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Metrication matters - Number 29 - 2005-10-10

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 our privacy policy and 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

The Judith Stone 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'
provoked considerable comment.

Bill Hooper wrote, 'If God had wanted us to use metric then Jesus would have had ten disciples' and added 'But if he had wanted us to use the old English system, he'd have given Moses 5280 commandments'.

And Terry Simpson added: 'I know it is only a joke but it is based on the idea that "12 disciples" is a fact. "Forty days and forty nights" or "Forty thieves" were probably just meant to indicate a fairly large amount. Twelve was also a poetic number'.

Terry then went on to provide internet sources to support these views but, characteristically, he cautioned me about the reliability of internet information.

http://www.philosophyforum.net/Religion/Thirteen/13%20Disciples.htm suggests that there were 13 disciples.

http://www.jewfaq.org/613.htm says that there were 613 (more or less) commandments and that the concept of only 10 commandments is relatively modern.

http://www.revricky.com/sermons/12commandments.html suggests not 10 commandments but between 12 and 16 and that although Catholics, Jews, and protestants managed to squeeze the list down to 10 they have differed on which 10 to select.

All of this is topical, here in Geelong, as there used to be a rock formation along the Great Ocean Road called 'The Twelve Apostles'. When one of these fell down a few months ago, people noticed that there were only seven left and they began to think that there might not have been 12 in the first place; someone might have done some creative counting in forming the initial name. See: http://www.greatoceanrd.org.au/12apostles/index.asp for some spectacular images.


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What do you think is the greatest problem preventing the final and rapid acceptance of the metric system worldwide?

2 Editorial

Today is the tenth day of the tenth month and many people around the world have noticed its decimal significance and denoted it a special day in the metric year. In particular, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics denotes the week containing October 10 as 'National Metric Week' in the USA. See: http://www.nctm.org/meetings/metric-week.htm for more information.

This is a great idea and I would like to see this grow into a worldwide celebration of 'International metric day'. But of course, everyday should be an 'International metric day' so to give you some thoughts about how to make every day of every month into a metric day go to http://metricationmatters.com/articles and scroll down to find, '31 steps to metrication'.

3 Oddities

The world’s best clock, NIST-F1, now measures time and frequency more than twice as accurately as it did in 1999. It uses a fountain-like movement of caesium atoms to determine the length of the second and it measured the second with an uncertainty of 0.53 × 10^-15. This means that the NIST-F1 clock would neither gain nor lose one second in 60 million years. See http://www.nist.gov/public_affairs/techbeat/tb2005_0923.htm#clock for details.

4 Tips

More and more drink makers are using the metric system on their labels in the USA. Recently the bottled water maker, Ice River Springs, brought out a 500 mL Natural Spring Water. (See: http://www.iceriversprings.ca/index.shtml )

This reminded me of an old trick for estimating the mass of common everyday items. If you hold a litre bottle of Coke or Pepsi for a while you get to know the approximate feel of a kilogram. Do the same with 2 litres to feel 2 kilograms. My mother-in-law once won a 'guess the mass of the baby' competition because she remembered the feel of a 4 kilogram bag of flour she had been using to make fruit cakes and guessed that the baby was a little less than this at 3.8 kilograms.

5 Signs of the times

Phil Hall wrote to the United States Metric Association mailing list to say that he had just watched a movie called 'Supervolcano'. He said that it was 'about an imaginary (but possible) massive volcanic eruption around Yellowstone'. He went on to say, 'I relate it here because most of the data was in metric. The scientific discussion was predicting events in terms of cubic km of magma, temperatures in C, speeds in km/h, volcanic ash layers in cm and distances in km. . . I found this movie quite an unusual one in this respect'. He then concluded, 'Let's hope there are more like them'.

Paul Trusten, a pharmacist at the Midland Memorial Hospital in Texas and editor of 'Metric Today', advises that:
'I have some good news. I attended a continuing education conference in Austin, Texas, on 10 and 11 September. One of the presenters was a Dr. Matthew Grissinger, a pharmacist from the Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP). He stated during his presentation that he wanted to see only metric units used for height and weight in hospitals! This opinion came from a high authority, one whose job is to minimize medication errors. ISMP is an organization whose findings and statements are published periodically to all state boards of pharmacy. I'm sure this will eventually make its way to the hospital accrediting body, JCAHO'.

6 Quotation

Metrication is like learning to play the piano; you get the simple bits quickly, but it can take the rest of your life to master the details.
Wendy Pomroy, Concert pianist.

I do hate sums. There is no greater mistake than to call arithmetic an exact science. There are permutations and aberrations discernible to minds entirely noble like mine; subtle variations which ordinary accountants fail to discover; hidden laws of number which it requires a mind like mine to perceive. For instance, if you add a sum from the bottom up, and then from the top down, the result is always different.
Mrs. La Touche.

7 Q&A

How is the cost of delivering mail worked out when the mail has to cross borders between metric and non-metric countries?

All mail transactions are the responsibility of the Universal Postal Union (UPU) that was formed in 1874. The UPU helps to coordinate more than 6 million postal employees who work in over 700 000 postal outlets and who process and deliver about 430 000 million mail items each year all around the world.

The UPU has always used the metric system as its standard for measuring postal items; the UPU has been metric since 1874. The UPU specifies the rate required for each postal item by its mass in grams or kilograms. This is true for all of the 190 countries that are members of the UPU including the apparently non-metric USA.

Although the USA was the prime mover in calling for an international postal congress in 1863, and was one of the founding members of the Universal Postal Union in 1874, the USA does not choose to use metric units in its post offices within the USA.

Internationally the USA, like all other nations, has its mail charged at a rate per kilogram (See: http://www.state.gov/p/io/rls/rpt/2003/30771.htm ) . The grams and kilograms that are used internationally are changed to ounces and pounds for internal use, and the ounces and pounds that are used internally are all changed to grams and kilograms for international use.

8 Rule of thumb

The largest part of your body is your skin. To estimate the mass of your skin, divide your body mass by 16. For example if your body mass is 64 kilograms then the mass of your skin is about 4 kilograms.

9 History

The 20 litre 'Jerry' can' was invented in Germany and because of this it was given the nickname, 'Jerry' following the custom of referring to German soldiers as 'Jerries'. Jerry cans were flat sided so they were convenient to carry in brackets on military vehicles where they could hold fuel or water.

Following the success of the 20 litre can in the German army, they were carefully copied by the armies of the UK and the USA who even copied the 20 litre capacity of the cans. Jerry cans soon became one of the design icons that came out of World War 2. You can find all you might ever want to know about Jerry cans (perhaps even more than you will ever need) from this collectors website: http://ww2jerrycans.com

10 Hidden metric

A discount supermarket in Connecticut recently displayed some products called Poland's Best. They were labelled with rounded metric values like 560 g or 640 g in brackets after the dumbed down USA ounce conversion. They look somewhat odd when written on a product as 19.79 ozs. (560 g) or 22.61 ozs. (640 g).

Since the hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, the media have reported that at least one pump is pumping out about 27 000 gallons/min of water from New Orleans. This looks a lot like a conversion from 100 000 litres per minute. I suspect that the engineers controlling the pumps are calculating the time taken to drain a given area by estimating depth of the water and doing a simple metric calculation in their heads. Then journalists are dumbing these simple figures down for the public who often find it near impossible to work out how long the pumping will take using old pre-metric measures.


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: © 2005 Pat Naughtin All rights reserved.

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