Metrication matters - Number 33 - 2006-02-10
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 by scrolling to the bottom of the page.
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
Linda D. Bergeron wrote to say:
'Pat, Your website has been in my bookmarks for quite sometime and I have enjoyed it tremendously.
Linda, who lives in the USA, then went on to say,
'I walk to and from work twice a day. The distance is estimated to be 4 km each way, based on using a map of the area and it's scale. Making for a daily walking distance of 16 km.
The terrain is hilly at one end of the route so my time varies by approximately two minutes depending on my direction of travel. I have to say "approximately" because I am using an ordinary watch as opposed to a stopwatch to measure the time. In addition as I have already indicated, this is not a measured course.
Taking a numeric average over both coming and going, my speed works out to 82.5 m/min. This is slow by the standard of most people, but I am ... a smoker.
The one upside is that I do not have a (body mass) issue. My Body Mass Index is 21.5'
I have suggested to Linda that she downloads the article, 'Walking for fitness' from http://www.metricationmatters.com/articles/ to support her walking program.
A word about global warming
I am concerned with the issue of global warming and recently I realised that national and world leaders cannot sensibly discuss this issue because they need a single word to do that.
And that word is 'joule'.
Why this word is so important is because the joule is the sole international standard SI metric word for measuring energy.
If you don't use the joule or one of its multiples such as kilojoule, megajoule, gigajoule, terajoule, or petajoule, you are condemned to choose from one or another of the old pre-metric words or words from older metric systems that are still in use for describing energy.
I recently conducted a search to find the ways that people describe energy in their particular country, in their particular industry, or in their particular craft or profession. Below is a list of some of the pre-metric measures, old metric methods, or the many combined (mongrel) measures made from both of these that I have been able to find. There are probably many others.
(Note: If you bother to read through this list — and I suppose that most of you will just scroll straight past it — you might notice that many seem to be repeats. This is because almost always there are no standards for old measures. Having no standards means the sizes can vary, the names can vary, and the abbreviations can vary, too; for example a Calorie is 1000 times a calorie and that's for only two of the many different definitions, spellings, and abbreviations of calorie.)
Here are 83 old energy measures that I found to be currently in use in 2006.
Atomic energy unit, barrel oil equivalent, bev (billion electric volts), billion electron volts, British thermal unit (16 °C), British thermal unit (4 °C), British thermal unit (international), British thermal unit (ISO), British thermal unit (IT), British thermal unit (mean), British thermal unit (thermal), British thermal unit (thermochemical), BThU (International Table BTU), BTU (International Table BTU), Cal = 1000 calories, cal = calorie, Calorie, calorie (16 °C), calorie (20 °C), calorie (4 °C), calorie (diet kilocalorie), calorie (int.), calorie (International Steam Table), calorie (International Table calorie), Calorie (International Table Calorie), calorie (IT), calorie (mean), calorie (thermochemical), Calorie (thermochemical), Celsius heat unit (int.), cubic centimetre atmospheres, cubic foot atmospheres, cubic metre atmospheres, dutys, dyne centimetres, electron volt, erg, eV, foot-grains, foot-pound force, foot-poundal, frigorie, gigaelectronvolt, gram calorie, gram calories (mean), hartree, horsepower hours, inch pound force, Kayser, kilocalorie (16 °C), kilocalorie (4 °C), kilocalorie (int.), kiloelectronvolt, kilogram calories (int.), kilogram force metre, kiloton TNT equivalent, kilowatt hour, kilowatt minute, kilowatt second, megaelectronvolt, megaton TNT equivalent, megawatt hours, newton metres, Q unit, quad, Rydberg, therm, therm (EEC), therm (UK), therm (US), thermie, thermie (16 °C), ton coal equivalent, ton oil equivalent, ton TNT equivalent, tonne coal equivalent, tonne oil equivalent, tonne TNT equivalent, UK thermal unit, W*hour, watt hour, watt second, and Wh.
I see daily evidence that the people of Australia cannot enter into any debate on energy issues because they simply do not understand all of the archaic and obscure language used for energy measures, and they are unaware that this arises because many energy traders want to continue to use archaic words to hide various realities — usually related to price.
