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Metrication matters - Number 28 - 2005-09-10

Dear Subscriber,

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

You are very welcome to forward copies of this newsletter to help your friends with their metrication process. We appreciate this, as many new subscribers come by this means. However, please send the whole newsletter including the details at the end about how to subscribe.


1 Feedback - notes and comments from readers 2 Editorial 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 Feedback

Marion Moon wrote to say, 'I too had a (Volkswagen) bug. I used the three most common spanner sizes, 10 mm, 13 mm, and 17 mm as well as occasionally the 36 mm size for the wheels. I guess I did a bit more work on my bug than others. It was still a good deal as the toolbox was a bit less weighty'.


J. Ward of California wrote to tell me about his experience in a violin shop. 'I was in a Los Angeles violin shop yesterday. A girl trying bows was complaining that the bows were too heavy. The owner pulled out a catalog for comparison — all weights were given in grams. Then he pulled out a set of scales and weighed all the bows, once again in grams. Their conversation was 100 % in grams.

'When the luthier was making an adjustment on my daughter's violin, he pulled out a ruler and muttered, '... it should be exactly 6.5 mm ...' I leaned forward and saw his small steel ruler was metric-only. I was also looking at some violin cases. Each case had a tag listing the mass in kilograms.

'In a crowded shop in the heart of Los Angeles everyone, employees and customers alike, was speaking in SI, the modern metric system. Never once did someone ask 'what's that in inches' or 'how many ounces is that?' Best of all, business was booming. It's been my experience that violinmakers, even American-born luthiers working in more traditional areas like Kansas and Indiana, work in metric units.


P.S. I was tricked by J's use of the word luthier — I asked my wife, who is a musician, and she told me that a luthier makes and repairs violins and other stringed instruments. She said that she thought that the name came from people who used to make and repair lutes.


Howard Ressel from New York sent me an image of a drink can that was clearly labelled 23.5 FL.OZ. (700 mL). He remarked, 'I have seen many hard metric bottles but this is the first metric drink can I have seen. Maybe its a trend ...'

2 Editorial

In the process of change it is always easier to go with the familiar rather than to study the relevant options and then to deliberately choose to act on what you judge to be the best. This is the point at which the founders of the metric system found themselves in the 1790s when they realised that the traditional measures (of France and the rest of the world) were in such a muddle that reform was absolutely necessary — our modern metric system was the result of that insight.

Interestingly, I was speaking with a formidable historian a few days ago, and when she (in an unguarded moment) referred to a modern measurement in inches, I was delighted to be able to ask whether, as well as her measuring units, her other attitudes and mindsets were also pre-French-revolutionary in character. I then followed up with that great story (possibly apocryphal) that, in 1972, when Henry Kissinger met with Chou En-lai in Beijing he asked the Chinese foreign minister if he thought the French Revolution of 1789 had benefited humanity. Chou En-lai answered 'We Chinese feel it is too soon to tell!'


P.S. We need your testimonials. We want to grow our Metrication matters subscriber list and to do this we need your help. We appreciate that many subscribers have recommended Metrication matters to colleagues, and forwarded it to others. Thank you. Now we'd like to add some testimonials to our Web site so when visitors consider subscribing, they see that you get value from Metrication matters. If you have a testimonial we can use, please send it, with 'testimonial' in the subject line, to

3 Oddities

Astronomers have confirmed that we have a tenth planet orbiting the Sun that is bigger than Pluto. The new planet is estimated to have a 3000 kilometre diameter compared to Pluto's 2274 kilometres. The, as yet un-named, new planet is about 14.5 terametres (Tm) from the Sun and it will have a year of about 950 Earth years. Since this is the 10th planet some people have suggested that it could be called 'Metron' in honour of the decimal metric system.

4 Tips

Slugs and snails don't like coffee — in fact they are poisoned by caffeine. So, to protect your valuable plants from snails and slugs, all you have to do is make up a very weak instant coffee mix and liberally spray the mixture all over your plants and around the ground near your plants.

Use the cheapest possible instant coffee you can find, and mix it at a rate of 10 grams (2 level teaspoons) to 1 litre of water. I bought a 250 mL plastic spray bottle and put 2.5 grams (1/2 teaspoon) of instant coffee in it before filling it with cold water and shaking it before use. You will soon notice less snails and slugs in your garden. Don't forget that you will need to give your snails and slugs another drink of coffee after rain or watering.

