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Metrication matters - Number 69 - 2009-02-10

Dear Subscriber,

Help a friend – if you know anyone who could benefit from this newsletter, please forward this edition and suggest that they subscribe.

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You can read previous issues at /newsletter when 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.


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 have to apologise to Paul Armstrong for misspelling his name in the last Metrication matters. Thanks to Don Hillger for alerting me to this. On another matter, Paul wrote to say that he was browsing through old editions of Metrication matters. He wrote:

In doing so, I read through /mm-newsletter-2008-09.html and noticed the Q&A about putting a space between the number and name. You might consider using liters for future examples as you can point out that one of the other major reasons for doing that is so you can tell that one of the characters has to be a letter (lower case l, capital I and the number one are often the same or similar glyphs in many fonts). Thus, in many fonts there's no difference between 1000l and 10001 (1,000 L and 10,001 somethings).

That's a good idea, Paul, I'll use it in future.

Paul runs the GoMetric.us website and he was the prime mover in a recent campaign to get the metric system raised as a major issue by the President Obama transition team. Paul is still working on trying to directly influence President Obama and his administration on metrication. You can contact Paul through his web page at http://gometric.us/xwiki/bin/view/Main/WebHome

From John Frewen-Lord

Hello Pat:

I was just reading the latest Metrication Matters which plopped into my email box this morning. As usual, lots of good stuff.

I have a couple of comments:

  1. Item 5 Signs of the Times: Canadian newspapers are also not bad at using metric (unlike British newspapers). Check out www.thestar.com. Go to the Wheels section. Always only metric for speeds, distances, fuel consumption and vehicle weights. Horsepower may creep in for vehicle power, but then even the Europeans are not totally innocent in this regard. People's heights will still be given in feet and inches and their weight in pounds, so not totally there yet.

  1. Item 8 Rule of Thumb: This one has me perplexed! Water pressure at 10 m below the surface is double that at the surface. So if the surface is at 100 kPa (approximately standard atmospheric pressure), then the pressure at 10 m deep would be 200 kPa. Yet the calculations come out to the same as at the surface - 100 kPa! I've gone through the logic, and cannot find a flaw - so what am I missing?


John Frewen-Lord

Thanks for the Canadian information. With respect to the second point, I wrote: 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. But I didn't make it clear that the pressure due to the air and the pressure due to the water have to be added together.

While I'm on the subject of errors, I was duped! Remek Kocz wrote to alert me when he wrote:

Dear Pat,

Thanks for the latest Metrication Matters. I found an error there that I wanted to bring to your attention: The Watley Review is not a real news source. It is a satirical website designed for people's amusement. All quotes attributed to Scott McLellan in the article are completely fake.

Remek Kocz

What a shame; I really liked the story that started, "The problem," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan, "is that the metric system was invented by the French." and ended, "Invented by the French," reiterated McClellan. "Think about it."

The truth is much more prosaic. Bishop John Wilkins invented the metric system in England in 1668. The decimal component was further developed in the USA in the 1780s where the key players were Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington, who succeeded in leading the world to decimal currencies in every nation in the world except Burma (Myanmar). Finally, during the French revolution, in the 1790s, the timing was right to develop the metric system into a legal system of measuring all things. As they put it at the time, the metric system was:

For all time, for all people.

See /who-invented-the-metric-system.html for details.

2 Editorial

'Who invented the metric system?' is a question that is often set for school students as an assignment or as homework. But most children would soon become confused if they tried to research this on the internet.

Most answers contain ideas like these:

  • There is a lot of controversy as to who invented the metric system.
  • The French invented it late in the 18th century.
  • The metric system has been with us since Roman times when the Roman armies had a 100 soldiers commanded by a centurion.

Personally, many of these questions have been directed to me so I put my answer to this question on a web page at /who-invented-the-metric-system.html and I was pleased to see that it is now in the top 10 responses if you search Google for "who invented the metric system". Please pass this reference on to any students or teachers you know to place them in front of the rest on this subject.

