Why Metrication?
Writing/ Editing
Who is Pat Naughtin
Metric Links

Search The Site:

Metrication matters
free newsletter
First Name:
Last Name:

Logo- Metrication Matters

Metrication matters - Number 100 - 2011-09-10

Metrication matters Number 100 2011-09-10

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

This is the final edition of the Metrication matters newsletter. I am not able to continue publishing the Metrication matters newsletter due to ill health. It is unfortunate that I am wrapping up this venture at 100 – I would have preferred 1000! If you want to refer to this and all previous editions they are all available at /newsletter.html when you scroll down to the bottom of the page.

Ill health has exposed to all the differing jargons that each medical specialist uses; it's a wonder that they can communicate at all.

My illness has also meant that I have to have loads of tests and as I am conscious of how things are measured I have noted that so far I have been measured using: centimetres (regularly), cups, decilitres, feet, inches and fractions of inches (constantly), miles (for travel between facilities), millimetres (once), ounces, teaspoons, tablespoons, and yards. Talking to the doctors, nurses, and other hospital and clinical staff it soon becomes obvious that their mindset is still feet and inches; this is the same as I observed in the textile trade where the attempt to use centimetres for a metrication upgrade using centimetres leads directly back to the use of feet and inches.

I suspect that the medical community here in Australia is still suffering from a non decision made in the 1890s when the scientists and engineers agreed on the metre-kilogram-second (mks) units (and gradually the 'Rule of 1000') while the medical community stuck with the older centimetre-gram-second (cgs) units and particularly the centimetre, which I have observed has not worked anywhere to produce a metrication transition.

This is very dangerous for the patients; medical errors are everywhere. I have experienced several of these personally and I find estimates of unnecessary deaths in the USA quite believable; the 1999 hospital medical error report, "To Err is Human" suggests that, based on New York medical errors, the national figure might be as high as 98 000 unnecessary deaths each and every year!

Many, perhaps the majority of these errors, might be prevented by a policy that encouraged metric system units only, and that these were chosen to encourage whole numbers such as millimetres for (say) surgery. At the moment a team of surgeons could be operating where some are using inches and fractions of inches to communicate with the rest of the team, some might be using centimetres (with fractions of centimetres or decimal divisions of centimetres, while a (rare) third surgeon might be directing scalpel cuts and instrument placements using millimetres.)

2 Feedback - notes and comments from readers

Thank you to the hundreds of readers who have supported the Metrication matters newsletter over the past 100 months. I have had suggestions, corrections, and many other helpful comments that have all helped to improve the quality of the newsletter. So I thank you all.

As a gift to the many hundreds of supporters of the Metrication matters newsletter I have decided to make the "Metrication Leaders Guide" freely available to you all. I would also like to thank all the people who bought a copy of the "Metrication Leaders Guide" who have helped to make this free gift possible for other subscribers.

The "Metrication Leaders Guide" includes the step-by-step plan, called "Metrication in a day" to conduct a successful metrication upgrade for a company in a single day. Go to: /docs/MetricationLeadersGuide2009.pdf to download your own copy.

3 Oddities - measurements from around the world

It is estimated that in the year 1900 the average speed of traffic in central London was about 20 kilometres per hour (km/h). A measurement survey of London traffic almost 100 years later, in 1996, showed that the speed of traffic in London was still averaging about 20 km/h.

4 Tips - pointers and methods to make your measurements easier

The story of the Hundredth Monkey arose from observations of a monkey colony in Japan. This monkey, a variety of macaque (Macaca fuscata), lived on an island called Koshima.

The scientists who were observing the monkeys decided to try a feeding experiment in 1952; this involved dropping raw sweet potatoes on a sandy beach. The monkeys liked the taste of this new food but they had trouble with the sand that stuck to the sweet potato from the beach.

One day a young female macaque, who the scientists had named Imo, solved the problem of the sand when she washed her share of the potatoes in a freshwater stream. She showed her mother how to do this and she showed other young monkeys; these young monkeys then taught their mothers how to wash off the sand.

By 1958, all the young monkeys had learned to wash the sand off their sweet potatoes. Adults who had learned from their children also washed their potatoes — all the other adults kept eating the sandy sweet potatoes.

Then something truly dramatic happened.

By 1958, a fairly large number of monkeys had learned to wash sand off the sweet potatoes. The exact number is unknown but it is estimated to be close to 100, hence the name of this story.

