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Metrication matters - Number 75 - 2009-08-10

Dear Subscriber,

The exciting news for us this month is that the Metrication Leaders Guide is now available.

The Metrication Leaders Guide describes an approach to upgrading to the metric system that is systematic and direct. This process, called direct metrication, is a way of upgrading to the metric system that has proven to be smooth, economical, and above all fast.

The Metrication Leaders Guide is based on studying many different metrication processes, in many industries, and in many nations. Because of this, its recommendations are based on real-world observations, and only successful policies and procedures are recommended in the Metrication Leaders Guide.

The Metrication Leaders Guide is not free. We will publish it as an eBook that will initially sell for $23.50 AUD, which is the equivalent of about $19.80 USD at current rates.

Caution: The Metrication Leaders Guide is not for everyone. You may already be committed to a metric conversion or a metric transition process based on other principles. When you go to http://metricationmatters.com/MetricationLeadersGuideInfo.html you will soon see if it is right for you in your circumstances.

Enough advertising, let's get back to this month's Metrication matters newsletter.

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

  • if you are actively involved in a metrication upgrade,
  • if you are planning a metrication upgrade, or
  • if you have a general interst in the metrication process.

Help a friend – if you know somebody else who can benefit from this newsletter, please forward this newsletter 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.

You can read all previous issues at http://www.metricationmatters.com/newsletter when you scroll to the bottom of the page. For other resources to support your metrication upgrade go to http://www.metrictionmatters.com.htm

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

Lorelle Young, President of the U.S. Metric Association, was kind enough to read the Metrication Leaders Guide before its release. She then wrote to say:

Pat,

I read the entire guide including most of the clickable links. I could not think of a thing for you to add. You have covered the waterfront. Your guide will provide an outstanding publication for those involved in teaching the metric system.

Lorelle

I am really grateful, and deeply indebted, to Lorelle for her most kind remarks. You can find out more about this eBook and you can obtain your own copy of the Metrication Leaders Guide from the web page at: http://metricationmatters.com/MetricationLeadersGuidePromo.html

2 Editorial

I have been thinking a lot about the contribution made to the development of the metric system by political leaders in the USA. I have written a short 3-page article on this subject called, The metric system in the USA, and it begins:

The metric system in the USA

Without the influence of great leaders from the USA there would be no metric system.

Since many in the USA do not believe this statement, let me repeat it in a different way.

It is my belief that without the influence of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington, the metric system would not have been developed in France in the 1780s and 1790s.

...

When Valerie Antoine, Executive Director of the USMA, read this article she was kind enough to write:

Pat, your article is beautiful and extremely well researched. It even contains a few items that I wasn't aware of. ... I hope that an edited version (to be a bit shorter as an article for MT) might be considered by our editor.
Valerie
Valerie will be pleased to know that I have been in touch with Gary Brown, the Metric Today editor, and he is planning to run a short version of this article.

John Mercer from Canada, who has been blind since birth, also read this article and this is an extract from what he wrote:

Hello Pat.
Thank you very much for the document "The metric system in the USA". I read it just fine using software that converts text to speech; ... It's a really good article.
Thanks again Pat for all your time and help.
John
Mike Payne, from New Jersey, wrote:
I think more than anything else, to convince the common man/woman in the US that the founding fathers (in the US) had a lot to do with a system, that most here in the US consider European, will go a long way to swinging the argument in it's favor. I applaud your efforts in this regard Pat.
Mike Payne
You can freely obtain the whole of this article via the web page at: http://www.metricationmatters.com/USAmetricsystemhistory.html and I would appreciate any comments that you care to make to

3 Oddities

The 1200 kilometre long State Barrier Fence of Western Australia was previously known by several names: the Rabbit Proof Fence, the Dingo Fence, the State Vermin Fence and the Emu Fence. The fence had many transformations in its 100 year lifetime, keeping rabbits, wild dogs, emus, kangaroos and other feral animals away from the state's agricultural and pastoral areas. Here is part of its history that refers to the metrication of the fence.

Mixtures of miles and metres

Many people were inconvenienced to some extent when Australia changed to metric measurements in the latter part of the 1960s. We were no less affected than others. The initial problem was that although Australia had gone metric, the fence was still measured and marked in miles. Consequently we advertised our contracts for renewing sections of the fence in miles.

But contractors submitting tenders for these jobs often mistook the "miles" written in the tender documents as kilometres, and worked out their prices accordingly. This meant that their tender price was far too low.

