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Metrication matters - Number 98 - 2011-07-10

Dear Metrication Leader,

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 latest revised of the Metrication matters web page is at http://www.metrictionmatters.com

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.


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

Pro-metric = pro honesty

All measurement reforms throughout history have been aimed at increasing honesty in measurement.

Measurement reforms have happened whenever dishonest measuring practices have developed to a point where the majority of the people become aware of them. Often these dishonest practices arise out of the collusion between a cartel of manufacturers who agree on a particular practice and then lobby to have their nefarious procedures written into the laws and regulations of a nation. Strangely, some ordinary citizens quite innocently support this dishonesty based on fear of change or fear of the unknown and this persists until they use the metric system without centimetres and without metric conversions for (say) a day.

The invention by Bishop John Wilkins in 1668 and development of the decimal metric system in the USA in the 1780s and in France in the 1790s was simply a major step in a long line of attempts to remove dishonesty in measurement. See /who-invented-the-metric-system.html

2 Feedback - notes and comments from readers

This email from Sally Mitchell is a few years old, but now might be the time to prepare for mole-day for your education community.

Dear Pat,

I really enjoy your newsletter and I hope that I am making a difference in the USA. I am a member of USMA and I have converted my school to the metric system. I am a chemistry teacher who is sick and tired of students not knowing the metric system by the 11th grade. By not living metric, students are in jeopardy in science class.

A mole is a standard metric unit and Mole Day is celebrated each year on October 23 (10/23 www.moleday.org) I use mole day as my 'metric day'. This year, we are having a dinner/dance to celebrate chemistry. I bake a metric cake 1000 mm x 1000 mm x 100 mm, cater a big dinner buffet, put on the music, and have chemistry booths.

If you can mention mole day in your newsletter, I would appreciate it. Let's get people going metric for the children. A metric household places a student in front of the class in chemistry. My own children have grown up in a metric household and now they are the top science students in the school. Go figure!

Thanks again for your newsletter.


Sally Mitchell

I want to be at the next cake-cutting of the 1000 mm x 1000 mm x 100 mm metric cake!

In a more recent email (2011-05-09) Sally wrote:


Mole Day is alive and well in the USA. I tend to celebrate Metric Day right up until Mole Day. The National Mole Day Foundation promotes the event and has a Mole Day Breakfast at ChemED on the odd years and the BCCE (Biennial Conference on Chemical Education) on even years. There is also a Mole Day run (6.02 km) during the conferences. The only thing I don't like about them is the timing! 6:02 am is not my favorite time, especially when the conference is in a different time zone.


3 Oddities - measurements from around the world

Sloppy and ill-thought out initial decisions in a metrication process can be extended without any prospect of finalisation for hundreds of years. These can be extremely costly to any industry that falls into this trap. Consider the tyre industry that tries to metricate using three different kinds of measurement in one tyre specification like this – 205/55R16 – where:

  • 205 means 205 mm wide
  • 55 means that the sidewall height is 55% of the width of the tyre (in this case 55 % of 205 = 113 mm high)
  • R means a type of construction using a radial ply.
  • 16 indicates that the rim diameter is about 16 inches. (This is, of course, 16 metric inches as the inch has been defined as exactly 25.4 millimetres since 1959. By calculation, 16 inches = 406.4 millimetres so, as the rest of the car is fully metric, many car makers design and make the wheel exactly 400 mm and then call this a nominal 16 inches.)

4 Tips - pointers and methods to make your measurements easier

This tip is from Jim Palfreyman in Australia.

Hi Pat,

Just had a neat lateral-thinking idea that works a treat - and would only work in metric countries. Thought I'd share.

I home brew my own beer. I don't bottle it however, I put it in 20 litre stainless steel kegs and use a beer gun to pour it. The problem is, you never know how much is left.

My solution:

Went to the local tip shop - paid $2 for an old set of mechanical bathroom scales with kilograms on them. Sit the keg permanently on the scales (making sure it's zeroed for an empty keg) and voila - the reading in kilograms is the number of litres left.

Jim Palfreyman

Nice one, Jim! By the way, Jim Palfreyman is the author of the Mean Mr Metric satire about the (non)conversion to metric units in October 1991. This was one of the highest scoring submissions to the Internet Oracle. See http://www.ofb.net/~jlm/oracle/oracle.365.10 for Jim's original article.

