Metrication matters - Number 25 - 2005-06-10
Metrication matters is an on-line metrication newsletter for those actively involved, and for those with an interest in metrication matters.
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1 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
7 Q&A - readers' questions and answers
8 Rule of thumb
10 Hidden metric
I had a wonderful time in the USA recently. I left Australia at the end of March and returned from the USA in mid May. During my visit I was able to meet and to speak to many metric experts and enthusiasts in Phoenix, Denver, Boulder, Fort Collins, Salt Lake City, Midland, Charleston, and Los Angeles.
For me, it was a truly great learning experience and I now have a little more insight into some of the issues that effect metrication in the USA. I will report further on these in future editions of 'Metrication matters'. See http://www.metricationmatters.com/speaking.html/ for some comments from USA audience members.
From time to time the question is raised whether it is better to cook using volume (cups and spoons) or mass (grams and kilograms) measures. There is no doubt about this among professional chefs – mass in grams and kilograms is best – especially for cooking breads and cakes. The question about volume vs mass arises because many of our mothers and grandmothers did not have access to scales in their kitchens when they wrote down the recipes that they have passed down to us in old recipe books.
The Grand Prix or F1 motor racing in Melbourne is held on a 5.3 kilometre track. The cars race around this at an average speed of 4 metres per minute or about 245 kilometres per hour. In a circuit they use about 3.8 litres of fuel, so their fuel consumption is 1.4 kilometres per litre or 72 litres per 100 kilometres. An average family can uses about 10 litres of fuel for each 100 kilometres of travel; this equates to 10 kilometres per litre.
Most people walk at about 100 metres per minute. If you walk reasonably briskly for ten minutes, you will have walked 1 kilometre. If you walk for 20 minutes you will have walked 2 kilometres. Fitness experts generally recommend that you should walk 30 minutes (3 kilometres) four times a week.
5 Signs of the times
An elderly tailor was seen recently, in Fort Worth, Texas, measuring a young man with a metric tape measure.
Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness ... Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to fulfill it.
George Santayana (1863-1952)
You mentioned that a man's little finger nail is 10 millimetres. Mine isn't – it is nearer to 8 millimetres. How can I fatten it up to 10 mm?
You can't fatten a fingernail! However, one of your other fingernails will be near enough to 10 millimetres across. If you remember which one it is a convenient measure for small item such as bolts and button holes. Across your thumbnail (15 millimetres for me) is a handy (sic) measure too.
8 Rule of thumb
The width of men's neckties varies with fashion but the average is about 90 millimetres. If you choose ties that are 90 millimetres wide, you (or the person you are buying the tie for) will always be close to the current trend.
By the way, I am always on the lookout for 'Rules of thumb' to add to my collection. I prefer metric ones but I also convert 'Rules of thumb' from old units to SI units. Please send your 'Rules of thumb' to
In about 2175 BCE, the governor of Gudea, Lagash, had a statue made showing himself as a builder. He is depicted with some plans and a ruler showing the size of various units. From this statue we know that a hand was about 100 mm, a large cubit was about 500 mm, so a double large cubit that was also used at that time was about the length of a modern metre.
Sometime after this, the Babylonians devised a unit of mass based on a hand of about 100 mm. They built a cube where each side had a length of one hand (100 mm). This was known as a ka and it had a capacity very close to a modern litre. If you filled a ka with water, it became an important unit of mass, called a great mina, which had a mass very close to the modern kilogram.
10 Hidden metric
A friend in the USA works in a laboratory where all the work is done using SI metric units. Recently he was asked to convert a report to non-SI units because it was going to be used in a court case. I wonder whether all forensic science in the USA has its metric measurements hidden from the judge and the jury. My friend might usefully show this to his senior engineer.
Text of the law
The Act was codified as 15 USC 204 et seq., shown below.
U.S. Code Title 15
Commerce and Trade Chapter 6
Weights and Measures and Standard Time
Weights, Measures, and Standards Generally
Sec. 204. Metric system authorized
It shall be lawful throughout the United States of America to employ the weights and measures of the metric system; and no contract or dealing, or pleading in any court, shall be deemed invalid or liable to objection because the weights or measures expressed or referred to therein are weights or measures of the metric system.
Enacted July 28, 1866.
Note the date.
The USA has been legally metric for a long time but this is often hidden from the public. This law was quoted from http://lamar.colostate.edu/~hillger/laws/metric-act.html
Please contact for additional metrication articles and resources on commercial and industrial metrication'.
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