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Metrication matters - Number 45 - 2007-02-10

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

David Shatto wrote:

Hi Pat,
Here's an exciting story, if you haven't already seen it. Could you share this with your readers list?
Best, David Shatto

'It's official: the Moon is on the metric system. NASA is returning to the Moon, and the agency has decided to use metric units for all future lunar operations.'
NASA Science News for January 8, 2007

The full story is at: http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2007/08jan_metricmoon.htm?list191843 with more details at: http://space.com/news/070108_moon_metric.html

Daniel Jackson wrote to remind me that:

I don't know how many people realize this, but the so-called 10 gallon hat has absolutely nothing to do with the imperial volume unit gallons. The gallon in this case is a corruption of the Spanish word gálon, which means a braid or a stripe. It referred to number or decorative braids attached, not to any volume.

Thus trying to metricate the 10 gallon hat into 10 L or 38 L or 40 L or 50 L is very wrong. The next time anyone encounters someone who claims that if the US ever goes metric the 10 gallon hat would have to be changed, make sure to educate them as to the true meaning of the term.

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2 Editorial

As you know, from time to time, I rail against metric conversion as a pointless waste of time. However, such things can be humorous. In a discussion about cruise ships a journalist stated:

on a three-month world cruise, 180,000 tonnes of beef are consumed.

This is an average of over 600 kilograms per person per day — and then the reporter gave statistics for the consumption of toilet paper that worked out to be 4.5 rolls per person per day.

3 Oddities

In his book, 'Letter to a Christian Nation' Sam Harris writes:
Tyrants who orchestrate genocides, or who happily preside over the starvation of their own people, also tend to be profoundly idiosyncratic men, not champions of reason. Kim II Sung, for instance, demanded that his beds at his various dwellings be situated precisely five hundred meters above sea level. His duvets had to be filled with the softest down imaginable. What is the softest down imaginable? It apparently comes from the chin of a sparrow. Seven hundred thousand sparrows were required to fill a single duvet.

4 Tips

Here are some tips to help you develop your metric mindset in your office. Notice that you do not need to do any conversions — and by using millimetres you will not need any fractions — no common or vulgar fractions and no decimal fractions.

For women: measure the width of your little finger — it will be very close to 10 millimetres wide.
For men: measure the width your little finger nail — it will be very close to 10 millimetres wide.
For women: measure the width of your longest finger — it will be very close to 15 millimetres wide.
For men: measure the width your longest finger — it will be very close to 20 millimetres wide.
For women: measure the width of your hand — it will be close to 80 millimetres wide.
For men: measure the width your hand — it will be close to 100 millimetres wide.

You now have some 'handy' millimetre measures to get you started.

For both men and women:
Look at a piece of A4 paper. It is 210 millimetres wide and 297 millimetres long. Fold it in half with the fold in the middle of the long side. Cut along the fold — you now have two pieces of A5 paper that are 105 millimetres wide and 210 millimetres long. Fold one of these in half along the long edge and then cut to make two pieces of A6 paper. Notice that there is no waste in going from one size to another when you use A series paper.

Take two more pieces of A4 paper and tape them together along the long edge; you now have a piece of A3 paper that is 420 millimetres by 297 millimetres. Make two pieces and tape them together to make a piece of A2 paper and so on until you get to an A0, which has an area of exactly one square metre.

Take a piece of A4 paper and fold it in thirds along the long edge. Each third is exactly 99 millimetres long so that it will exactly fit into the standard envelop for A4 letters. Fold another piece of A4 in thirds along its short side to show 3 columns each 70 millimetres wide. Set the margins for an A4 paper at 15 mm each side to provide for 3 columns that are exactly 60 millimetres wide, or set the margins for an A4 paper at 30 mm each side to provide for 3 columns that are exactly 50 millimetres wide.

Download the pdf article, 'Page borders — inches or millimetres' from /articles This two page article explores the cost of your simple decision about the size of the margins that you (and other people) choose for your computer paper printout. It shows how your company can save more than 20 % of your office paper costs.

Look at a piece of 'U.S.A. Letter' paper. It was designed and made as 8 1/2 inches by 11 inches. Begin to think of this size as: 216 millimetres wide by 279 millimetres long. Take a piece of 'Letter' paper and write 216 millimetres along its short side and 279 millimetres along its long side. Put this paper into your printer and type 10 mm in 11 point Times New Roman, then measure the base of your typing; it is 10 mm long. How long is your printed name in millimetres; Pat Naughtin is 20 millimetres long in 10 pt Georgia. Use this paper to record any other millimetre tips that you learn and leave this piece of paper on your desk or in a drawer until you are confident that you can remember these measurements.

5 Signs of the times

An article in a London newspaper contained the line:

EU leaders have endorsed a commitment to ensure global temperatures do not rise more than 2 °C (36°F) above pre-industrial levels.

