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Metrication matters - Number 43 - 2006-12-10

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

You may recall that I challenged Metrication matters readers to come up with metric sayings. I wrote.

The original quotation, 'Give them an inch and they'll take an ell' has yet to be replaced with a metric equivalent in English. Any suggestions?

Bill Hooper, from Florida, responded by saying:

It is difficult to get something simple that uses just short unit names (one syllable if possible) because most metric units are multi-syllabic. Even if you start with one unit that is one-syllable (gram is the only one that comes to mind), you usually have to use a multi-syllable unit for the other unit that compares with it. The only metric version I could come up with uses an acceptable but not strictly SI unit. It is:

'Give them a gram and they'll take a tonne'.

I responded to Bill by suggesting

On the subject of single syllable words, did you considered things like:

A millimetre miss is a kilometre miss.

And Bill Hooper replied:

No, I didn't consider that, mainly because I was thinking of alternates for 'Give them an inch and they'll take a mile', not for 'A miss is as good as a mile'.

But I like your version for the later expression. It does not seem to be awkward to say in spite of the multi-syllabic unit names; of course, the alliteration or rhyming makes up for that.

Maybe the former phrase could be altered to:

'Give them a millimetre and they'll take a kilometre'.

I'm afraid this seems awkward to me because of the longer unit names, but maybe it would 'work'.

2 Editorial

I have seen the idea of using 'only powers of 1000' in many places where it is often referred to as the 'Rule of 1000'.

I suspect that this is not so much a rule of 1000 as it is a convenient way to completely rid a particular activity of all fractions – both vulgar fractions and decimal fractions.

As an example, suppose that you are a soft drink bottler and you decide to buy your ingredients in cubic metres (kilolitres) and litres and to sell them in millilitres. You then write your company policy like this:

The Pleasure Pops drink company will use millilitres, litres and kilolitres for measuring volume or capacity centilitres, decilitres, decalitres, and hectolitres will not be used.

From then on, there would be no further need for the use of any fractions. Granted there would be turmoil and discussion when someone suggested a container that was 1250 millilitres. Some would say that this goes against the 'Rule of 1000' in that it has a number larger than 1000. Some would then want to call this 125 centilitres to remove the trailing 0 and to bring it back inside the 'Rule of 1000' limit. Others would want to call it 'one and a quarter' litres so they could show off their knowledge of fractions.

However, if the policy (written above) was formulated and encouraged, there would always be definite policy advice that would invariably produce the simplest possible practice always in whole numbers with never any need for fractions.

By the way, for those who have not seen it, the article 'centimetres or millimetres which will you choose' is available as a pdf file at /articles/ and it is near the top. Although it is a long article, you can get the sense of it by only reading the introduction (2 pages) and the conclusion (3 pages).

3 Oddities

Howard Ressel, from New York was at a Renaissance Festival when he heard the sword swallower refer to one of his swords as half a meter long. Howard commented:

I thought that odd since England in 1585 was probably not quite metric then. Otherwise the 'cast' members were pretty authentic. Maybe sword swallowing is officially sanctioned in metric units. Regardless it was nice to hear such a casual usage of meters.

4 Tips

In a recent edition of the United States Metric Association newsletter, 'Metric Today', there was an article about how much you could reduce your body mass by drinking 2 litres of water at refrigerator temperature each day.

The argument went something like this:

  • Refrigerated water is about 4 C and your body temperature is 37 C
  • As you heat the cold water you use energy from your body
  • This reduces your body mass.

When I calculated how much energy this might be, my calculations went something like this:

  • Two litres of water has a mass of 2 kilograms.
  • Heating 1 kilogram of water by 1 degree Celsius takes about 4.183 kilojoules of energy.
  • Water in a refrigerator is about 4 C and your body temperature is close to 37 C so you will heat the water by 33 C.

2 kg x 4.183 kJ/kg C x 33 C = 276 kilojoules of energy

Suppose that this energy comes from some of your surplus body fat that contains 37 000 kilojoules per kilogram of fat. The 276 kilojoules needed to heat the water will use the energy contained in 0.0075 kilograms of your body fat so, at the end of the day, you will be 7.5 grams lighter. It would take you 133 days to lose 1 kilogram of body fat using this method. (See Q&A below for further thoughts on this health idea.) When my wife, Wendy, read this item she looked at me and then muttered something like, 'Every little helps!'

