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Metrication matters - Number 78 - 2009-11-10

Dear Subscriber,

Thanks to everyone who bought, and is using, 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 by readers.

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 people, for all measurement, and for all time.

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

1 Feedback

Kenneth S. Butcher, Group Leader, NIST Weights and Measures Division, Laws and Metric Group wrote:

Mr. Naughtin,

Thank you for the recent edition of the Metrication Matters. It is an excellent publication and it is a good source of sound guidance on converting to metric.

In spite of the slow movement towards metric use and the many disappointments that we have encountered we are seeing progress in many areas.

I thought from an historic perspective you might like to read the inside story of why President Reagan abolished the U.S. Metric Board. It was NOT a national outcry against the metric system by a majority of the public and business community. As this well respected and highly honored writer describes it only took one person (the writer) with a close friend in the White House to derail the U.S. Board move to metric even though Congress spent years studying the issue and had established the metric board only 6 years earlier.

Here is a URL to more on the issue http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Mankiewicz

Kenneth S. Butcher, Group Leader

Keith Atkin from Sheffield in the UK wrote to correct my misuse of a prefix in the last newsletter:

Hi Pat.
Thanks for the latest metrication newsletter. There is just one point of concern: I read "A typical time between human heartbeats is about eight hundred microseconds (
800 ΅s)."

I would suggest that anyone with that sort of heart rate has a severe case of tachycardia!! The typical interval between human heartbeats is, of course, about one second.

Again, thanks for an excellent and interesting newsletter.

Best wishes.

Michael V Worstall also commented on my error when he wrote:

Pat ... That's a hell of a fast heartbeat you have in the land of Oz! Surely you mean 800 ms not 800 ΅s in Rule of Thumb in paragraph 8?

Fondest regards ... Michael

John M. Steele wrote:

Please check the
800 ΅s figure for period of heart beat. I'm pretty sure my heart can't fibrillate that fast (125 Hz), more less beat properly. I think it is 800 ms ( or 75 beats per minute.)

Jim Palfreyman wrote

Hi Pat,
Thanks for re-promotion of my oracularity! (See http://mandelson.org/oracle/oracle.365.10 )

Two things. The time between two heartbeats surely cannot be 800 microseconds. I'm sure you meant milliseconds.

Secondly, 1 Ms (~11 days) is the exposure time of the Hubble Ultra Deep Field. This is the greatest photograph ever taken. Look it up on Wikipedia. (See http://hubblesite.org/newscenter/archive/releases/2004/07/ )

Jim Palfreyman

Keith, Michael, John and Jim are right of course. I should have written 800 milliseconds and not 800 microseconds.

2 Editorial

I am greatly impressed by the email I received from Ken Butcher at NIST. I have been aware for some time that often it is a single individual who delays the progress of metrication.

Notice that I wrote 'delays', and not 'prevents' as I firmly believe that the progress of the metric system is completely unstoppable. Let me repeat a line I wrote in this newsletter previously:

No nation, no industry, no company, no work group, and no individual who has ever used the metric system for some time ever goes back permanently to using old pre-metric measures.

The sad part is that Frank Mankiewicz did not make his silly decision to inform Lyn Nofziger with facts based on research; he simply acted on the basis of personal whimsy. The full story is at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/03/28/AR2006032802142.html and the relevant quote is:

So, during that first year of Reagan's presidency, I sent Lyn another copy of a column I had written a few years before, attacking and satirizing the attempt by some organized do-gooders to inflict the metric system on Americans, a view of mine Lyn had enthusiastically endorsed. So, in 1981, when I reminded him that a commission actually existed to further the adoption of the metric system and the damage we both felt this could wreak on our country, Lyn went to work with material provided by each of us. He was able, he told me, to prevail on the president to dissolve the commission and make sure that, at least in the Reagan presidency, there would be no further effort to sell metric.

As another example, it seems to me that many members of the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) routinely use metric units in designing, developing, marketing, and especially testing of all of their products. Yet Ty Kelley, Director, Federal Government Relations, FMI ( ) claims that FMI is opposed to the option of metric-only labelling that many FMI members might actually support and use on a daily basis. In an email to me, Ty Kelley denigrated the inevitable progress of the metric system by referring to it as 'metric creep'. My suspicion is that the FMI anti-metric position might have actually arisen internally within the bureaucratic structure of the FMI without reference to its members. Perhaps the FMI opposition to the metric system came from a single individual!

Remember that not upgrading to the metric system in the USA is extremely costly to all citizens of the USA. In the article, Cost of non-metrication in the USA, I estimate that non-metrication might be costing the USA in excess of a trillion dollars each, and every, year. See /docs/CostOfNonMetrication.pdf

3 Oddities

Mike Joy from Western Australia sent me this story, which he assures me was overheard at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, through the thin wall of a USA based radio Press Box.

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, this is Marvin Schultz reporting from Sydney for WZZE. The 100 metre race is just about to start.'

Starter: 'On your marks ... Get set ... '

Marvin Schultz: 'Whoa, hold it a minute, I have to tell the listeners back home what that is in the Customary units of the USA so that they can all understand what's happening.

'Now let me see, (sound of tapping on calculator keys) One hundred multiplied by 1.09361 equals, um, oh yes, 109.361 yards.

'Now we take the 0.361 and multiply it by 3 and we get 1.083 feet

'Then we take the zero point 083 to get the inches and that works out to be (tap tap tap) multiplied by 12 equals 0.996 of one inch.

'Finally, that works out to be' (tap tap tap) silence, then TAP TAP TAP. A guttural sound of anguish is heard – then the sound of a calculator being thrown against the wall.