5 Signs of the times

I received this information from Michael Glass:

Dear Pat,

You may be interested to know that the Premier League data of players' height and weight is metric only and this is the case with Everton, Fulham, Liverpool, Manchester United and Sunderland teams. ... I have been going through the articles on Premier League teams in Wikipedia, and have been able to make the profiles mostly metric first for every team except Birmingham City, which is predominantly Imperial first. ... 19/20 is not bad.

Yours sincerely,

Michael Glass

Great research, Michael!

6 Quotations

We often forget that the drive toward the universal acceptance of uniform measuring units is a part of a very long battle between those who would have us use a corrupt measuring words – most often traders – and those who have sought an honest and a just method – the rest of us. If we go back to Biblical records (say 7000 years ago), we find evidence of this struggle in expressions such as:

Leviricus 19:35 Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment, in meteyard, in weight, or in measure.

Deuteronomy 25:14 Thou shalt not have in thine house divers measures, a great and a small.

Deuteronomy 25:15 But thou shalt have a perfect and just weight, a perfect and just measure shalt thou have

And this search for honesty in measurement seems to be a constant theme throughout the Bible.

The makers of television screens and computer monitors clearly have 'divers measures, a great and a small' in their houses. They design, plan, build, and buy using metric units (down to nanometres for their integrated circuits) and then apply a different set of measures — usually old pre-metric inches —to sell to the public. This 7000 year old practice of corruption is so ingrained in their industries that they not only refer to it as 'standard industry practice' but in many nations they have successfully lobbied to have laws and regulations passed by governments that preserve this crooked practice. Then they expect the rest of us to accept this as a reason for them to continue with their cheating.

But, as I said, the rest of us are simply seeking a, 'perfect and just weight, a perfect and just measure'.

7 Q&A - readers' questions and answers


Dear Pat,

From time to time I see you referred to as a metrication expert. I thought that measurement experts were called metrologists. Can you explain the difference between metrology and metrication?

(Name withheld by request)


I will do this in two parts.

Firstly metrology

A metrologist works on the science of metrology. A metrologist is a scientifically trained person who works toward extremely accurate and precise measurements using the International System of Units (SI). Metrologists often, quite innocently, slow down the process of metrication because they assume that the public knows as much as they do about metrology and its jargon.

The psychologists, Chip and Dan Heath, explore this lack of communication in their books: "Made to Stick: Why some ideas Survive and Others Die ", see http://www.madetostick.com/ and "Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard" http://www.heathbrothers.com/switch/ where they explore the idea of "The Curse of Knowledge", where highly knowledgeable people cannot communicate effectively because they make false assumptions about the knowledge and capacity of their audience. I have been guilty of this (before I knew about innumeracy levels in the Australian community) in assuming that people could understand the numbers that I presented and that they could and would act upon them.

One aspect of the "The Curse of Knowledge" is called "decision paralysis" and occurs with human height when experts provide a choice of measuring units. Given a choice between metres and centimetres (say 1.83 metres or 183 centimetres) and with no advice as to how to make a choice, many people (perhaps most in Australia) simply say, "What's that in feet and inches?" It doesn't help when an individual's height can vary by up to 40 millimetres during the course of a day as the intervertebral disks are compressed.

Chip and Dan Heath refer to this phenomenon as "The Curse of Knowledge" but Australian writer, Hugh Mackay, in his book, "What makes us tick?" is not so kind. He uses the term, "Professional deformity". He writes about scientists (and engineers?) in these terms:

... dozens of scientists might miss a particular piece of apparently obvious evidence until one person – perhaps coming fresh to the field – spots what they had all missed, because they were looking at the evidence through the filter of their preconceptions. 'Professional deformity' is a hazard for any highly educated person: it refers to the tendency to be blinkered by your specialised knowledge.

To my mind there are at least four quite separate and distinct kinds of metrologist:

  • Scientific metrologists seek to promote the International System of Units (SI) in its purest form. Metrologists favor the use of the SI rather than the modified SI that most of us know and use as the metric system. For example, metrologists encourage the use of centimetres because they are part of the French metric system of 1795; they ignore the historical fact that centimetres have never worked to produce a smooth, economical, and fast metrication transition. Metrologists also favour the use of decimetres to use as a definition for a cubic decimetre. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Standards_organization#International_standards_organizations
  • Manufacturing metrologists, such as the "American Society for Quality", who ensure that there are measuring standards throughout a company or an industry. These people dither between metrology and metrication often without fully understanding that these are quite different concepts in intent that require different practical strategies and activities.
  • Legislative metrologists, who draft the laws that are used in each national community. This is where lobbyists operate to influence politicians. They often use journalists to help create a cultural climate to achieve their ends. The result from this can be what is known in the UK as a 'Metric Muddle'.
  • Trade metrologists, such as the "Trading Standards Institute" in the UK who make sure that citizens are not cheated at the fuel pump or the weighing machine. These admirable people have to work with both SI and the metric system as it appears in legislation and regulation, which can be very confusing (The 'Metric Muddle' is their daily companion).

