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Metrication matters - Number 26 - 2005-07-10

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

Nat Hager III of Lancaster in Pennsylvania wrote to correct a typo in last months issue. He delightedly pointed out that an F1 race would be 'an awfully slow race!' at 4 metres per minute. Of course, he's right. A speed of about 245 kilometres per hour translates to 4 kilometres per minute or 70 metres per second.

Nat was supported by Michael V Worstall, a Chartered Electrical Engineer, who suggested, 'Please review your statement that the cars race at Melbourne at 4 m/min. I hope (that this is a typo) otherwise some of the spectators are going to die of boredom!'

2 Editorial

'Dumbing down at the door'

Since my trip to the USA earlier this year (see /speaking.html/), I have been thinking a lot about metrication in the USA. Many individuals and groups — both private companies and government departments — seem to have an unwritten and unstated policy that I call 'Dumbing down at the door'. Let me explain:

These companies buy materials using metric units, they process them using metric units, and then market their products using the old pre-metric inch-ounce measures. In my recent travels in the USA, I saw company after company, government department after government department, and individual after individual using this 'Dumbing down at the door' technique.

I have to say that I don't fully understand why this is so, except to suggest that the anti-metric psychological and social forces are currently perceived to be greater in the USA than the pro-metric forces of simplicity, ease of use, and economic efficiency although it is clear that both forces are operating. Wherever people can, they use metric units to do their purchasing and processing to gain the benefits of the metric system; then they use 'Dumbing down at the door' techniques for marketing, advertising and sales.

Clearly, we don't need to be 'Dumbing down at the door' we need to be 'SImply smart from the start'!

3 Oddities

I can't remember from my childhood whether Aladdin was a robber himself, or whether he was the hero who found a cave full of treasures. In either case we can be assured that as the jewellery in the cave had been there for a while it would have all been completely out of fashion — or as we could say these days — 'So 20th century!'

Whenever I want to look at an Aladdin's Cave of old measurements I go to Russ Rowlett's web page at http://www.unc.edu/~rowlett/units/index.html and select any letter of the alphabet at random. It's a delight for me to know that lap, LD, lea, league, leap, legoa, legua, length, li, lieue, light second, light minute, light hour, light year, ligne, line, linear foot, link, lug, and lunar distance have 'all' — I'll repeat that — 'ALL' been replaced with the single unit metre — and that's only for the letter 'L'; I've got 25 letters to go.

Now we can measure the length of anything and everything we want using only metres and the metric prefixes.

4 Tips

Last week, I worked with the local Rotary Club of Belmont to establish the 'Rotary Centennial Circuit' for walking, running, and cycling. The track runs both sides of a creek and one of its features is a post every 100 metres that tells the distance you have travelled. Now people can be seen checking their watches every 100 metres to see if they are maintaining the pace they need for their fitness program. Others are using the pegs to say things like, 'We could just go another 100 metres'. The Rotary Centennial Circuit looks like being a valuable community fitness asset. This circuit is 5 700 metres long so it takes a good walker about an hour for the full circuit (at 100 m/min). You might like to develop a similar metric circuit for your own community.

5 Signs of the times

When I stayed in Midland, Texas, the motel swimming pool had the depth marked at each end in metres — only. There was no indication of any feet or inches.

6 Quotation

It will be of little avail to the people that the laws are made by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood; if they be repealed or revised before they are promulgated, or undergo such incessant changes that no man who knows what the law is today can guess what it will be tomorrow.
Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804)

7 Q&A

On the USMA email discussion list (http://lamar.colostate.edu/~hillger/listserv.htm/), I responded to a question from Daniel Jackson about the cost of non-metrication and in particular what was the cost of partially going through a metrication process only to hang half way with the additional expense of running two measuring methods at the same time.

Before you start on this you might like to see my article 'Writing money' at /articles

Daniel Jacksonwrote:


'I can't imagine how much extra production costs are involved with making products like fasteners, where duplication abounds from producing both metric and English, keeping the inventory separate, then the cost to stores that have to carry both. Then the frustration of someone buying one fastener when they need the other and having to make a second trip to the store to rectify the problem. Is this the price we (in the USA) are willing to pay to be different?