Marvin Schultz: 'Rotten calculator won’t even convert decimal numbers to fractions!'

Starter: (pointing his gun towards the press box) – BANG!

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

I adapted this tip from The Girl Who Licked The Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson.

Salander heard footsteps in the corridor. She had never heard those footsteps before.
She heard the nurse go down the corridor to the left. It took her 18 steps to reach the room, and the male visitor took 14 steps to cover the same distance. That gave an average of 16 steps. She estimated the length of a step at 600 millimetres, which multiplied by 16 told her that Zalachenko was in a room about 9600 millimetres down the corridor to the left, O.K., approximately ten metres. She estimated that the width of her room was about five metres, which should mean that Zalachenko's room was two doors down from hers.
Note that I changed Larsson's estimate to millimetres to simplify the calculations. See /docs/centimetresORmillimetres.pdf for an extended discussion of the issue of whether it is better to use centimetres or millimetres.

5 Signs of the times

The discussion continues in the UK about how to change the road signs, see http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/travelnews/6374317/Road-signs-to-use-metric-measurements.html People in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, India, and Ireland all know that it takes a day – a single day – to change a nation's road signs. The good people of the UK only know that this process, with continued input from politicians, has taken 44 years so far (1965 till now), and it is still likely to take a whole lot longer.

6 Quotation

This quote is from Ferdinand R. Hassler, the first superintendent of the Coast Survey of the USA, in a letter of 1827 January 8 that was subsequently published in the New York American.

The nation that shall exclude from itself the admission and use of foreign talents and knowledge, must always remain behind in the paths of civilization, and will appear comparatively barbarous, if not really become so. Sciences, arts, and ideas for improvements, are the common property of all nations – their mutual ties – and cannot be successfully cultivated without free intercourse, exchange, and intermixture.

Ferdinand R. Hassler used one of the original copies of the 1799 international metre to conduct coastal surveys of the USA. Coastal surveys of the USA have been carried out using metric measurements for more than 200 years. See http://www.history.noaa.gov/stories_tales/geodetic2.html for more information.

7 Q&A

I received this question from a student in the USA, and as I prepared a reply, it occurred to me that others might also find this collated material useful. I have removed the student's name and address.

Mr Naughtin,
I'm currently a student at Named Univ. and I'm working on a term paper about metrication. In addition to that, I'm on my school's debate team and am using US metrication as the topic of my persuasive speech. I was wondering if you have any suggestions of where I could find information on how much this conversion might cost and different conversion methods (the actual steps the US would have to go through to make a full conversion). Also, this is my first year on the team and actually presenting speeches like this ... so are there any tips that you can give me?
Thank you for your time,

The following is a part of my reply. I also referred him to my TechTalk at Google, see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NgtsSM7vN0M to help him develop a speech outline.

Dear Student,

I am delighted if I am able to help you a little.

Some time ago, I gave a speech on the topic, 'Metrication is SUCCESSFUL'. I have now incorporated the outline of this speech into a web page that might give you some thoughts as you prepare your term paper and your own speech. See: /why_metrication.html

You could also check out the rest of my web page starting at and especially read through some of my newsletters to give you some insight into how people adapt to metrication with many examples of successes in the USA – there are also jokes and quotations that may be useful. Go to: /newsletter

Pat Naughtin

8 Rule of thumb

About 7 % of your body mass is your blood. If you have a body mass of about 70 kilograms the blood will be about 5 kilograms.

9 History

The metric system is now known as 'The International System of Units (SI)' was, is, and perhaps always will be the only measurement system ever invented, developed and legalised in every nation of the world.

Although some people use words such as 'the old system' to refer to more or less random groups of old pre-metric measuring words, none of these ever developed into a full system that was capable of measuring:

For all people, for all measurement, and for all time.

It is quite wrong to say that you are converting from an old system to the new metric system when the truth is that you are upgrading to the metric system from the vast collection of thousands, perhaps millions, of old measuring words that were never part of any previous system at all.

Engineers and scientists sometimes try to retrofit systemic properties from the metric system on to old measuring words, but they have only been able to do this for a very small number of words, such as foot-pound-second or foot-slug-second.

It took a bit over 120 years (1790 – 1668 = 122 years) for Bishop John Wilkins initial idea for a 'universal measure' to evolve into the 'decimal metric system' adopted by the French revolutionary government with some help from Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington. See USA metric system history at /docs/USAMetricSystemHistory.pdf

Next it took about 170 years (1960 – 1790 = 170 years) for the first metric system to evolve into the International System of Units (SI) – the modern metric system. During that time, the metric system took several forms, and these can, in hindsight, be thought of as evolutionary stages, as each of these metric systems was an improvement on previous metric systems. To find out who invented the metric system, and when, go to /who-invented-the-metric-system.html

10 Hidden metric

Some time ago, Time magazine carried a report on wind farms in Denmark that showed a photo of a wind generator. The blades of the wind turbine were described as 15400 lb. This looks to be reasonably close to 7000 kg? I wonder if Time magazine dumbed down 7 tonnes for the good citizens of the USA.

Metrication Leaders Guide

Don't forget that if you are planning for your work place to upgrade to the metric system, then the Metrication Leaders Guide might prove to be helpful to you. Here is what Lorelle Young, President of the U.S. Metric Association, had to say about the Metrication Leaders Guide:


I read the entire guide including most of the clickable links. I could not think of a thing for you to add. You have covered the waterfront. Your guide will provide an outstanding publication for those involved in teaching the metric system.


I am really grateful, and deeply indebted, to Lorelle for her most kind remarks. You can find out more about this eBook and you can obtain your own copy of the Metrication Leaders Guide from the web page at: /MetricationLeadersGuideInfo.html


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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