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Metrication matters - Number 50 - 2007-07-10

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

Help a friend if you know somebody else who might benefit from the Metrication matters newsletter, please forward it to them and suggest that they subscribe. If a friend passed this newsletter on 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

Lorelle Young, President of the United States Metric Association, wrote:

Your Metrication Matters issues are always interesting and informative. Also, you get some pretty good comments from readers.

Carleton MacDonald from Maryland responded to the 'Signs of the times' section of last month's newsletter when we remarked on the metric walking distance signs at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. Carleton wrote:

This is the same airport that uses the 24-hour clock on all the schedule display devices in the International concourse. The times are dumbed down on the domestic concourses.

2 Editorial

Writing positive messages to people who use the metric system properly can have great effects on the people concerned. As an example, Alfred Hu, of California, wrote this letter to the City of San Luis Obispo Public Works:


I browsed the City of San Luis Obispo Public Works weather data and noticed that the temperature, wind speed, etc are all in metric units. I am very, very, pleased to see this and I hope more and more local, state and federal government agencies will follow suit.

The City of San Luis Obispo is setting a fine example of others to follow.

Please keep up the good work and lead in using the metric system!

Sincerely, Alfred Hu

Alfred received this reply:

Thank you for your comment, I am passing it on, with a copy of this reply, to our Public Works staff who initiated the metric approach.

I'm sure that letters like this always have a positive effect on the progress of metrication. I try to write them as often as I can and I encourage you to do so too.

3 Oddities

Beethoven was born in 1770 so he didn't have the advantages of using the metric system (this knowledge is courtesy of my wife, who said it was the only date she ever remembered during a four year Bachelor of Music course). However, if you translate from Rhine inches, Beethoven was 1.65 metres tall.

A German record of 1994 is that of spitting a cherry stone a distance of 29 metres.

On average, your fingernails grow at about 500 micrometres per week; that's a millimetre in two weeks, and 2 millimetres in a month.

4 Tips

As the speed of sound in dry air at sea level is 332 metres per second, it follows that sound will travel 1 kilometre in 3 seconds. You can use this information to estimate the distance you are from an electrical storm. You estimate the time interval between when you see the lightning and when you hear the thunder, then divide by 3 to find the distance between you and the storm in kilometres. To count reasonably accurately in seconds, one technique is to say the words, 'One thousand, two thousand, three thousand, four thousand and so on' out loud.

5 Signs of the times

Some time ago, Bob Price wrote to the USMA maillist to say that battery dimensions are in millimetres with mass in grams at http://data.energizer.com/SearchResult.aspx Bob added, 'I am pleased to see another American company use metric units.'

You can join the USMA Mailing List at http://lamar.colostate.edu/~hillger/listserv.htm

6 Quotation

The world needs dreamers and the world needs doers. But above all, the world needs dreamers who do. Sarah Ban Breathnach, Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy, 1996

Hell! There ain't no rules around here! We're trying to accomplish somep'n. Thomas Alva Edison

7 Q&A

Do they use metric for building in the USA?

Yes and no; many structural engineers use SI for design work as the calculations are easier and because it tends to produce more rational numbers with fewer calculation errors. Then the structural engineers convert all of the numbers to feet and inches so the workers on the building site will work with them and so the building inspector will pass the work as most building codes in the USA are still written in feet and inches. However some things, such as kitchen countertops, arrive on the job cut to size in metric units and with their thickness specified in millimetres.

8 Rule of thumb

The average mass of a car made in the USA is slightly less than 2 tonnes. So three cars in your driveway have a combined mass of about 6 tonnes and if you see nine cars loaded on to a truck they have a combined mass of about 18 tonnes.

By the way, this average mass of cars in the USA has increased by 250 kilograms over the last 10 years according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The average mass of current vehicles is now the heaviest since the EPA began measuring mass in 1975. And this is not only due to the popularity of SUVs. As a small example, the length of the Honda Civic grew from 3.7 meters in 1975 to 4.2 meters in 2005 and almost doubled its mass from 700 kilograms to 1350 kilograms.

9 History

In 1675, Tito Livio Burattini first suggested the name metre as the name for a unit of length. He chose the word metre after metron, a Greek word for measure. Burattini's metre was a universal unit of measurement based on the length of a pendulum beating one second. He named this unit 'metro catholico', which simply means 'universal measure'.

10 Hidden metric

It could be said that the whole world, including the USA, went 'internally metric' when the definition of English and Imperial measures got linked to the metric system rather than having their own separate definitions.

In 1959, the inch became exactly equal to 25.4 millimetres. Prior to 1959 the inch in the USA was based on a yard that was 36/39.37 of a metre. The 'new' metre in the USA is now based on the idea that the international standard metre is approximately 39.37007874 inches long.

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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Metrication Matters
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