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Metrication matters - Number 58 - 2008-03-10

Dear Subscriber,

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 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.

I hope this email arrives when you are well, in good spirits, and that you feel that you are moving inevitably toward your complete upgrade to the metric system, in all aspects of your life.


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

Bill Hooper, from Virginia USA, wrote to say:

I think it is easier to calculate the BMI than it is to use your "Rule of Thumb".

To remind readers, my 'Rule of Thumb' goes like this:

1 Think of your height in metres (say) 1.83 metres.

2 Remove the number '1' and the decimal point '.'

You are left with your ideal body mass in kilograms; in this case it is 83 kilograms. You could think of this as your:


3 Evaluate your current body mass by noting the difference between it and your ideal body mass.

My first thought was to disagree with Bill, but then I reflected on the fact that we, in Australia, usually know our heights in metric units so it is no big deal to remove the 1 and the decimal point from our known height in metres. However if someone in the USA only knew their height in feet, inches, and fractions of inches then the conversion calculation necessary before you can apply my 'Rule of thumb' seems to make the calculation difficult. Remember these thoughts from Dr Alexander Graham Bell (1847/1922) in about 1905:

All the difficulties in the metric system are in translating from one system to the other, but the moment you use the metric system alone there is no difficulty.

And on another occasion:

When one door closes, another opens: but we often look so long and regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one that has opened for us.

2 Editorial

Recently, I was invited to give presentations on the issues of the greenhouse effect, global warming, and climate change, as there is a lot of interest in these three interrelated issues here in Australia. Two issues however are rarely raised. They are:

1 The words energy and power are constantly misused and abused as in this constructed sentence:

As we powered along the corridors of power, the politician, large and physically powerful, assured me that he did not have the power to reduce power production from nuclear energy and hydroelectric power, but he could do something about wind energy and solar power. He also assured me that the government would give him the power to act on these issues using military power if his arguments were sufficiently powerful.

2 An almost complete misunderstanding of how energy is measured using joules (and kilojoules, megajoules, gigajoules etc.) The unit, joule, has been internationally accepted since 1889 but politicians seem to be bombarded with old pre-metric substitutes such as these (currently in use) 199 poor substitutes show:

Atomic energy unit, barrel oil equivalent, bboe, billion electron volts, Board of Trade unit, BOE, BOT, British thermal unit, British thermal unit (16 C), British thermal unit (4 C), British thermal unit (international), British thermal unit (ISO), British thermal unit (IT), British thermal unit (mean), British thermal unit (thermal), British thermal unit (thermochemical), British thermal unit-39, British thermal unit-59, British thermal unit-60, British thermal unit-IT, British thermal unit-mean, British thermal unit-th, BThU, BThU-39, BThU-59, BThU-60, BThU-IT, BThU-mean, BThU-th, Btu, Btu-39, Btu-59, Btu-60, Btu-IT, Btu-mean, Btu-th, cal, cal-15, cal-20, cal-mean, calorie, Calorie, calorie (16 C), calorie (20 C), calorie (4 C), calorie (diet kilocalorie), calorie (int.), calorie (IT) (International Steam Table), calorie (mean), calorie (thermochemical), calorie-15, Calorie-15, calorie-20, Calorie-20, calorie-IT, Calorie-IT, calorie-mean, Calorie-mean, calorie-th, Calorie-th, cal-th, Celsius heat unit, Celsius heat unit (int.), Celsius heat unit-IT, Celsius heat unit-mean, Celsius heat unit-th, centigrade heat unit, centigrade heat unit-mean, centigrade heat unit-th, Chu, Chu-IT, Chu-mean, Chu-th, coulomb volt, cubic centimetre atmospheres, cubic foot atmospheres, cubic metre atmospheres, double Rydberg, duty, dutys, dyne centimetres, E-h, electron mass energy equivalent, electron volt, equivalent volt, erg, eV, foot grains, foot pound, foot pound force, foot poundal, ft-lb, ft-lbf, ft-pdl, gigaelectronvolt, gram calorie, gram calorie-15, gram calorie-20, gram calorie-IT, gram calorie-mean, gram calories (mean), gram calorie-th, grand calorie, grand calorie-15, grand calorie-20, grand calorie-IT, grand calorie-mean, grand calorie-th, hartree, Hartree energy, horsepower hours, horsepower hours (metric), inch pound force, Kayser, kcal, kcal-15, kcal-20, kcal-mean, kcal-th, kgfm, kilocalorie, kilocalorie (16 C), kilocalorie (4 C), kilocalorie (int.), kilocalorie-15, kilocalorie-20, kilocalorie-IT, kilocalorie-mean, kilocalorie-th, kiloelectronvolt, kilogram calorie, kilogram calorie-15, kilogram calorie-20, kilogram calorie-IT, kilogram calorie-mean, kilogram calories (int.), kilogram calorie-th, kilogram force metre, kiloton TNT equivalent, kilowatt hour, kilowatt hour, kilowatt minute, kilowatt second, kWh, large calorie, large calorie-15, large calorie-20, large calorie-IT, large calorie (mean), large calorie-th, Latm, latm, litre atmosphere, major calorie, major calorie-15, major calorie-20, major calorie-IT, major calorie-mean, major calorie-th, megaelectronvolt, megaton TNT equivalent, megawatt hours, metric ton oil, metric ton TNT, metric ton coal, micri-erg, natural unit of energy, newton metre, petit calorie, petit calorie-15, petit calorie-20, petit calorie-IT, petit calorie-mean, petit calorie-th, Q unit, quad, quadrillion, Rydberg, small calorie, small calorie-15, small calorie-20, small calorie-IT, small calorie-mean, small calorie-th, therm, therm (EC), therm (EU), therm (UK), therm (US), thermie (16 C), ton coal equivalent, ton oil equivalent, ton TNT equivalent, tonne coal equivalent, tonne oil equivalent, tonne TNT equivalent, watt hour, watt minute, and watt second.

