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Metrication matters - Number 89 - 2010-10-10

Dear Subscriber,

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

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

Help a friend – if you know somebody who will benefit from this newsletter, please forward this copy 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.


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

I hope that all is going well with your metric day plans and activities on this momentous day. This is the last time this century when we will have a date that can be written as:


However this does not mean that you cannot plan for another push toward the metric system on the 10th day of the 10th month each – and every – year. I would plump for this to be called 'International Metrication Day' to give emphasis to the word ‘metrication’. This would then focus on the processes we need to use to move further toward full use of the metric system in all trades, crafts, and professions. As Condorcet put it in the 1790s, the decimal metric system is:

For all time, for all people.

2 Feedback

From time to time people from all around the world send me examples of so-called humorous articles from newspapers and magazines denigrating the metric system by making fun of it. In the last two years these references have more or less ceased – from maybe four or five each year I have only had one this year. My response has been to send the writer a reference to a counter article that I wrote that suggests that the writer should refuse to use the metric system at all. I send them this reference: /docs/DontUseMetric.pdf

You might like to pass this reference on to any anti-metric acquaintances.

3 Oddities

In New Zealand agricultural researchers have been experimenting with rendering fat from lambs to use as a fuel for diesel engines. An average lamb can produce 2 litres of diesel fuel and a truck can run on that for 12 kilometres. You could think of the fuel consumption as 12 kilometres per lamb.

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

Use the prefixes of the metric system so that you can use whole numbers for most, if not all, of your work.

For example, the best baby hospitals do this by measuring, recording, and reporting the mass of babies in grams. By doing this, if a baby changes from (say) 3445 grams to 3410 grams then mother and carers all know to be alert, as the loss of mass could be an indicator that there is something wrong with the baby.

Rounding the mass of the baby to 3.4 kilograms and then noting some time later that the baby is still 3.4 kilograms is certainly not in the baby’s best interest. And I won't even comment on people who change this baby's mass from 3445 grams to pounds and ounces – Hhhhrrrmmmph! For details on how to use the metric system to favor whole numbers, see /docs/WholeNumberRule.pdf

5 Signs of the times

Changing road signs is usually a simple one-day activity when it is well planned and well done. Examples are abundant. Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa changed all of their signs in a single day back in the 1970s.

In Australia's case they placed new metric signs all around the country for several months before the changeover day (1974 July 1) but left them covered with jute sacks. Come changeover day (it was a Sunday) they uncovered the metric signs and removed the old pre-metric signs. The public quickly and easily became accustomed to the new signs – probably by about Wednesday – and the prophets of doom who had predicted mayhem and murder on Australian roads were proved to be totally wrong; if anything accidents went down as drivers were temporarily more cautious.

The most recent change to all metric signs was in Ireland and they, too, did their road signs changeover in a single day.

6 Quotation

This quotation comes from John Ward at http://www.jsward.com/cooking/index.shtml

Specifying your recipe in metric units ensures that it can be properly interpreted everywhere. Writers of cookbooks can also benefit from metricating their recipes, since books are bought and sold on the global market.

If you are interested in cooking using metric measures you might find this radio interview that I did with Trevor Chappell of Australian Broadcastin Commission (ABC) interesting: http://www.abc.net.au/overnights/stories/s2982508.htm

This program went nationally all over Australia and we did it live to air.

7 Q&A


I’ve been told that even though the speed of light is very fast (about 1 000 000 000 km/h) this speed can be limiting to the design of computers. Could you explain this please?


Your source is right. As the speed of modern computers increases, the speed of light is becoming a limiting factor for the design of single computer chips. This happens because computer makers want their computer chips to go through more cycles each second – they measure a cycle per second with the SI unit hertz (Hz) and these are then measured in kilohertz, megahertz, gigahertz, and terahertz. For example the Apple computer that I am using now has a ‘clock speed’ of 2.4 gigahertz that means that it can go through 2 400 000 000 calculating cycles per second.

Now, with the search for much higher speeds than this, the speed of light also needs to be considered even for quite small distances. Not long ago IBM, Sony, and Toshiba worked together to develop a computer processor that they wanted to run at a speed of 6 gigahertz. At this speed, travelling at the speed of light an electronic signal can only travel up to 50 mm in a single (6 GHz) cycle. As a result of this limitation there is a limit on how quickly data can be sent between processors and on how big you can design individual computer components.

Historically, one of the first of the computer chips used in ordinary offices was the 80386 that ran at 16 MHz built with a process technology based on separations of 1500 nanometres. Modern developers are seeking to commercialise a 6 Ghz (6 000 MHz) with component separations of 45 nanometres. To put that into perspective, if a car's top speed was 200 km/h in 1985, it would be nearly 75 000 km/h today

8 Rule of thumb

I count seconds by saying, 'One thousand, two thousand, three thousand, four thousand, ... and so on'. Other people I know use things like: 'One cat and dog, two cat and dog, three cat and dog, four cat and dog ...', or ‘one chimpanzee, two chimpanzees, three chimpanzee, four chimpanzees ...' and so on.

9 History

In 1795, the committee members who were commissioned to develop the first 'decimal metric system' to become the legal measuring method for any nation had very impressive names and titles. They were:

  • Jean-Charles chevalier de BORDA,
  • Louis-Antoine comte de BOUGAINVILLE,
  • Jean-Nicolas BUACHE dit Buache de la Neuville,
  • Jacques-Dominique comte de CASSINI,
  • Jean-Baptiste Joseph chevalier DELAMBRE,
  • Louis comte de LAGRANGE,
  • Joseph Jérôme Lefrançois de LALANDE,
  • Pierre-Simon marquis de LAPLACE, and
  • Pierre-François-André MECHAIN.

10 Hidden metric

The world cotton market is dominated by the USA so cotton is sold – usually on the futures market – in lots of exactly 453.592 37 grams. This is for two reasons. Cotton traders like to use the word, pound, even though most of them don't know that the pound they refer to is truly a metric pound because that's the way it is legally defined. Since 1 July 1959, the avoirdupois pound has been defined (in nations where English is the dominant language) as exactly 453.592 37 kilogram.

It is interesting to note that wool traders faced with a similar issue picked a date in 1972 and then changed to trading in kilograms from that day. Traders got used to the kilogram in about a week and then got on with their lives. There has been no need for any conversions in the wool trade, at all, since 1972. Compared to the wool merchants change to the metric system in a single day, based on the experience of other industries, cotton traders in the USA probably face a metrication transition of about 200 years.

The method used by the wool buyers to make the metrication change in a single day is called 'Direst metrication' and the method chosen by the cotton traders is called 'metric conversion' or 'hidden metrication'. You can read more about these metrication choices at: /docs/ApproachesToMetrication.pdf


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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