Years ago, I was involved with the Australian building industry as they changed to metric units. We estimated that each major building company and their sub-contractors, who made a quick clean metric transition could expect to increase their gross profits by between 15 % and 20 % and their net profits by about 10 % to 12 % as a direct result of their transition to metric. Each company could then enjoy these gains indefinitely into the future.

I also read that the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) conducted a survey of their members in about 1980 where they found similar savings (15 % of gross profits and 11 % of net profits).

Both of these estimates are just that — estimates — but if these figures are approximately right, and we apply them across whole nations, in the same way as we have already used them across individual companies and whole industries, then we can estimate the cost of not using a the metric system as being at least 15 % of gross domestic product (GDP).

In the case of the USA, with an estimated gross domestic product of $11.75 G$/a, non-metric and mixed (metric and non-metric) businesses could be costing as much as 1.76 G$/a, and based on a population estimate of 295 734 134 this is roughly 6015 dollars per person per year — or about 16.50 $/day for each citizen of the USA.

In the UK, with a GDP of 1.01 G£ and a population of 60 441 457 the overall savings would be about 152 M£/a; 2510 pounds per person per year; or 6.87 £/day for each citizen of the UK.

And remember that the people of the UK and the USA will have to pay these amounts every day until they achieve metric only economies.

Obviously these figures seem outrageous so I would be most delighted to be proved wrong.

If you wish to check my figures, I based my calculations on estimated figures for GDP (2004) and population (2005) in the USA and UK taken from the CIA Factbook at: http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/us.html

8 Rule of thumb

Pierre Abbat, a 'Metrication matters' reader in Charlotte NC, has obvious skill in hairdressing. Recently he wrote to tell me that, as a 'Rule of Thumb' he calculates 4 grams of henna powder for each centimetre of hair'. He then added 'this holds for Mii hair above BSL'.

I was OK with this new Rule of Thumb but the technical terms Mii and BSL threw me so I asked Pierre about these technical terms. Pierre introduced me to Fia's Hair Typing System. I was once again struck by the elaborate methods each trade and activity uses for their measuring needs so I decided to share the Fia system with you here; perhaps you would like to check your own hair as you read or you can think of me as a I am a 2aFi.

FIRST CLASSIFIER - Your curliness (or lack thereof)

The straight ones
1a - stick straight
1b - straight but with a slight body wave, just enough to add some volume, doesn't look wavy
1c - straight with body wave and one or two visible S-waves (e.g. nape of neck or temples)

The wavy ones
2a - loose, stretched out S-waves throughout the hair
2b - shorter, more distinct S-waves (similar to waves from braiding damp hair)
2c - distinct S-waves and the odd spiral curl forming here and there

The curly ones
3a - big, loose spiral curls
3b - bouncy ringlets
3c - tight corkscrews

The really curly ones
4a - tightly coiled S-curls
4b - tightly coiled hair bending in sharp angles (Z-pattern)

SECOND CLASSIFIER - What (most of) your individual strands look like

F - Fine
Thin strands that sometimes are almost translucent when held up to the light. Shed strands can be hard to see even against a contrasting background. Similar to hair found on many people of Scandinavian descent. You can also try rolling a strand between your thumb and index finger. Fine hair is difficult to feel or it feels like an ultra-fine strand of silk

M - Medium
Strands are neither fine nor coarse. Similar to hair found on many Caucasians. You can also try rolling a strand between your thumb and index finger. Medium hair feels like a cotton thread. You can feel it, but it isn't stiff or rough. It is neither fine or coarse.

C - Coarse
Thick strands can be seen easily against most backgrounds. Similar to hair found on many people of Asian or native American descent. You can also try rolling a strand between your thumb and index finger. Coarse hair feels hard and wiry. As you roll it back and forth, you may actually hear it.

THIRD CLASSIFIER - Your overall volume of hair

Put your hair in a ponytail with as much hair as possible in it. Don't bother with the way it looks - the goal is to have most/all of your hair in there. If it means it sits smack dab on top of your head, put it there. Measure the circumference of the ponytail. If you have bangs and/or you can't get all of your hair in there adjust according to how much of your hair you have measured.

i - thin (less than 5 centimetres)
ii - normal (between 5-10 centimetres)
iii - thick (more than 10 centimetres)

P.S. Part of my motivation to include this in Metrication matters is that today, July 10, is Lady Godiva Day in Coventry, England. See http://www.wilsonsalmanac.com/godiva.html

That left me with the other technical term 'BSL'. Pierre informed me that this stands for Bra Strap Length; I think I understood what that meant although Lady Godiva might have found the concept of BSL somewhat a mystery..

