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Metrication matters - Number 39 - 2006-08-10

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

Help a friend if you know somebody else who can benefit from this newsletter, please forward it to them and suggest that they subscribe. If a friend passed on this newsletter to you, please check the details of the free subscription at the end.

Dear Subscriber,

Contents

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

Paul Trusten, from Texas wrote, on July 28, to say:

Happy 140th anniversary, Metric Act of 1866 July 28!

He then quoted the USA law as U.S. Code, Title 15, Commerce and Trade, Chapter 6, Weights and Measures and Standard Time, Subchapter I, Weights, Measures, and Standards Generally, Sec. 204. Metric system authorised on 1866 July 28 and says:

It shall be lawful throughout the United States of America to employ the weights and measures of the metric system; and no contract or dealing, or pleading in any court, shall be deemed invalid or liable to objection because the weights or measures expressed or referred to therein are weights or measures of the metric system.

Helga Wandel wrote:

'I am from Germany and I frequently travel to the United Stated for business purposes. Each time I am having trouble with the non metric system. That's why I was wondering if there are any activists in the United States that are lobbying for the introduction of the metric system. By Googling for the 'metric system USA introduction' I found your web page, which I found very interesting and informative to read.

I replied:

Dear Helga, You might like to have a look at the web page of the United States Metric Association (USMA) at: http://lamar.colostate.edu/~hillger/ or, if you want to maintain a feeling for how the metric system is developing in the USA, you might consider joining the USMA mailing list at: http://lamar.colostate.edu/~hillger/listserv.htm

I am a member of this mailing list and I have learned a great deal from the other members.

The USMA has been operating as a lobby group for the metrication of the USA since 1916 and they have had considerable success. The USMA President, Lorelle Young, estimates that more than 60 % of industry in the USA now uses the metric system.

The sad part about metrication in the USA is that it is fashionable to hide the metric system. After I visited the USA last year I wrote an article called 'Don't use metric' that was a sort of humorous look at how the citizens of the USA hide the metric measures that they use every day. You can find a copy of 'Don't use metric' at: http://www.metricationmatters.com/articles

2 Editorial

Sometimes you need to have your abilities assessed by some outside person or authority. This can give you an assurance that you are on the right track and that you can be confident that you are making progress. This is often done at schools where they devise tests and quizzes for this purpose.

Accordingly, I have devised a quiz for your Knowledge, your Skills, and your Attitudes to metrication. You can find this at: http://www.metricationmatters.com/articles where it is about halfway down the page. It should take you about 20 minutes. This is a new version of a quiz that I tried a year or two ago.

I would appreciate your feedback on the effectiveness of this quiz.

3 Oddities

Jim Frysinger from South Carolina sent me a reference to a German web site (http://www.wetteronline.de ) and reports:

One oddity on that site is that wind speed is reported on the (English) Beaufort scale, and a wind speed converter is provided via a link to 'Wind-Rechner'.

International meteorology standards set by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) use metres per second for wind speed.

4 Tips

Don't try to be too accurate on the odd occasions that you have to do conversions.

Here is an example from Don Hillger, the webmaster for the United States Metric Association.

Don and his wife Laura visited an exhibition at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science called Body Worlds, where real human bodies were plasticised and displayed showing all the body parts. Don reported:

Nearly all the quantitative measurements were given in metric first followed by inch-pound units in parentheses. I found that to be very good, but probably not unusual since the exhibit was basically a medical display, but for the public.

However, I found an example of an imprecise conversion of units which often bugs me when done from inch-pound to metric, for example when converting 1 mile to 1.609 km, implying a precision of 0.001 km or 1 m, when in reality the 1 mile is probably only an approximation. In this case the speed of 400 km/h (for the speed at which nerve signals or blood flows, sorry I dont remember which, as there was so much on display) was given and converted to 249 mph in parentheses, using an implied precision of 1 mph. They certainly could have converted 400 km to 250 miles, but that same mentality prevailed that is often seen in unit conversions.

