Style manual: for writers, editors and printers'. Pat has been recognised by the United States Metric Association as a Lifetime Certified Advanced Metrication Specialist.

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Pat Naughtin
Metrication Matters
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