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Metrication matters - Number 32 - 2006-01-10

Metrication matters is an on-line metrication newsletter for those actively involved, and for those with an interest in metrication matters. Previous issues can be viewed at: Metrication matters newsletters

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

Karl G. Ruling wrote from New York to comment on last month's tip that read:

Remember your own body mass in kilograms, and also remember that the average Australian or North American male has a mass of about 85 kilograms and the average mass of a female is about 75 kilograms. You can use these figures to guess the body mass of others.

Karl commented:

Alas, this means that the average Australian and North American male, at a height of 1.75 m, has a body mass index of 27.8 and is well within the 'overweight' range. Women, at 1.65 m and 75 kilograms, are at a BMI of 27.5, which isn't much better and is still above 25.

Of course, the average male or female could be a weight lifter and the excess mass is muscle and not fat, in which case it's okay, but I doubt that.

2 Editorial

Instead of an editorial this month, I am going to direct you to an article called, 'Why metrication matters' on the Metrication matters web page at:


where I am sure you will find useful material to support your own metrication efforts. I posted this on the United States Metric Association email list server (See: http://lamar.colostate.edu/~hillger/listserv.htm ), and within minutes received this comment:

Thanks for posting the article. Great material!
And then I received a whole series of suggestions for corrections (that I have now made). Thankfully, the good folk at the USMA are a picky lot; they let very little pass that isn't accurate.

I have also prepared a PowerPoint presentation to support the 'Why metrication matters’ article mentioned above. If you would like a copy of this PowerPoint presentation please send me an email at with the word Successful as the subject. You'll understand my choice of password after you have read the article!

3 Oddities

Although we enjoy the benefits of standardisation every day, most of us are unaware that there are groups of people all around the world who make sure that standardised things work well together. For example, we are quite comfortable about the 210 mm wide A4 paper that fits into our computer's printer, so we rarely think about it. However, this has not always been true.

When Bismarck ordered new coins for the recently united German states, in 1875, he decided to make the 20 mark coin exactly 7.1685 grams of pure gold so that it could not be conveniently exchanged with the French 25 franc coin that was 7.2581 grams. Although it was only a small difference (0.0896 g) it delayed a common European currency for 124 years until 1999 January 1. As the English economist, William Stanley Jevons, put it at the time:

It cannot be too much regretted by all friends of progress that, in deciding upon the (mass) of the new mark piece, the German Government should have studiously avoided assimilation to the France system.

4 Tips

It is almost always best to move straight from the old inch-ounce measures to metric units directly without doing any conversions. However, if you are forced to do conversions take care that you do not build in any unnecessary precision. For example, I once saw a recipe that involved roasting an 8 lb turkey; this had been converted to 3.629 kilograms. Going to the third decimal place is way over the top — 3.6 kilograms would have been fine!

In any case, if you avoid doing conversions at all, as I suggest above, you will also sidestep this problem altogether. Where possible use fully metric cookbooks that don't bother with conversions. In Australia we recommend 'Cookery — the Australian Way' as it has been fully metric since 1970.

5 Signs of the times

Gavin Young of Renewable Energy Systems in Oregon, USA, wrote to say:

I watch the History Channel on cable TV in my locality of Beaverton, OR, USA. Recently I've noticed that measurements are frequently stated in metric units in shows that I watch a lot (mostly shows about UFOs investigations, government conspiracies, Bible/religious history, science history, & science). I'm very pleased by this. I further notice it is not just the people being interviewed who are speaking in metric, it is the commentator as well. Further the shows are not converting the Metric Units into US Customary Units for the viewer/listener, and that is great!

6 Quotation

Nothing has really happened until it has been recorded.
Virginia Woolf

If you can't measure it, you don't know it. When you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind: it may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarcely, in your thoughts, advanced to the stage of science.
William Thomson (Lord Kelvin) (1894).

No human investigation can be called true science without passing through mathematical tests.
Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)

All the mathematical sciences are founded on relations between physical laws and laws of numbers, so that the aim of exact science is to reduce the problems of nature to the determination of quantities by operations with numbers.
Clerk Maxwell (1856)

7 Q&A


In Australia, women tend to use centimetres and men seem to use millimetres. Why is there a difference between the way the metric system is used by women and by men?


More men than women tend to work outside the home and many work for large industries or within large organisations.

When metric conversion was introduced into Australia these large industries and organisations gathered together to provide (government supported) training programs for their workers, so it was men who profited most from this training. This training almost always supported the use of millimetres — centimetres were not only not mentioned — their use was actively discouraged.

