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Metrication matters - Number 67 - 2008-12-10

Dear Subscriber,

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

I was alerted to this story about a YMCA swimming pool in North Carolina through the United States Metric Association mail list at http://lamar.colostate.edu/~hillger/listserv.htm Thanks to Mark Bollinger for the reference to this story.

Making the Flip

The Finley indoor pool is making a flip from yards to meters. Through the end of December swimmers will swim the length of the pool on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday (yards) and the width of the pool on Tuesday and Thursday (meters).

The switch allows the YMCA to accommodate all members.

“Swim team, tri athletes and some lap swimmers measure their distance in meters rather than yards,” says Finley Aquatics Director, Carla Martin. “By switching up the pool, we can meet this demand on certain days of the week.”

The Finley indoor pool measures 25 yards long (locker room end to starting blocks) and 25 meters across (life guard area to family programs wing interior window). Lap swimmers who swim 36 laps will either travel 1.02 miles long or 1.118 miles wide.

The flip also provides swim lesson participants with a more comfortable depth, the water fitness classes with a bit more room and consistent measurements for the YMCA’s association-wide swim team. The Aquatics department hopes this change will benefit everyone in the long run.

Please note the flip days change in January. The January through May schedule is as follows:

Yards: Monday, Tuesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday

Meters: Wednesday and Thursday

At first, I found this story to be so profoundly funny that I almost literally rolled on the floor laughing, but then I thought that it must be one of those urban legends that soon travel the world as an internet joke, but it was confirmed as real when I checked the web site at: http://www.ymcatriangle.org/A.E._Finley_YMCA/A85CEF6B108D4475914A3D055E47C0CC.aspx

I'm not laughing so much now — I think that I'm just sad because I know how long it takes for your inevitable metric transition if you decide to take the 'metric conversion' approach — see /docs/ApproachesToMetrication.pdf

By the way, thinking back a bit into the history of this pool, I began to wonder how the design engineer got approval for a pool design that was metric in one direction and that used old pre-metric measures in the other direction. There must have been some 'fun' design approval meetings!

Stephano, an Englishman, wrote, from France:

Pat ...

I just wanted to say a big thank you for all the excellent, hard work that you are doing. I lived in the UK until four years ago and had had enough of everything over there, including the country's stand on metrication. I now live in the 'Land of Metrication', so to speak. I have lived in central France since June 2004 and love every minute of it. At least now I can buy everything in grammes and talk of distance in metres and think nothing of it.

Thanks again - Steve

2 Editorial

Understanding how we measure energy is becoming more important as we begin to consider the issues associated with global warming and climate change. Standardising all energy measurements using the only SI metric unit for energy — the joule — is the best way to do this.

When you do this some really remarkable comparisons emerge. For example, a large strong man doing hard physical work might use 16 000 kilojoules of energy in a day, while a litre of petrol (gasoline) can provide energy at 35 megajoules per litre. After we convert the 16 000 kilojoules for the man to megajoules (16 000 kJ = 16 MJ) we can directly compare these two figures. It is clear the litre of fuel contains the energy equivalent to the work done by one strong hard-working man for 2.188 days say a bit more than 2 days. It's impressive that a single litre of petrol is the energy equivalent of a strong man working hard for two full days.

Go to /docs/EnergyWords.pdf to get a complete list of most of the old ways to describe energy to pin on your notice board.

3 Oddities

Kel Richards, an Australian radio personality, has brought back the acronym WOMBAT on Australian radio (See http://www.abc.net.au/newsradio/txt/s2326015.htm ) but this time he has another definition. Here is a paraphrase of what he had to say:

A wombat is a thickset, burrowing marsupial native to Australia. As early as 1905 a slow or stupid person could be called 'a bit of wombat'. In the First World War Australian infantrymen who were set to work digging tunnels were nicknamed wombats.

In the computing world a wombat is someone or something that’s a “Waste of Money, Bandwidth and Time” – W.O.M.B.A.T. If you try you can probably think of a dozen websites that are wombats: a waste of money, bandwidth and time. In other words, nowadays a wombat puts the 'silly' back into 'silicon'.

In the world of metrication, WOMBAT has been used as an acronym for the old pre-metric ways of measuring where it stood for: 'Ways Of Measuring Badly in America Today' or 'Waste of Money Brains and Time'. My wife says that this is all grossly unfair to wombats that are usually quite charming creatures — once you get to know them.

