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Metrication matters - Number 65 - 2008-10-10

Today is celebrated as National Metric Day in the USA as today is the tenth day of the tenth month of the year. Both the United States Metric Association (USMA) and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) support special metric activities during the week that contains the 10th of the 10th. (There are details below.)

This Metrication matters newsletter is number 65. You can read all previous issues at /newsletter if you scroll own to the bottom of the page. The Metrication matters web page is also of the same 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.

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 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

Bob Livingstone wrote:

Dear Pat,
Thanks for your newsletter which turned up in response to a www inquiry about the 'Enfield inch' at /mm-newsletter-2005-05.html . As an ex-toolmaking apprentice at the Small Arms Factory in Lithgow the 1/10 of 1000/of one inch errors in the 1912-14 Lee Enfield rifles had always been put down to poor British engineering, but now I know better.
Thanks Again, Bob

Mike Gaston, from New Jersey, wrote to help with the non-breaking space that is useful between a number and its unit (like 8 m/s) or between groups of three zeroes in a large number (like 3 000 000). Mike wrote:

As info, the keyboard shortcut for a non-breaking space in Microsoft Word for Windows is Ctrl-Shift-Space.

Thanks Mike, the same effect can be obtained with Option-spacebar on my Macintosh.

Kate Gladstone, from New York, sent Metrication matters an original song based on the tune: 'The Rambling Wreck from Georgia Tech'. As this was the first song ever received by Metrication matters we will print the first verse and the chorus.

by Kate Gladstone (copyright 2008)

There's a Rambling Wreck that took effect in old historic days,
Called "Customary Units" – and it hasn't much to praise.
We're the sole industrial nation where it's lurching on somehow,
Since ninety-five percent of Earth is metricated now.

Let's join the rest of humankind in liter, meter, gram --
Leave customary measures to the past of Uncle Sam --
Americans are meant to climb, not cling to things of yore,
Nor labor under weights that burden other folks no more.

You could request the rest of this song from Kate Gladstone through her web site at: http://www.HandwritingThatWorks.com

Remek Kocz, from New York, shared this item with the United States Metric Association mail list:

I've seen the show only once, but Hell's Kitchen is one of those Survivor-like reality programs where aspiring chefs compete under the oversight of a short tempered British chef, Gordon Ramsay. The following little quote in the fall 2008 edition of the Buffalo Magazine is from one of the contestants:

Question: Do you think this experience has made you a better chef?
Answer: It made me a better chef and a better businessman. Now when food hits the table, I know it has to be correct every single time ... served right every single time. It also taught me to use the metric system, which is what Gordon uses in the kitchen. It taught me to be a better manager of food."

Martin Vliestra, from London, responded by commenting:
Moral of the tale is if you want to get ahead, use metric!!!"

Martin then added:
Delia Smith's newest cookbook 'Delia's How to Cheat at Cooking' is all in metric units!

2 Editorial

The Olympic Games is now over and all of the television coverage was generally presented in metric units in all nations except in the USA where the media continued their practice of dumbing down many of the measurements for the citizens of the USA. I think that the USA is the only country where the media dumbed down the Olympic results wherever they could.

One example I received from a friend in the USA referred to a shot put event where the shot landed near the 19 metre marker but this was then reported in feet and inches.

It must be hard for sports announcers from the USA to do inch-pound conversions at the speed they have to do their commentary when all of the signs for mass and distance are all clearly shown in kilograms and metres. The only reference to old measures that I noticed in Australian reports was in the basketball where some commentators referred to the heights of players using feet and inches. This was quite odd until I recalled that almost all of the Australian basketball team spend their off-seasons playing College or professional basketball in the USA where, it seems, they pick up the old ways of speaking from the local players.

3 Oddities

Cabinetmakers in the UK have standardised on a 600 millimetre module so that their kitchen or bathroom components will fit neatly together. But so that their clients don't know that they are using metric units they often talk in metric feet that they know are exactly 300 millimetres in length. To their clients (mostly women) they then change the length of a metric foot to 30 centimetres.

Notice the spelling of millimetre in the UK. This spelling of metre and its multiples and sub-multiples is used in all English-speaking nations except the USA. In the USA the spelling, meter, has been used since Noah Webster promoted that spelling in 1828. You can find an article about this issue, Spelling metre or meter, at: /articles.html or you could go directly to the article at: /docs/Spelling_metre_or_meter.pdf

4 Tips pointers and methods to make your measurements easier.

Look at a map of the USA; the continental USA averages about 4 megametres wide by 2 megametres North to South, so it has an area of about 8 square megametres (7.827 620 square megametres to be precise).

You can compare this with a map of Australia. The continental USA is approximately the same size as Australia, which is also about 4 Mm by 2 Mm or about 8 square megametres (7.686 849 square megametres to be precise).

No doubt, the plans you made for 'National Metric Week' have been successful. If you don't know about this, the week containing 10 October (the tenth day of the tenth month) is called 'National Metric Week' by the United States Metric Association (USMA) and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). You will find more details at http://lamar.colostate.edu/~hillger/metric-week.html so you can plan for next year.

