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Metrication matters - Number 80 - 2010-01-10

Dear Subscriber,

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

Our goal at Metrication matters is to promote the use of the modern metric system:

For all people, for all measurement, and for all time.

Thanks to everyone who bought, and is using, the 'Metrication Leaders Guide' through the web page at: http://metricationmatters.com/MetricationLeadersGuideInfo.html We have been very pleased by the feedback about the positive and rapid metrication results achieved by our readers.

Help a friend – if you know someone 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 of the Metrication matters newsletter at http://www.metricationmatters.com/newsletter if you scroll own to the bottom of the page. The Metrication matters main web page is at http://www.metrictionmatters.com.htm

Note, the modern metric system is known as the International System of Units (SI) and it is often referred to simply a 'SI' (pronounced 'ess-eye). If you see the letters SI we are referring to the modern metric system.


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

Ezra Steinberg reported on the USMA maillist (at http://lamar.colostate.edu/~hillger/listserv.htm ) that:

While I'm disappointed that the USA is falling so far behind China (and rest of the world) in passenger train infrastructure, it's nice to see Yahoo! News keeping the story almost entirely metric (with Imperial relegated to second place where it is even provided). http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20091226/wl_asia_afp/chinatransportrail_20091226125546


In the last Metrication matters newsletter I wrote:

An electric current of one ampere is flowing in a circuit when one coulomb of charge passes in one second.

Mike Joy and I would both like to see more of these neat, relatively easy to remember, reference values that use metric values or metric approximations. If you would like to add to this collection, please email to

Bill Hooper responded:

Your example that one ampere is the current when one coulomb of charge passes in one second (1 A = 1 C/s) is simply the definition of the ampere. Of course it is simple, but so are all the other relationships that just arise directly from definitions. Thus, if you wish to list the one for amperes, you could also list others like:

  • One watt is one joule of energy transmitted or transformed in one second.

  • A pressure of one pascal on an area of one square metre exerts a force of one newton.

  • A potential of one volt across a resistance of one ohm causes a current of one ampere.

  • One newton of force accelerates a mass of one kilogram at a rate of one metre per second-squared.

  • A joule is the work done on an object when a force of one newton pushes the object a distance of one metre.

There are several others (mostly in technical stuff like magnetic fields and electronics) but the above examples involve some measurements that might at least be encountered by more or less average people.


Bill Hooper

2 Editorial

This year, 2010, is sure to become a major focus for metrication all around the world. This year is regarded as special because it contains the date 2010 October 10 that, using the ISO 8601 date format, can be written 101010 or as 10-10-10.

There is a problem with this connection between the date 10-10-10 and it being a good decimal number. This problem is that metrication is not decimalisation. Often metrication and decimalisation are taught in parallel and confusion reigns.

It is true that decimal numbers are simpler and easier to use than vulgar or common fractions. And it is true that measuring using metric units is simpler and easier that using any of the many millions of of old pre-metric measuring words. In my opinion, it is also simpler and easier to teach metrication and decimalisation as two separate areas of knowledge and not to confuse them.

Sadly, many people will continue to choose approaches to their inevitable metrication that are known to be inefficient and ineffective – and painfully s-l-o-w! See http://www.metricationmatters.com/docs/ApproachesToMetrication.pdf

3 Oddities

The Canadian British Columbia (B.C.) lumber industry does its best to hold on to old pre-metric measures even though it is now almost 40 years since Canada 'went metric'. However, they are now learning how much this has cost them over all of these years that they isolated themselves from the rest of the world markets by continuing to provide millions of board feet of two by fours to their biggest – and only – export customer, the USA. The Vancouver Sun put it like this:

As Sun forestry reporter Gordon Hamilton discovered during a recent visit to China, however, the dimensions designed for North American customers are a poor fit for the Chinese market, which is used to metric units.

So while potential customers like the quality of B.C. wood, they don't like the waste they incur when they have to cut them down to a metric size, which is often the standard four-metre length of logs imported from Russia and milled in Chinese mills.

Even so, China has been one bright spot for an industry that has been shrouded in gloom since the collapse of the U.S. housing market.

Thanks to Elizabeth Gentry at NIST for alerting me to the article at: http://www.vancouversun.com/Chinese+market+worth+pursuing+forestry+industry/2288522/story.html

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

Recently I read an interesting article on Metric Views at http://metricviews.org.uk/2009/12/big-bang-vs-“voluntary-gradualism” where they discussed whether direct metrication was better that indirect metrication. I am pleased to report that they concluded in favor of direct metrication.

When I began to think on this subject, I thought about how an individual could go about their own direct metrication. Here are some steps you might take:

1 Keep in mind that you are trying to change your old pre-metric mindset to a fully metric mindset without any metric conversions.

2 Measure the width of the nail on your little finger. It is about 10 millimetres wide.

3 Measure the widths of your other three fingers. They are all about 20 millimetres wide. Use whole numbers of millimetres; centimetres make you use decimals!

