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Metrication matters - Number 82 - 2010-03-10

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 at /newsletter if 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

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.

Dear Subscriber,


1 Editorial 2 Feedback - notes and comments from readers 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 Editorial

Oh how our minds we do pervert,
When first we practice to convert.

Strangely, it is not only numerical information that people try to convert from metric system units back to old measuring words. Perhaps we could form new proverbs by going the other way – from old measuring words to metric system units. Here are two examples:

Example 1

A miss by an inch is a miss by a mile. Originally: A miss by an inch is a miss by an ell.

I prefer:

A millimetre miss is a kilometre miss.

Example 2

Give him an inch and he'll take a mile. Originally: Give the Camel an inch and it will take an ell.

I prefer:

Give him a gram and he'll take a tonne.

2 Feedback

Michael V Worstall wrote to say:

Pat ... Further to your editorial in Metrication Matters 81 asking for a better word than dumbing-down — I always use the phrase 'peasant units' to cover all the previous names that have just evolved independently. Hope that does not sound too patronising. But the reality is that it does commemorate how the different units actually came into being. Clearly every society needed to have measures of length, volume, mass etc. and so every village, tribe, nation or whatever created their own versions.

But now we have SI, for all time.

Regards ... Michael

Michael Glass wrote:

Dear Pat,

If you’re looking for a name for the old measures, refer to them as the old measures. Easy!


Michael Glass

Inspired by the two Michaels (and others), I will now play with the idea of calling old pre-metric measuring words:

geriatric measures.

Duncan Bath wrote to comment on the writing of dates in the international style where the year is written first, followed by the month, and then the day. For example, today's date can be written as 2010-03-10 or as 20100310 to comply with the international standard ISO 8601. Duncan wrote:

Dear Pat:

It is true that ISO 8601 is not an SI issue. However, they are similar issues to the extent that they rely on the application of Standards for their success.

In my opinion, the treatment of all-numeric dates by businesses is, too often, nothing short of appalling. Their fault is not in using all-numeric dates but in ignoring the standards which go along with them to ensure their usefulness.


Bill Dunning wrote with a critique of our services.

Pat ..................

Thank you for regularly sending along Mm ... it's enjoyable, and certainly inspiring. Fits right in with the "going global" attitude that we need more of in this troubled old world.

However ... ahem ... there seem to be a few problems. When I go to the links in the newsletter, about half of them jump to a page headed with the bright and happy Mm and the notice that reads "Oops! This page doesn't exist!" It's happened, I regret to say, with at least a few items in every issue of Mm that I've recieved. I finally had a few free moments today and thought I should let you know.

You might want to check to see if it does the same for you, or for someone on another computer. The numeric ones today seemed to be susceptible to this problem: the 4 tips, the 5 signs, the 7 Q&A items. The Time magazine piece came through beautifully, though I was appalled at some of the philistine and sarcastic comments posted (not your fault!).

Thanks again, and keep up the good fight.........

best regards,


I checked and had some friends check but we could not reproduce the difficulties reported by Bill. I would appreciate advice like Bill's from anyone else as it all helps to improve the Metrication matters service.

Mike Joy, from Perth Australia, wrote:

Hi Pat,

Another great issue of MM - thanks a lot.

Reminds me of a hit song in the fifties "The Best Things In Life Are Free" which was on the first LP I ever owned!

Also thanks for the wool dyestock article.

Mike then attached an image of his forefinger placed next to a clock and continued:

About your use of your finger width, here's a picture of my forefinger which I use all the time because it happens to be exactly 100 mm long.

Here, I'm measuring the height of my clock (which I repaired successfully yesterday) which as you can see is 90 mm high.

Very handy - sorry - fingery.

Best metric regards


3 Oddities

The word metric is now commonly used – perhaps even overused – to mean a measure of some kind that has nothing to do with the metric system. Here is a recent example from the finance pages of a newspaper. I found this reference when I searched for the +words, metric conversion, as the same article also contained two snippets; the first used the word metric and the second used the word conversion:

We continue to focus on EBITDA as a key metric of the profitability of our underlying business and are extremely proud of our 2009 EBITDA results.

... to support the conversion of six distributors to direct ...

So my search for metric conversion found nothing about the transition to the metric system from all of the old measuring words.

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

Sign specialists estimate that a motorist can react to a sign in about:

  • 8 seconds when travelling at about 60 km/h (in a distance of about 130 metres),

  • 10 seconds at about 80 km/h (in a distance of about 220 metres) and to about

  • 12 seconds at 100 km/h (in a distance of about 330 metres).

5 Signs of the times

In an article talking about hiking opportunities in Pennsylvania they say:

NOTE: Thwaites has strong opinions about the metric system and the trail is measured in kilometers, not miles.

See http://www.publicopiniononline.com/living/ci_14442737 for more details.

6 Quotation

He who asks is a fool for five minutes, but he who does not ask remains a fool forever.
Chinese Proverb

7 Q&A


I often hear that the USA will not adopt the metric system because it is 'foreign'. Is this a good reason for not going metric?


No. Firstly the metric system is not strictly foreign to the USA. Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington all played a part in its development in the 1780s and 1790s see /docs/USAMetricSystemHistory.pdf

Secondly, you might enjoy this statement from Ferdinand Hassler who was surveying the east coast of the USA at the time – it is particularly appropriate, I think, to the idea of the metric system being somehow 'foreign'.

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 ... Every civilized nation of Europe has contributed its share to that happy mixture of knowledge and ideas of improvements, that has caused the character of this country to rise to so high a standing.
Ferdinand R. Hassler in a letter of 1827 January 8 published in the New York American.

8 Rule of thumb

Birth mass of babies averages a little below 3500 grams in Australia, the UK, and in the USA. A rule of thumb for babies might be:

Average baby about 3500 grams

Big baby more than 4500 grams

Little baby less than 2500 grams

9 History

Martin Vliestra passed on this item to the USMA maillist:

At the Athens Olympics, the British woman’s marathon hopeful, Paula Radcilffe was suffering from a stomach bug. Although she led for much of the race, things caught up with her and she visibly got to the 36 km mark (denoted by a huge “36”). She stopped, summoned up strength, and then withdrew a short distance afterwards. Even though millions of Britons saw this on television and the commentator used the word “36 kilometre mark”, the press was divided as to whether she had covered 21 miles, 21.5 miles or 22 miles.

10 Hidden metric

There is a man in the Netherlands who is trying to achieve a fuel economy for a motorbike of 1 litre of fuel per 100 kilometres of travel. See the final paragraphs in these stories:




The effort required to change all of the figures in the story from their original metric system units is extraordinary. Let me repeat:

Oh how our minds we do pervert,
When first we practice to convert.


Pat Naughtin
Geelong Australia

P.S. Thanks to everyone who bought, and is using, the 'Metrication Leaders Guide' through the web page at: /MetricationLeadersGuideInfo.html We have been very pleased by the feedback about the positive and rapid metrication results achieved by our readers.

Here is an example from St. Lucia in the Caribean:

Dear Pat

First let me congratulate you on the wonderful wealth of information in “Metrication Leaders Guide”. I have been able to find valuable information on metrication in it. My country SAINT LUCIA in the West Indies, is going metric and I am the Coordinator of the St. Lucia Metrication Secretariat. ...

Thank you for sharing that wealth of information that you gathered over your years of experience dealing with metrication. Your book is invaluable!

Judy Rene

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

Copyright notice: © 2007 Pat Naughtin All rights reserved. You are free to quote material from 'Metrication matters' in whole or in part, provided you include this attribution to 'Metrication matters'.

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