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Metrication matters - Number 68 - 2009-01-10

Dear Subscriber,

Metrication matters is an on-line metrication newsletter for those actively involved, and for those with an interest in metrication matters.

You can read all previous issues of the Metrication matters newsletter at /newsletter if you scroll own to the bottom of the page. The Metrication matters web page has many new items that you can find at http://www.metrictionmatters.com.htm

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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

From Paul Armstrong
Paul runs the Go Metric web site at: http://gometric.us/

Paul sent an email requesting support for a campaign to make metrication the top issue for Barack Obama's campaign team as they approach his inauguration on January 20. Paul asks that you send a letter to your friends and family asking for their support as well. I will be helping with this, as I believe that progress toward the metric system in the USA will have a major effect on the rest of the world. Here is a form letter to help you do this.

Dear Friend,

If you've not heard, there's a web site collecting ideas for ways that people think the USA should change with the new President. It is called "Ideas for Change in America".

As you know, using multiple measurement methods has a huge negative impact not only on the economy of the USA but also indirectly on the economies of the rest of the world. It also makes education more difficult (instead of teaching kids useful stuff, we're teaching them archaic customary measurement methods). We have the opportunity to fix this and give our economies a significant boost in these difficult times as well as making the future brighter.

I've just voted for this idea and I'd appreciate it if you could too as I think it's important.

The link is: http://www.change.org/ideas/view/nudge_the_us_to_adopt_the_metric_system

The voting process is easy, just:

  • follow the link above
  • click on the box on the left that has the number of votes in it
  • fill in your name and email
  • send this email to your friends while you wait for the confirmation email to come
  • click on the confirmation link from change.org
  • click on the vote box again

The top 10 ideas will be handed to the Obama Administration on inauguration day and there will be a national lobbying campaign run by Change.org and many other leading non-profits to make each idea a reality.

From Martin Hogan

Hi Pat,

I have been asked to give a presentation in Coffs Harbour next week about Energy & Global warming. I would like to quote and acknowledge your article "A word about Global Warming".

Simplifying the language is one of my passions especially units of measurement. Unless I hear to the contrary I will assume that it is OK to quote & acknowledge you. Thank you for your efforts


Martin Hogan

You can find the article 'A word about Global Warming' at /docs/AWordAboutGlobalWarming.pdf and you will find other articles that might help you with your metrication plans at /articles.html

2 Editorial

I found this gem at http://watleyreview.com/2003/072903-3.html I know it's a bit old (2003) but I suspect that there are still some who hold similar views today.

"The problem," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan, "is that the metric system was invented by the French." The widespread (and correct) use of the metric system throughout the world only bolsters the Administration's support for banning it. "Let's face it; the metric system is the system terrorists are most likely familiar with. If we went back to pounds and cubits, we'd be doing America a service."

"Invented by the French," reiterated McClellan. "Think about it."

As you might already know White House spokesman Scott McClellan was wrong. The initial concept for a 'universal measure' that later became the metric system, was first published by Bishop John Wilkins in England in 1668.

This confusion about the origin of the metric system is fairly widespread. Over the years, I have had a number of enquiries along the lines of: 'Who invented the metric system? And when did they do it?' Usually these questions come from students who are running late to hand in an assignment for their school or college. Here is a sample question that I found on Yahoo (I have lightly edited the spelling and punctuation):

When and who invented the metric system? I need a definite answer! I've been looking around for a while and I still can't find a definite answer on who invented it and when it was invented. I've already tried wikipedia, so please don't tell me to try it, or to google it. It always comes up with different answers.

Over the last few days I have had a chance to check the internet resources on how this question is asked and how it is answered and I was not impressed with what I found. The questioner above was correct the internet came up with many different answers to what seems to be a very simple question.

I guessed that there must be many frustrated students (and perhaps teachers) who try to answer this question so I decided to write an answer to this question and to post it on the Metrication matters website at:


I would appreciate any thoughts and comments you might have to improve this answer.

3 Oddities

It's summertime in Australia cricket season. Recently, as I watched part of a game of cricket between Australia and New Zealand, I was amused to hear a tall New Zealand player referred to as 'Two-metre Peter'.

For the benefit of non-cricket playing readers, unlike basketball, the game of cricket does not depend on height for success so there is a normal range of heights among the players.

By the way, this was a test match between Australia and New Zealand, so it is a single game with four innings and the whole match can last up to five days! It's a leisurely business watching cricket.

4 Tips pointers and methods to make your measurements easier.

Take a scrap of paper and a pencil or pen. Write the numbers 1 and 2 next to each other like this 12 then leave two spaces before you write the numbers 3 and 4 so that you now have this 12 34 with two spaces in the middle.

Working backwards, add the numbers 4 and 3 to get 7. Place the seven immediately to the left of the three, so that you now have 12 734 and you have just written down the diameter of the whole world in kilometres with a space to separate the thousands from the hundreds. To check, multiply the diameter, 12 734 kilometres, by π (pi) to get 40 005 kilometres. This is a very close approximation of the distance around the world.

