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Metrication matters - Number 24 - 2005-05-10

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

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Dear Subscriber,


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

Several Metrication matters' readers wrote to comment on the 'Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody' article in the last "Metrication matters'. As an example, I will quote from Jason Darfus, from Columbus Ohio, who wrote:

'Absolutely: I'm somebody and I'm doing what anybody here is expected to do in promoting metrication. Someday everybody will thank us'.

2 Editorial

I don't think that moving from a mindset based on the inch-ounce family of old measures to a mindset based on conversion factors between old and metric units is the way to go. I believe that the best way to achieve metrication is by the direct route where you develop a new metric mindset without referring to conversion factors at all. here are some examples of this process.

Measure the width of the nail on your little finger. For most men this will be about 10 millimetres wide. For small men and most women your whole little finger might be 10 millimetres wide.

Measure the widths of your other three fingers. For most men these are all about 20 millimetres wide.

Look at the width of your fist across the knuckles. For most men it is about 100 millimetres wide. If it is narrower include your thumb to make it up to 100 millimetres.

Remember these and you can estimate small lengths and distances quite readily using your 'handy' references.

Notice that there are no conversions involved just a resetting of your mindset.

3 Oddities

Harold McGee in 'The Curious Cook' has written a detailed chapter on measurement in the kitchen. In this he explores why the apple in apple pie stays hotter for much longer that the crust. After exploring the reason for this in terms of convection currents, he then suggests that it is good idea to let the pie cool a little in the kitchen before you serve it to your guests at the dining table. So how much is enough cooling? McGee suggests that your lips are more sensitive than your mouth and that the inside of your mouth can stand a temperature of about 75 C (Try about 15 minutes to start).

4 Tips

When you are buying goods by mass, by dividing the price by the mass in kilograms you calculate the price per kilogram. Then, you can compare the price per kilogram of each box.

Suppose that your favourite brand of cereal is sold in three different sizes:

  • the 300 gram box for $3.39

  • the 600 gram box for $5.25

  • the 750 gram box for $7.40

For instance:

  • $3.39 divided by 0.3 kg equals $11.30 per kg

  • $5.25 divided by 0.6 kg equals $8.75 per kg

  • $7.40 divided by 0.8 kg equals $9.87 per kg

In this case, the 600 gram box is the best buy because it is only $8.75 per kilogram while the 300 gram box is $11.30 per kilogram and the 750 gram box is $9.87 per kilogram.

5 Signs of the times

A friend in the USA reckons that 'signs are everywhere that the metric system is gaining ground'. As an example he wrote, 'My dentist was explaining enamel too me in millimetres. A different dentist was explaining something to my wife about my daughter's teeth, also in millimetres. No non-metric equivalent was given in either case'.

6 Quotation

There is no advancement to him who stands trembling because he cannot see the end from the beginning.
E. J. Klemme

7 Q&A


I have heard that the British Army used to use a different inch to the rest of the world? Is this so?


Throughout history there have been many different inches. These have been different in actual length as well as different by definition. Among the most recent ones were the British inch, the Cape inch (South African), the Enfield inch the USA inch, and the Canadian inch that subsequently became the international inch that most people use these days. I think that the inch you are referring to is the Enfield inch that was used for the design and manufacture of British weapons an Enfield inch was a little smaller than a 'standard' inch at that time; it was about 0.9997 British inches. As an example of its use consider the Enfield 303 rifle; its bore was measured as the decimal fraction, 0.303, of an Enfield inch.

8 Rule of thumb

Remember the next time you are preparing food it's all in your hands. Try using your hands to help you visualize the size of the food portions you eat.

A hamburger patty, or a steak, about the size of the palm of your hand has a mass of between 80 grams and 100 grams. This is also a suitable serving size for: canned fish, chicken breast, cooked meats, fish fillet, hamburger patties, and roast pork. A half serve or a child's serve of these foods is the size of two thumbs. If you weigh the amount of food that you measured as the size of your hand you will then know this amount in grams for all time.

9 History

History has shown that metrication processes go much more smoothly for the activities where some definite physical measures are regularly made. Metrication has always been relatively simple and complete in the areas that involve measurement in the material environment.

However, This is not the case in other sectors where measurements are not made so regularly. Sectors such as products, services, primary processes, government activities, education, sports, media reporting, standards, legislation, and health services, where measurement is infrequent, tend to have slow tortuous metrication processes.

10 Hidden metric

In his wonderfully written new book, 'Collapse', Jared Diamond lucidly interprets the collapse of many civilisations and the threat of collapse to some others. It is a great read and I commend it to anyone who is interested in the rises and falls of human societies.

However, having said that I noticed that the copy editors went feral with all measurements used in the research that supports Jared Diamond's conclusions: kilometres were all changed to miles; metres were all changed to yards, feet, and inches; millimetres were all changed to inches and fractions (sometimes vulgar and sometimes decimal); grams and kilograms were all changed to ounces and pounds. As 'hidden metric' this book is an example of a tour-de-force in dumbing down I wonder how much it cost for so much obfuscation in the initial copy editing time and then the time it takes readers to convert all the numbers back to guess what the original metric measures were when the scientists made their observations.


Pat Naughtin

Geelong Australia

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