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Metrication matters - Number 21 - 2005-02-10

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.


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

It's time for our annual reader's quiz. This year there are four questions.

1 What part of 'Metrication matters' do you like the best?

2 What part of 'Metrication matters' do you like the least?

3 Would you like to see a longer 'Metrication matters' with more details?

4 How do you feel about the frequency; should 'Metrication matters' be published more often say weekly?

Please copy these questions into your email and send your reply to Your responses will have a direct effect on future editions of 'Metrication matters'.

2 Editorial

I am quite excited at the prospect of travelling to the USA at the end of March as I have not been there since 1985; I will return to Australia in mid May. My itinerary will take me to Phoenix AZ, Denver CO, Salt Lake City UT, Midland TX, Charleston SC, and Los Angeles CA.

3 Oddities

Whales can travel at about 70 metres per minute. This is a little less than your normal walking pace of 100 metres per minute. In a race, you could beat a whale any day.

4 Tips

Oven temperatures vary from cold to very hot, but few people memorise numerical values for these. Using degrees Celsius makes this simple and intervals of 20 C seems to fit quite well with traditional oven descriptions.

120 C is very slow

140 C is slow

160 C is moderately slow

180 C is moderate

200 C is moderately hot

220 C is hot

240 C is very hot

5 Signs of the times

In the last edition of 'Metrication matters' I wrote about the changing speed signs in Ireland and somewhat facetiously asked if the Irish were changing from the old Irish miles (2048 metres), old English miles (1609 metres) or some other kind of miles? I received a comment from Tom Wade in Ireland that said, 'It is the speed signs that are changing on 2005-01-20 ... Signs will have an explicit 'km/h' on them. See http://www.gometric.ie for details ... The mile that we are currently replacing is the British Imperial mile (1609 m). Although I can dimly remember Irish perches/rods and miles being mentioned in primary school, they have not been used in formal measure for a long time. (Note: The Irish perch/rod was 7 yards rather than the British 5.5 yards, leading to the Irish mile being slightly longer).

6 Quotation

Most of the change we think we see in life Is due to truths being in and out of favor.
Robert Frost (1874-1963) 'The Black Cottage'

7 Q&A


In your last newsletter you referred to a length of a cubit. Exactly how long is a cubit?


There is no definite length for a cubit. A cubit is the length from your elbow to the tip of your longest finger it is about 450 millimetres, or for large people, such as myself, it is about 500 millimetres. When you are reading historical, or religious texts that refer to cubits be aware that the length of the cubits varied from individual to individual, from place to place, and from time to time. However there were some times when a government specified the length of a cubit and advertised its length by carving it in stone; an example is the Egyptian royal cubit that was used to build the pyramids.

8 Rule of thumb

An Australian, Jon Muir, walked 2500 kilometres from south to north in Australia a few years ago to raise money for charity. He walked alone, across the deserts and dry lakes during the southern winter. It took him 127 days, so his walking speed averaged 19.7 kilometres per day so we can guess that 20 km/day is a good rule of thumb for long distance walkers in hot dry conditions. The story of Jon Muir's walk has been made into a movie that has been nominated for many international awards, see: http://www.everestnews2004.com/2004news/alone2005.htm

9 History

Sometime in the 19th century after careful measurement it was found that 1 imperial inch was 25.399 972 millimetres. The USA, in 1896, defined the USA inch by the relationship 1 metre equals 39.37 inches or 1 USA inch equals 25.400 050 8 millimetres. Sometime between the two world wars the International Standards Association (ISA), which was the predecessor of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) decided that the difference between the two inches was trivial and they created a new 'standard' inch where 1 international inch is exactly 25.4 millimetres.

This international (ISA) inch was adopted by the English-speaking nations after a conference in 1959 but this was not accepted universally in the USA. For example, the US Geodetic Survey announced that they would not change to the ISA inch because, they argued, that they would soon be changing to metric and that the discrepancy across the whole of the USA mainland was only a metre or two. In the interim, they would continue to use the old US standard foot and they would rename this as the 'survey foot'.

10 Hidden metric

The computer industry worldwide is clinging tenaciously to its description of screen sizes in inches but which inches? Nowhere in the world is there a standard inch for computer makers to measure their screens. They all use the definition 1 inch = 25.4 millimetres because there is no inch standard. Every time computer sales people mention an inch they are indirectly referring to the millimetre standard, but they like to keep this hidden. Cheers,

Pat Naughtin Geelong, Australia

P.S. One of our new subscribers to 'Metrication matters' at /newsletter.html told me that a friend suggested that he subscibe and also sign up for the 'Metrication Basics' e-course at /MetricationBasics.html

Apparently his friend said, 'One of the best things I can do to encourage metrication in the USA and the rest of the world is to pass on a copy of "Metrication matters" to all of my friends with the suggestion that they subscribe.' What a compliment Wheeee!

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

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Pat Naughtin
Metrication Matters
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PO Box 305, Belmont, Geelong, 3216, Australia
+ 61 3 5241 2008

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