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Metrication matters - Number 77 - 2009-10-10

Dear Subscriber,

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

Our goal at Metrication matters is to promote the use of the modern metric system:

'For all time, for all people'.

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.

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 main web page is at http://www.metrictionmatters.com.htm

Formally, the modern metric system is known as the International System of Units (SI) and it is often referred to simply a 'SI' (pronounced 'ess-eye). If you see the letters SI we are referring to the modern metric system.


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

Thanks to everyone who bought the 'Metrication Leaders Guide' through the web page at: /MetricationLeadersGuideInfo.html and I have been very pleased by the feedback about the positive results achieved so far.

1 Feedback

Helen Bushnel wrote from Korea to say:

Hello Pat,

... Thanks for the info. I always enjoy your newsletter.


Again, Jim Palfreyman from Tasmania wrote with several suggestions to improve the Metrication matters newsletter. Thanks Jim, I appreciate your continuing support. Regular readers might recognise the Palfreyman name from the article, Mean Mr. Metric! at http://www.ofb.net/~jlm/oracle/oracle.365.10

Jean-Sébastien Goulet wrote:

Mr. Naughtin,

I have recently discovered the pleasure of walking. The first night I went for a walk ... by accident. It was beautiful outside, full moon and few clouds, the temperature was perfect and I wasn’t feeling like going to bed (even though it was 11:30 pm). So I went for a little walk just to enjoy the quiet night. When I got back home, I was feeling really good. So I started to walk more often.

Then I found your “Walking for fitness” document on the internet while looking for walking information. I just loved it. Your step-by-step plan to get back in shape and lose body mass was so simple and accessible, I felt like I could do it. Then I tracked my results on the logbook and compare my average speed to see my progress on the Walker Type chart.

I’ve been walking for 7 weeks now and so far I have walked more than 150 km. I have lost 4.54 kilo and I feel great! People notice that I am loosing my belly and I can walk faster and longer distance. (My best average speed was 7.64 km/h on an 11.2 km walk)

I have signed up for the Granby Half Marathon this weekend. I am going to do the 21.1 km walk. I’m a little nervous since I have never walked such a great distance but I’m confident I can do it in less than 3:15.

Thank you very much. You have played an important role in my success in getting back in shape. I still keep track in my Walk Logbook and I’m already looking for my next Half Marathon walk!

Jean-Sébastien Goulet

You can find 'Walking for fitness' at /docs/WalkingForFitness.pdf

Mike Joy wrote:

Hi Pat,

Well done Pat, another great metric show (on ABC radio 'Overnights' program that goes nationally across Australia) ... Had a good laugh when that poor military fellow came on who wanted to beat you up!

Mike Joy

2 Editorial

When should we celebrate the invention of the metric system?

Today is the day that the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics set aside for 'National Metric Day' in the USA, because this is the tenth day of the tenth month and therefore this particular day has qualifications as a date to celebrate decimal numbers. This will be even more true on 2010 October 10 when the date can be written 10-10-10.

Others argue for 1875 May 25 as this was the day, that 18 nations signed the TREATY OF THE METRE. We now recognise the products of this treaty as:

  • a permanent International Bureau of Weights and Measures (Bureau International de Poids et Mesures, BIPM), and
  • a General Conference of Weights and Measures (CGPM) that meets every four years.

See http://metricviews.org.uk/2009/09/an-anniversary-overlooked

On 1999 June 22, the BIPM celebrated 200 years of the metric system as this recalled the day that the standard metre and the standard kilogram were formally presented to the French National Assembly. The metric system became a legal fact for France when these standard objects were formally deposited in the National Archives of France. Go to /docs/MetricationTimeline.pdf and search for 1799 June 22. This event is regarded as of prime importance by the BIPM, who say that this is a key to the development of the international system of units. The BIPM brochure says:

The creation of the Decimal Metric System at the time of the French Revolution and the subsequent deposition of two platinum standards representing the metre and the kilogram, on 22 June 1799, in the Archives de la République in Paris can be seen as the first step in the development of the present International System of Units.

Other options are:

1790 August 22 when the Académie Française decided to promote a decimal system for currency, weights and measures.

1790 October 27 when the French Academy of Sciences, in their first report, recommended the decimal division of money, weights, and measures for France.

1791 March 26 when the French Government passed legislation to make decimal currency, weights, and measures legal in France.

1793 August 1 when the Republican Government of France adopted a report from the Académie Française and decreed the unit of length was to be called the 'metre' and it was to be 1/10 000 000 of the earth's quadrant.

1795 April 7 when the Republic of France legally adopted the Academy of Sciences recommendation for a decimal metric system.

My own personal preference is for none of the above.

I prefer to think that the date when Bishop John Wilkins published An Essay Towards a Real Character and a Philosophical Language on Monday, 1668 April 13 (Royal Society London 1668) takes priority. This was the day when Wilkins described his idea for a universal measure that had almost all of the characteristics of the modern metric system. See /docs/CommentaryOnWilkinsOfMeasure.pdf where you will read that Wilkins' universal measure became the basis for the later development into SI, the modern metric system.