The error made by the journalist and the sub-editor is that they misunderstood the difference between a 'temperature' and a 'temperature difference'. When they read 2 °C in the official EU report they used a conversion table to change this to 36°F. They did this without thinking that the 2 °C referred to a rise in temperature (about 4 °F) and not to the equivalent Fahrenheit temperature (about 36 °F).

I sometimes despair for sensible discussion about global warming of our world when our journalists (and perhaps our politicians) do not have any basic understanding of even simple measurements because they get bogged down in conversions.

6 Quotation

Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending.
Author Unknown

By the way, if you haven't set your metrication goals for 2007 yet, you might be helped by the article, 'Setting SMAART metrication goals — the SMAART way to set your metrication goals' that you can download from /articles '.

7 Q&A


Which countries have not adopted the metric system?


None. All countries in the world now use the metric system every day. Two small countries, Liberia and Myanmar, have not yet passed metric laws but they use metric units everyday both internally and to trade internationally with their neighbours.

I usually get this question from students from the USA who have been asked this question by their teachers as a research project with the expectation that students will discover that there are three metric hold-outs, Myanmar (formerly called Burma), Liberia, and the USA.

The USA is a special case where laws to promote the use of the metric system have been considered by the government since the 1790s and have been enacted since the Kassen Act of 1866. The USA has, however, usually chosen to use the slowest possible methods (140 years so far) to go about the inevitable metrication process. (See the article, 'What is metrication' at /articles.html )

Another answer to this question is that of Russ Rowlett from the University of North Carolina. You will find his answer to the Burma-Liberia-USA question at http://www.unc.edu/– rowlett/units/

8 Rule of thumb

This Rule of Thumb is from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology climate summary written after Australia recorded its hottest year on record in 2005.

A 1 degree Celsius increase in mean temperature is equivalent to many southern Australian towns shifting northward by about 100 kilometres.

This would be a southern movement of about 100 kilometres in the northern hemisphere. For example, this is equivalent to moving the town of Doyle southwards to the climate of Chattanooga in Tennessee (Hi Jim and Sally, I hope you've settled in to your new farm.)

9 History

This quotation about South African metrication is from an official government news release (1977 September 15) in connection with the completion of metrication in South Africa.

On 15 September 1967 the Honorable Minister of Economic Affairs announced the appointment of a Metrication Advisory Board to plan and co-ordinate the changeover to the metric system in South Africa. One of the first decisions of the Board was to introduce the Système International d'Unités called the SI for short, which had just been developed at that time and had already been accepted in principle by many countries as the eventual metric system.

A Metrication Department was created within the framework of the South African Bureau of Standards to implement the decisions of the Advisory Board. Not only the fact that the decade that has passed since 15 September 1967 suits the decimal character of the SI perfectly, but also the fact that the Republic has become a metric country within the originally planned transition period of ten years makes today's date a fitting one. The success achieved is largely due to the good co-operations received from commerce, industry, agriculture, the professions and other organizations, all government bodies at the central, provincial and local level, and, above all, the ordinary citizen. Without this co-operation such a profound change affecting each and every one of us would not have been possible.

South Africa is widely acknowledged as a world leader in the field of metrication and in the application of the SI system. Many countries now in the process of changing over have studied the South African changeover and are following the same pattern to a large degree. With the USA as the last large non-metric country now engaged in changing over and the existing metric countries also replacing their systems with the SI, it is clear that the SI will soon be the only system of units used in the world. South Africa is proud of the leading role it has played in this important matter.

10 Hidden metric

Recently, my brother was helping his son buy a new bed. During their search, they came across the line 'Dimensions are approximate +/- 70 mm'. This seems to be a lot when your comfort each night for many years is at stake. It seems that many bed makers use metric dimensions to make their beds and then loosely describe them in old pre-metric inches, but they are fairly cavalier in their approach to conversions. Others avoid the measuring issue altogether and describe the 'size' of their beds with words like 'Queen', 'King' or 'Dual Super Extra Wide King'.

Most bed makers make all their beds to the same length but vary the widths.

For example, a Norwegian bed maker makes all of their beds 2000 millimetres long and then sells three models: 800 mm, 1200 mm, and 1600 mm wide. An Australian bed maker sells all beds at 2050 mm long but uses words to hide their metric widths as follows: Single, 750 mm; Wide single, 1000 mm; Double/Full, 1400 mm; Queen, 1500 mm; King, 2000 mm; Dual Super Extra Wide King, 2750 mm.

For comparison, some equivalent beds in the USA had these dimensions in millimetres: 965 x 1905, 1346 x 1905, 1524 x 2032, 1829 x 2134, and 1930 x 2032.


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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