Notice how words like 'British thermal unit' and 'calorie' have different naming conventions in different places and they also vary in definition according to the ambient temperature. By the way, these 199 energy words require 39 402 conversion factors if they are to be fully understood by our political leaders.

3 Oddities

Michael Quinion, in 'World Wide Words', has finally put the matter of the origin of the word 'degrees Twaddell' to rest with this article from his weekly newsletter.

I SAY TWADDLE, YOU SAY TWADDELL ... My research skills escaped me last week in trying to discover something about degrees Twaddle. Crawford MacKeand and Joe Cunningham tell me that the inventor of the scale was William Twaddell, an instrument maker of Glasgow in the early nineteenth century. The National Museum of Scotland's Web site (http://wwwords.org?TWHY) has a picture of a set of six of his graded hydrometers. He made them to estimate the specific gravity of various liquids (the NMS caption specifically mentions spirit proofing, which presumably means the famous Glasgow whisky), though his scale was later used in many other industries. The Dictionary of National Biography doesn't mention him, though the scale named after him has an entry in the Oxford English Dictionary. He is so little known that at least one maker currently sells hydrometers engraved with the "Twaddle" scale. The many people who spell the name wrong may be forgiven, however, since all three citations for the OED's entry, dated between 1853 and 1873, spell it "Twaddle", as do most of the earlier ones that I've now found. In 1825, The Repertory of Patent Inventions said of the device, "It was first constructed by a poor tippling glass-blower in Glasgow, whose name was Twaddle. Hence it is called Twaddle's hydrometer." Might it be that William Twaddell's obscurity lies in part in his imbibing too much of the product he was testing?

If you are interested in words and their origins, you can subscribe to Michael Quinion's 'World Wide Words' maillist at: http://www.worldwidewords.org/maillist/index.htm

4 Tips

Behavioural scientists have established that most of us can only absorb between 3-9 new pieces of information at a time. I suspect that if new information is not related to one of our dominant 'styles of intelligence', we go into overload at the lower end of the 3-9 scale.

If you are involved with metrication leadership where you have (or have taken) responsibility for leading others on the metrication path, you should be aware that we all have different tolerance levels for absorbing new material, according to which 'styles of intelligence' that we each use predominately. (Check out Howard Gardner's seven styles of intelligence: linguistic/words, logical/mathematical, musical, kinaesthetic, spatial, interpersonal/relationships, intrapersonal/self.)