3 Oddities

Some folk have real troubles with coming to terms with the metric system. Virginia D. Templeton is one example. I won't reprint her thoughts here as this is a family newsletter, but you might like to check the archives of the United States Metric Association at

Martin Vliestra responded to Virginia's thoughts by writing:

The counter to this statement is to note the metric system was first proposed by John Wilkins (1614 – 1672) in 1668. Wilkins was appointed Bishop of Chester (1668 – 1672). Furthermore, in 1670 Gabriel Mouton (1618 – 1694) proposed some refinements to the metric system. He was a Roman Catholic priest. ... These two men were hardly “God-hating French sodomites”.

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

Hold a litre bottle of soft drink until you know the feel of a kilogram. Do the same with two litres to feel 2 kilograms.

My mother-in-law once won a 'guess the mass of a fruit cake' competition because that morning she had held a brand-new grandchild of 3 500 grams and she guessed that the fruit cake was a little less than this at 3 350 grams.

5 Signs of the times

John Ward wrote to the USMA mail list to describe a problem that he is experiencing in California. He wrote:

I've been looking over floor plans, which give dimensions in feet-inches-fractions. I am comparing the area of rooms in different houses. It's really a nuisance to have to convert feet-inches-fractions into decimal feet to be able to (finally) multiply to get the area. It would be so much easier if the drawings were in meters!

Some houses need work, such as replacing the carpet or flooring. Carpet is often sold by the square yard. So I get yet more math to do to convert the room dimensions in feet-inches-fractions into square yards.

But it gets worse. About half of all flooring material is sold by the square yard. The other half by the square foot. So when I was in the store trying to choose a carpet, I had to keep converting prices back and forth to compare.

Nor does it end there. About half of the properties we've looked at have the lot area listed in square feet. The other half have the area listed in acres. Once again, I have pull out the calculator.

Most of those who think that the metric system is only for engineers probably have never understood measurement in any unit.

John Ward

6 Quotation

All recipes in this book are given in metric measurements and to tell the truth, it is much easier to try and get used to this without always translating back to or from pounds and ounces. It's only if you use metric scales and make yourself think metrically that you can begin to get a sense of what 100g of something looks or feels like - which is important, imperative even, if you're to feel comfortable while cooking.

From How to Eat: The pleasures and principles of good food by Nigella Lawson (Chatto and Windus 1998)

7 Q&A

Question 1:

Dear Pat,

I enjoyed "Metric cooking with confidence" (at /docs/MetricCookingWithConfidence.pdf ) I worked in South Africa for a few years when they had just gone metric, and like everyone else quickly got used to it.

I have often thought, though, that there must have been a long established cooking relationship between the pound and the pint - in many recipes a pound of something solid goes very well with a pint of something liquid. The kilo and the litre don't seem to match so well, a kilo needing maybe only 600 or 650ml. Does that make any sense to you?

Best regards

Andrew Marjoribanks UK

Answer 1:

Dear Andrew,

Many thanks for your intriguing question about the 'long established cooking relationship between the pound and the pint'. I passed on your email to my wife, Wendy Pomroy, and she has just spent a couple of hours researching this in her old pre-metric cookbooks. She wrote about cooking with pound and pint by saying:

No, that doesn’t make sense. I have about 1000 books on cooking, and I can’t find one recipe that correlates a pound with a pint. I’d be interested to see some examples.

I would like to add that I, too, would like to see some examples. You probably had some particular recipes in mind when you wrote to us. We would appreciate knowing about these.

Cheers, Pat Naughtin

Question 2:

Dear Pat,

An old favourite of mine (from my own grandmother) which is now a favourite of my grandchildren is chocolate fudge. It used to be so simple - a packet of butter, a packet of chocolate, a bottle of milk and a bag of sugar, boiled up together, beaten and poured out to set. Wonderful soft but almost crystalline texture. Quantities were respectively half a pound, half a pound, a pint and two pounds. Now of course it is 250g, 250g, about 630ml, 1kg and involves measuring!

Our marmalade is based on a gallon (eight pints) of water, eight pounds of Seville oranges and eight pounds of sugar, and jellies on a pound of sugar per pint of juice.