If you are running late for this, you could think about placing some posters on notice boards where you study or work. Here are some that you might like to download, print, and post during the rest of 'National Metric Week' in the USA.

For a general purpose notice board think about:
/docs/degreesCelsiusPoster.pdf or
/docs/NationalMetricDay.pdf and

Or if you work in a scientific or engineering environment you might like:

5 Signs of the times

About a year ago, I searched for several metric terms on Google. I entered the terms as a single word, or if there were two words, I added double quote marks. Here are the results with new figures from a few weeks ago.

"metric system" returned 540 000 hits last year and 1 450 000 last month (up 169%); and
metrication returned 50 200 hits last year and 128 000 hits last month (up 154%).
"metric conversion" returned 722 000 hits last year and 568 000 hits last month (down 21%);

I don't know what these figures mean. Comments, anyone?

Jim Frysinger, from Tennessee, reports:
With a bit over 2 minutes left in the third quarter and just after a reviewed call on a possible safety, the ball was placed 'one millimeter from the goal line', according to the lead announcer on the ESPN broadcast.
That's my first observation of metric units being used in American football. Yep, she said 'one millimeter'.

Ezra Steinberg, from Washington, wrote:
I was waiting for my barber shop to open yesterday when I noticed in the window of the beauty salon next door an advertisement for 1 L bottles of some kind of hair product. I looked more closely in the window and saw that ALL of the bottles (regardless of brand) were packaged in rational metric volumes (250 mL, 500 mL, and 1 L).
The floozie amount was listed first followed by a slash followed by the metric amount. And the advertisment made no mention of the floozies.
Quite the unintended discovery on my part. I'm quite certain passage of the amended FPLA will free these manufacturers from mentioning floozies at all on their bottles in the future.

6 Quotation

People who think they can change the world, usually do.
Steve Jobs

7 Q&A


Recently, I sheltered from some rain in a paper store and amused myself by making a note of the various ways that paper makers referred to the quality of their paper. Here is what I wrote:
100gsm, 90GSM, GSM: 110 Grain:, 150GSM, 80GSM, 80GSM, 80 gsm, GSM: 140, GSM: 140 Grains:, 90 GSM, 80 g/m2, 80g/m2, 80g/m2, GSM: 200, 200 G.S.M, GSM: 80, 110 GSM, 100 Gm2, GSM: 150 Grain:, no data, no data, 80 gsm, 110 GSM, Brandname 80, Brandname 80, 80 gsm, GSM: 80 Grains:, GSM: 150 Grains:, Gsm 90, 80GSM, 80 g/m2, GSM: 80, 80 gsm, 80 gsm, 80gsm, 80 g/m2, GSM: 80, 80gsm, 80 g/m2, 115 g/m2, 90 g/m2, 80GSM, 80 GSM, 80 GSM, 80gsm, 80 GSM, 100 GSM, 80 g/m2, 80gsm, 80 g/m2, 80 grs/m, 80GSM, 70gsm, 80 g.s.m, 70g.s.m., 80 G.S.M, 90GSM, 90 gr/m2, 90 gr/m2, GSM (without a number), 80gsm, 80GSM, GM2, and 80 g/m2.

My question is, 'Which one of these is correct?


None of them!

The correct metric unit for the mass of paper divided by its area is grams per square metre. I can't show you the correct SI metric symbol in this newsletter because it is g/m2 where the 2 is slightly raised (I will use g/m^2 instead with the ^ mark to show that the 2 should be raised) The symbol for this unit is g/m^2 where the g is the mass in grams, and the m with the little raised 2 is the symbol for square metre.

8 Rule of thumb

This is more a rule of your little finger nail if you are male this is 10 millimetres on average and a rule of little finger if you are female this is 10 millimetres on average.

As your asparagus harvest season varies from year-to-year according to the air temperature, you can know when to stop harvesting by using your little finger. You stop picking the spears when their diameter drops to below 10 millimetres and you can measure this with your little finger.

9 History

Philosophers in ancient India believed that the speed of light could be measured. The 14th century scholar Sayana wrote in a comment on verse 1.50 of the Rig Veda:

Thus it is remembered: O Sun, you who traverse 2202 yojanas in half a nimesa.

Sayana's speed of light works out (on one set of assumptions about yojanas and nimesas) to 299 648 km/s compared to a modern value of the speed of light at the speed of light at 299 792 km/s. Sayana's statement comes very close to the actual speed of light, and has been called one of the most astonishing 'blind hits' in the history of science.

10 Hidden metric

A 'pint of blood' is a curious measure because blood has not been measured in pints, anywhere in the world, for a long time blood volume is measured in millilitres. The various blood transfusion agencies, such as the Red Cross, tend these days to talk about 'units of blood' but you can still find lots of dubious guesses as to how many millilitres there are in a 'pint of blood' on the internet. Guesses vary from 300 millilitres to about 500 millilitres.


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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