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Metrication matters - Number 35 - 2006-04-10

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.

Dear Subscriber,


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

David King wrote to say, 'I cannot comment on what is happening in Ireland, but here in London, I overheard some Irish men talking on a train recently, and they were talking of distances in metres. No imperial was used at all'.

Sally Mitchell, a teacher at the East Syracuse-Minoa High School, has started a metric club at her school that has now grown to over 60 student members. East Syracuse-Minoa High School is a part of the New York State Education Department. Their biggest news is that they have adopted a highway near the school where they will erect a sign that will read 'ESM Metric Club adopted the next 3.2 kilometers'. As Sally says, 'I can't wait for the snow to melt so we can start cleaning!'
I have suggested to Sally that she arrange for all of her student metric club members to become subscribers of Metrication matters and she intends to encourage this idea.

Stan Doore wrote to say: 'Hi Pat, You may wish to include in your newsletter the new USMA SI Chart. Don (Hillger) cleaned it up so it is more presentable for publication and for poster formats.'

I looked this up at: http://lamar.colostate.edu/~hillger/pdf/SI-units-named.pdf and it is a very simple representation of the relationships between the main metric (SI) units. It should be especially interesting for readers involved with mathematics and physics education.

Mike Joy sent me a puzzle that might be useful to teachers. Mikes question was, 'If I tear a piece of paper in half and place it on top of the other piece 50 times, how high will the pile be?'

My first reaction was to measure the thickness of a ream (500 sheets) of paper. This was conveniently 50 millimetres thick so each sheet is 0.1 millimetres or 100 micrometres thick.

My next thought was to ask how many sheets there would be in the stack. This is where I had problems. One torn sheet gives two thickness; two sheets torn gives four thicknesses; and so on for fifty times. Mike’s answer had him sitting on top of the pile about four times the distance to the Moon. I didn't check his figures, but as Mike said, 'Now, if I had to do this using old pre-metric measures then I'd be here until eternity working that one out, I reckon!'

Bill Hooper, from Florida, responded to the item in Metrication matters 34 suggesting that the Marx Brothers names (harpo, groucho, zeppo, gummo, and chico) should be reserved for future prefixes for tiny metric amounts. Bill wrote:

I presume (and sincerely hope) that this was written with 'tongue in cheek' (or perhaps 'computer mouse in cheek' would be more apt). But I'll go along with it for fun and ask ' . . . perhaps there are other series of names that would be useful (and have more members) than the Marx brothers.

For the new smaller prefixes, we could use some the names of some well-known small people, as follows (using length as the example):

happimetre, bashfometre, sleepimetre, sneezimetre, grumpimetre, dopiemetre, docometre

The new BIG prefixes could be named for something(s) that represent big heights and fast speeds as follows (again using length as the example):

dashometre, dancometre, prancometre, vixometre, cometmetre, cupidmetre, donnermetre, blitzometre, and even maybe, rudolphometre'.

Bill concluded by asking, 'Can't you just imagine measuring a speed of 3.14 sneezimetres per rudolphometre?'

2 Editorial

A few months ago (Metrication matters 26), I asked what readers consider the greatest barrier to worldwide metrication. I have just received this reply from Helen Bushnell, who is currently in Daejeon, South Korea. Helen wrote:

Hello Pat,

Sorry it has taken me so long to get to this.

The greatest barrier to worldwide metrication is the widespread use of non-metric units in the US. The US is a powerful country, and some people imitate those they see as powerful. The US also influences people through our movies and TV programs that are seen all over the world. Even though most references to non-metric units are changed to metric in dubbing and subtitles, people in most countries are aware that the US uses non-metric units. Some people think that those units are common throughout the world.

Some people in Asia actually learn what inches and pounds are. They also absorb the attitude that different forms of measurement are simply cultural artefacts. This influence reduces pressure to use accurate measurement in commercial transactions in at least a couple Asian countries. Of course, the US government and citizens are partly shielded from realizing how alone we are in the world.

Helen Bushnell

I think that I agree with Helen. The retarding effect of non-metrication in the USA is not only incredibly costly to the USA (see: the pdf article 'Costs of non-metrication at: http://www.metricationmatters.com/articles ) but it is also a drag on the metrication progress in the rest of the world.

3 Oddities

Lemon trees in a village in Cyprus have stunned their owners by suddenly bearing fruit so huge they are almost as large as footballs.

One tree has clumps of lemons with diameters ranging up to 200 millimetres, making visitors wonder if there is something in the water. Residents say several villagers had trees with lemons of similar size, weighing anything up to 3.5 kilograms. One of the growers, Ms Charalambous said, 'They have a lot of juice in them, and we use the peel to make candied fruit'.

Sakae Shibusawa, an agriculture-engineering professor at the Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology said that his team has successfully extracted 1.4 mL of gasoline from every 100 g of cow dung by applying high pressure and heat. The new technology could be a boon for livestock breeders in reducing the burden of disposing of large amounts of waste, according to the researchers.

A reader of Metrication matters passed on this recipe from the Sarawak Salvation Army Boy's and Girl's Home Cookery Book, published in Kuching in 1968. This is a portion of a recipe for coconut shoot and chicken curry, by Wee Bee Siok.

1 chicken weighing 2 to 3 katis (cut up)
3 to 4 katis coconut shoots
5 sticks lemon grass
10 cts* ground or powdered turmeric
(*cts is an abbreviation for 'cents' or the amount of turmeric that you could buy with MYR 0.10 in Kuching in 1968).

4 Tips

Scott Hudnall, from California, noted this sign on an aircraft instrument.