Secondly metrication

People who are interested in metrication are interested in the process that people use for a successful metrication upgrade — that is a successful change from the use of all of the millions of old measuring words to the use of the modern decimal metric system.

The modern decimal metric system is based on the International System of Units (SI) but varies from it in practical ways. People who care about metrication use words like litres, kilolitres, and megalitres expressed in whole numbers rather than cubic centimetres and cubic decimetres using numbers expressed in powers of 10. Metrication people often circumvent the International System of Units (SI) to achieve a rapid metrication upgrade.

Metrication people study what works for a smooth, economical, and fast metrication upgrade. For example, they tend to let the prefixes do the work by favouring whole numbers for each activity.

Examples are:

  • grams in the kitchen and avoidance of centigrams and decigrams.
  • millilitres in the kitchen and avoidance of centilitres and decilitres.
  • millimetres for all building activities and the deliberate avoidance of centimetres.

Metrication people also study the activities do not work to produce a metrication transition at all. Chief among these delaying devices are:

  • The use of centimetres that historically have never been used successfully for any metrication change. If you attempt to use centimetres for any metrication upgrade you are bound to delay your metrication transition for hundreds of years.
  • Using metric conversion. This appears as though it should work. It doesn't. And it doesn't much matter if you distinguish between "soft" metric conversion and "hard" metric conversion. All that happens is that you end up toying with the millions of old definitions for old pre-metric measuring words. Highly numerate people really like metric conversion as it allows them to show off their arithmetic skills. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mile for an example of the possibilities for just one of the old pre-metric measuring words, mile, which has varied from 1 kilometre to 15 kilometres in length.
  • Preservation of old pre-metric words by redefining them in terms of the metric system. For example Margaret Thatcher "saved the mile and the pint for Britain" using miles and pints that were also defined by metric system units. Napoleon Bonaparte also preserved old pre-metric system words by giving them totally new metric system definitions and calling them, "Mesures Usuelles". A similar scheme currently operates in the completely metric USA where all measuring words are now defined (since 1893 or 1959) using the metric system. Those that contain old pre-metric measuring words (such as metric inches, metric ounces, metric feet, metric pounds, and metric yards) are then referred to as United States Customary (USC) even though these definitions never existed before the re-defining into metric system units.
  • Blieving that old measuring words still exist legally without reference to the metric system - this has no been true since 1959. Even though the 1959 changes were very small they still have the effect of preserving the old inch, ounce, pint, and pound words in the community as if they were not metric words. If you asked most citizens of the USA they would claim that the USA is not metric because they don't know that every measuring word they use is already fully metric and has been since 1893 or 1959.

At its best metrication can produce a metrication upgrade for a large company in a single day. However, with the influence of delaying practices like these, this can be extended typically for over 200 years.

8 Rule of thumb

In the USA the average body mass of women is 65 kilograms and their height is 1.65 metres with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 24 kg/m2. However, the women chosen to be Playmate in Playboy magazine are taller at 1.68 metres and much lighter at 52 kilograms with a BMI of 18 kg/m2.

9 History

The original group of philosophers to develop the "decimal metric system" for the whole world were strongly advised on the success of decimal currency in the USA by Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson in the 1780s before they developed their own decimal currency (Francs and centimes) in the 1790s. They also incorporated the decimal advice of Jefferson as they developed their legal system of measuring units for France that was passed in 1795. The committee members 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 first visits into space and to the Moon from the USA were achieved with metric system units. Herr Dr. Werner von Braun did not use old pre-metric measuring words. He did all his thinking, planning, and designing using the metric system.

When it came to building the rockets, other people then changed the metric system units into one or other of the old pre-metric measuring words that they were familiar with. The media then latched on to the familiar words such as inches, feet, ounces, and pounds and spread this disinformation widely.

Despite what you may hear about the customary measures of the USA putting man on the moon, it was the use of metric system units that really did it. The actions of the metric system units may be hidden, but they are there just the same. What may appear on the surface to be one way is, in reality, a deception and a delusion.

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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