This problem was exacerbated when we put in the (then) new Murchison and Lake Moore fences. These were measured and marked in kilometres, so we then had a fence system with both imperial and metric measurements in it.

It was only after many arguments and headaches, we finally changed the whole fence across to metric.

With hindsight our experience in Australia shows the truth of some old sayings I recall from the 1970s:

  • A quick change is a good change!
  • Don't duel with dual!
  • Only dills deals with dual!

4 Tips – pointers and methods to make your measurements easier.

Take care when you are converting from old pre-metric measures to modern metric units – you could look quite silly for a long, long, time. The writer of the following item still looks foolish after 20 years – so far. This is from an official Education Gazette issued by the Education Department of South Australia, quoted by Max Harris in The Australian Way with Words (1989).

Policy also provides for the carriage of children who live within 4.8 kms is such that there is not enough room to cater for the children within 4.8 kms, of a school on Departmentally owned or contracted buses if there is available room on the buses.

Parents of children who reside within 4.8 kms of a school should be advised that permission for their children to use a bus is subject to available room and if the number of children living beyond 4.8 kms then these children will be excluded from travel.

Max Harris remarked:
Observe the blithe disregard for even the most elementary principles of syntax and grammar. This simplest possible piece of information defies parsing and analysis - if there is anyone under the age of sixty capable of grammatical analysis at all!

But even if you know nothing of formal grammar, the linguistic muddle is nothing less than frightening. Most of us could translate the simple information attempted in the text into twenty direct and simple words. The frightening thing is that if this sort of convoluted illiteracy is what teachers have to absorb through their intellectual pores every day of their working lives, how do they communicate with clarity, directness and skill to the children they teach?

And Max, as a word monger, probably didn't even notice the silly rounding of the conversions from miles to kilometres and the wrong use of kms as an abbreviation for kilometres. Something about blithe disregard for even the most elementary principles springs to mind!

5 Signs of the times

Does anyone know if roads in the USA are still using the metric font, Highway Gothic, for most or all road signs in the USA? I understand that the USDOTs agreed as a government policy to revise the fonts in the 1970s to make all the signs metric, but I don't know if the metric specifications have been changed since then or are the signs you see on the roads still all-metric.

6 Quotation

Alan Young sent me this quotation about some quite bizarre behaviour. I just don’t believe that anyone could be so silly. Alan wrote:

Hello Pat
Thought you might be interested in this (it's the bit in bold that's particularly fascinating):
Using a computer and four blank keyboards, and without looking at the screen, Michele Santelia (Italy) typed backwards 67 books (3,503,013 words, 19,760,936 characters, 23.198 pages, 263,931 paragraphs, 499,554 lines) in their original languages including The Odyssey, Macbeth, The Vulgate Bible, the Guinness World Records Book 2002, and the Dead Sea scrolls in Ancient Hebrew. Michele put together a 4,05 mt (13 ft 12 in) high tower of the books typed. He completed typing backwards Etruscan scripts in Etruscan Language and The Million in Ancient Chinese on 16 November 2008.

It's both ludicrous and an incorrect conversion. No wonder NASA has trouble!

You can find the original quotation at: http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/records/amazing_feats/unusual_skills/most_books_typed_backwards.aspx

Alan Young

7 Q&A

This month the Q & A takes the form of a letter and its response. I am including these because the letter by Michael Glass is a model of courtesy and tact in pointing out how old pre-metric measures can confuse people and how this might be corrected. Many of you might choose to use Michael's letter as a model for some of your own.

Question:

On 2009/07/18, at 8:44 AM, Michael GLASS wrote:

Dear Sir/Madam,

Thank you so much for your informative web pages on the Royal Parks. A very small change on your website would make it more convenient for readers.

On your About us page http://www.royalparks.org.uk/about it says that the total area of the parks is 5,000 acres. As the total area of the parks is 4882.8 acres, this is roughly right for those who are used to acres, but not everyone is. Including the measure in hectares on this page would be a great convenience to many people and would be consistent with the rest of your website, where the area of the parks is given in hectares and acreages are used as supplementary measures.

The total area of the parks listed in Hansard comes to 1976 hectares http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200102/cmhansrd/vo020207/text/20 207w18.htm Please add this information to your "About us" page. It would be a service to the public and would be consistent with the rest of your website.