Operating altitude To 3.048 meters (10,000 feet)

Scott suggested, 'At just over 3 metres it would be unusable in any building upstairs!'

Bill Potts, also from California, advised:

That problem goes away if one follows recommended SI notation, where the delimiter is a space and the decimal point can be either a period or a comma.

In your example it would be 3 048 m (10 000 feet). Or, more probably, it would be 3050 m (about 10 000 feet). The precision you showed tends to be limited to the heights of terrestrial features (such as mountains, mountain passes, cities and towns) above sea level.

Three point five six meters (for example) is unambiguously expressed as either 3.56 m or 3,56 m.

5 Signs of the times

Jim Elwell, from QSI Corp in Salt Lake City, reports that he has found a sugar substitute that is packed in sachets of one gram and that these arrive in a pack of 1000 sachets. He suggests that these could be used in a classroom to show that there are 1000 grams in a kilogram.

Jim also sent me an image of a Nestlé wrapper off a 'Butterfinger Crisp' labelled 1.76 OZ. (50 g) and noted, that this rounding to a decimal size is 'Hopefully part of a trend'.

Paul Trusten, the editor of Metric Today, wrote to say that he noted that the 'Glide' brand of dental floss contains an even 50 m of floss. Marion Moon added that the 'Glide' company used to label their floss '50M' until she wrote to them to explain about international standard symbols in the metric system. As Marion wrote, 'A pleasant women said that when they changed the packaging that they would change the measurement to reflect best practice'. Marion then added. 'I guess it worked as the new packages I see are correct'. They now have the correct '50 m'unit on the pack.

Michael Payne, from Virginia, reports that he bought some tile grout and he was delighted to discover that all the tile descriptions on the pack were in rounded millimetre sizes. He then went on to remark, 'would you believe most tiles are round metric size? . . . these trends exemplify what should be on every product sold in the USA'.

6 Quotation

It is proof of a base and low mind for one to wish to think with the masses or majority, merely because the majority is the majority. Truth does not change because it is, or is not, believed by a majority of the people.
Giordano Bruno (1548-1600)

When great changes occur in history, when great principles are involved, as a rule the majority are wrong. The minority are right.
Eugene Victor Debs (1855-1926)

7 Q&A


Is it OK to write Mt for megatonne?


Not really. In SI, use of the SI prefixes with non-SI units is specifically discouraged.

The tonne is not really a proper unit of the International System of Units. It is, instead, listed in Table 6 of the BIPM brochure as one of the 'Non-SI units accepted for use with the International System'.

In the use of the SI there is general discouragement of creating alternate unit expressions of the same size. The complete set of recommended multiples of a gram ago this way: kilogram, megagram, gigagram, teragram, petagram, exagram, zettagram, and yottagram.

As you can see, the megagram, at 1000 kilograms, is exactly equivalent to a tonne. Both of these are allowed within the SI rules. However the next step to use the kilo prefix with the tonne is discouraged; instead the gigagram is recommended, and finally to get to your question, for a million tonnes the best multiple is the teragram with the symbol Tg.

8 Rule of thumb

Right now, about 6200 million people openly use the metric system every day of their life. You might like to compare this with the 1100 million of people who speak Chinese as their first language, or the 400 million people who speak English as their first language.

This is 95 % of the current world population of 6 516 000 000. Only about 300 million people use the metric system every day without being conscious that they are doing so. For example, the people of the USA use all metric electricity, drive all metric cars, and measure with all metric inches, all metric feet, all metric yards and all metric miles but most would say that the USA is not metric yet.
The estimated population of the USA in July 2005 was 295 734 134.

9 History

During the 1880s, the leading scientists in England realised that the British thermal unit was not sufficiently stable to be useful as a standard because it varied too much with changes in temperature. So the British Association for the Advancement of Science (BAAS) developed a unit of heat energy that was stable at all temperatures and named it after James Prescott Joule, a leading energy researcher. The joule was accepted as the international unit for energy by the International Electrotechnical Commission in 1889 — the same year that Joule died — and it has been the internationally accepted standard unit for energy of all kinds since then.

In the late 1890s and early 1900s, an agricultural scientist in the USA developed another way of measuring food energy. Wilbur Olin Atwater (1844/1907) described food energy in calories. Atwater defined a calorie as the amount of heat needed to raise the temperature of four pounds of water by one degree Fahrenheit. However, his work was not widely know outside scientific circles so the calorie remained relatively unknown for the next twenty years.

in 1919, a book called, 'Diet and Health — with a Key to the Calories' by Dr. Lulu Hunt Peters, a Los Angeles doctor, was published. In her book Dr Peters wrote, 'Hereafter you are going to eat 100 calories of bread, not a slice of bread.' This made the word 'calorie' popular but like the British thermal unit it varies at different temperatures so it is not suitable for using as a food energy standard.

The recognised international unit for heat energy is still the joule, and it is usually used in the form of kilojoules when it is used for food energy.

10 Hidden metric

When the reports on the capture of Charles Taylor in Africa arrived in the USA it was reported that he was apprehended 600 miles from the location of his house arrest. On National Public Radio (NPR) a foreign correspondent got the miles and kilometres confused, and reported what was obviously 1000 kilometres as 1000 miles.

When you hear things like 'about 2/3 of a mile' or 'Just under 3/4 of a mile' it is probably best to assume that the journalists have dumbed down a kilometre. When you hear '100 yards away' and the news item is from anywhere in the world except the USA, it is probably safe to assume that the original distance was 100 metres.


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 recently 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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