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Metrication matters - Number 37 - 2006-06-10

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 by scrolling to the bottom of the page.

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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

Mike Millet and Bill Hooper debated the metrication of football on the USMA mail list.

Mike Millet wrote:

When do we get to switch our football (American football not soccer) fields from yards to meters? That's probably the one area I hope stays the same. Some things are sacred.

Bill Hooper replied:

I doubt that football is sacred. Therefore I hope that American football rules will NOT always stay the same (in yards), but will be metricated in some way.

Pat Naughtin adds:

If they chose 9 metres (instead of the current 9.144 metres) we could say: 'They've gone the whole nine metres!' By the way, a reduction of 114 millimetres is a little more than the width of a man's hand.

Remek Kocz wrote:

Bravo Pat! I have to say, that I really applaud your untiring efforts to promote the metric system and its 'proper' usage. I suppose that in the overwhelmingly metric Australia, the challenge is a little bit easier than here in the US, where things are just the opposite. I suppose though, that obstinacy and ingrained habits, are incredibly hard to fight, no matter where in the world one finds himself.

Howard Ressel, from New York, wrote:

Heres a good one: Shop drawings for a small retaining wall, the scale shown on the plans:
1"= 1 meter.
We checked with a scale, it is not a typo!

Jim Frysinger, from South Carolina, wrote:

My wife, Sally, and I discussed this (metrication in the USA) at lunch today. As I mentioned to her, government and industry are metricating and the public is being left in the dark. Her view was that most people are not well enough informed to make an intelligent decision about this on a personal basis. Further, that if the government just said "We're going metric by this certain date" there would be a widespread hue and cry and then people would quickly get over it. She anticipates a public response based on emotional response rather than reason.

2 Editorial

Writers on 'Change' often describe changes in individual humans and human organisations as a four stage process. They contend that we proceed at our own various speeds through four discrete steps.

I will call these steps the four A's and I will pose some questions or statements that a person might use when they are at that stage of a metric upgrade.

Think about your own metric transition or that of your organisation, or nation as you read through these questions.

I would be delighted if you could share similar questions with me that you have observed or experienced.


  • If only we could turn back time.
  • Those times will never return.
  • Those were the good old days.
  • Wasn't it great when ...
  • It was good enough for my grandfather and grandmother.
  • They didn't use metres in the Bible.


  • How dare they do this to me.
  • I can't cope with this change.
  • I can't stand it; it gets me upset; I will make them pay for this.
  • Nothing ever works out right for me.
  • They shouldn't have done this to me
  • Why do we always have to have changes?


  • Can we set some short-term metrication goals?
  • Can we get a metrication consultant?
  • Let's have a visioning exercise to gain a long-term perspective.
  • Let's try brainstorming or mind-mapping to see what we can gain.
  • What benefits can we extract from this change for ourselves?
  • What benefits can we get from this change for the company?


  • How can we help the people who got themselves stuck in the early stages?
  • Look at how much extra profit we have made since the change by reducing costs.
  • Wasn't it easy?
  • Wasn't it quicker than we thought?
  • Why didn't we do this much earlier?
  • Why doesn't management (or government) finish the job off properly?

3 Oddities

Jim Frysinger, from the College of Charleston in South Carolina, sent me a reference to a web page at: http://www.onlinemetals.com/faq.cfm and he said, 'I think you might enjoy roaming through it if you're into machining or materials'. Jim said that, 'The FAQ page is written in a very humorous manner' and it points out that the technical term '14 gauge' varies according to which metal you are measuring. They list these examples:

Thickness of '14 gauge'

  • brass sheet 0.063 in
  • copper sheet 0.086 in
  • stainless steel 0.075 in

The first and third of these values look a lot like 1600 micrometres and 1900 micrometres to me. I wonder whether the original metric figures were dumbed down to the '14 gauge' numbers for their onlinemetals catalog. I think that I would order in micrometres.

4 Tips

If you are working in a school and you want to teach about temperatures in degrees Celsius, try this technique. Put two degrees-Celsius-only thermometers with large faces inside every door of the school; one should show the inside temperature and the other should show the outside temperature. On the wall near the thermometers place this rhyme:

Zero is freezing,
10 is not,
20 is pleasing,
30 is hot,
40 frying,
50 dying.
You won't need to do anything else.

