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Metrication matters - Number 27 - 2005-08-10

Dear Subscriber,

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

You are very welcome to forward copies of this newsletter to help your friends with their metrication. We appreciate this, as many new subscribers come by this means. However, please send the whole newsletter including the details at the end about how to subscribe.


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

Carleton McDonald reacted to the story about the original Volkswagen having only three spanner sizes. He wrote:

'I used to own a Beetle, and I worked on it a lot, as it was such a simple car. The only two wrenches and sockets I ever remember using were the 10 mm and the 13 mm, and even today, years later, those two look more used than the others'.


Sally Mitchell wrote to tell me about her stove shopping experience in New York.

'Dear Pat,

My old stove/oven finally went and I got to go shopping for a new one. I went to Sears and shopped around but I had a few requirements of my new appliance: 1. gas stove, 2. electric oven, 3. convention oven, 4. and most important: temperature display in Celsius.

I could not find a salesperson willing to find out about Celsius at Sears, so I went to a small appliance shop in Syracuse, NY and asked the salesman about Celsius. He was very informed about metrication and took me to my dream appliance.

Frigidaire has a dual fuel range in their professional series. It was really easy to change the display to Celsius and now my entire kitchen is metricated!!!!! I love baking at 177 degrees Celsius. Just wanted to let you know!!!


Sally Mitchell'

P.S. Sally is a teacher who also says:

'I plan on having the USA metricated by 10/10/10'.

2 Editorial

Recently, I was asked to do an interview for one of our local radio stations. The reporter was not particularly focussed on a particular issue, she just wanted her audience to know about one person in our community — me — who was doing something a little out of the ordinary. Naturally, I chose to talk about my metrication activities and so I prepared a list of questions that I thought might help make the interview go more smoothly for both of us.

I then thought that these might be useful to some readers of 'Metrication matters' who find themselves in a similar situation, so I have shared them below.

As you prepare your answers to these questions it is important to think in terms of small chunks of information. These bits of information might eventually become a paragraph in a newspaper or a short live answer —a sound bite — in a TV or radio interview.

Professional politicians tend to rattle off sound bites without seeming to think much about them, but don't believe it — these sound bites are all pre-prepared and practised well before the interview.

Collect interesting or fun facts about metrication and make these available to the reporter — these are things that relate to the your field and add a WOW value to the reporter's story. If you think of short, snappy sound bites about your metrication activities, you will always have helpful material available in your bag of tricks.

1 What are your typical metric activities on a normal day? What metric plans or metric projects are you working on now?

2 What is your metric background? How did you get started in metrication?

3 How hard was it for you to learn the metric system?

4 What is your favorite part of the metric system? What is the most exciting metric project you have worked on?

5 What surprises have you encountered in doing your metrication work? What is the most unusual, far-out request you have received in connection with your metrication work?

6 What places have you travelled to in performing your metrication work?

7 Currently, what is the hardest part of using the metric system for you? What challenges do you face in using the metric system?

8 Where do you turn when you need help or moral support with the metric system? What do your friends and colleagues think about you when you discuss the metric system?

9 Where do you see the metric system going in the next 10 years? In the next 100 years?

10 If you could say just one thing to encourage others in their metric activities, what would it be?

Don't forget that everything you say to any reporter is 'on the record', even when you are walking the reporter to the door. Be careful not to say anything that could be harmful to your metrication interests or your business relationships.

Remember, above all, that the point of a media story is not to promote your metrication activities — although that is a by-product of the publicity — the point is to help the reporter to produce something that their audience will find interesting.

P.S. I would be delighted if you care to share your replies to these questions with me. If I get enough responses, I will compile your answers in a later issue of 'Metrication matters'. Send your replies to:

Am I embarassed?

Yesterday, I tried to send a letter to some folk who are not subscribers to 'Metrication matters'. But I inadvertently sent it to some of you as well. If you received a sort-of empty email from me (with a lot of footer — but nothing else) please accept my apology.

By the way the note read ...

Dear metric leader,

I am writing to you because I know that you have an interest in metrication.

I also wanted to let you know that the Metrication matters newsletter is now over two years old and we have had extremenly positive feedback with people saying things like:

  • It is a delight to hear your constant positive reinforcement for the metric system — it is a delight to hear that in the UK where there is so much complaining about it.

  • Here in the USA we never hear about the successes of the metric system, just arguments about whether the U.S. will ever change. Your newsletter always gives me hope.

  • I used to belong to some metric email lists but they always got bogged down in arguing for and against the metric system. I'm like you – I want the metric system – and I want it NOW!

  • Your newsletter gives me great metrication ideas that I use every day.

  • I print out 'Metication matters', section by section, and put it on notice boards at my work. Already, people are beginning to talk about metrication positively. A year ago, this would never have happened.

  • I have taken to passing on your newsletter, 'Metrication matters' to my Physics students (who are potential physicists and engineers). I have to say that it has had the effect of completely changing their attitudes toward metric measurements – where they were hesitant, they are now positive supporters.

And my personal favorite:

  • Keep up the good work.

You can find out more about the 'Metrication matters' newsletter at:


or if you want general metrication information go to:


3 Oddities

Han Maenen wrote from the Netherlands to say:

'Some people in the news service of RTE (Irish TV/radio) must have been behind the door on January 20 last and they must never have left the studio since that day. 'Breaking news', an earthquake below the Nicobares Islands in the Indian Ocean. It was 10 km below the surface and a tsunami alert has been issued. The news service saw fit to convert a statement from the Japanese specialists into a measuring unit that is dead as far as Ireland is concerned and then use the irrational — decimalised Imperial — value of 6.2 miles'.

