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metrication matters - Number 86 - 2010-07-10

Dear Subscriber,

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

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1 Editorial 2 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 6 Quotations 7 Q&A - readers' questions and answers 8 Rule of thumb 9 History 10 Hidden metric

1 Editorial

Recently (Monday 2010-06-07) 'The Express' in London published an article with this headline:


It began:

METRIC measurements of distance have been banned by the new Transport Secretary in official communications dealing with Britain’s road, rail and air network.

In a victory for common sense, Philip Hammond has told civil servants they must use miles, not kilometres.

From today, all briefings, submissions and external communications must use the imperial format to describe road, traffic and freight distances, rail and aviation statistics and bus reliability.

Speeds must be given in miles per hour rather than kilometres per hour.


See the full article at: http://www.express.co.uk/posts/view/179560/This-U-turn-on-metric-is-miles-better

When I first read this article I sent a reference to it to the UKMA and to the USMA with these remarks:

Obviously the Minister is showing his opposition to the English metric system. See http://www.metricationmatters.com/who-invented-the-metric-system.html or watch the TEDxMelbourne video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_lshRAPvPZY

How sad.

I don't suppose that Secretary Phillip Hammond has considered the complete trashing of the entire English teaching of mathematics he has just put in train. As we know teaching multiple methods of measurement will have the effect of requiring all UK children to spend an extra year studying mathematics at school to achieve the level of mathematics needed to become a public servant in Secretary Phillip Hammond's Department. As a foretaste of the difficulty the UK education system might face see the article: 'The Case for U.S. Metric Conversion Now' (1992, December 9) by Richard P. Phelps where he states that:

'It (USA education system) teaches two systems of measurement in the schools and, the confusion from learning two systems aside, there is a cost to the time spent in teaching two systems. A full year of mathematics instruction is lost to the duplication of effort.'

You can view Richard P. Phelps' article after you register on the Education Weekly database at: http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/1992/12/09/14phelps.h12.html

Leaving aside Secretary Phillip Hammond's sabotage of all UK schools, he is also attempting to sabotage all UK industry. His 'leadership' toward the use of Roman soldiers 'feet' and Roman soldiers 'miles' instead of using the metric system invented in England will, I have no doubt, re-generate all of the massively time wasting discussions and disputes about choice of which measuring methods to use for all UK jobs in all UK industries. It will only be very strong company and industry leadership that will be able to withstand Secretary Phillip Hammond's government leadership – sadly, the response to the 'Express' article suggests that many outside his department will take his leadership back toward Roman times seriously.

Subsequently, a friend sent me the email address for Phillip Hammond so I sent this note to him:

Rt Honourable Phillip Hammond
Secretary of State for Transport

Dear Mr. Hammond,

Might I respectfully suggest that you investigate the origins of the metric system before you begin the process of throwing it out?

The metric system was invented in England by Bishop John Wilkins who was also one of the chief founders of the Royal Society in London. See http://www.metricationmatters.com/who-invented-the-metric-system.html for details or you can see a talk that I gave at TEDxMelbourne on this subject at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_lshRAPvPZY

I researched this subject at the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge and at the Royal Society in London. I have also had the honour of visiting Bishop John Wilkins' grave in the church of St Lawrence Jewry in London.

On another issue, if you lead the UK back to the days of multiple measuring methods you will find that this will be enormously expensive. I have not estimated the cost of multiple measures in the UK but I have done this for the USA. You might find the USA figures suitable to make your own calculations. See http://www.metricationmatters.com/docs/CostOfNonMetrication.pdf and might I suggest that you use the Confederation of British Industry figure of 9 % of turnover as a starting point. With multiple measures you will quickly waste from your national economy about 240 billion pounds each year (based on the 2008 GDP).


