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Metrication matters - Number 60 - 2008-05-10

Metrication matters newsletter is now up to number 60. You can read previous issues at /newsletter by scrolling to the bottom of the page. The Metrication matters web page is of similar vintage — you can check its current look at http://www.metrictionmatters.com.htm

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

Harry Wyeth wrote to comment on my idea for a NaughtinDEX for assessing your body mass:

My feeling is that (your) short rule is not accurate. I am 1.76 m high and weigh 69 kg. Because I am a runner I am admittedly somewhat thin. But I know that if I weighed 80 kg I would look and feel, well, fat. ... Cheers,

And Bill Hooper, from Florida, critically assessed the idea for a NaughtinDEX so constructively that I can now reformulate the NaughtinDEX as:

1 Think of your height in metres (say) 1.83 metres.
2 Remove the number '1' and the decimal point '.'

You could think of this as your: NaughtinDEX

3 This gives you a figure for your maximum body mass in kilograms; in this example it is 83 kilograms.
4 Evaluate your ideal body mass as about 10 % less than your NaughtinDEX.
In this case it would be about 75 kilograms (83 kg — 8.3 kg = 74.7 kg say 75 kg).

2 Editorial

The more I think about the history of honest and open measurements the more I am inclined to the views of Simon Stevin (in 1585) when he tried to rid the world of vulgar or common fractions by replacing them with decimal fractions. In hindsight he was highly successful. Decimal numbers, especially as decimal currencies and as measurements using metric units, now surround us all day every day, and we have a much diminished need for old style common fractions such as twelfths and twentieths.

But Simon Stevin did not have one advantage that is now available to us — the opportunity to do away with fractions altogether. That is to rid the world of decimal fractions as well as vulgar or common fractions.

To do this we need to use the metric system range of prefixes in such a way that the numbers we use become simple whole numbers such as 3567 grams rather than whole numbers with a decimal fraction component such as 3.567 kilograms.

Take, as an example, the birth mass of babies using these same numbers. These could be expressed either as grams or as kilograms. Suppose that a baby’s birth mass is 3567 grams, which is about average. This can be expressed as 3567 grams or as 3.567 kilograms.

Which is best?

To me the choice of grams makes obvious good sense because it is more accurate, more precise, and you can see at a glance whether a baby is gaining or losing body mass without need for a conversion by 'sliding the decimal point'. Perhaps a hospital policy would read:

This hospital records the body mass of all patients in grams if they are less than or equal to 20 kilograms. For patients above that figure we record their body mass in whole kilograms without a decimal fraction.

See the article, 'A whole number rule for the metric system' at /docs/WholeNumberRule.pdf This is a short (2 page) article that recommends that you remove all fractions from all of your measurements and from all of your measurement calculations and it shows you how to do this by recommending that you choose metric prefixes in such a way that fractions simply become unnecessary.

3 Oddities

The amateur team, who play at Balmoral Castle and whose patron is Prince Philip, thought that they had suffered a mysterious loss of form after decades in the top divisions of the Aberdeenshire Cricket Association league. Much to the frustration of the batsmen, they only managed to win two home games all season and when they played away, they invariably overpitched when bowling.

However it has emerged that bad bowling was not solely to blame. Their disastrous season was instead the result of a metric muddle by the Queen's groundsmen that meant the team unknowingly played all summer on a wicket that was 2 metres too long.

Metropolitan Police officers, on duty at Balmoral to guard the Queen during her summer visit, offered to act as independent adjudicators. They confirmed that the wicket was indeed 22 metres, instead of the official metric standard cricket pitch of 20.12 metres (that was based on the old pre-metric 22 yards).

4 Tips

Measure the width of your forefinger, then your second finger, and then your ring finger. For me these are all quite close to 20 millimetres. They are near enough for quite good approximations. For example, when I wanted to show the depth of 40 millimetres of rain recently, I simply used my forefinger and my longest finger (placed horizontally, rather than vertically, so as not to offend!).

5 Signs of the times

Nat Hager III, from Pennsylvania, wrote to the United States Metric Association list server to report that in future children in the USA will have their body mass recorded in kilograms when they are admitted to a hospital. See http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/04/11/AR2008041102439_pf.html for more details.

6 Quotation

Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International, appeared on NBC's Today show to promote his book The Post-American World. During the interview he depicted the United States as a nation in decline. Here is part of what Zakaria said on the Today show:

... People are sensing something is going on around the world. And for the first time, they feel as though the changes in the world are not being directed from here but in foreign lands by foreign people. I think they're right, but what we need to understand is we can still be at the center of this new world.

... We have to adjust. First of all, it's a much more competitive world. We have to be benchmarking. We have to be asking ourselves, what's going on? Give you simple example. Meredith there are three countries in the world that have not adopted the metric system: Myanmar, Liberia, and the United States. So we look around the world and "We say, that's okay. Those standards are for you. We're special, we're different." And what I'm saying is that era of kind of "American exceptionalism" is over.

The bold emphasis is not mine. It occurred in the source of this quotation at http://newsbusters.org/blogs/geoffrey-dickens/2008/05/05/newsweek-editor-declares-era-american-exceptionalism-over

7 Q&A


What's that in inches? What's that in feet? What's that in old money? What's that in English?


Each of these questions is asking you to do a numerical conversion. The questioners probably think they are asking for a metric conversion but they are really asking for an anti-metric conversion from a metric unit into one or other of the old pre-metric measures that probably has a dubious definition and an even more dubious history. My response to the questions about inches or feet is usually something like: Which inch? or Which feet?

Anti-metric conversion seems to me to be much more common than metric conversion which seems to be relatively rare. When you search for the words "metric conversion" on the internet; almost all of the "metric conversion" web sites you find will be focused on anti-metric conversions form metric units back to old pre-metric measures.

For a different perspective on the metric conversion issue go to our 'Metric conversion' page or download our metric conversion article at: /docs/MetricConversion.pdf

8 Rule of thumb

Whatever your thoughts on the correct unit for fuel consumption of a vehicle, the number 10 is a good one to remember. 10 litres per 100 kilometres (10 L/100km) is the same as 10 kilometres per litre (10 km/L) and this level of fuel consumption is about average for a moderately sized four door family car.

9 History

I came across this question recently and thought that I would share it with Metrication matters readers.

How many times does 6s 4d divide into £123 9s 9d and what is the remainder?

By the way, I have no intention of providing a correct answer — you are on your own!

10 Hidden metric

Delta Air Lines is planning to merge with Northwest Airlines to create the world's largest airline. Describing this merger, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote:

Traffic is the gold standard airlines use to compare the size of their operations. It's measured in 'revenue passenger-miles' or as in these figures, 'revenue passenger-kilometers'.

It appears that when the two airlines compare air flight statistics internationally they do so using the metric system as they defined passenger-kilometers as:
a unit equal to one paying passenger flown one kilometer, for example, a plane with 100 passengers that flies 1,000 kilometers would produce 100,000 revenue passenger-kilometers.

Now if only they could use the international spelling of kilometres ... !


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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