(Note: January 20 was the day that Ireland successfully — and safely — changed over all of their roadside distance and speed signs to metric.)

4 Tips

Picture a map of the continental USA. At its widest it is 4400 kilometres and its maximum height is 2600 kilometres. You can estimate long distances as fractions of this map. If you want better precision remember the dimensions of your state. For example Wyoming is about 580 kilometres east to west and 450 kilometres north to south. OK, I cheated by choosing a nice rectangular state – but you get the idea. My state of Victoria is about 1000 kilometres wide and 500 kilometres high along its western border – it's a sort of triangle in the south-eastern corner of Australia.

5 Signs of the times

Carleton McDonald from the USA also wrote to say that Auntie Anne, a franchise that supplies materials for making pretzels has a lunch pack in the form of a kit that you can take home to make 10 pretzels of your own design. Part of the pretzel box label reads: '2 lb 3.3 oz (1 kg)'.

By the way, each pretzel at a tenth of a kilogram is 100 grams. I will leave it to others to calculate a tenth of 2 lb 3.3 oz.

6 Quotation

'The scientists adopted the decimal system on the basis of the metre as a unit. Nothing is more contrary to the organisation of the mind, memory and imagination. The new system will be a stumbling block and source of difficulties for generations to come. It is just tormenting the people with trivia'.
Napoleon Bonaparte

Boy, didn’t Napoleon get it wrong! In 2005, more than 96 % of the world's population uses the decimal metric system denigrated by Napoleon every day of their lives.

7 Q&A

Remek Kocz wrote to describe a recent experience at his home in the USA.

'A "little" project in my backyard required me to calculate the volume of gravel I'll need to purchase for the pavers I wanted to install. The pavers were 2 feet x 3 feet and needed to be laid out in a simple rectangular pattern, that worked out to be 6 feet x 16 feet. The gravel depth would have to be 4 inches. So here I was faced with the daunting task of figuring it all either in cubic inches or in cubic feet and then converting to cubic yards. Dressed in my work clothes already and reluctant to go home, clean up, get the calculator, and do the calculations, I decided to go with metric.

'My rectangle was 2 m x 5 m, and my depth was 0.1m. The volume is obviously 1 cubic metre, so approximately, I have to go out and buy 1 cubic yard of gravel.

'This took seconds in metric, and was done without a calculator'.
Remek Kocz

I replied to Remek by saying that I had heard of a simple way of converting from old pre-metric measures to metric units called the 10-11-12-13 rule. It goes like this:

10 metres is about 11 yards
10 square metres is about 12 square yards
10 cubic metres is about 13 cubic yards

So for Remek's project he will need about 1.3 cubic yards that he might order as (say) 1 1/4 cubic yards.

8 Rule of thumb

The density of hair fibres on your scalp varies with your genetics, your age, and your health. Generally, people have between 2 hairs per square millimetre and 3 hairs per square millimetre. Some bald folk would like to have either of these amounts.

Fine hair is less than 60 micrometres in diameter.
Medium hair is between 60 and 80 micrometres in diameter.
Thick hair is more than 80 micrometres in diameter.

You can compare your hair with that of a fine wool merino sheep, which can have a density of wool fibres up to 50 fibres per square millimetre. Fine wool varies in diameter from about 10 micrometres to 20 micrometres.

This is the hardest item to write each month, as my knowledge is limited to those areas where I have had direct experience, so 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 pre-metric measures to SI units. Please send your 'Rules of thumb' to

9 History

A major international conference was held in Paris to discuss standards of measurement. The conference was attended by eighteen nations, and sixteen of them signed a treaty agreement during the final session. This was done in 1875 on May 20. Holland and the UK attended but refrained from signing.

Notably the USA was one of the original signatories. Australia did not attend this first conference and did not sign the international agreement until 1947.

The agreement that was signed is known as the 'Convention du Mčtre' or by its English name, the 'Treaty of the Metre'. This 140 year old treaty is still current.

10 Hidden metric

Does a journalist's numeracy skills disappear when a cruise ship appears?

Journalists often get themselves into serious bother when they go about translating the initial metric units into old pre-metric measures. One reporter while converting from kilograms to tons stated that 'on a three-month world cruise on the QE2, 180 000 tons of beef are consumed'. This averages well over 600 kilograms per person per day.

Another reporter while giving statistics for the consumption of toilet paper on the Star Princess decided to convert from metres to the incomprehensible non-standard measure, 'rolls'. Unfortunately, the calculation went somewhat awry and worked out to be an average of 4.5 rolls of toilet paper per person per day.

Is there a connection between these two items? Perhaps it is (as one letter writer put it in 'The Age' in Melbourne), 'Alimentary, my dear Watson'?


Pat Naughtin Geelong Australia

Pat Naughtin is a writer, speaker, editor, and publisher. Pat has written several books and has edited and published many others. For example, Pat has written 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.

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We also know that as subscriptions to 'Metrication matters' are free, it's hardly an expensive present, but I guess it's the thought that counts! Remember that as your 'gift' is to provide them with the 'Metrication matters' link. What you could do is to send a covering letter to your friend that is something like this:

Dear Friend,

I have been enjoying reading a free monthly newsletter called 'Metrication matters' for about two years, and I thought that you might enjoy it too. Just log in at: / and select newsletter in the top left hand corner.

There are links on the sign-up page to the back issues of 'Metrication matters' so you can check if they are right for you before you sign up.

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