4 Tips – pointers and methods to make your measurements easier.

I am about 1.85 metres tall. So if I slightly stretch my walking paces I can step out ten metres in ten steps. I learned to do this by putting two discrete chalk marks between our house and our garage that were exactly ten metres apart. Then I practised each day to 'step out' the 10 metres in 10 steps. I now know how this feels so I am confident that I can make reasonable guesses about distances by pacing them in metres. If you are shorter than me you might take more steps but you will soon understand how to do this for yourself. By the way, I am the same height as Barack Obama but, alas, somewhat higher in body mass; see http://avoura.blogspot.com/2008/11/metricate-america.html

5 Signs of the times

The Environment Protection Agency in the USA seems to be going metric at a glacial pace. See how they are progressing at http://www.epa.gov/otaq/cert/dearmfr/cisd0707.pdf with their newfangled units: My favorites are the:

  • NOx emission level of 0.07 grams per mile (g/mi), and the
  • 0.20 grams per brake horsepower-hour (g/bhp-hr)

Note: The energy measure, 'brake horsepower-hour', is new to me, so I have added it to my collection of old pre-metric energy words. There are now 199 of them, and so our politicians and journalists, when they are considering issues such as global warming and peak energy, only need to memorise the 199 different energy names and the 39 402 conversion factors, instead of getting to know the single metric energy unit, joule, with no conversion factors. See the article, 'A word about global warming' at /docs/AWordAboutGlobalWarming.pdf

6 Quotation

In 1979, the UK Prime Minister, Mrs Margaret Thatcher proudly announced on television:

We have saved the pint and the mile for Britain.

In 1980, the Confederation of British Industry reported that the difference between companies that were wholly metric in their operations and those that used mixed measures amounted to approximately 9 % of their annual turnover.

If I was the Prime Minister of the UK, I don't think that I would be all that proud of costing manufacturing industry in the UK about 9 % of GDP per year — now let's see, 9 % of the UK GDP every single year from 1979 to now comes to?

7 Q&A


In the metric system what replaces wire and plate gauges?


The old wire gauges and plate thickness gauges were really marketing devices used by wire and metal sheet (plate) makers to position the names of their company before buyers of these products. As a marketing ploy, it was in their interests to vary these as much as possible and to give the illusion that only their product would do a particular job. These different gauges developed in old pre-metric times, until there were many different ways to measure the thickness of a piece of wire or a metal plate. Here are some that have lasted into modern times:

American Wire Gauge, Birmingham Wire Gauge, Brown and Sharp Gauge, Standard Wire Gauge, Stubs' Plate Gauge, Stubs' Wire Gauge, US standard plate Gauge, Washburn and Moen Gauge,

Most people now understand that none of this subterfuge actually served any useful purpose because the thicknesses of a wire or a metal plate can be so easily measured using millimetres or micrometres. Your choice of whether to use millimetres or micrometres usually depends on which unit choice gives you whole numbers to work with without having to ever use decimals or fractions. As an example, piano wires vary in diameter from about 0.3 millimetres to 1.5 millimetres. You could specify their diameters with numbers like 0.337, 0.362, 0.387, ... 1.295, 1.397, and 1.499 millimetres, or, to avoid fractions altogether you could choose to measure them all in micrometres giving the same range as 337, 362, 387, ..., 1295, 1397, and 1499 micrometres.

By the way, a friend of ours, Wayne Stuart, makes magnificent — metric — pianos here in Australia. You can see — and hear — examples of their 2.2 metre grand piano and 2.9 metre concert grand at http://www.stuartandsons.com where I think that the 'Video Clips' in 'The Sound' section of the 'Main Page' demonstrates this piano as well as my small computer speakers can but you can also write to the piano company for a demonstration CD — there are details on the web site.

8 Rule of thumb

The typical time for a radio or television signal to get from the USA to Australia is about 180 milliseconds. Sometimes you see television signals where the pictures came by one electronic pathway and the sound came by another; you can see people's lips moving but the sounds don't quite match the lip movement. Generally, humans guess that an experience is instantaneous if the response time delay is below 100 milliseconds, when the lips are said to be synchronised. The jargon term for this effect is 'lip synch'.

9 History

When Benjamin Franklin went to France the people who became the designers and proponents of the metric system welcomed him warmly as one of the world's leading scientists because of his work on electricity. As he travelled extensively in Europe from 1776 to 1785 during the period when the metric system was being widely discussed, he could not have avoided being involved in these metric discussions. I have no doubt that Benjamin Franklin would have made major contributions to the development of the metric system that was proposed for France in 1791. One piece of evidence for this is Franklin's support and practical application for decimal currency in the USA, which was the first decimal currency in the world. The decimal currency of the USA was soon copied in France and decimal currency has since been copied by all other nations in the world.

10 Hidden metric

Martin Vliestra wrote about a thermometer that he has used:

I have a battery powered digital thermometer that displays temperatures to 0.1°C or 0.2°F. If I hold the probe between my fingers and watch the temperature rise, it does so in neat steps when on the Celsius scale.

However on the Fahrenheit scale, every fifth increment is 0.1°F rather than 0.2°F. The thermometer was obviously designed ... with each bit tuned to represent 0.1 °C. The Fahrenheit scale is however an approximation to the Celsius display, which is in turn an approximation to the nearest 0.1 °C.


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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