I have no doubt that some folk will continue to do their best to confuse us all with one or other of the old measures that are still in use in 2006. The energy industries as a whole are notorious obfuscationists who use, as their primary tool of confusion, many of the pre-metric and old metric (and now officially deprecated) measurement names for different kinds of energy.
As an Australian example, I went to the Australian Bureau of Statistics web page at: http://www.abs.gov.au and navigated to the page for Detailed Energy Statistics.
Here I noticed how the choices of measuring units make it difficult to compare energy from oil with energy from black or brown coal. I also noticed that it is even difficult to compare electrical energy figures because coal folk use kt, natural gas people use TJ, and hydro-electricity producers use GWh. I quote from the ABS web page — with some of my remarks interspersed:
In 2001-02: 216,316 GWh of electricity, 862,635 TJ of natural gas (including ethane, but excluding liquefied natural gas), 18,727 ML of petrol and 13,503 ML of diesel were produced in Australia.
How can you compare gigawatt.hours, terajoules, and megalitres without elaborate conversion factors? This is like comparing apples with oranges, and then with watermelons.
53,576 kt of black coal, 65,075 kt of brown coal and 291,372 TJ of natural gas were used to produce electricity.
Apples and oranges again or, in this case, kilotonnes and terajoules!
The supply of electricity and natural gas to end-users resulted in transmission and distribution losses of 14,825 GWh of electricity and 12,093 TJ of natural gas.
So which of these was the more wasteful and expensive?
Australian industry end-users of energy . . . used 136,499 GWh of electricity, 378,576 TJ of natural gas, 9,711 ML of diesel, and 4,469 ML of petrol.
Apples, oranges, and watermelons again!
... Non-renewable fuels used to generate electricity include black coal (53,576 kt), brown coal (65,075 kt), and natural gas (291,372 TJ). Hydro-electricity was the main renewable source of electricity, and in 2001-02, 15,567 GWh of hydro-electricity were produced ...
Did you notice that in these 5 paragraphs there was one item in each that was measured in terajoules. Had the joule been used as the only SI metric unit available — in this case using the multiple terajoules — we might all have some chance of understanding these figures and the comparisons between them.
At least the Australian Bureau of Statistics is using old metric units alongside the modern SI multiple unit, terajoules, so they don't have all that far to go toward using the correct SI metric units based on the joule exclusively.
However, without the sensible use of measuring units, how will our politicians ever be able to make sane decisions about 'peak energy' and 'global warming'?
When you were in science classes at school you probably heard statements like: 'The nearest star to the Earth is 4.2 light years away'.
If you were like me you probably assumed that a light year was how far light travelled in a normal year. However, I just found out that astronomers have been using their own special year that is not the same as any of the years that the rest of us use. The astonomer's year is based on the Julian year that is not now used for any civil purposes and it has only very limited application by astronomers. The Julian year is named after Julius Caesar who died about 2000 years ago.
The rest of us use the common calendar year and the leap calendar year, and some people, very occasionally, use the lunar year, the seasonal year, the sidereal year, or the tropical year. For a quick approximation, you could think of a light year as about 9 petametres.
My wife Wendy pointed out to me recently how easy it is to devise new recipes using metric units. She said: 'I don’t like rhubarb too sweet, so I cook it with 1/10 its weight in sugar – no water – over a very low heat, stirring occasionally. I just pick the rhubarb and weigh it and if it's (say) 700 grams then I know that I need 70 grams of sugar. I can't imagine what I would do if I had 1 lb and 9 oz of rhubarb'.
5 Signs of the times
Harry Wyeth from California noted that in the television series 'Lost' that one of the main characters asked another how far away in the jungle something was (maybe the stash of drugs), and he said it was 'about 300 meters' away. Harry wondered if this was an indication of mainstream progress toward metrication in the USA.
Michael Payne, from Virginia USA, reported that 'the TV program 'House' has quite a bit of metric with no mention of colloquial units. 'House' is about an investigative doctor in a hospital somewhere in the US. Drugs are quoted as mg/kg body mass, body temperature is in Celsius only. Last night they cooled a body from 37 to 21 C in order to stop the heart without damage to the brain.'