4 Look at the width of your fist across the knuckles. Mine is about 100 millimetres wide and my wife, Wendy, has a fist that is about 80 millimetres wide.

Remember these and you can estimate small lengths and distances quite readily using your 'handy' references.
5 Mark out a length of ten metres between your house and your garage, or between the car park and your office at work. Practice walking this distance as you count your steps until you can readily and reasonably accurately 'step out' 10 metres. By stretching my paces I can step out ten metres in ten steps.

6 Walk reasonably briskly for ten minutes, you will have walked 1 kilometre because most people walk at about 100 metres per minute. If you walk for 20 minutes you will have walked 2000 metres (20 minutes x 100 metres), which is 2 kilometres.

7 Remember that an average Australian or North American male has a mass of about 85 kilograms and the average mass of a female is about 75 kilograms. When you walk into a room full of people scan the room to find an average male and the average female; knowing that they are close to 85 kilograms and 75 kilograms respectively you can then guess at the mass of the others.

8 Heights work the same way. Knowing that the average height of a North American male is about 1.7 metres and a female is 1.6 metres you can quickly find the average height people at a party and then estimate everyone else's height by knowing that the width of your fist is 100 millimetres or 0.1 metres. By the way, it is quite difficult to estimate people's height to much greater precision than about 50 millimetres (0.05 metres); so if you are having a height guessing competition its best to keep your answers to one decimal place.

5 Signs of the times

Markus Kuhn wrote to misc.metric-system to report:

Researchers who asked 3000 11-14 year old English pupils to sit math exams used in 1976 found that today's pupils seem to prefer decimal arithmetic over using fractions compared to pupils 33-years ago: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/8238759.stm

6 Quotations

One person can make a difference, and everyone should try. John F. Kennedy

7 Q&A


How will the power of electric cars be described as they become more common? It seems odd that they might be described in horsepower!


Three writers, Derek Pollard, Tim Bentley, and David Brown have described the problems with describing the power of an electric car at http://metricviews.org.uk/2009/12/electric-car-si-opportunity-threa where you will read:

... anyone considering the purchase of an electric car will surely wish to evaluate its performance against that of comparable petrol or diesel models.
My opinion is straightforward; the absolute best way to compare the power of any engines is to use watts, kilowatts, megawatts and so on. To use any of the old pre-metric measuring words is a complete waste of time.

8 Rule of thumb

When you sneeze some of the particles leave your nose at slightly under 50 metres per second.

9 History

Marching bands have had a strong connection to military matters, both for parades and for routine drill. It has been know since the 1500s that music or drumming marches played at rates that are multiples of normal heartbeats have an hypnotic effect on marching soldiers by putting them into a mild trance. This effect was widely used to lead soldiers in closed ranks against enemy fire in wars fought in the 1500s and 1600s. See: http://www.worldmilitarybands.com/world-book-of-military-music-m-o

The most common marching routine is now 120 steps per minute with each step set at 750 mm. This gives a speed of 90 metres per minute or 5.4 kilometres per hour.

10 Hidden metric

Pints or Litres, Who Cares? From http://ourstory.com/thread.html?t=456900 Posted: Dec 28, 2009

Nic Davison, an accountant and owner of Kuchnia Polska (lit: Polish Kitchen) restaurant in Doncaster, has been served an infringement notice by the Trading Standards Institute, that threatens a court appearance and a 2,000 fine, for using metric instead of imperial measurements. According to the 1988 Weights and Measures (Intoxicating Liquor) Order, serving draught beer and cider in litres is illegal. Interestingly, none of Davison's customers have complained about the fact that he serves Polish beer (delivered from its country of origin) in 0.3 litre and 0.5 litre glasses (also delivered by the same Polish brewer). Davison has decided not to go down without a fight. Ironically, he has enlisted the support of Metric Martyrs, a group of formerly anti-metrication British food sellers, who now seem to believe traders should be allowed to sell goods in any measurement. The whole shebang takes place after a long-running campaign by the EU to force Britain to abandon its imperial booze addiction. By all accounts they have decided to give up, just as they did with the Euro...Personally, I agree with Mr Davison. They're barmy laws and it needs to be sorted out. In the meanwhile Davison and his partner (who co-owns the restaurant) have 28 days to change all of their glassware or face prosecution. Interestingly, the same legislation classifies shandy as a soft drink and should therefore be sold in litres. Go figure!
N/ote: In Australia, conservative (and perhaps obfuscationist) forces combined to require that beer is served in metric pints that are legally defined as 570 millilitres. These glasses hold the equivalent to an old pre-metric Imperial pint if filled to the brim. However, they are not filled to the brim, as some froth is included. My rough measurements indicate that each 'pint' drinker gets quite close to 500 millilitres of beer with about 70 millilitres of head.


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.

Pat is the author of the e-book, Metrication Leaders Guide, that you can obtain from http://metricationmatters.com/MetricationLeadersGuideInfo.html

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