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Metrication matters - Number 62 - 2008-07-10

Dear Subscriber,

You can read all previous issues at /newsletter when you scroll own to the bottom of that page. You can also check for other developments in metrication at the metrication matters web page 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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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

Quinton Wilson from Alaska, USA wrote:

Greetings from Alaska,

I work in a major retail chain's electronics department, and have noticed that recently, all 32" televisions that we receive are labeled and displayed as "32-inch Class" units. Upon further inspection, I found that one of the boxes (a Sony model) put 31.5" in small print under the large 32" on the side of the box. Multiplying this by 25.4, we get 800 mm!

Later on (possibly several days later), a woman wanted to know how large the box for the 40" Sony model is (same TV as before, but bigger). I found that the box was built in equal metric measures as well, and although I don't remember the exact measures, they were something like 1200 mm x 750 mm.

Regards, Quinton

Richard Messer, from Jacksonville, Florida wrote to correct me on the minting date of the dollar coin in the USA. Richard wrote:


You stated: "The dollar coin in the USA has a mass of exactly 8.1 grams, a diameter of exactly 26.5 mm, and a thickness of exactly 2 mm. It has been minted since 2007 but few people in the USA know about its metric dimensions."

The above information is not completely correct. The year is incorrect. The current 'golden dollar' composition actually started with the dollar coins minted in 2000.

Richard then wrote a short history of dollar coins in the USA. I appreciated this, as I did not know about the minting dates of the Susan B. Anthony dollars. Thank you Richard.

Michael G. Koerner also contributed to the dollar coin discussion by writing:

Actually, the USA $1 coin has been made under its current dimensions since 1979, Regards, Michael G. Koerner

Michael V Worstall, a Chartered Electrical Engineer, was kind enough to point out an error in the Rule of thumb in Metrication Matters 61 — (he called it a howler and I can see why!). Michael wrote:

Penultimate sentence currently reads:

Note that this is equivalent to one can of beer per week for women and one and a half cans of beer for men.

Penultimate sentence should read:

Note that this is equivalent to one can of beer per day for women and one and a half cans of beer for men.

Regards ... Michael

2 Editorial

A few days ago, a friend in the USA passed on to me a set of questions that a group of scientists and engineers had put together to ask of candidates during the USA Presidential campaign later this year.

As I read the questions I was struck with the thought that none of them referred to measurement issues in the USA at all. This was so astounding that I wrote a letter to the United States Metric Association expressing my concern. I concluded with a question of my own.

Not fully adopting the metric system with respect to innovation, climate change, energy, education, water, research, and health is costing the USA a great deal of time, money, and international opportunities. What is your estimate of the cost to the USA of these losses internationally, and what is your estimate of the cost of supporting both old-pre metric measures and metric units inside the USA?

I have now rewritten this letter as an article and placed it on the metrication matters web site. You can go to /articles where it is near the top or download the article directly from: /docs/AMetricationElephant.pdf

3 Oddities

It's no wonder that there is confusion about the greenhouse effect, global warming, and climate change when the Times on Line in the UK is able to write:

The closest that LS9 has come to mass production is a 1,000-litre fermenting machine, which looks like a large stainless-steel jar, next to a wardrobe-sized computer connected by a tangle of cables and tubes. It has not yet been plugged in. The machine produces the equivalent of one barrel a week and takes up 40 sq ft of floor space.

However, to substitute America’s weekly oil consumption of 143 million barrels, you would need a facility that covered about 205 square miles, an area roughly the size of Chicago.

Observe the muddle: litre, wardrobe-sized, barrel, sq ft, square miles, and the size of Chicago.

See: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/environment/article4133668.ece for all the befuddling details. And see the article A word about global warming at /docs/AWordAboutGlobalWarming.pdf to see a simple metric system solution to the befuddling problem.

4 Tips

Now is the time to be planning your Metric Week activities. Each year, the United States Metric Association declares the week containing 10 October (the tenth day of the tenth month) as 'National Metric Week' (See http://lamar.colostate.edu/~hillger/metric-week.html for details).

Perhaps you might like to consider placing posters like this on notice boards around where you work: /docs/SIMetricUnitsVsUSAMeasures.pdf

As a gift for your friends and to remind them of 'National Metric Week' you might like to pass along this one minute YouTube reference: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CeyGEwjLPGw

5 Signs of the times

Jon Saxton reported to the USMA mail list that he had seen a sign on Goat Island that gave the flow over Niagara Falls as 75000 gallons or 283 906 liters per second. This was in response to Bill Hooper's report from an astronomy magazine where an observer was at 'an elevation of nearly 5000 feet (1,524 meters)'. Han Maenen from the Netherlands added:

You could try to get to those who placed that sign on Goat Island and ask them to make it 75 000 gallons/300 000 litres per second.