5 Signs of the times

In an article by Wayne Arnold in The New York Times entitled 'Malaysia, Blanketed in Noxious Haze, Declares Emergency' they mentioned '75 kilometers' and '400 meters' with no reference to any old pre-metric measures. Clearly they did not have enough time to dumb down this news item except to change the original Malaysian English spelling of metre to the USA spelling, meter. In later editions 75 kilometres was changed to 45 miles and 400 metres was changed to 400 yards with no mention of metric units.

6 Quotation

I have been known to whine that if God wanted us to use the metric system, He would have given us ten fingers and ten toes.
Judith Stone

7 Q&A

When Shakespeare's King Lear says 'Give me an ounce of civet, good apothecary, to sweeten my imagination', does this mean that he wants an avoirdupois ounce of 28.35 grams?

I don't think so. If you were buying medicine from an apothecary it is more likely that, in Shakespeare's time, you would be supplied with a troy ounce of civet as a troy ounce was also known as an apothecary's ounce. The troy or apothecary's ounce was based on 480 grains but the avoirdupois ounce was based on 437.5 grains. This meant that the apothecary probably supplied King Lear with 31.1 grams of civet. As to what civet might be, I had no idea until I consulted http://education.yahoo.com/homework_help/cliffsnotes/brave_new_world/43.html to find that 'civet' is 'a yellowish, fatty substance with a musklike scent, secreted by a gland near the genitals of the civet cat and used in making some perfumes. Here, John quotes Shakespeare’s sarcastic use of the term to mean a sweet scent. Pure civet is foul-smelling.'

By the way, if you ever need to think about old pre-metric measures:
1 troy/apothecary ounce = 8 drams (drachms) = 24 scruples = 480 grains and
1 troy/apothecary pound = 12 troy/apothecary ounces = 96 drams (drachms) = 288 scruples = 5760 grains. You should also be aware that troy/apothecary ounces are not the same as avoirdupois ounces and that both of these differ from imperial fluid ounces in the UK and from fluid ounces in the USA.

8 Rule of thumb

As a 'Rule of thumb' for this newsletter, I wrote: 'A kilogram of nuts in the shell will give you about 500 grams when shelled' only to be challenged by my editor (my wife) who said, 'This can't be right, different nuts have different shell thicknesses.' Further research revealed examples such as: a kilogram of almonds give 400 grams, Brasil nuts 500 grams, Chestnuts 650 grams and peanuts from 500 grams to 650 grams, so I am prepared to qualify my original rule of thumb to read: 'A kilogram of nuts in the shell will give you about 500 grams when shelled, but can vary from 400 grams to 650 grams' — sadly it's not so tidy now.

9 History

In 1790, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, (1754/1838) stated that it terrified him to study the variety of weights and measures then used by the French people — there were so many of them. Talleyrand listed all he could find and wrote a report for the French National Assembly.

Following Talleyrand's submission, in 1790, on May 8, the Assemblée Nationale Constituante requested the Academie des Sciences to propose a revision of all weights and measures. By late 1790, the French Academy of Science were determined to develop an international system of weights and measures.

Representatives from Spain, Italy, Denmark, and the Netherlands were on the development committees and they also sought support from England to help develop the metric system. England declined the invitation officially but there were many in England who recognised the need for international standards.

For example, James Watt (1736 - 1819) wrote many letters to French mathematicians and engineers encouraging the development of completely new, universal weights and measures. Watt encouraged a decimal system with all units based on the standard for length, using none of the old names and having no mathematical relationship with any old units.

10 Hidden metric

Makers of photographic paper seem to be quietly moving toward fully metric paper but they also seem to be hiding what they are doing. As examples consider:

Kodak calls 101 mm x 150 mm paper 6" by 4"
Yahoo calls 102 mm x 151 mm paper 6" by 4"
Costco calls 101 mm x 152 mm paper 6" by 4"

As 6" (6 inches) by 4" (4 inches) would be exactly 101.6 mm x 152.4 mm, none of these are accurate; they're all somewhere in-between.


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.

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