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Metrication matters - Number 88 - 2010-09-10

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 at /newsletter if you scroll own to the bottom of the page. The recently revised Metrication matters web page is at

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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

Next month will be the 10th day of the 10th month in the 10th year of the 21st century. Many people will write this as:


Many individuals and groups have designated this date as a day on which particular attention should be given to the metric system and especially to its decimal nature. Here are some posters that you might find useful for your workplace if you plan to recognise this day. Just print copies and place them randomly on notice boards at your workplace.





Good luck with your metric day plans.

2 Feedback

This month the Metrication matters web site at has had visitors from 48 different countries and we have responded to emails from all of them.

3 Oddities

When you look at the history of measurement across the broad sweep of history you are often struck with the thought that measurement is about the interplay between those who want to cheat their fellow humans and those who want to devise and apply honesty in measurement.

For example, a year or two ago a company in Melbourne sold beer at a major sporting ground for about a month in cups marked 425 mL that only held only 419 mL. As you can see this is only 6 mL but the football ground holds more that 100 000 people and some of them have been known to drink more than one beer! See http://www.news.com.au/couriermail/story/0,23739,24521999-5016380,00.html for details.

This contrast between those who seek to cheat and those who pursue honesty is strongly expressed as a running theme in the Bible. Consider this example:

Ezekiel 45
Ye shall have just balances, and a just ephah, and a just bath. The ephah and the bath shall be of one measure, that the bath may contain the tenth part of an homer, and the ephah the tenth part of an homer: the measure thereof shall be after the homer.
Notice that the idea of dividing by decimals is very old. In this example there are two names for the same volume — bath for wet goods and ephah for dry goods. It is curious that the homer, at about 200 litres, is nearly the same size as the standard 200 litre petrol and oil drum designed in Germany in the 1930s. The bath, at one tenth of this amount, is equivalent to the small square-shaped fuel carrier that became known in many English-speaking countries as the 'jerry-can' from its German origins. For most of the 20th century, the 200 litre drum was known as a 44 gallon drum in the UK and its colonies, and as the 55 gallon drum in the USA because of their gallons of different sizes.

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

A friend in the USA sent me this method to visualise a hectare. It goes like this:

The distance from the home plate to the fence on a baseball field is, according to Wikipedia, between 90 metres and 125 metres.

If we assume that the fence is a perfect quarter circle and the foul lien is 112.83 metres then the area enclosed by the two foul lines and the fence is exactly one hectare.

Martin Vlietstra, from the UK, added 'a full-size rugby union field, including the dead-ball area is 0.98 hectare'.

5 Signs of the times

In the Letters to the Editor section of The Telegraph in London a seaman wrote:

... when I was navigating officer on board a research ship our draught marks were in feet, the echo sounder was calibrated in fathoms, while the charts were in metres. We never, ever ran aground (well, hardly ever).

6 Quotation

He who refuses to do arithmetic is doomed to talk nonsense.

John McCarthy, Stanford University, from http://www-formal.stanford.edu/jmc/progress

7 Q&A


Why is there a greater choice of hardware items in old measurements than there are in metric units?


This happened because as individuals, companies, industries, and even nations 'go metric' they almost always choose the occasion to reduce the range of sizes that they need to use. For example, when Ferdinand Porsche designed the 1934 Volkswagen he almost reduced the number of bolts needed in the car to two (there were only a few exceptions). The cost savings were dramatic as they only needed a handful of spanners to work on the car. This compared with the previous requirement of a large box full of different spanners.

8 Rule of thumb

The diameter of a capillary, one of the thinnest tubes to carry blood in your body is about 8 micrometres. You can compare this with an average human hair with a diameter of about 80 micrometres (with a range from about 20 micrometres to 170 micrometres – black hair is thickest)

9 History

Historians who are opposed to the metric system often simply base their beliefs on the nature of words without an understanding of the way measuring words are defined and used. These linguistic historians yearn for old pre-metric sayings like ‘give them an inch and they'll take a mile’. These good verbal folk seem unaware that in supporting the maintenance of these old words they are also promoting the idea of keeping the names of all the old measurement words – millions of them – complete with their poor definitions their repetitiveness, their obfuscation, and their confusion.

A quicker way is to replace the old saying; for the example used here I use, ‘Give them a gram and they’ll take a tonne’.

10 Hidden metric

Norm Werling, a member of the United States Metric Association (USMA), sent me a reference about a wind farm in Mexico that will be the largest in Latin America. The writer, Mark Stevenson of Associated Pres, reported that the wind farm would be built in an area of 6180 acres. Norman Werling pointed out that ‘When converted back to hectares that would have been 2500 hectares’.


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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