Overly precise conversions are also a weapon of the anti-metric brigade. They appear again and again in those 'funny' anti-metric articles. In the beginning of the twentieth century (I think it was 1904) a metric bill was before the British Parliament. Lloyd Gorge scuppered the bill with this statement: "Do you expect the British working man to go into a pub and ask for 0.568 litres of beer?" This balderdash, spouted by an innumerate and ignorant politician, was enough to delay British metrication for more than 100 years and counting.

6 Quotation

Recently my wife, Wendy Pomroy, was reading What Einstein Told His Cook — Kitchen Science Explained with recipes by Robert L Wolke (W. W. Norton, New York London 2002) when she came upon a section called Measure for Measure on page 292. This section began like this:


Why do we have different measuring cups for wet and dry ingredients? A cup of sugar is the same volume as a cup of milk, isn't it?

That depends on what your definition of "is" is.

A cup is indeed a cup throughout the land, eight U.S. fluid ounces, whether wet or dry. But you may be wondering: If a fluid ounce is a measure of fluids, how come we use it also to measure flour and other dry solids? And what's the difference between an ounce of volume and an ounce of weight?

The confusion stems from our antiquated American system of measurements. Here's what we were supposed to have learned in school (pay attention now, and follow the bouncing ounce): A U.S. fluid ounce is an amount of volume or bulk and is to be distinguished from a British fluid ounce, which is a different amount of volume, both of which are to be distinguished from an avoirdupois ounce, which is not an amount of volume at all but an amount of weight and is to be distinguished from a troy ounce, which is a different amount of weight and is not to be distinguished from an apothecary's ounce, which is exactly the same as a troy ounce except in February, which has 28. Is that perfectly clear?

Now if that isn't an argument for the International System of Measurement, known throughout the world as the SI, for Système International in French and to us as the Metric System, I don't know what is. In the SI, weight is always in kilograms and volume is always in liters. In the entire world, the United States is the only nation still using what used to be called the British system of measurement until even the British abandoned it and went metric.

Robert L Wolke concludes this section by writing:

(Or am I being too pessimistic? After all, it's been only twenty-seven years since Congress passed a law requiring metric conversion, and already Coke and Pepsi come in two-liter bottles.)

The ultimate answer to accuracy and reproducibility in the kitchen is quite simple, but except for professional bakers and other chefs, we Americans just won't do it: Instead of measuring solid ingredients by volume, such as by tablespoons and cups, weigh them: that's what most cooks in the rest of the world do. In metric units, for example, one hundred grams of sugar is always the same amount of sugar, no matter whether it's granulated or powdered or what kind of container you put it in. For liquids, there's only one metric unit: the milliliter or its multiple, the liter (one thousand milliliters). No cups, pints, quarts, or gallons to fuss with.

Quick: How many cups in half a gallon? See what I mean?

Wendy and I both highly recommend Robert L Wolke's book. As you know we have written previously on the subject of Metric cooking with confidence at: /docs/MetricCookingWithConfidence.pdf

7 Q&A

This month I have a question without an answer. Perhaps someone in the USA can help Hans Colla, an Australian who comes from my home town.


Dear Pat

Recently when the American mission was about to land on Mars, the controller called out: 200 metres to go, 100 metres, 75 metres etc, etc until the gadget landed at zero metres. I then realised the Americans were actually using metrics publicly. So is NASA fully metric? Is US industry fully metric? Is the American public totally ignorant of metrics? Did they understand when the comptroller called out the remaining distances to the Mars surface in metres?

Hans Colla, Geelong, Australia

8 Rule of thumb

The normal height range of adult males is from about 1.5 metres to 2.0 metres with an average of about 1.75 metres.

The normal height range of adult females is from about 1.45 metres to 1.85 metres with an average of about 1.65 metres.

9 History

This odd letter came from Wilson Velloso in Brazzil (http://www.brazzil.com/p35mar02.htm ). The measurement parts start from this sentence about half way down:

Why did Americans—who got rid of the British in 1776, got rid of the King, of His Majesty's Redcoats, and of the ancient pound-shilling-pence currency, adopted a Constitution that is a marvelous political document—preserve to this day the most illogical, unscientific, truly lunatic collection of measures the world ever used? It's is a phenomenon that defies a clearly explanation.

Thanks to Nat Hager III for passing on this reference.

10 Hidden metric

The NBC TV Today Show (2008 July 1) in the USA reported on a new milk jug that has been designed to reduce the cost of a gallon (roughly 3.8 litres) of milk by about twenty cents because transportation costs could be reduced by the more efficient shape. The new milk jug was shown, but no mention was made of the fact that the new jug was designed to hold 4 litres rather than four quarts (3.8 litres). The milk companies will underfill these containers with 4 quarts (3.8 litres) of milk until the USA decides to openly adopt the metric system, then they will fill them with 4 litres! Thanks to Stan Doore from Maryland, USA for this report.


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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