On the other hand, smaller organisations and people (mainly women) who worked at home were provided with very little training support — if any at all. These people had to devise their own approaches to the metric system, and this was often an uncoordinated grab bag of ideas gleaned from newspapers, magazines, radio, television and their children's schoolbooks. So while many men were trained to use millimetres, in general women were exposed to unsupported older versions of the metric system that involved lots of centimetres.

The sad part about all of this is that men got the easiest path. Metrication using millimetres is demonstrably easier, cheaper, and smoother than metric conversion using centimetres, which is typically difficult, expensive, and painfully slow.

8 Rule of thumb

In cooling a room using an air conditioner, increasing the temperature by 1°C will save you about 5 % of your cooling bill.

I wrote that rule of thumb, because the temperature rose to 42 °C here, in Geelong, on New Year's Eve. I then realised that it won't do much for readers in the northern hemisphere at this time of year — so here's another one.

Assume the temperature is below 7 °C if you can see your breath.

9 History

In the 1870s, when Britain was considering whether to adopt the metric system — for the fifth time* — arguments in opposition to its introduction were often based on the theories of an archaeologist, Charles Piazzi Smyth.

Piazzi Smyth believed that the English inch was a close copy of the 'pyramid inch', and as such, it was a perfect unit of measurement inspired by God. According to Smyth's reasoning, the British Parliament would be committing an atheistic action if they approved the adoption of the metric system.

Piazzi Smyth also believed that the Great Pyramid was the oldest man-made monument in the world and had been made perfectly by men with direct guidance from God; he regarded other surrounding pyramids as inferior copies of the Great Pyramid. Because Piazzi Smyth's theories were directly contradictory to any ideas of the evolutionary nature of man's development, the antievolutionists, who were popular in England at that time, could also be rallied in opposition to the metric system.

Within a few years, Piazzi Smyth was proved wrong on both counts: the Great Pyramid is far from perfect and it was one of the last of the pyramids to be built. However by then, the British Parliament had been swayed by these arguments and had, once again, lost an opportunity to approve the use of the metric system.

(* The first British opportunity to 'go metric' was when James Watt promoted a decimal system in the 1780s; the second was when the Parliament reacted to the introduction of the metric system into France, Belgium, Luxemburg, and the Netherlands in 1824; the third was when the British Parliament needed to reconsider their measurement standards when theirs were lost when the British Parliament burnt down in 1834; and the fourth opportunity came when the British Parliament had to have new standards made, in 1855, to replace those that were burnt.)

10 Hidden metric

Scott Hudnall, from San Francisco, pointed out that hiding the truth behind difficult to comprehend numbers is not new and it is not confined to the metric system. Scott wrote:

I have seen Roman numerals used in modern times in the movie industry when the studio marketers don’t want people to think they might be watching an older movie by disguising the year of the copyright in Roman numerals.

Don't forget to go to the 'Why metrication matters' web page.
Here you will find many arguments in favour of metrication that you will be able to use in your work in the new year. It is at:

By the way . . .

If you enjoy reading the metrication information in this newsletter, please pass it on to your friends, family members, work associates and anyone else who you feel would benefit from knowing more about metrication.

Your action could prevent your family and friends from falling victim to one of the many metrication errors that might cost them years of measurement frustration. At Metrication matters, our goal is to educate everyone we can about the simplicity and ease of use of the metric system. In this way your family and friends will gain the positive benefits of using the metric system earlier than others.

By passing this newsletter on to your friends you’ll help to prevent them being cheated by measurement fraud, drive measurement fraudsters out of business and make the world a safer place for everyone! Not bad for sending out a few emails! On the other hand, if you decide not to pass a reference to this web page along, and your best friend gets cheated because of a measurement scam, how hard will you kick yourself?

The internet is a fantastic distribution medium. As an example, if you pass a reference to the 'Why metrication matters' web page


to just ten people, and they do the same, very soon everyone will be better educated — and that’s hundreds of millions of people. Think about it this way — you are just six people away from distributing one million copies.

I could never reach millions of people on my own, so please help by forwarding something like this in an email to your friends, associates and relatives. The email can’t do any harm, as it cannot contain viruses, plus it’s a very short email, so your friends won’t mind.

Dear Friend,

I have been enjoying reading a free monthly newsletter called 'Metrication matters', and I thought that you might enjoy it too. Just log in at:


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

If you need to find arguments to support your use of the metric system going to:


will get you well and truly started.


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Cheers and best wishes for your metric future in 2006,

Pat Naughtin

Geelong Australia

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