5 Signs of the times

Pierre Abbat, from North Carolina wrote:

I just looked at the bottom of the dish I used to roast lamb. It says "26x17x5 cm 2.3 L" and no inches or ounces. That actually multiplies out to 2.21 L. It's actually 55 mm from the inside bottom to the top of the rim, which is enough to explain the discrepancy. It also has sloped sides and rounded corners.

Paul Trusten, from Texas, wrote:

Coca Cola just came out with a scrumptious (IMHO) new beverage called Coca Cola Blak (that is how it is spelled). It is coffee-flavored Coca Cola! After trying it, I phoned the 800 number on the bottle and expressed my praise. When the operator asked me if there was anything else I'd like to say about the product. I replied, 'Oh, I'd really like to see all your smaller sizes of Coca Cola in metric, too. You have 1-litre, 2-litre, 3-litre bottles, and I'd like to see quarter-litre and half-litre as your smaller sizes.' 'All metric, huh?' he said. 'Yes'. I replied again.

I didn't belabor the point. I just cast a simple vote for metric sizes. The young man seemed to take my suggestion in his stride.

6 Quotation

'Big Brother' star Jade Goody collapsed part way through the London Marathon and was then treated for exhaustion.

Speaking on the television show 'This Morning', she said: 'I don't really understand miles. I didn't actually know how far it was going to be.'

7 Q&A


When I visited a hardware store (in the USA) recently, I noticed that I could buy various different kinds of tapes. There were:

  • dual sided tapes with inches on one side and centimetres divided into halves and quarters on the other;
  • dual sided tapes with inches on one side and millimetres and centimetres on the other; and
  • dual sided tapes with inches on one side and millimetres on the other.
  • metric only in millimetres, centimetres and in both millimetres and centimetres;
  • metric only in millimetres only;
  • US Customary only marked in eighths on one side and sixteenths on the other;

Which should I choose?


Buy two tapes.

Tape 2

If you still have to do some jobs in old measures then buy a US Customary tape with both sides marked to sixteenth inch accuracy. Don't get anything too expensive this tape will hopefully become redundant before it wears out!

Tape 1

Buy a metric tape to do metric jobs with both sides marked to millimetre accuracy. Buy quality this tape is for the long haul.

Tape 0

Do not buy tapes marked in centimetres. We noticed in Australia that using a tape with millimetres on one side and centimetres on the other was so confusing that the Australian building industry chose to use millimetres only. I suppose that using centimetres with millimetres was a kind of dual measuring method, albeit both metric. Avoiding centimetres reduced the time taken for the metrication process quite remarkably in all the industries where the millimetre-only strategy was used. (See the article, 'centimetres or millimetres which will you choose?' at /articles/ )

Tape 1 (Note the negative sign.)

Do not buy dual tapes or rulers of any kind. Avoid them. Walk away if they are presented to you. Do not accept them as gifts!

Don't duel with dual!

When Australia upgraded to the metric system we quickly noticed that the process went much more smoothly, and was much faster, if you didn't have anything to do with conversions back and forth from old pre-metric measures to the (then new) metric units.

Life's too short to deal with dual tapes.

More questions: Please time your answers.

Which is bigger 9 mm or 12 mm?

Which is bigger 1.2 cm or 9 mm?

Which is bigger 3/8" or 9/16"?

8 Rule of thumb

Phil Hall, from England, uses two measures quite commonly. Phil writes:

The distance from my left shoulder to the wrist of my outstretched right arm is about a metre (handy for measuring off lengths of electrical cable) and the width of my hand just beyond the palm is about a 100 mm.

9 History

The International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF) now uses 42.195 metres as the official marathon distance, because the starting point for the 1908 Olympic marathon in London was modified so that the English Royal Family could have a good view and the extended length happened to be 42.195 km.

10 Hidden metric

I have just finished reading an (almost) excellent book on the history of electricity called 'Electric Universe' by David Bodanis. It is thoroughly researched; it is well written; and it includes some wonderful narratives and opinions about the important people in the history of electricity that I had never heard before.

However, I can't recommend this book because the editors at ABACUS books felt they had to dumb it down for their readers by changing almost all of the original metric units into a mixture of old pre-metric measures. They had 'electrons, which weigh less than a millionth of an ounce' and 'tucked into a clearing no more than a few yards wide' ... 'the Wurzburg radar' ... 'poured out waves of a bare ten inches from peak to peak.'

I have only ever heard of the electron mass being 9.109 382 6 x 10^-31 kg. I have no doubt that a radar station built by the German army on French soil in 1942 would have used metres and probably millimetres for small measures and especially for a 250 mm wave length.


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 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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