Yours sincerely,

Michael Glass

PS According to Hansard, the size of Richmond Park is 955 hectares. Some people would prefer the precise figure instead of 'almost 1000 hectares.' http://www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/richmond_park>

Answer:

Dear Mr Glass

Thank you for taking the time and trouble to give us this feedback - we always welcome customer/user responses to our resources. You are quite right that the way the information is presented is potentially confusing...and have happened upon just the right time to raise this. I am in the process of editing and revising this factsheet (due to capacity and financial constraints this happens on a rolling 4 year programme - which does mean some information can get dated but it's the best we can do with the available resources we have) and will include your helpful suggestions.

Best wishes

Orlando Rutter, Principal Learning & Outreach Officer, Dartmoor National Park Authority

8 Rule of thumb

I know that in dry air at 20 °C, the speed of sound is 343 meters per second or 1235 kilometres per hour. But I think of these – as rules of thumb – as 333 m/s and 1234 km/h because the numbers are easier to remember.

9 History

Dr Lulu Hunt-Peters has been highly successful at changing the world of food measurement to her idiosyncratic and unscientific measuring word at the same time as the entire world of metrology has clearly failed to promote their point of view. Dr Hunt-Peters did not have government support, she did not have the support of the scientific community, nor did she did not have any legal precedence. Basically, all she had was the ability to write for women's magazines, and with that talent she changed the entire world to her way of measuring the energy in food.

Think about the competition between the internationally recognised metric unit for food energy, kilojoule, and some of the other common measuring words such as, calories, Calories, gram calories, kilocalories, or kilogram calories. Dr Hunt-Peters succeeded while the world of scientific metrology failed!

Here is a summary of the history of food energy.

Internationally, there has been only one official metric unit for measuring food energy — kilojoules. The kilojoule had been accepted internationally as the sole unit for energy since 1889.

As examples, a slice of bread contains about 250 kilojoules of food energy and a sweet biscuit has about 500 kilojoules of food energy.

However in 1918, 29 years after the establishment of the kilojoule as an international standard unit for measuring the energy in food, Dr Lulu Hunt Peters popularised an alternative word, 'calorie', to describe food energy in the USA. However, she avoided defining the concept of food energy by writing:

... hereafter you are going to eat calories of food. Instead of saying one slice of bread, or a piece of pie, you will say 100 calories of bread, 350 calories of pie.

Food energy and measuring have been profoundly muddled ever since the publication of Dr Hunt Peters’ book, Diet and Health in 1918.

As a child, Lulu Hunt Peters was aware of her problem with body mass when she wrote, ... that there is genuine mental suffering in being an obese child. She knew this from her own experience as a child and, as an adult, she reached a body mass of 100 kilograms when the body mass of an average woman was between 60 kg and 65 kg.

Dr Hunt Peters defined a calorie as the amount of heat needed to heat 4 pounds of water by 1 degree Fahrenheit. She based her definition on the German research into dog digestion done by W. O. Atwater who was investigating, among other things, the best way to use dog droppings for tanning leather.

Many attempts were made later to define the word, calorie, in metric terms. For example, the size of a calorie depends on the temperature at which it is defined; technically on a scale of 32 to 212 degrees Fahrenheit there are 180 possible definitions for the word, calorie. But this only led to more confusion as different groups independently devised different definitions for the different ways that a calorie might be spelled; one example is that a Calorie (with an upper case C) is 1000 times larger than a calorie (with a lower case c). This is why we have: calories, Calories, gram calories, kilocalories, kilogram calories, and perhaps 20 or 30 other spelling varieties with potentially different values. Like other old pre-metric measures there are now far too many different calories (or Calories or kilocalories) that have many different names and varying values.

The existence of these seemingly good choices (kilojoule accurate – all of the the others popular) means that the debate between them will continue for many generations, with nutritionists and dieticians dithering between them. To a measurement specialist there is only one choice, the kilojoule, but I suspect that women's and diet magazines will continue dithering. You can only avoid dithering by adopting a definite measurement policy for yourself or the group that you represent.

You can find an outline of Lulu Hunt Peters life at http://calorielab.com/news/2005/09/16/lulu-hunt-peters-and-the-birth-of-the-modern-diet-book and a copy of her main book from http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/15069

10 Hidden metric

Late one night recently, I was watching part of a 1995 movie called Crimson Tide when I heard that the nuclear submarine, Alabama, was at a depth of 821 feet. This sounded surprisingly precise until I converted this number – back – to the initial metric value, which looks a lot like 250 metres.

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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