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Metrication matters - Number 17 - 2004-10-10

Metrication matters is an on-line metrication newsletter for those actively involved, and for those with an interest in metrication matters.

If you know someone who might benefit from this newsletter, please forward it to them and suggest they subscribe. If a friend sent this newsletter to you, please check free subscription details at the end.

Dear Subscriber,

Happy 'International Metrication Day'

The tenth of October - the tenth day of the tenth month - is 'International Metric Day' and this is a day that is used by many schools, especially in the USA, as a focus for metrication activities.


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

I have had very good feedback from those who are using the 'Metrication Basics' e-course. If you would like to be part of this 10 week email course, go to: /MetricationBasics.html

A little while ago, I asked for a list of reasons why we should 'Go metric' so that I could compile a definitive list. I am still receiving replies (please send any that you know to: ) and I thought that I would share (in alphabetical order) a beginning of my compilation:

Metric measures can lead to:

  • Better morale
  • Getting it right first time
  • Greater accuracy
  • Greater customer happiness
  • Less customer unhappiness
  • Less cheating
  • Less mistakes
  • Less repeating things
  • Less staying back to fix things not done right first time around
  • Management sleeping better at night
  • More happiness
  • More harmony
  • More honesty
  • More pleasant working atmosphere
  • More togetherness because we all feel better valued
  • People feeling valued because of less niggling over errors
  • Shorter meetings

2 Editorial

It seems that there are three quite distinct parts to any personal, group, company, or industry metrication program. These three components are metrication knowledge, metrication skills, and metrication attitudes. If you are interested in evaluating where you are on these three scales try the Metrication Quiz at /docs/MetricationQuiz.pdf

This is basically three short, 10 question, quizzes to assess the current status of your metrication knowledge, your metrication skills, and your metrication attitudes. I expect that you will complete all three of them in less than twenty minutes. If you are not happy with your result, you might like to try: Metrication Basics as this is based on the idea of developing your knowledge, skills, and attitudes simultaneously.

3 Oddities

'For all people; for all time'

'For all people; for all time' has been a catchcry for the metric system since its initial development in the 1790s. However, if you find this difficult to believe in this modern age, check out:

http://idrs.colorado.edu/publications/TWBassoonist/TWB.V5.1/metric.html where the author suggests:

'I would like to suggest that North American bassoonists think seriously about changing their thinking now towards the metric system when dealing with reed-making and discussion of our instruments. The primary reason for this is to provide a more common nomenclature of terms when discussing reeds and instruments with our colleagues in Europe and elsewhere. All aspects of our bassoons have been designed and measured with the metric system - bore dimensions, tone hole sizes, lengths of joints, etc. Well-known reed-makers in Europe have evolved many interesting models of reed design all measured precisely in metric figures'.

4 Tips

You may recall that my wife, Wendy, shared a cooking tip with us last month. This month she has another one that she uses when she writes or edits cookbooks. Again, it is best that she tells the story:

One day, I measured the width of my hand across the knuckles - it was 80 mm wide. If I need a 200 mm cake tin, I know that's a little bit more than the width of my two hands across the knuckles.

Another technique I use, when I am writing or editing cook books, to make sizes clear is to refer to the page I am writing on. As I invariably use A4, I can say, 'Choose a cake tin as near as you can to the width of this page'; knowing that an A4 page is 210 millimetres wide. I can also say, 'Choose an oven tray as near as you can to the length of this page', in the knowledge that my readers will choose a tray about 300 millimetres long as an A4 length is exactly 297 millimetres.

By the way, Noah is said to have built an Ark using cubits - the measure from your elbow to the tip of your longest finger - modern men have a cubit generally between 450 mm and 500 mm, and modern women have cubits between 400 mm and 450 mm. Biblical scholars reckon that cubits in Noah's time were about 530 mm; either Noah was a very big man or there might have been a slight exaggeration for the sake of a good story! Knowing the length of your cubit means that you can readily estimate the size of furniture - and of spaces where the furniture might go - to help estimate whether a particular piece will fit or not; husbands sometimes get grumpy when you ask them to move things (like pianos Ed.) just to see if they'll fit.

5 Signs of the times

We live in a small world. I was reminded of this recently when Bruce Raup, from Colorado, sent me a reference to a program he has put on the web at: http://yama.colorado.edu:8080/dist.html I really liked Bruce's mapping application - what a bit of fun.

When I entered the exact co-ordinates for the centre of Geelong (Longitude 144.43 Latitude: -38.17) Bruce Raup's mapmaker produced a map of the world showing all distances from Geelong in kilometres. By the way, the centre of Geelong is at the Post Office on the corner of Ryrie and Gheringhap Streets. (I thought you might like the look of these local street names - they are pronounced Rye-ree and Jerring-hap by the way).

6 Quotation

It's not that some people have willpower and some don't. It's that some people are ready to change and others are not.

James Gordon, M.D.

7 Q&A


What is the correct name for old measures? On the USMA mailing list*, I have seen them referred to as WOMBAT and FFU, but these don't make any sense to me.


WOMBAT and FFU are simple derogatory terms invented by members of the United States Metric Association (USMA).

WOMBAT was created by Paul Trusten, the editor of 'Metric Today, and it stands for Ways of Measuring Badly in America Today. I don't recall who invented FFU, but it stands for Fred Flintstone Units, and it is clearly intended to suggest that it's time we moved on from there.

I must admit that I have enjoyed using these derogatory terms, but I think that better - and a lot more courteous terms - are pre-metric and pre-SI. Pre-metric applies to all the old measures in use before the 1790s, and pre-SI refers to all the old units, including old metric units used since 1960 when the International System of Units (SI) was adopted all around the world. Examples of pre-metric measures are acres, barrels, bushels, feet, inches, ounces, pounds, and yards. Examples of pre-SI units are abampere, dynes, gauss, gilbert, maxwell, microns, oersted, and statampere.

* You can access the USMA mail list archive at: to see if you would like to become a member of the USMA list.

8 Rule of thumb


Cans for preserving foods were invented in Napoleon's time. His armies carried canned snails as emergency rations. One thousand snails (one kilosnail ?) were allowed for each soldier per week. By the way, the world record snail speed has been measured at the (not so shabby) speed of 28 millimetres per second; this is equivalent to roughly 100 metres per hour.

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 convert 'Rules of thumb' from old units to SI units. Please send your 'Rules of thumb' to

9 History

Researching for a talk to a church group within the last few months (see Metrication matters 14 at: /mm-newsletter-2004-07.html), I realised that for thousands of years most people have lived in measuring chaos. Cheating the system, and devising systems that make cheating easier, has been more common through history than measurement justice. Often the people who owned the measuring system had no wish that the system be simplified, or understood, by the rest of the community. The search for a simple and precise system has been a long struggle. For thousands of years people have fought (and in some cases died) for a simple, accurate, and precise measuring system. The metric system, as expressed in the International System of Units (SI), is the first universally honest measuring system ever devised and implemented.

10 Hidden metric

Some observers in the USA are beginning to note that companies are outsourcing their production to third world metric countries where the cost of labor is relatively cheap. The products are made using the local, metric, measures, and the products are then exported back to the company in the USA - with pre-metric labels such as inches and ounces. My informants suggest that this is another form of hidden metric.


Pat Naughtin Geelong, Australia

Please contact for additional metrication articles and resources on commercial and industrial metrication'.

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Pat Naughtin
Metrication Matters
ABN 18 577 053 518
PO Box 305, Belmont, Geelong, 3216, Australia
+ 61 3 5241 2008

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