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

I remember that one of my school teachers used to amuse himself by asking us, 'Which is heavier: a ounce of gold or an ounce of feathers?' I was reminded of this question when I came across this reference.

Until about 1280, England was using two different methods to measure mass. These were the Troy and Apothecaries methods, • Troy 1 pound = 12 ounces = 240 pennyweight = 5760 Troy grains
• Apothecaries 1 pound = 12 ounces = 96 drachmae = 288 scruples = 5760 grains

A third pound, the Avoirdupois, was introduced somewhere between 1280 and 1300.
• Avoirdupois 1 pound = 16 ounces = 7000 grains
In addition to these there were also several other ways to measure mass. Among them were:
• Wool pound 6992 grains used for weighing wool
• Tower pound 5400 grains used for weighing coins

The name 'Tower pound' comes from Tower Hill, the site of the royal mint. This number, 5400 grains, comes from the traditional weight of an English silver penny of 22 1/2 grains. This means 22 1/2 grains of barley, which is the same as 30 grains of wheat. The tower pound was abolished in 1527.
• London pound 7200 grains (or 15 troy ounces)

The London pound was also known as the 'libra mercatoria' or trade pound. The London pound was rarely used after the middle of the 14th century. There was also a London stone was of 12 1/2 London pounds.

Avoirdupois originally meant 'heavy goods' and the name of these new pounds implied that they were not intended for use with gold, gems, or cures from the apothecary.

The clove, stone and tod were also used for 'weight' measuring.

The Troy pound was of 5760 grains, and was divided into 12 ounces. The avoirdupois pound was 7000 grains and was divided into 16 ounces. This meant that the troy pound was lighter than an avoirdupois pound, but a troy ounce (at 480 grains) weighed more than an avoirdupois ounce!

When the troy pound was made illegal in 1878, this law did not apply to the troy ounce; the troy ounce is still used every day by the gold industry to obfuscate the price of gold in the daily news.

To summarise the situation with ounces:
• 1 ounce = 20 pennyweights
• 1 ounce = 24 scruples
• 1 ounce = 480 grains
• 1 ounce = 8 drams

I could leave it to you, gentle reader, to determine the answer to my teacher's riddle but in case you want to cheat (as I did*) here is the answer to the question, 'Which is heavier: an ounce of gold or an ounce of feathers?'

Gold is reported in the news in Troy ounces where 1 Troy ounce of gold is 31.10347680 grams. These are actually weighed in grams and kilograms then converted to Troy ounces!

Feathers are weighed in Avoirdupois ounces where 1 ounce of feathers is 28.34952313 grams. These are almost always weighed in grams and kilograms then converted to Avoirdupois ounces!

  • I looked up both values in Francois Cardarelli's book, 'Scientific Unit Conversion' and compared their sizes in grams; I simply couldn't spend more time to try to understand all the rigmarole about pennyweights, scruples, grains, and ounces that I wrote above.

10 Hidden metric

Since about 200 years ago, coastal surveys of the USA have been carried out using metric measurements. These were based on one of 12 copies of the original 1999 international metre. This copy was owned by Ferdinand R. Hassler, the first superintendent of the Survey of the Coast in the USA. See http://www.history.noaa.gov/stories_tales/geodetic2.html for historical information.

The Office of Coastal Survey is now under the National Ocean Survey (NOS), which is part of NOAA in the U.S. Dept. of Commerce. The National Ocean Survey (NOS) still uses metric units on a routine daily basis; the drawing paper they use for maps and charts is specified in metric units (millimetres), their title blocks on these maps and charts are rounded metric values (such as 150 mm by 200 mm) and all of their surveys are done using metric lengths and metric depths. In short, the National Ocean Survey (NOS) works in metric units for everything from data collection to chart printing.

They then convert all the values on the drawings, maps, or charts for the public into feet, fathoms, and nautical miles.

What did I say about being 'SImply smart from the start'!?


Pat Naughtin

Geelong Australia

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