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Metrication matters - Number 16 - 2004-09-10

Metrication matters is an on-line metrication newsletter for those with an interest in metrication matters. If you know somebody who can benefit from this newsletter, please forward it to them and suggest that they subscribe. If a friend passed on this newsletter to you, please check the details of the free subscription at the end.


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

Dear Subscriber,

1 Feedback

1 Feedback

During my research as I developed the / web page it became clear to me that there is a lack of resources for people who want to know about Metrication Basics but don't know where to start.

To respond to this issue, I have devised a 10 week email course that you can find at: Metrication Basics.

I will not release this to the general public until 'International Metric Day October 10, so I would appreciate it if you could review the course for me and let me have your feedback in the next few weeks.

One of the interesting developments this month was a combined effort by members of the USMA mailing list to develop thoughts on how an individual can help to promote metrication. This was led by Jim Elwell from QSI Corporation in Salt Lake City, Utah.

As an enticement to you to review Metrication Basics, I have summarised Jim Elwell's discussion, with his permission, and attached my adaptation of it as a giveaway when you sign up to Metrication Basics see: 10 ways to promote metrication.

2 Editorial

It was refreshing to see that the astronauts on the International Space Station used metric units only when they took part in the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games.

When all the nations of the world meet together in cooperation to achieve any worthwhile result, the units of measure they use are all metric. The Olympic Games in Athens showed this simplicity of cooperating nations, and it was a delight to see.

3 Oddities

A young girl from Sruthilakshmi Pai, in India, told this story on her website: A man runs into a bus station and asks, 'How long will the next bus be?'
A girl replies, 'About 11 metres, the same as the one that just left'.

4 Tips

My wife, Wendy, took a long time adjusting to metric length measurements. She was fine with kilograms and grams; litres and millilitres; (and dollars and cents), but length measures took her a little longer. Here are her own words to describe how she overcame this problem:

Let me share a metric trick that has helped me greatly. I was having dreadful trouble with metric length measurements until the day Pat asked me to measure the width of my little finger it was 10 mm wide.

Now if I want to cut strips of meat 10 mm wide for a stir-fry I just look at my little finger. If I want 20 mm cubes of lamb for a shish kebab, I look at my little finger and think double.

If I want pastry rolled out to 5 mm, I look at my little finger and roll the pastry to half its width. If the instructions say 'roll the pastry to 0.5 centimetres; or roll it out to cm, I just think 5 mm and get on with it.

And as a bonus, I can now picture how much rain we've had.

5 Signs of the times

It was refreshing to see that the astronauts on the International Space Station used metric units only when they took part in the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games.

6 Quotation

Even while I protest the assembly-line production of our food, our songs, our language, and eventually our souls, I know that it was a rare home that baked good bread in the old days. Mother's cooking was with rare exceptions poor, that good unpasteurized milk touched only by flies and bits of manure crawled with bacteria, the healthy old-time life was riddled with aches, sudden death from unknown causes, and that sweet local speech I mourn was the child of illiteracy and ignorance. It is the nature of a man as he grows older, a small bridge in time, to protest against change, particularly change for the better. But it is true that we have exchanged corpulence for starvation, and either one will kill us. The lines of change are down. We, or at least I, can have no conception of human life and human thought in a hundred years or fifty years. Perhaps my greatest wisdom is the knowledge that I do not know. The sad ones are those who waste their energy in trying to hold it back, for they can only feel bitterness in loss and no joy in gain.

John Steinbeck (1902-1968) Reflections on the Human Condition, 1973, Aphorism 32

7 Q&A


When is a nation considered to be completely metric?


This is a difficult question that might best be treated with some rhetorical questions. Consider:

a Is Australia a true metric nation when we still use size numbers for shoes and women's clothing?

b Is Burma a metric country because although they haven't made any official change to metric measures, their entire economy operates using metric units?

c Is Canada a true metric country if Canadians use kilograms for shopping, litres for drinks and petrol, but do not use metric measures for building houses?


u Are the anti-metric forces in the UK right when they claim that the UK is not a metric nation because, although most manufacturing and most retail trade is done using metric units, some people still favor old measures in their daily conversations?

u (again) Is the USA metric because all measures in the USA are based on metric measures (their foot is exactly 304.8 millimetres; and their fluid ounce is 28.4131 millilitres). Is the USA metric because all of their cars and trucks have been metric beginning in the 1970s? Is the USA metric because all computers are fully metric from the nanometres used for the integrated chip substrate to the size of the computer disks?

What is the deciding factor as to whether a country is metric or not? When the government passes a law, as the USA government did with the Mendenhall Order of 1893, or when they sign up to an international metric treaty, as the UK did in 1884 and the Australian government did in 1960?

So how do we answer this question? Is a nation officially metric when it makes a declaration to go metric? Or is there a certain amount of changes that are necessary to declare that a nation has completed their metric transition?

What a copout answering a question with a whole mob of other questions!

The current situation is that all, repeat all, nations have now adopted the metric system as the legal basis for their methods of measurement. However, not all nations have yet taken the steps necessary to remove all the old measuring methods from their statute books and from their society, although most nations are doing this slowly. Each nation has begun their metrication process, and they are different places along the eventual path that will lead them to complete metrication. This will take some time to do, but exact guesses of how long this will take are probably impossible to make.

Metrication is a process it is not a one-off event. Metrication can be smooth and rapid with good planning and implementation, but, sadly, many nations (and companies and industries) have chosen not to plan their metrication process, but just to let it happen.

8 Rule of thumb

If you are estimating the size for a car park, allow 30 m2 per car. This will allow enough for the 15 m2 needed for each car (2.5 m x 6 m) plus enough for the driveways.

By the way, I am always on the lookout for 'Rules of thumb' to add to my collection. I prefer metric ones but I also like to convert 'Rules of thumb' from old units to SI units. Please send your 'Rules of thumb' to

9 History

The first proposal to closely approximate what eventually became the metric system was made as early as 1670 when Gabriel Mouton published the idea of a decimal unit system using part of the circumference of the Earth as a standard for measuring lengths. He suggested that Simon Stevin's 1585 decimal system of tenths should be used to divide the units into smaller or larger parts. In his proposal, Mouton suggested three of the main characteristics of the metric system that were eventually adopted: decimalization, decimal prefixes, and the Earth's measurement as a basis for the definition of length. Mouton's proposal was discussed, amended, criticized, and advocated for 120 years before the fall of the Bastille and the creation of the National Assembly made it a political possibility.

10 Hidden metric

I wrote to a government official in Maine when I discovered that the Maine Department of Transport (Maine DOT) has decided to revert to old measures after a few years of metric measures. Basically, I sent him the article from my web site called 'Don't use metric' see /articles .

The government official wrote back to me saying:

'You should come to Maine where we have miles of scenic highways, tens of thousands of acres of lakes and ponds, many feet of snow each winter, a mile high mountain; our property surveys are in chains, rods, and feet'.

Which was all very nice and tourist-like, but the Maine DOT's miles are officially defined, by the Federal Government of the USA, as 1.609 344 metres exactly; the Maine DOT's acres are 4046.86 square metres; the Maine DOT's feet are 304.8 millimetres exactly; and their chains and rods are 20.116 8 metres and 5.0292 metres exactly.

Maine DOT has not made the metric system go away they have just hidden it for a while.


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 don't change anything and that 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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