Pat Naughtin
Geelong, Australia

John Frewen-Lord soon trumped my efforts when he also wrote to Phillip Hammond:

Philip Hammond
Secretary of State for Transport
House of Commons

Dear Mr Hammond:

I have just learned that you are proposing to ban all metric measurements from our road transportation system. What a simply brilliant move! We've had far too much of this foreign metric nonsense. I must say, your proposal has already excited my friends and colleagues in Canada, Australia and South Africa, all of whom have emailed me and asked me to confirm that this is true. As you may know, these three countries (and I believe about 189 other countries) use the metric system - kilometres and metres - on their road signs. How silly of them! But then they're all foreigners, and as you and I both know, foreigners are ignorant. We should have made Canada, Australia and South Africa, and all the other countries we once owned, stick to their imperial road signs - let them know in no uncertain terms that it is us Brits who know what's best for them. Cheeky upstarts, the lot of them. I will admit that my Canadian, Australian and South African friends and colleagues wondered whether your proposed imperial reversion was a good thing, given Britain's precarious foreign trade situation and all that - one even suggested that this could hurt our exports! Sends the wrong message to the rest of the world, they said - that an anti-metric Britain can't operate in a metric world. What rot! Don't these people understand that the world NEEDS British imperial-designed things? Far superior to all that metric designed foreign rubbish. I bet YOU don't have any metric rubbish in YOUR house!

Now, having decided that our entire road system will, quite rightly, remain in imperial units, we should do the same with the vehicles on those roads. I mean, it doesn't make sense to have metric cars, buses and lorries on imperial roads, does it? So I believe you should take the next logical step, and allow only imperial designed and manufactured vehicles on British roads. THAT would stop all those nasty foreign vehicles cluttering up our roads - and rejuvenate our car manufacturing industry at the same time. Brilliant! Now I admit this will be a bit of a challenge - it seems that every car manufactured anywhere today, including in the USA, is designed in metric. Even our British manufacturers of the day agreed to go metric - how unpatriotic is that? So there might be a few problems here and there (all the bits that go in these cars - things like tyres, light bulbs, windows, minor things like that - are all currently made to metric standards). But nothing that, I'm sure, a good old bit of British know-how and ingenuity can't overcome. Show johnny foreigner a thing or two, I'll wager.

Of course, with our imperial-only roads and the imperial-only vehicles on them, we will have to educate the rest of the world in imperial units - that is, if they want to sell their nasty German, American, Japanese, Korean, French, Malaysian, Spanish, Swedish and Italian tin boxes here. What a golden opportunity for our universities! We all know British education is the best in the world - this will REALLY prove it to all those ignorant foreigners who don't know the difference between a stone and a furlong. Hundreds of thousands of foreign engineers, designers, professionals of every kind, will flock to our shores, and demand they be taught how many inches in a mile and how many yards in a foot. Did you know Mr Hammond that there are 5.7 billion ignorant metric-only foreigners in the world, many of whom will now need to learn imperial measurements? I bet they can't wait to get started! And then there's 300 million other foreigners that also need to be taught our proper British imperial system. Currently they use their own system called US Customary - but they've got it all wrong! (Just as they did when they argued with us over some stupid tea.) Their gallons and bushels and tons and fluid ounces and hundredweights are all different from ours! They're just as ignorant as all the other foreigners! Don't these people understand that our British imperial system is the best? It's unique in the whole world - NO-ONE ELSE USES IT! How cool is that?

And while we are on the subject of education, let us also not forget all those valuable extra weeks our schoolchildren spend learning two measuring systems instead of one, like the rest of the world has to make do with. Gosh, without having to learn imperial measurements, our children might end up being able to compete on equal terms with their foreign counterparts in Germany, Japan, China, and all those other backward metric countries. What a waste of potential that would entail, being stuck with having to learn only one measuring system instead of two. No, let's keep them learning the imperial measurements, like all those foreigners are going to have to do if they want to buy stuff from us. We Brits know best, eh!