Stan Jakuba from Connecticut has also noticed this practice at both the Smithsonian Institute and at the Kennedy Space Center where he saw:

... signs are dual like: thrust of a rocket: 20,000 lb; in brackets (88,964.4 N). This cast in bronze! It will be there for generations. The result: Setting millions of visiting children against metric for the rest of their lives.

And the worst part - nobody responsible for these displays I ever met sees anything wrong with these "carefully made and double checked" conversions.

Stan then went on to say, 'If you were asking me the plaque should display 90 kN (20 000 lbs.)'.

5 Signs of the times

We often see conversions done for news services where it is clear that the reporter has little understanding of the numbers involved. Recently, I noticed, on a science show, that the reporter had seen the words 'a change in temperature of 4 C' and then converted the 'temperature of 4 C' to 39.2 F presumably using a formula or a table for the conversion.

However had the reporters focussed on the words, 'a change in temperature' rather than the words, 'temperature of 4 C' then they would have converted 'a change in temperature of 4 C' to its correct equivalent of 7.2 F.

6 Quotation

If the creator had meant humans to use the metric system, we would have been given ten fingers! Anon

7 Q&A

This is a direct quotation from Chuck Taggart's web page at: http://www.gumbopages.com/metric.html

I get lots of letters from lots of Europeans and Asians and Australians that are very much like this one from Dave Walker of England:

Question:

I use your recipe for jambalaya, and it's become essential eating at family camping trips and barbys. Thanks! Now I'm going to try the gumbo. Could you just clear one thing up? Being an Englishman, I'm not familiar with the measurement `quart'. Exactly how many pints are in a quart?

Dave

Answer:

Ironic, isn't it? I think the system of measurement that I grew up with and that is still used almost exclusively in the United States is still called "The English System". Two pints in a quart, two cups in a pint, eight fluid ounces in a cup, etc.

This and many other similar enquiries keeps pounding into my head that my site is on the World Wide Web, and we silly Americans are practically the only people left who still measure this way.

Incidentally, Dave wrote back a few days later:

Thanks for the reply, and you're right – a quart is part of an old English system. My wife has just blown the dust off a fifty-year-old cookbook for which we never had any use before, and there it is 2 pints to a quart, and a cup is equivalent to two gills.

Chuck responded:

Oh, remember that the measurements given in all my recipes, are the American units, not the Imperial ones. 'I cry out "Republic! and allegiance to no crown!'

Note from Pat Naughtin:

It's nice to know that Chuck Taggart is aware that USA quarts are not the same as UK quarts; and that USA pints are not the same as UK pints; and that USA gills are not the same as UK gills; and that ...

As 1 quart (UK) is 1.137 litres and 1 quart (USA liquid) is 0.946 litres, a UK quart is about 20 % bigger than a USA quart. I wish Chuck and Dave well with their cross-Atlantic cooking. To me it is clear that they have chosen the most difficult possible path as it's based on the dual measures of old pre-metric USA measures and old pre-metric UK measures it's a double whammy.

8 Rule of thumb

If you have an old historically challenged oven that has its temperatures marked in degrees Fahrenheit and you want to cook a modern recipe that gives the temperature in degrees Celsius, simply halve the temperature. For example, this is the approach taken by a New York bread company with this advice:

Humidity Alert!
For a crisp crust on humid days, place
unwrapped bread in a 200 C (400F)
oven for five minutes. Let bread stand
for a few minutes before cutting.

Thanks to Howard Ressel of New York for passing on this recipe.

9 History

The original quotation, 'Give them an inch and they'll take an ell' has yet to be replaced with a metric equivalent in English. Any suggestions?

10 Hidden metric

Marion Moon, from California, reported that an item in the LA Times said that a British motorcycle manufacturer claimed a top speed limit of 186 MPH. Marion said 'this sounds like 300 km/h to me'.

Cheers,

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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Metrication Matters
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