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Metrication matters - Number 63 - 2008-08-10

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.

Help a friend if you know somebody else who can benefit from this newsletter, please forward this newsletter to them and suggest that they subscribe. If a friend passed on this newsletter to you, please suggest that they check the details of the free subscription at the end of this newsletter.


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

Jose Luis Barajas wrote to say:

After reading in the last newsletter about hidden millimetric sizes of screens I dug a little. In my linux laptop the command: xdpyinfo | grep dim gave the dimensions as dimensions:1280x800 pixels (332x212 millimeters).

It shows the dimensions of the screen in pixels and millimetres!! I verified this with my metric tape.

It's good to know that my '15.4 inch' laptop is in reality 332 mm x 212 mm.

I really want to see screen sizes advertized in mm. This way, customers could know the real dimensions of screens.

Jose Luis Barajas


Edgar Warf wrote:

Hello, Pat!

First, let me say that I greatly enjoy the newsletter. Many thanks to you and all contributors. It's a great service you provide - especially for those of us here in the USA who desire to see metrication take hold with a vengeance.

Edgar Warf


Dear All,

I hope that you are benefiting from the Metrication matters newsletter and that the metrication information is useful. If the newsletter is helpful to you could you please reply with a few words to let me know how you use the metrication information? I will look forward to receiving your comments as I continue to gather more metrication ideas from all around the world.

Pat Naughtin

2 Editorial

You don't have to have slow metrication. Metrication can be fast, smooth, and so economical that you can make additional profits following the metrication process.

The methods to use for fast metrication have been demonstrated time and time again in many places in the world. I have described the various paths to metrication in the article 'Approaches to metrication' that you will find at /docs/ApproachesToMetrication.pdf

Essentially, the techniques you need to go slowly toward metrication can be summarised as:

1 Encourage the idea and practice of metric conversion.

2 Use a mix of fractions (both common or vulgar and decimal fractions) rather than using the metric prefixes to favor whole numbers.

3 Don't establish a metrication policy for your self, your family, your work group, your company, your industry. or your nation. Use complex amounts such as 227 grams instead of 200 grams or 150 grams so that people will have difficulty comparing prices using unit pricing techniques.

4 Where possible build a choice into your metrication policy such as baby mass can be either grams or kilograms or human height can be in millimetres, centimetres, or metres. The argument 'but don't they know they just have to move the decimal point' doesn't cut it in a world where many people are essentially innumerate.

5 Encourage the idea that the metric system is foreign (deny that the metric system was invented in England and that the decimal nature of the metric system was in large part driven by Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington)

6 Encourage the use of centimetres – although these are a legal part of the initial (1790s) metric system, these have always been shown to slow metrication processes dramatically.

7 Encourage the use of 'hidden metric'. Develop processes to lie about when you actually use the metric system because of it ease of use and accuracy. Don't tell anyone. Develop a veneer of untruths to communicate with the public. Use the motor industry, the computer industry, and NASA as your examples.

8 Dumb down metric measures whenever and wherever you can. If someone asks, 'What's that in pounds?' or How tall is he in the old feet and inches measures?' do the calculation and then tell them the dumbed down conversion so that they can maintain their silly mind-set for another generation (or two if they pass on this silliness to their children).

9 Don't give rules of thumb such as 'your little finger is about 10 millimetres across if you are female and the fingernail is about 10 millimetres across if you are male'.

10 Don't ever let anyone know that most companies, industries, and nations save money from the metrication process. Maintain the lie that metrication costs money.

These are not in any order, they are just the first 10 that came to mind when I thought about the slowness of metrication in some parts of the world. You will find supporting articles on most of these issues at /articles/ where probably the most important are:





3 Oddities

Howard Ressel, from New York, reports that the newest Batman DVD, Gotham Knight, uses metric units in several places.

The displays on the Batman's computer/car are metric and in a conversation between Batman and a police officer about a sniper who is hunting people in Gotham, the officer says, 'They say he can target from 2000 meters.' Howard goes on to say 'It says this both in the subtitles and on the audio track.

I have also heard that, if you dig deep enough into the special features of The Incredibles' DVD, you will find that Elastigirl's maximum stretch distance is given as 30 metres.

4 Tips

Each year, the week containing 10 October (the tenth day of the tenth month) is called 'National Metric Week' by the United States Metric Association (See http://lamar.colostate.edu/~hillger/metric-week.html for details).

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

Apparently its quite common for trucks to get stuck under bridges in the UK because many truck drivers do not understand how to dumb down the heights of their trucks from metres to the old pre-metric feet and inches when they drive from Europe to the UK. Here is a dramatic example: http://www.expressandstar.com/2008/06/18/metric-signs-call-after-crash/

6 Quotation

You can't make what you can't measure because you don't know when you've got it made. Dr. Irving Gardner

7 Q&A

Edgar Warf, from California, followed up on last month's Q&A by writing:

Dear Pat,

Following our previous correspondence, regarding Mr. Hans Colla's question to you, I thought you might be interested to see this report highlighting the agency's assessment of the metric system following the disastrous Mars Climate Observer mission. See the full story at http://oig.nasa.gov/old/inspections_assessments/g-00-021.pdf It's a bit dated (2001), but highlights just how bad things can go when two systems of units are used. The increased chances for introducing calculation errors into engineered systems is enormous. This assessment drove the final nail in the coffin for U.S. Customary units within NASA.

Best regards,

Edgar Warf

8 Rule of thumb

Over the next few weeks we have an ideal opportunity to record some good rules of thumb such as:

It takes about 10 seconds to run 100 metres

It takes about 20 seconds to run 200 metres, and

It takes about 40 seconds to run 400 metres.

9 History

Colonial measures all around the world are now obsolete. But a lot of people spend (waste) time trying to work out the 'systems' that operated in the past. However the problem is there were no systems; old measures were randomly cobbled together without any thought for an overarching system to tie the ideas together. Although there were partial systemic methods such as the kitchen series: half, quarter, eighth, sixteenth and so on, these did not work well with the 12s and 20s currencies for example. One feature of old measures is that they have abbreviations and not the symbols used in the metric system; sometimes these are not even from the same language lb for pounds and oz for ounces are examples.

10 Hidden metric

Stan Doore tells me that he U.S. Weather Bureau has used the yyyymmdd for archiving weather data since the 1890s when the Hollerith punched card was invented for automatic tallying of weather data for climatology purposes. This application of an international standard does not seem obvious in their daily weather reports.


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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