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Metrication matters - Number 99 - 2011-08-10

Metrication matters Number 99 2011-08-10

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

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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

Paradigm shifts

Before Thomas Jefferson and George Washington joined their political forces in Congress to achieve a decimal currency for the USA - and subsequently for the whole world - they had experienced what we now know as a "paradigm shift" through a practical application of decimal measurements.

As surveyors they had changed their normal way of measuring land and doing calculations to decimals using the English Gunter's Chain divided into 100 links. This meant that they no longer had to work with mixed numbers or common or vulgar fractions at all, nor did they have multiple conversion factors. Of course Jefferson and Washington would not be aware that they had made a paradigm shift, as Thomas Kuhn did not define a paradigm shift until 1962 in his book, "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions".

Although paradigm shifts initially referred to changes in science, a paradigm shift can now refer to how the beliefs and practices that define any area of study at a particular time can change over time. Current examples are:

  • The USA is yet to change to the metric system. (The USA began their change to the metric system in about 1795 — over 200 years ago — and completed their change to the metric system in 1959 — more than 50 years ago.)
  • Weight and mass are the same thing. (Sir Isaac Newton showed that mass and weight are quite different in his book, "Principia" in 1786 — more than 200 years ago.)
  • The words, energy and power, are interchangeable. (Energy and power are quite different physical realities and this was demonstrated in about 1800 — more than 100 years ago.)
  • An upgrade to the complete use of the metric system can be achieved using centimetres. (This has been attempted without success in many places since the decimal metric system was first legalised for France in 1795 — more than 200 years ago.)
  • An upgrade to the complete use of the metric system can be achieved using metric conversions (This is the approach generally taken in the USA since Thomas Jefferson actively promoted the use of the decimal metric system for the USA in the mid-1790s — more than 200 years ago.)

In science, examples of paradigm shifts include:

  • The germ theory replaced the idea that miasma causes disease.
  • The theory in optics that light can travel in a vacuum rather than the idea that light needs ether to carry the light.

  • The idea that the Earth was the centre of the Universe rather than that the planets revole around the Sun in a very large Universe.
  • The idea that life comes from life rather than spontaneous generation.
  • Andreas Vesalius view of the human body that replaced the numerous errors in the thoughts of Galen.
  • Lavoisier's concept of chemical reactions to replace phlogiston theory.
  • Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection that is slowly replacing the previous creationist ideas.

Taking the acceptance among the scientific community that all life comes from life, which began in the 1600s, as an example. This finally replaced the theory of spontaneous generation following the work of Louis Pasteur in the 1800s — roughly 200 years later. This time lag — of about 200 year — is typical for the scientific community. The general populace takes longer (and journalists and politicians seem to take longer still).

Paradigm shifts require changes in the basic assumptions, or paradigms, within the generally accepted beliefs in any area of study. The beliefs listed above were, and are, held very deeply even though they have been shown to be demonstrably wrong by even the simplest levels of research. Obviously, paradigm shifts are slowed down as they have to compete with established false beliefs and the political structures that support these false beliefs.

You might like to think about paradigm shifts as you plan your metrication upgrade programs. One way to reduce the time for paradigms shifts is the use of action plans for change such as those developed by John P. Kotter at Harvard University; see http://www.kotterinternational.com

Remember metrication is a practical matter not an academic study. Recall how Thomas Jefferson and George Washington achieved the paradigm shift to decimals by using decimal methods for measuring and calculating all day evert day for their surveying. When you use practical measuring with whole numbers in your approach to a metrication upgrade you are assured of very fast success (unless you use centimetres or metric conversions).

2 Feedback - notes and comments from readers

Sally Mitchell wrote to say:

When my oldest son was in 8th grade, the state exam in math asked the question "How many yards are in a foot?" His response was "I don't care." He received a 99 on that test.

Sally commented:

The funny thing is: He didn't know how many feet make up a yard, so how could he answer that question? My question is: Why was this question asked?

3 Oddities - measurements from around the world

In the USA, the Food and Drug Administration's LD50 drug test involves testing a new pharmaceutical chemical as a poison in a concentration that will kill 50 % of the experimental animals. LD50 is an abbreviation for 'Lethal Dose 50 %'. The LD50 replaced even older "measures" such as the "Cat unit". In 1910, a method of assessing standard levels of pharmaceuticals, the 'cat unit', was defined as the amount of chemical, measured in grams, milligrams, or micrograms needed for a fatal dose per kilogram of cat. See http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/jps.3080270410/abstract for an example of the use of the 'cat unit'.

4 Tips - pointers and methods to make your measurements easier

Recently I visited http://www.nightingale.com/mission_select.aspx and here is my first draft of my mission statement:

My purpose with my metrication work is to express my capacity to speak in public, to develop my knowledge of metric system measurement and specifically the metrication process, and my ability to write and to edit. I will achieve my purpose by speaking to more and larger groups, by participation in more radio and television interviews, and by helping people, especially journalists and politicians all over the world with their research, writing, and speaking about metrication issues.