Jim Elwell, CAMS, an Electrical Engineer and Industrial manufacturing manager from Salt Lake City, Utah, USA, noticed that the little packets of artificial sweeteners (Splenda, Equal, etc.) contain 1 gram of sweetener and that the packets of Splenda arrive in a box of 1000, so each box contains 1 kilogram of sweetener. (CAMS means that Jim Elwell is recognised as a Certified Advanced Metrication Specialist by the United States Metric Association) You can find out more about Jim Elwell's business at www.qsicorp.com
John Woelflein, from snowy New Hampshire (John said they had 25 centimetres of snow in 2 days), wrote to point out that there is a new size for Ocean Spray cranberry juice is a 3 L jug. He also said, 'I bought some Dole Light cranberry juice at work this morning and noticed that the bottle was no longer a US pint but 450 mL. This company is owned by PepsiCo'.
Remek Kocz added a comment, 'I just had some Tropicana grapefruit juice from a 450 mL bottle. Tropicana is owned by PepsiCo as well, so it's a change across the board for the Pepsi-owned juices. Now if we can have the same happen with soft drinks ...'
In his book, The Life, Letters and Labours of Francis Galton published in 1924, K. Pearson said of Florence Nightingale (1820-1910)
Her statistics were more than a study, they were indeed her religion. For her Quetelet was the hero as scientist, and the presentation copy of his Physique Sociale is annotated by her on every page. Florence Nightingale believed — and in all the actions of her life acted upon that belief — that the administrator could only be successful if he were guided by statistical knowledge. The legislator — to say nothing of the politician — too often failed for want of this knowledge'.
By the way, Quetelet was the scientist who invented the 'Body Mass Index' or 'BMI'. This is still sometimes called the Quetelet Index.
To the webmaster for the United States Metric Association:
Hello, I'm a motor mechanic from Australia. I was working on a Ford Explorer and a Chrysler PT Cruiser the other week and the bolts/nuts were mainly metric, also the Harley Davidson V-Rod was metric. Why is this so when all other US vehicles are not?
Don Hillger, webmaster for the United States Metric Association, replied:
Most vehicles (and construction and farm equipment) are nearly 100% metric these days, and have been for many years now. Only a very few parts may still remain non-metric, but the transition started many years ago and is nearly complete, even in the U.S. due to the international aspect of the industry, so that parts can be manufactured anywhere and shared/interchanged.
Harley-Davidson converted some newer designs to metric, but they were not metric until they retooled a number of years ago. I can’t remember the details, but I found this on the Web http://motorcycles.about.com/cs/beginners/g/def160.htm
I wrote to Neil Ruge to seek his permission to publish this Question and Answer and he replied:
'Pat, I don't mind if you mention my name. Are you helping/encouraging the USA to go metric? If so, please tell them to use the proper symbols, abbreviations, etc. and not to use all capital letters for the symbols, which is wrong, and as for the automotive industry please encourage them to use common standard thread pitches and spanner sizes i.e. 8, 10, 12, 14, 17, 19, 21, 22, 24, 27. Also tell them that a meter is something used for measuring something and a metre is a unit of length!'
8 Rule of thumb
I like to set our hot water service at about 55 °C for energy conservation reasons; my wife likes me to set it at about 60 °C for dish washing purposes. When my mother-in-law was living in a home for elderly citizens, the water temperature in her taps was set between 45 °C and 50 °C so that there was little danger that she would burn herself. Hot water burns can occur if exposure at the following temperatures occurs for these times:
- Hot water at 45 °C can cause burns in 15 minutes.
- Hot water at 50 °C can cause burns in 5 minutes.
- Hot water at 55 °C can cause burns in 30 seconds.
- Hot water at 60 °C can cause burns in 6 seconds.
- Hot water at 70 °C can cause burns in 1 second.