Suppose that one morning there were 99 macaques that knew how to wash sweet potatoes before they ate them. Let us also suppose that during the morning a hundredth monkey learned how to wash the potatoes.

Before nightfall almost all of the monkeys in the colony washed their potatoes before they ate them.

Somehow the hundredth monkey had caused a social and educational change in the group that suddenly became the accepted normal behaviour for all of the colony members.

Further research based on 'The hundredth monkey story' has shown that the principle of the story applies to many species in many different situations although the exact number varies according to the species and their situation.

If we apply this principle to people and metrication, we might say that when only a small number of people know of a new process or a new principle, it stays within the consciousness of this sub-group of people. However a tipping point will inevitably be reached when, with just a single extra person becoming aware of the new way of doing things, this new awareness reaches almost all the others in the group almost immediately.

If you apply this to your metrication projects the way to use this thought is to be open about your use of the metric system at all times so that - one day - the hundredth human will upgrade and the rest will follow.

5 Signs of the times

When Australia changed all of its road signs to metric (in a single day on Sunday 1974 July 1), the changes went like this: 35 miles per hour changed to 60 kilometres per hour (km/h); 50 miles per hour changed to 80 kilometres per hour (km/h); and 60 miles per hour changed to 100 kilometres per hour (km/h). Later an additional speed limit of 40 km/h was introduced near schools and particularly school crossings. This means that Australia generally now has speed limits of:

40 km/h 60 km/h 80 km/h and 100 km/h

These cover almost all signs with only a few exceptions, such as 110 km/h on some Freeways.

6 Quotations

An economist friend of mine says. 'If you ask this question at random: "What is 1 per cent of 100 dollars?" only half the people you meet can answer it correctly!'

7 Q&A - readers' questions and answers


Reading some of your writing gives me the impression that you hate centimetres. Why do you dislike centimetres so much?


Firstly, I don't dislike centimetres at all. I respect that centimetres are a legitimate part of the "decimal metric system" as it was developed in France in the early 1790s. The use of centimetres came at the prompting of Thomas Jefferson who was Ambassador to France from 1785 to 1789; he was using the success of 100 cents in a dollar as his model.

Secondly, I have never been able to find any evidence that using centimetres as part of a metrication upgrade has ever worked successfully — never! I have also challenged members of the UK Metric Association and the U.S. Metric Association to provide me with evidence where the 100s based centimetres have been successfully used to facilitate an economical, smooth, and above all FAST transition to the use of the metric system in any industry anywhere in the world — this has drawn a blank. Granted the centimetre has a lot to compete with - metrication upgrades using millimetres can be done for a whole company in a single day.

So, I strongly recommend that you don't use centimetres as part of your plans to upgrade yourself, your work, group, your company, your industry, or your nation to the full implementation of the metric system with all of its advantages. If you try I am convinced that you will fail. I am also convinced that if you use millimetres and you will succeed.

Thirdly, I don't hate centimetres at all. I respect them greatly because of the damage they can do.

Consider the worldwide medical community who are still struggling with the measurement mess that centimetres can produce even after more than 100 years of trying to use centimetres to do metric conversions. See: http://www.aarp.org/health/doctors-hospitals/info-10-2010/preventable-medical-mistakes.html and http://books.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=9728&page=1 et seq where you can see some of the consequences of using centimetres by not having any medical measurement policy at all.

8 Rule of thumb

Hundreds or thousands

When Thomas Jefferson prepared a plan to decimalise all measurements in the USA he chose to use the old measuring words, with new definitions, and to divide these decimally. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plan_for_Establishing_Uniformity_in_the_Coinage,_Weights,_and_Measures_of_the_United_States

With hindsight it is clear that he knew little about metrology and even less about metrication. However, despite this, his method using decimal inches, decimal feet, decimal yards, decimal pounds, and decimal tons was adopted gradually in several crafts, sports, and other activities and this has greatly retarded metrication progress in these areas. See /docs/USADecimalisationAndMetrication.pdf

Most of these used Jefferson's preferred division into 10s and 100s and his apparent conviction that all people could successfully slide decimal points back and forth. We now know that both of these assumptions are incorrect. For example, no metrication transition has succeeded using the hundreds based centimetres, centigrams, or centilitres. It is always best to use thousands, such as millimetres, milligrams, or millilitres, and to choose these so that most of the measurements you use are in whole numbers. See /docs/WholeNumberRule.pdf

If Thomas Jefferson were alive today I suspect that he would be in the camp of the mathematicians and engineers who cry plaintively: "But don't they know that all they have to do is to move the decimal point?" to which the correct answer is: "No they don't" as many people are functionally inumerate (about half among Australian adults).