Finally, as you are obviously firmly convinced - and the entire rest of the world will agree with you - that we British should revert to the 19th century imperial measuring system for our entire transportation infrastructure, we should bring back some of the 19th century traffic laws as well. The worst thing we did was repeal the red flag act in 1896 - the one, you may recall, that required a man with a red flag to walk in front of every motor vehicle. Do you know what the repeal of that law did to the flag industry in this country? It decimated (sorry, wrong word) - it all but destroyed it! Factories up and down the country making red flags had to shut down. Now, if we brought back that law, all those foreign countries that never had a red flag act would see how wonderful it would be. All those 191 silly metric countries will now enact their own red flag laws, following our superior British imperial lead - and will be beating down our doors wanting to buy our superior, imperial red flags. What a great day for British industry that will be.

Mr Hammond, your proposal to revert to imperial-only represents a truly brilliant piece of strategic thinking - the kind of forward-looking thinking that we British are renowned for. It sends a clear message to the rest of that ignorant metric world out there - they'll all now sit up and take notice of us, mark my words. We'll show 'em! It makes you proud to be British!

(signed) John Frewen-Lord

2 Feedback

Thank you to everyone who has commented on the video I made for TEDxMelbourne. I appreciate your thoughts and I will consider them all for next time. If you haven't commented yet, see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_lshRAPvPZY

3 Oddities

Carleton MacDonald, from Maryland USA, wrote to me about how some people react to any change in their life. According to Carleton they say:

You changed something. Why did you change something? I hate change. I don’t understand change. Change is hard. Change is scary. I’m going to remember this at the next election. Don’t ever change anything ever ever ever.

Thanks Carleton, you are probably right for a lot of people.

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

It is hard for numerate people such as mathematicians, scientists, and engineers, to accept that there are a lot of people in our communities who are innumerate. An accountant friend says you can easily identify innumerate people by asking, 'How much is one per cent of 100 dollars?'; he says that roughly half of the people you ask will immediately change the subjrct to a non-numerate topic. He says that these people are not unintelligent; they are just innumerate.

As far as metrication is concerned, innumerate people often regard the mention of numbers (of any kind) as a personal threat. If this is an issue in your metrication campaign, you might like to consider Chris Argyris' thoughts about human reactions to threats from his book, 'On Organizational Learning':

How human beings deal with threat:

1 Bypass threat wherever possible.
2 Act as if you are not bypassing the threat.
3 Don’t discuss 1 or 2 while it is happening.
4 Don’t discuss the undiscussability of the undiscussable.

Somehow I see some parallels between this view and Carleton MacDonald's quotation in 'Oddities' above!

5 Signs of the times

A friend passed on this story to me about signs in Asia.

When driving from Kuala Lumpur, a companion (from the USA) asked the driver how far away it was to Ipoh. The driver responded 200 miles. Less than a minute later, we approached a sign stating the distance to Ipoh as 200 kilometres. I asked the driver how Ipoh was both 200 miles and 200 kilometres away. He replied that it was the common practice to report distances to foreigners who wanted to hear the word, miles. The foreigners were none the wiser and the driver didn't have to do a calculation before giving an answer.

6 Quotation

Jim Rohn, a business educator in the USA writes about business in general, but I think that this quotation applies equally to the process of metrication:

"You must take personal responsibility. You cannot change the circumstances, the seasons, or the wind, but you can change yourself. That is something you have charge of."

7 Q&A


What is a Mondopoint? I think it has something to do with shoe sizes.


Mondopoint is the name given to a method for measuring your feet so you can buy shoes to fit your feet – exactly – even if you order the shoes by mail, phone or over the internet. Note that it a way of measuring your feet not your shoes. What you do is put on the socks you will wear with your new shoes and measure the length of your foot in millimetres then round this up to the next number that ends in 5 or 0. For example if your foot is 253 millimetres long your Mondopoint size would be 255 millimetres. Now do the same for the width of your foot (say 88 mm to give 90 mm Mondopoint). Now you write your shoe order as: Mondopoint 255/90 and any good shoe company will know which of their shoe sizes will best fit your feet. Almost all of the world's shoe companies design and make their shoes using millimetres, and this is true even in the USA where they might use the old word inches that are actually metric inches of exactly 25.4 millimetres.