Perhaps I am only thinking of sweet recipes?

Answer 2 from Wendy Pomroy:

Yes, I think you must be thinking of sweet recipes. I was looking up main courses and desserts.

The fudge recipe would be fine in South Africa and the UK, but it wouldn’t be in the USA, where there are 16 fluid ounces to a pint, not 20 as in South Africa and the UK; and a pint in the USA is smaller than a pint in the UK. As a matter of interest, Wikipedia (at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cooking_weights_and_measures#United_States_measures ) says:

American cooks using British recipes, and vice versa, need to be careful with pints and fluid ounces. A US pint is 473 ml, while a UK pint is 568 ml, about 20% larger. A US fluid ounce is 1/16 of a US pint (29.6 ml); a UK fluid ounce is 1/20th of a UK pint (28.4 ml). This makes an Imperial pint equivalent to 19.2 US fluid ounces.

But your grandmother's fudge is not difficult in metric; buy a 250 g block of chocolate, 250 g of butter, 1 kilogram of sugar, and you only have to pour 600 mL of milk from a measuring jug.

Speaking of chocolate, I checked in our local supermarket, as retailers have always enjoyed marketing their product in varying amounts. It makes it difficult to compare unit costs and also, rather than putting up the price, they sometimes change the size of the item! Cooking chocolate came in blocks of 375 grams, 250 grams, 200 grams, and 180 grams. The days of uniform packets, bags, and bottles are long gone.

When making your marmalade, just remember that each kilogram of Seville oranges requires 1 kilogram of sugar and a litre of water.

I don’t have a rule for sugar to juice when making jellies as it depends on whether the fruit you use is sweet or tart.

Now I’m off to try your grandmother's fudge — using my metric recipe — somehow it seems safer.

Cheers, Wendy Pomroy

8 Rule of thumb

Activitymetres per secondmetres per minutekilometres per hour
Slow walking1674
Normal walking1.4845
Brisk walking1.71006
House cat1380048

9 History

Letter to the Editor from The Telegraph, London (2006-03-01)

Sir - As for the kilometre being useless for navigation (letter, February 28), it was actually a product of the Napoleonic drive to decimalise trigonometry. In this system, the circle is divided into 400 sectors, called gradians, giving a right angle of 100 gradians. This is the grad key on scientific calculators.

If the distance from the pole to the equator is 100 gradians and each gradian is further divided into 100 parts, the length obtained is one kilometre. If instruments were made and tables constructed, then navigation using gradians would be simpler than degrees, minutes and seconds of arc.

Malcolm Youd, Wickford, Essex

10 Hidden metric

Norman Werling reported to the United States Metric Association that he had seen a report that:

A Spanish energy company Acciona Energia will build a wind farm in Mexico which will be the largest in Latin America. The article was written by Mark Stevenson of Associated Press. It states that the wind farm will be 6180 acres.

Normal Werling remarked:

When converted back to hectares that would have been 2500 hectares. Don't you agree that Mark Stevenson was required to convert those 2500 hectares to 6180 acres by the Associated Press, even had he wanted to report using the metric measure? Norm Werling

Chris McIntosh wrote:

Hi Pat,

Some hidden metric ... ? Apple has just released a new laptop / notebook computer, and part of the advertising material (found here: http://www.apple.com/macbookpro/features-17inch.html ) reads:

"...the world’s thinnest and lightest 17-inch notebook — just 0.98 inch thin and 6.6 pounds."

I've no idea what 6.6 pounds is, but 0.98 inches looks suspiciously like 25 mm. "Less than an inch!" lol


To me, the 6.6 pounds looks like it was designed and built to be exactly 3 kilograms (3 kg x 2.205 = 6.615 pounds), and the 0.98 inch looks a lot like 25 millimetres (25 mm ÷ 25.4 = 0.984 inches)! I often wonder why the Apple computer company uses this thin veneer of dishonesty to hide the fact that they are an all-metric company internally and they only use old colonial pre-metric inches and pounds for obfuscation when communicating with their customers.


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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