You probably know that scientists in the 1790s made a small error when they tried to make the world exactly 40 000 kilometres, which is how I think of the distance around the world most of the time I just ignore the extra 5 kilometres.

5 Signs of the times

The media in Australia use the metric system quite well. As an example see this story about cherries from the news pages of the Melbourne newspaper, 'The Age': http://www.theage.com.au/national/farmers-do-their-cherry-best-in-talking-up-size-20081226-75ly.html

When I posted this reference on the internet, I soon received an alternate example from the USA sent to me by Stephen Mangum. Under the headline, BY THE NUMBERS, they included these measurements:

Salem Public Works: During an 11-day stretch beginning Dec. 14, crews worked about 26 round-the-clock, 12-hour shifts. ... Total miles driven by snow removal equipment: 9,131. ... Amount of sand and rock applied: 4,179 cubic yards, equal to 344 dump truck loads. ... Number of gallons of liquid de-icer sprayed: 8,905 gallons. ... Precipitation: 2.41 inches in the past seven days, which equals 6 to 12 inches of snow.

You can find the full story at: http://www.statesmanjournal.com/article/20081226/NEWS/812260331 It's no wonder that anyone who uses the metric system for a while never goes back to old pre-metric measures.

6 Quotation

The best angle from which to approach any problem is the try-angle. Author Unknown

The impossible is often the untried. Jim Goodwin

7 Q&A


Everyone is talking about the metric system, metric conversion, and metrication but I am confused. I've read all I can find from books and the internet but I still don't know how to proceed with a transition to metric for myself or for my company. (Name and company name withheld)


There are a number of ways for you to proceed from where you are some good, some not so good, and some plain straight out stupid. I would start by reading the articles, Approaches to metrication that you can find at /docs/ApproachesToMetrication.pdf and Metric conversion that you will find at /docs/MetricConversion.pdf

Next, I would read as many articles from the web page /articles as you think apply to your situation. For example, if, for your kind of work, measuring length is important, don't miss the article: /docs/centimetresORmillimetres.pdf before you decide on your length policy.

8 Rule of thumb

When you dive into the sea, you can feel that the pressure of the water increases as you go deeper. At the surface the pressure is the same as air pressure; ten metres down the pressure will be twice the air pressure at the surface; and at twenty metres deep it will be three times the air pressure.

Jim Frysinger, from Tennessee explained this rule of thumb in an email to the United States Metric Association (http://lamar.colostate.edu/~hillger/listserv.htm ) recently. Jim has been a naval officer and a teacher of physics so you can be sure that his technical explanation of why this is so is reliable. Jim wrote:

The density of sea water is slightly greater than 1000 kg/m3 and the acceleration due to gravity is slightly less than 10 m/s2. So a column of seawater 10 m tall and 1 m2 at the base has a mass of slightly greater than 10 000 kg and a weight (W = mg) of approximately 100 000 N or 100 kN. That means the pressure at the bottom of the column (P = F/A) is approximately 100 kPa, which is very close to the "standard atmospheric pressure" value (101.325 kPa) used by the World Meteorology Organization and the American Meteorological Society.

More specifically, the average density of seawater is 1027 kg/m3 according to the University Corporation of Atmospheric Research (UCAR). Others claim values ranging from 1020 kg/m3 to 1030 kg/m3. The value used in the past for the "standard acceleration due to gravity, gn is 9.80665 m/s2. The product of those two "standard" values is 10 071.429 55 kg/m3 making the pressure added by a 10 m column of seawater to be 100.714 295 5 kPa. This is even closer to the "standard atmospheric pressure" stated above.

You can find Jim Frysinger's web page at http://www.metricmethods.com

9 History

Recently a friend loaned an old cookbook to my wife, Wendy, who is a very keen cook. Wendy pointed out to me these measures that were in use in London in 1933:

1 Cupful = 1 Average teacupful.
1/2 Pint = 1 Cupful and a quarter.
1 Wineglassful = 1/2 Gill.
15 drops = 1 saltspoonful.
1 saltspoonfuls = 1/4 teaspoonful.
4 saltspoonfuls = 1 teaspoonful.
4 teaspoonfuls = 1 tablespoonful.
8 tablespoonfuls = 1 gill.
2 gills = 1/2 pint.
2 pints = 1 quart.

Wendy now suggests that she will, in future, 'always use a fifteenth of a saltspoonful for my pale green meringues'. The cookbook was New Standard Cookery, Edited by Elizabeth Craig (Odhams Press London 1933). However, if you would like to find a better way of measuring when you cook, go to: /docs/MetricCookingWithConfidence.pdf

10 Hidden metric

Often writers in the media try to simplify to the point of complexity. If a sports writer uses terms like 'a body length' or a 'half body length' I am inclined to yell at the radio or the television that two metres or a metre would be much simpler and clearer for me as I have no idea whose body length the writer is talking about. Hhhhrrrmmmph!


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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