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Metrication matters - Number 2 - 2003-07-10


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

Feedback from the first edition was great. I particularly liked 'EXCELLENT LOVE IT THANKYOU' and that was just my sister's response! I also liked 'thanks for sending it . . . it is entertaining', 'Many thanks for your first metrication newsletter which was very interesting', and 'Interesting, informative, and just plain fun to read'. But the best feedback was from the subscriber who walked for two hours (actually 121 minutes) to test my claim that we walk at about 100 metres per minute. He walked 12 kilometres in 121 minutes at an average of 99.2 metres per minute. However, after he allowed 2 minutes for stops at traffic lights, he then claimed an average speed of 102.5 metres per minute. For me, I am content to say that I walk at 'about' 100 metres per minute.

2 Editorial

Often, reference is made to the remaining nations yet to change to the metric system. This always includes the USA, but, to suggest that the USA is not alone, some of these are also listed: Burma, Burundi, Liberia, Libya, Myanmar, Rwanda, and Yemen. Unfortunately for the argument, Burma, Burundi, Liberia, Libya, Myanmar, Rwanda, North Yemen, and South Yemen have all been legally and practically metric for many years. Burma, for example, passed their first metric laws in 1920. Overall the world is now about 96 % metric.

3 Oddities

Bankers and other regular handlers of money are remarkably conservative. In 2001, the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) changed from using 'pieces of eight' to using decimal currency – dollars and cents – in quoting stock prices. This change took the NYSE 208 years from the introduction of decimal currency in the USA in 1793.

4 Tips

If you mark out a ten metre line on the ground, you can use it to train yourself to step this out in ten paces. You will need to stretch a little to do this, as your normal pace is about 750 millimetres. When I did this I left the marks on the ground, between my office and the car park, and practised each day until I was confident of my ability to step out an unknown distance with reasonable accuracy.

5 Signs of the times

Although Isaac Newton clearly distinguished between mass and weight in 1687, many people still use these words interchangeably; the muddle between mass and weight is now over 300 years old! Anyone who has seen videos of space travellers has observed that they become weightless when they travel away from the Earth. Despite the evidence of their own eyes, that the body mass of the astronauts is still all there, even though the astronauts have become weightless, many people still refer to mass as if it meant the same thing as weight – it doesn't.

6 Quotation

'Through and through the world is infested with quantity: To talk sense is to talk quantities. It is no use saying the nation is large . . . How large? It is no use saying the radium is scarce . . . How scarce? You cannot evade quantity. You may fly to poetry and music, and quantity and number will face you in your rhythms and your octaves'. Alfred North Whitehead

7 Q&A

You will recall that last month I asked: 'Have you heard of a unit called Tweddel?' and 'What was it used to measure?' Clearly, I failed the question design test – my question last month proved to be 'a load of old twaddle'. I misspelt Twaddle, first as Tweddel and then as Twaddel; it should be spelt Twaddle – it's no wonder I had no replies. I eventually found the definition on Russ Rowlett's extremely thorough website: http://www.unc.edu/~rowlett/units/dictD.html#twaddle Here, Rowlett tells us that it should be 'degree Twaddle' and that the Twaddle scale was used to measure the specific gravity of liquids denser than water. As an example he points out that 'For milk, 1 °Twaddle equals 5° Quevenne'. Isn't studying old units edifying, but how is it that I don't feel much wiser? By the way, please let me know of your favourite websites on metrication matters.

8 Rule of thumb

When it rains, each millimetre of rain is equivalent to one litre of water falling on each square metre. To calculate the size of a water storage tank to attach to the side of your new 5 metre by 10 metre storage shed, you proceed as follows: My new shed has a roof that is 5 metres x 10 metres = 50 square metres. The average rainfall is 550 millimetres each year (That's here in Geelong) The most my tank will need to cope with in a year is 50 square metres x 550 millimetres = 27 500 litres.

9 History

Alan Jamieson passed on a gem that he gathered from a UK National Physical Laboratory poster. It had a definition of the imperial perch (or rod) as being 'the total length of the left feet of the first sixteen men to leave church on Sunday morning' As Alan remarked, 'It doesn't come much odder than that!' but I don't know, I'm still worrying about degrees Twaddle.

10 Hidden metric

Modern computers are all metric. Don't be fooled by things like the, so-called, 3 1/2" floppy or 17 inch screens; these are simply more examples of hidden metric. According to international standard (ISO/IEC 9529-1) floppy disks are 90 mm x 94 mm x 3.3 mm, with a mass of 24 g, and the magnetic media inside is 86 mm – not a 3 1/2 anywhere! All other computer components come with metric specifications – all hidden of course. In addition to the clock speed of the computer, in megahertz, and the size of the memory, in megabytes and gigabytes, all the fasteners and other parts of your computer, all the way down to the substrate to make the computer chips is metric. The makers then give your screen a name in inches (very approximately) and the software writers use default tabs and margins in inches, and these are enough to delude almost everyone into thinking that they are using old-style technology.


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.

Copyright notice: © 2004 Pat Naughtin All rights reserved. You are free to quote material from 'Metrication matters' in whole or in part, provided you include this attribution to 'Metrication matters'. 'This was written by Pat Naughtin of "Metrication matters". Please contact for additional metrication articles and resources on commercial and industrial metrication'. Please notify me where the material will appear. Copying for any other purpose, whether in print, other media, or on websites, requires prior permission. Contact:

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