9 History

This extract is from A Cultural History of the French Revolution (1989) by Emmet Kennedy , New Haven: Yale Univ. Press. p. 77-8.

The unification of weights and measures of the Year III the French Revolution, Germinal 18 (April 7, 1795) climaxed the efforts of a millennium (Charlemagne had sought it), but the system, in spite of its exportation by Napoleon's armies, is still not universal. ...

Out of the old regime's hodgepodge of administrations, jurisdictions, codes, standards of measure, and religious beliefs, the thinkers of the Enlightenment and neoclassical school sought to bring order and rationality. Different as these movements were, they were inspired by the same geometric spirit that inspired the Enlightenment itself.

As de Tocqueville rightly showed, this was centralization, and though the Revolution in some instances brought it to completion (as with weights and measures), the origins must be traced back to the old regime. Like the Enlightenment, it may have helped cause the Revolution. More certainly it revealed a state of mind and set of goals that made the Revolution possible.

One writer during the Revolution felt it was no exaggeration to speak of sixty thousand measures of weight in France before 1789. For surfaces there were the pouce, the pied, the are, the aune, the perche, the verge, the arpent, and the hectare, with their many regional variants.

Eighteenth-century authors such as Alexis-Jean-Pierre Paucton felt that the diversity sprang from feudalism, for seigneurs had "low justice" over weights and measures, kept the standards in their possession, and refused to allow them to be checked by other standards. "The seigneurial monopoly of weights and measures," writes their historian, "coexisting with a rente income in kind agricultural produce easily caused permanent conflicts; it created a situation propitious for the falsification of standards by the seigneurs and for the distrust, justified or not, of the peasants."

The old weights and measures upheld the old regime. A common demand of the cahiers de dolénces of grievances of 1789 was thus to unify weights and measures - not to avoid paying feudal dues but to assure an honest amount payable. The rallying cry: "un roi, une loi, un poids, et une mesure" (one king, one law, one weight, and one measure) was a slogan of equality and centralization, the chief mark of modern French history, one that the monarchy commenced and the Revolution furthered."

Note: At its simplest the International System of Units has 7 base units and 22 derived units with special names making 29 units in all. These 29 continuously managed units with fully defined and definite values replaced all of the old measuring words mentioned above. For example, the 60 000 measures for "weight' have been replaced completely with 2 metric system inits: kilogram for mass and newton for weight.

10 Hidden metric

One of the great lies in history is perpetrated in the USA whenever old measuring words such as chain, inch, fathom, ounce, pound, and mile are used without specifying the intended definition. This has the effect of hiding the reality that all of these measures are legally defined for the USA in terms of the metric system.

For example, if someone says they are six-foot tall, they might be using one or other of the many pre-1893 definitions of the foot; or they might be referring to either the 1893 Mendenhall metric foot or the 1959 English-speaking metric foot (both of these are the only ones that can still be legally used in the USA). But hardly anyone knows that the USA has two different legal feet (and I’m not talking left and right here) that are both based on metric system units.

This is hidden metric on a grand scale. This lie prevents many — perhaps the majority of citizens of the USA — from knowing that the USA is fully metric.

Although the changes made to hide the metric definitions of the so-called United States Customary (USC) words in 1893 and 1959 were small they still have the same hiding ability that Napoleon Bonaparte used with "mesures usuelles" in 1812, and that Margaret Thatcher used with her political statement to "save the mile and the pint for Britain" in 1989.

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 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.

Copyright notice: © 2011 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'.

Please feel free to pass on a copy of 'Metrication matters' to anyone you know who has an interest in metrication. Please do not subscribe on behalf of others; subscription is a personal choice. Our privacy policy is simple – we don't share any information with anyone. We do not rent, trade or sell our email list to anyone for any reason. You will never get unsolicited email from strangers as a result of joining the 'Metrication matters' mail list.

Subscribe to Metrication matters - it's FREE

Why Metrication? | Speaking | Writing/ Editing | Articles | Newsletter | Who is Pat Naughtin? | Metric Links | Home

Logo- Metrication Matters

Pat Naughtin
Metrication Matters
ABN 18 577 053 518
PO Box 305, Belmont, Geelong, 3216, Australia
+ 61 3 5241 2008

Add to Favorites