Metrication matters - Number 32 - 2006-01-10
Metrication matters is an on-line metrication newsletter for those actively involved, and for those with an interest in metrication matters. Previous issues can be viewed at: Metrication matters newsletters
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
Karl G. Ruling wrote from New York to comment on last
month's tip that read:
Remember your own body mass in kilograms, and also
remember that the average Australian or North American male
has a mass of about 85 kilograms and the average mass of a
female is about 75 kilograms. You can use these figures to
guess the body mass of others.
Alas, this means that the average Australian and
North American male, at a height of 1.75 m, has a body mass
index of 27.8 and is well within the 'overweight' range.
Women, at 1.65 m and 75 kilograms, are at a BMI of 27.5,
which isn't much better and is still above 25.
Of course, the average male or female could be a weight
lifter and the excess mass is muscle and not fat, in which
case it's okay, but I doubt that.
Instead of an editorial this month, I am going to direct
you to an article called, 'Why metrication matters' on the
Metrication matters web page at:
where I am sure you will find useful material to support
your own metrication efforts. I posted this on the United
States Metric Association email list server (See:
http://lamar.colostate.edu/~hillger/listserv.htm ), and
within minutes received this comment:
Thanks for posting the article. Great
material! And then I received
a whole series of suggestions for corrections (that I have
now made). Thankfully, the good folk at the USMA are a
picky lot; they let very little pass that isn't accurate.
I have also prepared a PowerPoint presentation to support
the 'Why metrication matters’ article
mentioned above. If you would like a copy of this
PowerPoint presentation please send me an email at
with the word
Successful as the subject. You'll
understand my choice of password after you have read the
Although we enjoy the benefits of standardisation every
day, most of us are unaware that there are groups of people
all around the world who make sure that standardised things
work well together. For example, we are quite comfortable
about the 210 mm wide A4 paper that fits into our
computer's printer, so we rarely think about it. However,
this has not always been true.
When Bismarck ordered new coins for the recently united German states, in 1875, he decided to make the 20 mark coin exactly 7.1685 grams of pure gold so that it could not be conveniently exchanged with the French 25 franc coin that was 7.2581 grams. Although it was only a small difference (0.0896 g) it delayed a common European currency for 124 years until 1999 January 1. As the English economist, William Stanley Jevons, put it at the time:
It cannot be too much regretted by all friends of
progress that, in deciding upon the (mass) of the new mark
piece, the German Government should have studiously avoided
assimilation to the France system.
It is almost always best to move straight from the old
inch-ounce measures to metric units directly without doing
any conversions. However, if you are forced to do
conversions take care that you do not build in any
unnecessary precision. For example, I once saw a recipe
that involved roasting an 8 lb turkey; this had been
converted to 3.629 kilograms. Going to the third decimal
place is way over the top — 3.6 kilograms would have been
In any case, if you avoid doing conversions at all, as I
suggest above, you will also sidestep this problem
altogether. Where possible use fully metric cookbooks that
don't bother with conversions. In Australia we recommend
'Cookery — the Australian Way' as it has
been fully metric since 1970.
5 Signs of the times
Gavin Young of Renewable Energy Systems in Oregon, USA,
wrote to say:
I watch the History Channel on cable TV in my
locality of Beaverton, OR, USA. Recently I've noticed that
measurements are frequently stated in metric units in shows
that I watch a lot (mostly shows about UFOs investigations,
government conspiracies, Bible/religious history, science
history, & science). I'm very pleased by this. I
further notice it is not just the people being interviewed
who are speaking in metric, it is the commentator as well.
Further the shows are not converting the Metric Units into
US Customary Units for the viewer/listener, and that is
Nothing has really happened until it has been
If you can't measure it, you don't know it. When
you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it
in numbers, you know something about it; but when you
cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers,
your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind: it
may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarcely,
in your thoughts, advanced to the stage of
William Thomson (Lord Kelvin)
No human investigation can be called true science
without passing through mathematical
Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)
All the mathematical sciences are founded on
relations between physical laws and laws of numbers, so
that the aim of exact science is to reduce the problems of
nature to the determination of quantities by operations
Clerk Maxwell (1856)
In Australia, women tend to use centimetres and men seem to
use millimetres. Why is there a difference between the way
the metric system is used by women and by men?
