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Metrication matters - Number 42 - 2006-11-10

Metrication matters Number 42 2006-11-10

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

Please assist our efforts to complete world metrication by forwarding this message to your friends and colleagues who are interested in measurement and the metric system - Thank you.

For example - help a friend – if you know somebody else who can benefit from this newsletter, please forward it to them and suggest that they subscribe. If a friend passed on this newsletter to you, please check the details of the free subscription at the end.

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

Mark Sugrue, from the University of London, wrote:

Dear Pat,

I very much enjoyed you recent newsletter, particularly the "Tips" section and the observations of excessive 'accuracy' when converting to and from metric. My favourite national newspaper in Ireland (The Irish Times) is constantly doing this and it drives me crazy!

Mark then included the following article from The Irish Times (2005-11-30) last year.

Woman who fell from path settles for €2m,

A young woman, confined to a wheelchair after falling 4.26m (14ft) from a footpath running alongside a sea wall on to a beach below, has settled her High Court action for damages for a sum of about €2 million.
Clearly, the poor woman fell about 4 metres there was no need to convert this to within 10 millimetres!

Martin Vlietstra, also from London, wrote:

In a book that I bought about crossing the Sahara Dessert, the author suggests that one should drink one litre of water per day for every 10 °C.

Paul Trusten, R.Ph., the Public Relations Director of the U.S. Metric Association, was buying fruit when he noticed that the price of the clementines had been wrongly priced at $95.00 for a small case because they had been priced 'per ounce' rather than 'per pound'.

Paul told the assistant, 'Here is why we need to change over to the metric system. Then, we could just move decimal points to figure a unit price'. As he pointed out the error to the shop assistant he got a totally blank look.

Paul remarked later. 'What was also interesting is that when I pointed out the use of ounce instead of pound, I gathered, from the look on the young lady's face, that she didn't understand the error. We Americans generally do not know the "system" of measurement to which we cling so stubbornly'.
By the way, a clementine is an orange-like citrus fruit imported into the USA from South Africa.

Daniel Jackson sent me an intriguing item from a Korean newspaper that contained this:

'We cannot delay the adoption of the international standard of measurements as we aim to raise the gross domestic product (GDP) per capita to $20,000,' the ministry said in a statement. 'If there is a 1-percent error in measuring goods, that could cost consumers 2.7 trillion won,' it said.

I suspect that the estimate of '2.7 trillion won' is way too low. You may recall that I have estimated the cost of non-metrication in the USA as about 9 % of GST (or a bit over a trillion dollars a year) following the estimate made by the Confederation of British Industry in 1980. If this applied to Korea the cost of non-metrication would be closer to 24 trillion won. (See the article, 'Costs of non-metrication' at /articles )

To form your own opinion, you may find the rest of the Korean article interesting, go to:

Traditional Korean measurement include these values, but like all traditional measures these vary widely from community to community, from region to region, or even from item to item.
1 don ~ 3.75 grams
1 kun ~ 600 grams (meat)
1 kun ~ 400 grams (vegetables)
1 pyong ~ 3.3 square metres
The South Korean move is clearly intended to reduce the cost of errors in using traditional units in internal dealing, and it should also reduce the time spent translating the units for international trade and reducing the costs of these conversions.

2 Editorial

The metrication debate continues in the USA after more than 200 years of discussion and bickering.

We have to ask why it has taken the American people so long to complete this simple change. After all, Americans are famous for their ability, and inclination, to adopt progressive ideas quickly.

Perhaps it's because it is difficult to determine exactly who is responsible for the change to the metric system. When it comes to metrication — who is responsible?
Is it:

  • you, as an individual;
  • your family;
  • schools;
  • manufacturing industry;
  • marketing; or
  • government?

And my answer is: 'It is all of these', and they need to all work together to get the job done.

For a longer discussion of this issue download the article: 'Metrication — who is responsible?' from /articles

3 Oddities

Monty Roberts is world famous for his horse handling abilities and for his theories about why they work. He travels all around the world giving demonstrations of his horse handling skills.

Naturally, when he is in any country other than the USA he needs to communicate using metric units. For example, at an international horse show in Stockholm in Sweden the horses were measured in 'hands' of 100 millimetres. This meant that a 16 'hand' horse was 1.6 metres from the ground to the top of its shoulders, and that a 12 'hand' pony was 1.2 metres tall. (Isn't metric easy!)

Now horse people in the USA have noticed that when Monty Roberts returns to his home in the USA he is using metric units in his demonstrations. Clearly this has become habitual with him, as he has discovered through his international travels the ease of using the metric system.

4 Tips

The recent price peak in fuel for our car made us conscious of two things: the daily price and the size of our fuel tank. We soon took to thinking of our fuel tank as 'about 50 litres' so that we could calculate that it would cost about $65.00 to fill our tank when the price was $1.30 per litre. (For readers in the USA, $1.30 AUD is about $1.00 USD per litre.)