5 Signs of the times

Of the measurement standards used in the International System of Units (SI), the second of time is the most precisely defined SI Base Unit. The National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) in the USA together with scientists in Russia have now announced an improvement that will make the definition of the second even more precise. In future time will be realised (reproduced in reality) to about 1 second in every 40 000 000 000 000 000 000 seconds. At http://www.nist.gov/pml/div684/bbr-050611.cfm they write:

Although small, the correction could represent a big step towards atomic timekeepers' longstanding goal of a clock with a precision equivalent to one second of error every 32 billion years—longer than the age of the universe.

Precision timekeeping is one of the bedrock technologies of modern science and technology. It underpins precise navigation on Earth and in deep space, synchronization of broadband data streams, precision measurements of motion, forces and fields, and tests of the constancy of the laws of nature over time.

6 Quotations

Knowing that the USA is fully metric but that this is not generally known makes this quotation from George Orwell timely:

In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.

7 Q&A - readers' questions and answer


How did the metric system develop into its modern form? How is it different to other systems?


The only measurement "system" ever developed, in the world, at any time, was the "decimal metric system". There were not then, there have never been, and there are no other measurement "systems" that cater to all measures for all activities.

The metric system is the only system that ever existed:

"For all time, for all people."

Bishop John Wilkins in 1668 invented a "system" that he called a "universal measure". This then developed into the "decimal metric system" as the legal measures for France in 1795.

It took about 170 years (1795 to 1960) for the "decimal metric system" to evolve into the International System of Units (SI), which is often referred to as 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.

The initial idea for a "universal measure" came from Bishop John Wilkins in 1668.

The "decimal metric system" was developed and organised in France, by an international committee, during the 1780s and early 1790s. The "decimal" part was from the USA, the word, "metric" was from a translation of Wilkins words, "universal measure" into Italian, and the "system" was from Bishop Wilkins original idea for a "universal measure".

The "decimal metric system" was made legal in France in 1795.

The first major suggestion for improvement came from Karl Frederick Gauss who proposed that new electric units should be based on the millimetre, the milligram and the second in 1832.

In 1873, the British Association for the Advancement of Science (BAAS) also realised that new units were needed to measure electrical properties. They proposed new electrical units based on the centimetre, the gram and the second. Historically, this became the cgs system when the first Congrès International d'Electricité formally adopted this system in 1881.

By the end of the eighteenth century, divisions had developed between scientists and engineers. Scientists, such as chemists, were quite comfortable using centimetres and grams, but the engineers wanted to use much larger units such as kilograms or tonnes. One particular area of difference involved electromagnetic units (emu), based on the cgs system, which were opposed to the electrostatic units, also based on the cgs system, and both of these were opposed to the international electrical units that are based on the mks system.

Giovanni Giorgi, an Italian engineer, proposed a compromise in 1901. Giorgi's system was based on the metre, the kilogram and the second and he suggested that an electrical unit would need to be chosen to construct a fully coherent system of units. In the meantime, engineers in France were using – and lobbied for appropriate laws – a system based on the metre, the tonne, and the second. The mts system could be used legally in France from 1919 to 1961. Engineers, all around the world, also devised another metric system based on the metre, the kilogram of force (not a kilogram of mass), and the second. From these competing systems, the Commission Electrotechnique Internationale adopted the Giorgi mks system, in 1935.

Subsequently, in 1948, The Giorgi system was also adopted by the Conférence Générale des Poids et Mesure (CGPM) and the ampére was selected in 1950 as the electrical unit. This system then became known as the mksA system.

Considerable work followed to further develop the mksA system until 1960, when, with the addition of several other new units, the modern metric system was named the 'Système International d'Unités (SI)' or, in English, the 'International System of Units (SI)'. The modern metric system is officially designated, and it is known in all nations, and in all languages, by the initials, 'SI', pronounced 'ess-eye'.

The progress of the International System of Units (SI) still continues.

8 Rule of thumb

One Mickey (named after the cartoon character Mickey Mouse) has been defined as the length of the "smallest detectable movement" of a computer mouse. One Mickey is about 100 micrometres.

9 History

In 1989, a metrication specialist from Australia, (not-named as he prefers not to be contacted) visited NASA where for three days he consulted with many people including the German rocket engineers Werner von Braun and his principle assistant, Ernst Lange.

Before leaving NASA, the Australian metrication expert had afternoon tea with the President of the Marshall Space Center, Bob (R. J.) Schwinghammer where the Australian offered to "dictate a memo to his secretary to get NASA started on metrication." Bob Schwinghammer replied, "That won't be necessary - I think we can manage". The Australian responded by saying "Well, Okay - but when you go, you go!" – meaning that when you go metric you go metric – you don't just half do it.

Later we learned that Mars Climate Orbiter space craft is out there some-where, but nobody knows where - most of their gear had been supplied in metric, as requested, but some of it hadn't. So ... "

Was this the loss of the Mars Climate Orbiter that was lost in September 1999? See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mars_Climate_Orbiter#The_metric.2Fimperial_mix-up

10 Hidden metric

On 2011, a BBC report described a new SpaceX rocket as having a factory area the size of a tennis court and a cargo capacity the size of a double-decker bus. The true dimensions — mass 53 tonnes, height 70 metres, thrust 17 meganewtons and so on — can be found at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-12975872

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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