3 Oddities

Patrick Moore wrote to the USMA mail list to point out:

I would prefer a 6 HP car because it’s cheaper. I can’t even imagine what it would cost to feed and board 600 horses.

Thanks for the thought Patrick. I now think about any car in terms of how many horses I would have to keep in my stable to have the equivalent horsepower of a family car. It boggles my mind to think about where I would put the 54 horses that are roughly equivalent to my four cylinder (1600 mL) 1975 VW Kombi!

4 Tips – pointers and methods to make your measurements easier

Jean-Sébastien Goulet (see Feedback above) described how he times himself for his walking program:

Since I don’t have the new Garmin 380$ GPS watch, let me show you how I manage to have accurate average speed for each run:

1 I use my chronograph to get my time.

2 When I come back home, I trace my run on Google maps (and calculate distances and speeds).

3 Then I use a very simple Excel sheet to convert my time and distance into km/h.

It help me keep track of my progress and it turn out to be an incredible motivational tool. ...

Thanks again for having me discover the joy of walking!

Thanks Jean-Sébastien. This seems like a good idea to me. I will try it.

5 Signs of the times

In the UK the designers and builders of roads use metric measurements. However, many years ago the UK government passed a law that prevented the engineers from revealing these metric measures to the public. This meant that the engineers continued to design and build in metric, then to provide signs in miles, miles per hour, feet and inches. This has been the practice since 1965, 44 years ago so far and counting. Martin Vlietstra reminded me of this when he referred me to the web page at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Driver_location_signs

6 Quotation

Ron Stone, from AAT Ideas, wrote with some constructive criticism of Metrication matters 76 (Ron preferred "What is the best name for the old measures used in the USA?" to "What is the best name for pre-metric measures?"). He concluded his remarks by signing as follows:

Ron Stone

ps: best wishes for a productive metrication month, week, and day from AAT!

7 Q&A


How is the length of nails specified in metric countries (i.e. outside the USA)?


It is usual to specify the nail type (e.g. common or galvanised) with the length (in a whole number of millimetres) and the thickness (in millimetres – usually to one decimal place). This is a typical specification: http://www.alibaba.com/product-free/104822745/Grip_Lock_Galvanised_Nails.html where you will see a nail that I regularly use outdoors is 50 mm long and 2.8 mm in diameter.

8 Rule of thumb

The following data may help to illustrate the size implications of some of the prefixes:

  • A century is about three gigaseconds (3 Gs).

  • A typical time between human heartbeats is about eight hundred milliseconds (800 ms).

  • Diamond is a crystalline form of carbon where adjacent carbon atoms are one hundred and fifty-four picometres (154 pm) apart.

  • Eleven and a half days contain about one megasecond (1 Ms).

  • The average distance between Pluto and the Sun is about six terametres (6 Tm).

  • The diameter of a capillary, one of the thinnest tubes to carry blood in your body is about eight micrometres (8µm).

  • The diameter of the Moon is about three thousand five hundred kilometres (3 500 km).

  • The length of a typical virus is about ten nanometres (10 nm).

  • The mass of a typical bacterial cell is about one picogram (1 pg).

9 History

My wife, Wendy, passed on this quote when she was reading, The Summer of my Greek Taverna by Tom Stone (Simon and Schuster 2002)

Classical Athens also saw the development of what were most certainly the precursors of today's eateries – some twenty-three hundred years before the French claim they came up with the restaurant in post-Bastille Paris – where Athenians of the poorer classes, who didn't have enough room at home for a dinner party, could sit and air their opinions over a carafe or two.

Originally, these establishments were shops selling wine and vinegar in bulk. Since you had to have a leisurely, thoughtful taste of the wine before buying, tables and chairs were no doubt provided, and later a few mezes, appetizers, to improve the tasting, and finally, home-cooked meals.

Interestingly, in those days, too, there were warnings about the untrustworthiness of the owners, with the comic playwright Aristophanes (about 448-380 BCE) having some barbed remarks to make about the way they tried to cheat you in their measures, giving less than you paid for.

10 Hidden metric

James R. Frysinger commented on the hidden metric approach to agriculture in the USA when he wrote to the USMA mail list (http://lamar.colostate.edu/~hillger/listserv.htm ) to point out:

Perhaps our AgraCorp farms and commodity marketers are metricated, at least partially. But your regular clod-buster and cow-prodder is definitely non-metric. I lay a lot of that on the doorstep of the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture). They publish a huge volume of educational materials but not a slip of paper toward metrication of farmers and farming. Never mind that virtually all agricultural research is done in metric units; the USDA "translates" it to non-metric when advising farmers.

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.

Pat is the author of the e-book, Metrication Leaders Guide that you can obtain from /MetricationLeadersGuideInfo.html

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