It may be some consolation to know that it takes almost 35 000 litres of fuel for a modern large aircraft to fly 5000 kilometres and that this works out to be 700 litres per 100 kilometres. You can compare this with an average car that uses about 10 litres per 100 kilometres.

Actually the airline people don't use litres to measure fuel because they are concerned with how much mass they need to lift off the ground — they put fuel into the plane's tanks in tonnes and very large planes hold about 25 tonnes of Avgas.

5 Signs of the times

Jim Elwell, of QSI Corp in Utah, reported that he went for a 4500 km road trip where he found a number of road signs with metric equivalents where he did not expect to see them.

For example, he found that all the speed signs in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, had metric equivalents. Jim commented: 'Nice conversions too (all to rounded 5 km/h)'.

Jim saw some distance and speed signs in Rapid City, South Dakota with metric equivalents. He said: 'Not all signs had metric equivalents, but some did'.

He also noted that, in Buffalo Gap national grassland, east of Rapid City: ' ... not all signs had metric equivalents, but some did'.

Jim Elwell, CAMS, is an Electrical Engineer in Salt Lake City, and you can find out about his business, making rugged graphic terminals, at http://www.qsicorp.com.

6 Quotation

You can do anything if you have enthusiasm. (Anon)

And as Henry Ford said, 'Whether you think you can or you think you cannot, you are right'.

7 Q&A


What is the best way to write the date and the time?


The best way to write the date and time is to use the international standard date formats published by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). The standard for writing dates and times is ISO 8601, and with this standard you put the year first and then the month before the day.

As I write this, the date is 2006-10-21 and you will notice that this follows the practice of writing numbers with the most significant digit, the year, on the left, and that the importance decreases as you go to from left to right.

This follows the same pattern that we have used for time where the hour goes before the minutes and then the seconds come last. Right now the time is 21:09:54 showing that it is 9:09 pm and 54 seconds.

Using ISO 8601, you could write all of this as 2006-10-21 21:09:54 with all of the time and date information going from the biggest units to the smallest. Markus Kuhn's has an excellent web page about ISO 8601 at: http://www.cl.cam.ac.uk/~mgk25/iso-time.html

As a helpful hint, I use international date formats to store files on my computer. Suppose that I am writing a document called (say) Metrication matters. I might store today's draft as Metrication matters 2006-10-21 and tomorrow's draft as Metrication matters 2006-10-22 and so on. This means that when I am cleaning up space on my disk drive all of these files will be together in alphabetical order and also in order of the dates that I completed each draft.

Others also use this technique; for example, Martin Vlietstra, from London, says:

When I file my digital photographs, I use one folder per day. The folders have names like "2006_08_05" etc. As a result, all my folders are in chronological order.

8 Rule of thumb

Daniel Pauly, a fisheries scientist at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, reckons that in the oceans the mass of all the fish is about 100 tonnes per square kilometre (t/km^2) of ocean floor. Pauly and his colleagues combed through fish catch records since 1950 and found that the 220 commercial fish species are now about 100 t/km^2 compared to about 1000 t/km^2 in 1950. They report that there has been a reduction of 90 % of fish in the world's oceans since 1950. See: http://www.fisheries.ubc.ca/members/dpauly

9 History

In 1968, the USA Congress passed legislation calling for a program of investigation, research, and surveys to determine the impact on the USA of increasing worldwide use of the metric system.

The program concluded with a report to Congress in July 1971 called 'A Metric America, A Decision whose Time has Come,' D. V. Simone, National Bureau of Standards Special Publication 345.
This report recommended:

on the basis of evidence marshalled in the U.S. metric study, this report recommends that the United States change to the International Metric System through a coordinated national program over a period of ten years, at the end of which the nation will be predominantly metric.

10 Hidden metric

Jim Frysinger, who is a fellow Lifetime Certified Advanced Metrication Specialist, and also a Senior Member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) sent me this item from The Associated Press a few months ago.

Mayor Wants Brothels Kept From Cemeteries (June 6, 2006 7:20 AM EDT)

SYDNEY, Australia (AP) — Brothels and cemeteries don't mix and should remain at least 660 feet apart, a local government official said Tuesday.

Paul Pisasale, the mayor of Queensland state town of Ipswich, is part of a movement being led by the Urban Local Government Association to prevent brothels from being built near cemeteries. Prostitution is legal in Australia in limited circumstances.

"There's a lot of families and services that are going on and the last thing you want is someone conducting a spiritual service and a cemetery reflection time for family and a brothel going on next door," he told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio on Tuesday.

"It's totally inappropriate. There's a place for brothels and a place for cemeteries and we don't believe the two mix."

Clearly the original law was written as 200 metres and the Associated Press editors dumbed this down to 660 feet. By the way, you might enjoy reading Jim Frysinger's web page at: http://www.cofc.edu/~frysingj


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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