I suggest that eventually all shoe sizes will adopt Mondopoint because the present methods are just too complicated. Your best practice is to place orders in terms of millimetres. Then you can measure your foot and measure the shoe to see if you get what you ordered.

For a taste of shoe size complexity go to http://www.i18nguy.com/l10n/shoes.html and scroll down to the 'International ShoeSize Chart Notes' where they say:

Otherwise, you might encounter a compounded error of both the manufacturer having a variation, and the store conversion table having a variation, which makes the shoe significantly different in size. I also notice that many tables and/or companies cite rules which only work for men, or women but not both. But often these tables don't indicate gender or are used for both.

8 Rule of thumb

When, many years ago, I was taught the formula for the area of a circle I was struck by the coincidence that circles consistently had diameters and radii that were multiples of 7. This struck me as odd until I realised that this was to suit the approximation of π (pi) we were using (22/7) so as to make calculations – using fractions – a bit easier. Now that we work with decimals rather than fractions I use the formula 'diameter squared times 0.8' for the area of a circle where the 0.8 is an approximation of π/4 (more exactly pi/4 = 0.7854). Here is an example of a circular garden with a diameter of 5 metres:

5 x 5 = 25 and then 25 x 0.8 = 20 square metres.

9 History

In the USA there is a coin called a 'dime'. It does not have a number to show that it is valued as 10 cents; people in the USA just know that this is a dime's value. However they usually do not know that the name dime came from the title of a book. Written by Simon Stevin in 1585 and translated into English by Robert Norton in 1608, the book was called, 'DISME: The Art of Tenths, or, Decimall Arithmetike'. This was one of the books that Thomas Jefferson used to convince French philosophes to use decimal numbers when they legalised the 'decimal metric system' for France in the 1790s. Here is a reference that shows one of the first 'dismes' minted in the USA: http://www.coinlink.com/CoinGuide/rarity-of-the-week/1792-half-disme where they say:

However, we do know that the little half dismes were the very first coins authorized by President Washington under the Mint Act of 1792. Thomas Jefferson, who was Secretary of State at the time, personally received the coins on behalf of Washington.

As you can see the disputation about dividing coins into decimal values or halves, quarters, eighths, sixteenths, etc. was alive and well at that time. Later this dispute would also produce quarters and half-dollars in the USA alongside coins with decimal values.

However, this compromise on coins for the USA did not deter Thomas Jefferson from promoting full decimalisation of all measures for the French 'decimal metric system' when he was USA Ambassador to France in the 1780s. I honestly doubt that we would now have a metric system at all without the personal decimal commitment and effective influence of Thomas Jefferson.

10 Hidden metric

In the UK the Queen will celebrate 60 years on the throne in 2012. To commemorate this event there will be a 60 kilometre track constructed for visitors to walk around London between the various venues of the 2012 Olympic Games in London. With characteristic foresight, the London authorities are intending to sign distances along the track in miles and yards. See http://metricviews.org.uk/tag/kilometre

Pat Naughtin
Geelong Australia

P.S. 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.

Here is an example from St. Lucia in the Caribean:

Dear Pat

First let me congratulate you on the wonderful wealth of information in “Metrication Leaders Guide”. I have been able to find valuable information on metrication in it. My country SAINT LUCIA in the West Indies, is going metric and I am the Coordinator of the St. Lucia Metrication Secretariat. ...

Thank you for sharing that wealth of information that you gathered over your years of experience dealing with metrication. Your book is invaluable!

Judy Rene

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

Copyright notice: © 2007 Pat Naughtin 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'.

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Pat Naughtin
Metrication Matters
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