5 Signs of the times

Michael Payne, of Virginia USA, has a new Blackberry device and he has downloaded Google maps on to it. When Mike started the software it was in all metric units and this delighted Mike who wrote,

No other unit is given and I did not choose metric in this case. The longer you wait, the more accurate the position gets. Really an amazing bit of technology. I'm going to get a bluetooth GPS receiver and then I'll have a moving map display wherever I am, and very accurate map position!

Mike then concluded,

Isn't technology wonderful!

Nat Hager III from Pennsylvania USA wrote to the USMA maillist (http://lamar.colostate.edu/~hillger/listserv.htm ) to say:

(At Lowe's) There was a section on kitchen trashcans, with about 15 models on display with volumes anywhere from 20 L to 50 L. Remarkably, about 10 of them had the size rated on the shelf display *IN LITERS*, including one that said 10 gal / 38 liters on the box.

Whoever made the shelf tags must have had an epiphany that using the same consistent unit for all sizes made comparisons easier.

6 Quotation

Change is the law of life, and those who look only to the past or present, are certain to miss the future. John F. Kennedy

7 Q&A


Does the carbon dioxide in fizzy drinks add to the greenhouse effect, global warming, and climate change?


This answer is from Robert L. Wolke's book, What Einstein Told His Cook.


Does belching contribute to global warming?

Don't laugh. That's a good question. So good, in fact, that I thought of it myself when I learned that 15 billion gallons of carbonated soft drinks and 6 billion gallons of beer were consumed in 1999 in the United States. And what do you suppose happened to all the carbon dioxide in those beverages? It was ultimately released into the atmosphere by respiration and eructation breathing and belching, to be plain-spoken about it.

On the traditional back of an envelope (scientists collect old envelopes for this purpose), I quickly calculated that 1.4 billion gallons of American beer and soda would contain about 800 000 tons of carbon dioxide. Wow! I thought, that's one helluva collective burp. And that's not even considering the chorus of harmonizing eructations from around the globe.

However, Robert L Wolcke concluded:

According to the Department of Energy's figures for 1999, the last figures available at this writing, 800 000 tons of beverage inspired carbon dioxide emissions amounts to 0.04 percent of the amount of carbon dioxide that was belched into the American atmosphere by gasoline and diesel burning vehicles. Our guzzling of carbonated beverages, then, is a mere burp in the bucket compared with our guzzling of gasoline.

So by all means keep on drinking. But don't drive.

8 Rule of thumb

Homing pigeons that are used for racing can typically fly 1000 kilometres in 10 hours at an average speed of 100 kilometres per hour.

9 History

On 2007 August 9 the 'America COMPETES Act' was passed to update the tables of units to reflect changes in the International System of Units (SI). This updated the Metric Act of 1866 (enacted on 1866 July 28) that legally recognised the use of the metric system in the USA when it said:

It shall be lawful throughout the United States of America to employ the weights and measures of the metric system; and no contract or dealing, or pleading in any court, shall be deemed invalid or liable to objection because the weights or measures expressed or referred to therein are weights or measures of the metric system.

This part of the Metric Act of 1866 hasn't changed so this is still the law of the USA.

10 Hidden metric

An Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) News story was about a brown bear from Iran that was adopted by the Polish Army. In the full story at: http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2008/01/27/2147412.htm the bear is described as being 1.8 metres and 113 kilograms. However, when the Washington Post ran the same story at: http://blog.washingtonpost.com/offbeat/2008/01/voytek_the_soldier_bear_of_pol_1.html they chose to remove any references to metres and kilograms presumably to protect the good citizens of the USA from the 'foreign' influences (that were positively supported by George Washington and Thomas Jefferson in the 1790s. For details of the contributions made by these forward looking politicians, search for Jefferson or Washington at: /docs/MetricationTimeline.pdf )

Most other sources for this story (and there are many as it's a great story) chose to use rather clumsy constructions like:

Voytek, a 113-kilogram, 1,8-metre (249-pound, nearly six feet) brown bear, was adopted by the Poles after they found it in Iran in 1943. ...


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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