For those readers who have an interest in history or need to have detailed information about the history of measurement for education purposes, I have written an extensive 'Metrication timeline' that you will find at http://www.metricationmatters.com/articles/ This is a long timeline or chronology of the development of the metric system from about 5000 BCE to the present, 2006. It is fairly detailed and I expect that it will be useful to anyone who has to research the origins of the metric system. It will also be useful for anyone who is trying to lead others to use the metric system — don't worry, someone has already made the same mistakes as you are now seeing. However, be warned, although this is quite readable, it is a long article.
10 Hidden metric
Is the traditional London red bus, technically known as a Routemaster, really a metric bus?
This issue was raised recently on the USMA email list. As I researched this, I discovered that I could get technical specifications for these buses from a web page at: http://ticketslondon-online.biz/vintage_buses.htm and from my research, I observed that:
1 The Ensignbus people provide this data on an A4 page with the margins specified in millimetres.
2 On this page there are 23 measurements — 9 are old pre-metric measures and 14 are metric units.
3 If you remove the ‘Technical Data’ table of comparisons (7 old and 7 metric), then there are 2 old measures and 7 metric units.
4 On the main page they say that the RM model was 27 feet 6 inches and that the RML model was 29 feet 8 inches.
5 These figures are very close to 8.4 metres and 9.1 metres respectively.
6 On the Technical Specifications page these figures have been rounded to ‘30 feet’ and this has then been converted to a highly precise 9144 millimetres. It would appear that a ‘30 feet’ (9144 millimetres) Routemaster bus never actually existed.
7 The mass (GVW = Gross Vehicle Weight) of the Routemaster is given as 12 500 kg and this is then converted to 12 tons 6 cwt.
8 The technical specification are listed so that the old pre-metric measures are given on the left and the metric units are given on the right giving the illusion that the metric units are converted from the old pre-metric measures.
I don’t think that we can draw any reliable conclusions about whether the engineers at Ensignbus used metric measures when they measured the Routemaster or not. We can probably only sat that:
- It was not ‘30 feet’ long — this is only a nominal description like a 3/4 inch water pipe — and is not directly related to reality.
- It was designed to carry a mass of 12 500 kilograms (12.5 tonnes)
- Its engines were designed and built with their capacities in litres.
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 kick yourself?
The internet is a fantastic distribution medium. As an example, if you pass a reference to the 'Why metrication matters' web page
to just ten people, and they do the same, very soon everyone will be better educated — and that's hundreds of millions of people. Think about it this way — you are just six people away from distributing one million copies.
I could never reach millions of people on my own, so please help by forwarding something like this in an email to your friends, associates and relatives. The email can't do any harm, as it cannot contain viruses, plus it's a very short email, so your friends won't mind.
I have been enjoying reading a free monthly newsletter called 'Metrication matters', and I thought that you might enjoy it too. Just log in at:
There are links on the sign-up page to the back issues of 'Metrication matters' — down near the bottom — so you can check if they are right for you before you sign up.
If you need to find arguments to support your use of the metric system going to:
will get you well and truly started.
Cheers and best wishes for your metric future,
Copyright notice: © Pat Naughtin 2006 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'.
This was written by Pat Naughtin of 'Metrication matters'. Please contact for additional metrication articles and resources on commercial and industrial metrication.
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Pat Naughtin is a writer, speaker, editor, and publisher.
Pat wrote and edited the original Australian apprenticeship modules for the bricklaying, carpentry, electrical, fitting and machining, furniture making, plumbing, and welding trades. He was also the lead writer for the 'Wool' chapter in the Kirk-Othmer Chemical Engineering Encyclopaedia. He speaks regularly to small business owners, professional and business groups. He is a metrication consultant to several businesses.
Pat edited the measurement section for the Australian Government 'Style manual: for writers, editors and printers' and he is a regular contributor to 'Australian Style' magazine. He has been recognised by the United States Metric Association as a Lifetime Certified Advanced Metrication Specialist, and he contributes to the USMA newsletter, 'Metric Today'.
Copyright notice: This material is copyright (c) Pat Naughtin 2006. All rights reserved. Copying for any purpose, whether in print or any other media, requires permission. Contact: .
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