5 Signs of the times

Martin Vlietstra, from London, wrote to tell me that there has been a change in the UK legislation on road signs. He quotes from the legislation at: http://www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si2002/20023113.htm

(10) Where an upright sign indicates a weight in tonnes using the symbol 'T', that symbol may be varied to 't'.

Martin noted that 't' is the correct international symbol for tonne and then went on to say:

The only vehicle of which I am aware to which limitations of "T" might apply is Dr Who's Tardis - but I don't know what sized magnetic field it generates when it is whisking its owner back and forth through time. (The capital letter 'T' is the SI symbol for tesla, a unit for measuring magnetic fields.)

6 Quotation

A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.
Winston Churchill

7 Q&A

When I decided to adopt the health recommendation to drink 8 glasses of water a day, I immediately ran into this question: How big is a 'glass' and how much does it hold?

Nobody knows how big a glass is or how much it contains. I think that this health suggestion comes from the idea that it is good for your body to drink 2 litres of water per day. This was then dumbed down to 8 cups (each of 250 mL) and then 'cup' was changed to 'glass'.

When Paul Trusten researched this issue in the USA, he:
found two different drinking cup products in an end cap basket full of them. One type was made in Chino, California, USA, and was labelled '64 oz' (sic) and '1.89 L'. The other, country of origin unclear, was labelled '2.2 L (74 oz)'. The labels on each stated that each contained the recommended 8 glasses of water people should drink per day. On that basis, the former container yields a 236 mL 'glass', while the latter yields a 275 mL 'glass'.

Linda D. Bergeron, also from the USA, commented on two drinking vessels sold at Walgreen's Pharmacy where the daily water containers varied from 1890 mL to 2200 mL a difference of 310 mL. She supported Paul Trusten's observation when she said:

While growing up in Northern Virginia, I was raised with the understanding that a 'glass' was ... in other words 'one cup'.

It seems that the makers of those large plastic drinking water containers don't know the exact size of a 'glass' because their measurement is sloppy using the inexact term, 'glass'.

It is probably best to simply go back to the original idea and simply drink just plain two litres of water per day. At least a litre is a reproducible measurement.

8 Rule of thumb

Pierre Abbat is on a 'raw diet' that includes a lot of fruit and vegetable smoothies that he makes in a blender. Pierre has worked out that it takes one second for a 1 kilowatt blender to melt 3 gram of frozen fruit. Here is the relevant part of his email:

I've gone on a raw diet. A staple of raw diets is the green smoothie, made by throwing some fruit (often frozen) and leaves or broccoli stems in a blender ... I came up with this rule of thumb:

A 1 kW blender melts 3 g/s of ice.

So if I put 100 g of aa and four 90 g packs of fruit, all frozen, in a 1.5 kW blender, and I want a half-melted smoothie, it melts 4.5 g/s, so it would melt the whole thing in just over 100 s, so I run it for 50 s.


9 History

In 1832, the USA legally adopted the Queen Anne wine gallon (3 785 mL) to make trading with England easier but England had already replaced the Queen Anne wine gallon and the British Ale gallon (4 621 mL) with the Imperial British Gallon in 1824.

The UK Weights and Measures Act of 1824 defined an Imperial British Gallon to replace all others; the new gallon (4 545 mL) contained 10 pounds of pure water at 62F.

It seems likely that the new UK gallon was inspired by the decimal system recently introduced (in the 1790s) into France. Incidentally, the word gallon is derived from the Latin word galeta, a bucket or pail.

Unfortunately, the British Houses of Parliament burned down in 1834 and the standard pound and the standard yard were destroyed. Although no standard gallon was destroyed in the fire, the definition of a gallon was based on inches and there was now no legal basis for the gallon. The parliament soon established a new, larger, British gallon (4 545 mL) leaving the USA with the old Queen Anne wine gallon (3 785 mL), and many trade problems, from then until now, between the two nations.

10 Hidden metric

Mike Joy noted an odd remnant of an old pre-metric measure in Norway that has been redefined in metric units. Mike wrote:

Hi Pat - another great issue of Metrication matters - thank you very much. It's funny how an uninteresting subject as metrication (to most people) can provide so much information and interest.

I spent some time in Norway, and although they are metricated of course, they still use the 'norsk mil' where 1 norsk mil (mile) = 10 km


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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