More men than women tend to work outside the home and many
work for large industries or within large organisations.
When metric conversion was introduced into Australia these
large industries and organisations gathered together to
provide (government supported) training programs for their
workers, so it was men who profited most from this
training. This training almost always supported the use of
millimetres — centimetres were not only not mentioned —
their use was actively discouraged.
On the other hand, smaller organisations and people (mainly
women) who worked at home were provided with very little
training support — if any at all. These people had to
devise their own approaches to the metric system, and this
was often an uncoordinated grab bag of ideas gleaned from
newspapers, magazines, radio, television and their
children's schoolbooks. So while many men were trained to
use millimetres, in general women were exposed to
unsupported older versions of the metric system that
involved lots of centimetres.
The sad part about all of this is that men got the easiest
path. Metrication using millimetres is demonstrably easier,
cheaper, and smoother than metric conversion using
centimetres, which is typically difficult, expensive, and
8 Rule of thumb
In cooling a room using an air conditioner, increasing the
temperature by 1°C will save you about 5 % of your cooling
I wrote that rule of thumb, because the temperature rose to
42 °C here, in Geelong, on New Year's Eve. I then realised
that it won't do much for readers in the northern
hemisphere at this time of year — so here's another one.
Assume the temperature is below 7 °C if you can see your
In the 1870s, when Britain was considering whether to adopt
the metric system — for the fifth time* — arguments in
opposition to its introduction were often based on the
theories of an archaeologist, Charles Piazzi Smyth.
Piazzi Smyth believed that the English inch was a close
copy of the 'pyramid inch', and as such, it was a perfect
unit of measurement inspired by God. According to Smyth's
reasoning, the British Parliament would be committing an
atheistic action if they approved the adoption of the
Piazzi Smyth also believed that the Great Pyramid was the
oldest man-made monument in the world and had been made
perfectly by men with direct guidance from God; he regarded
other surrounding pyramids as inferior copies of the Great
Pyramid. Because Piazzi Smyth's theories were directly
contradictory to any ideas of the evolutionary nature of
man's development, the antievolutionists, who were popular
in England at that time, could also be rallied in
opposition to the metric system.
Within a few years, Piazzi Smyth was proved wrong on both
counts: the Great Pyramid is far from perfect and it was
one of the last of the pyramids to be built. However by
then, the British Parliament had been swayed by these
arguments and had, once again, lost an opportunity to
approve the use of the metric system.
(* The first British opportunity to 'go metric' was when
James Watt promoted a decimal system in the 1780s; the
second was when the Parliament reacted to the introduction
of the metric system into France, Belgium, Luxemburg, and
the Netherlands in 1824; the third was when the British
Parliament needed to reconsider their measurement standards
when theirs were lost when the British Parliament burnt
down in 1834; and the fourth opportunity came when the
British Parliament had to have new standards made, in 1855,
to replace those that were burnt.)
10 Hidden metric
Scott Hudnall, from San Francisco, pointed out that hiding
the truth behind difficult to comprehend numbers is not new
and it is not confined to the metric system. Scott wrote:
I have seen Roman numerals used in modern times in
the movie industry when the studio marketers don’t want
people to think they might be watching an older movie by
disguising the year of the copyright in Roman
By the way . . .
If you enjoy reading the metrication information in this
newsletter, please pass it on to your friends, family
members, work associates and anyone else who you feel would
benefit from knowing more about metrication.
Your action could prevent your family and friends from
falling victim to one of the many metrication errors that
might cost them years of measurement frustration. At
Metrication matters, our goal is to educate everyone we can
about the simplicity and ease of use of the metric system.
In this way your family and friends will gain the positive
benefits of using the metric system earlier than others.
By passing this newsletter on to your friends you’ll help
to prevent them being cheated by measurement fraud, drive
measurement fraudsters out of business and make the world a
safer place for everyone! Not bad for sending out a few
emails! On the other hand, if you decide not to pass a
reference to this web page along, and your best friend gets
cheated because of a measurement scam, how hard will you
The internet is a fantastic distribution medium. As an
example, if you pass a reference to the 'Why metrication
matters' web page
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help by forwarding something like this in an email to your
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Cheers and best wishes for your metric future in
Copyright notice: © Pat Naughtin 2006 all rights reserved.
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