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Metrication matters - Number 92 - 2011-01-10

Metrication matters Number 92 2011-01-10

Dear Friend of metrication,

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

You can read all previous issues at http://www.metricationmatters.com/newsletter if you scroll own to the bottom of the page. The latest revised of the Metrication matters web page is at http://www.metrictionmatters.com

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.

Contents

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

It is interesting to watch some nations as they struggle to achieve that which is both simple and inevitable. You have to wonder why. Reasons vary as to why the upgrade to the metric system has, so far, failed in some nations, especially in the USA. These include many unsubstantiated conjectures about government inaction, lack of education, and that favourite unsupported assertion that, "Metric conversion will cost too much" when metrication upgrades usually save money.

These assertions are generally untrue but they are widely supported, especially by politicians and journalists whose motivation often arises from fear of numbers – they weren't "good at mathematics" when they were at school.

As someone who has studied the process of metrication for many years I am convinced that the main thing that delays metrication is the process chosen to make the metrication upgrade. What I am saying is that often the reason that a nation struggles with their inevitable metrication is the approach taken to move toward their inevitable metrication process.

For example, with hindsight and a little historical research, it is easy to see that "metric conversion" has never produced a smooth metrication transition in the past, it is not producing any meaningful results at present, and it is reasonable to suppose that "metric conversion" will never be successful at any time in the future.

In my opinion, It is best to avoid "metric conversion" altogether (or as far as you possibly can) because "metric conversion" is far to complex and they lead to impressive delays in your inevitable metrication process. See http://www.metricationmatters.com/metric_conversion.html to learn why metric conversion is so difficult and see http://www.metricationmatters.com/docs/ApproachesToMetrication.pdf to learn about a better approach to your upgrade called "Direct metrication".

2 Feedback - notes and comments from readers

John Frewen-Lord sent me an interesting reference regarding resistance to open and honest measurement standards for USA railways in the 1850s. John wrote:

An interesting article on the economics of maintaining two standards. The reference here is document standards, but it could just as easily apply to metric vs non-metric.

See http://www.robweir.com/blog/2008/01/piemen-of-erie.html

Here are some extracts:

The year was 1853 and the place was Erie, Pennsylvania, a town at the junction of two incompatible rail gauges. This gauge incompatibility was inefficient and frustrating, but the citizens of Erie loved it, and resisted every attempt to join the emerging common standard gauge in what would be called the Erie Gauge Wars.

...

From Buffalo the traveler had a short run to the station on the line between New York and Pennsylvania, called State Line, where, on account of a difference in gauge, a transfer was necessary.

...

The railroad managers of the lines between Buffalo and Erie, eager to improve their route, decided to alter the six-foot gauge of the railway between State Line and Erie to four feet ten inches — the gauge of the roads east of State Line and west of Erie — so that passengers could go from Buffalo to Cleveland without change. The railroad ran a distance through the streets of Erie. The Erie municipal authorities refused to give a permit ... Erie objected to the change of gauge because the transfer of passengers and freight was deemed important to the borough’s prosperity. The wait involved brought custom to her eating-houses; the transfer of freight and live-stock gave work to her people. The populace ignored the legal points and the pretended grounds of demur, but they keenly appreciated the vital objection.

...

On December 7, 1853, the railroad company began at State Line the work of changing the gauge. The news came quickly to Erie. A cannon was fired to call out the citizens. A large mob assembled, tore up the track, and cut down the railroad bridge in the borough. The infection spread to Harbor Creek, a Pennsylvania town seven miles east of Erie, and that evening its citizens held an orderly meeting and resolved to remove the track of the railroad running on the public highway. The resolution was the next day carried into effect. Two days later (December 10) the track of the new gauge was completed to the borough limits of Erie. That night rioters at Harbor Creek tore up the track, destroyed the bridge, and ploughed up part of the grade of the road. War had begun in earnest. The mayor and the sheriff at times directed the mob, ...

And so on!

3 Oddities - measurements from around the world

In the USA, it is common for embroidery and jewellery beads to be measured in millimetres. These are generally in a range from 2 millimetres to 10 millimetres in whole numbers of millimetres. See http://www.innovativegh.com/?p=1033 for details.

4 Tips - pointers and methods to make your measurements easier

Too many people build in false levels of precision when they do conversions from old pre-metric measuring words to metric system units. Remember that you are converting from what is originally only a rough approximate measurement, so try to reflect that in the result.

For example, in the US it seems to be commonly assumed that someone of average height and weight is 180 lb. This converts to 81 kg, but since the estimate is unlikely to be accurate to the nearest lb or maybe even 5 lb, it would be better to regard the equivalent as 80 kilograms.

A better way is to get some scales that read – only – in kilograms, use them to find the mass of the person in kilograms and don't do a conversion at all. See http://www.metricationmatters.com/metric_conversion.html

5 Signs of the times

A few years ago, a television meteorologist in Texas announced that, in future, he would give the temperature in degrees Celsius in addition to giving it in degrees Fahrenheit. Here are some of the contributions that were made to his weather blog:

  • NO, on celsius.
  • This is the United States of America. We speak English and use Fahrenheit.
  • Hate it.
  • I don't like the new addition of Celsius to the forecast, please remove it.
  • WHY CATER TO THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY? THEY SHOULD LEARN THE AMERICAN WAY.
  • This is just another example of giving in to people who come here from other countries and are too lazy to learn our ways (English, non-metric temps, etc.).
  • This is a TERRIBLE idea.
  • I don't expect other countries to cow-tow to my English, we should NOT cow-tow to their language and desires to not bother to learn our language and ways. (Note from Pat: I really like the spelling of kowtow as COW-TOW!)
  • Just another concession to political correctness and liberalism. ... I've traveled extensively, the world over, and I've never seen such concessions to Americans. If they want to live here they should do so legally, learn the language, learn the culture, systems, and standards and assimilate !! Otherwise, please stay away.
  • I guess I'am just old school but I think we to leave the way it was, NO CELSIUS.
  • Absolute nonsense IMO to post Celsius. We're not in Canada nor the UK, thank God!
  • No more Celsius. We live in America.
  • This is America and when in America you learn the language and customs of the United States. This Celsius junk need to go, or I'll just go to another channel.
  • I think that when people comes to our country to live they should adapt to our way of living. When you go to their counties, we adapt to their ways. That what wrong with our country-we keep giving and receive nothing in return.

The web site then adds the remark that, the "Metric System (is Apparently) a Plot by Liberal Communist Anti-American Immigrants" and also makes this remark:

"OK, to be fair, I'll note that the majority of the comments on the post (not reprinted here) weren't completely crazy. Still, this just is another reminder of the incredibly obstinate obstacles facing the adoption of the (obviously superior) metric system in the USA. Keep in mind that this was not opposition to ABC-13 switching to Celsius, but to the station even including Celsius temperatures alongside Fahrenheit measures."

You can see all the rest of the responses at: http://scienceblogs.com/scientificactivist/2007/10/metric_system_plot.php

6 Quotations

The writer at http://www.battlecreekenquirer.com/article/20100815/NEWS01/8150303 says that she has always been more a word person than a numbers person. She then goes on to say:

I hopped on the Internet, where I discovered our system actually has a name. It's called the Imperial System, which sounds like something our ancestors should have had a revolution against. The Internet didn't offer any insight, however, as to why conversions between the two are so darn difficult.

After reading a few more charts, I decided the Imperial System was to blame. The Metric System seems pretty reasonable--one gram equals 1,000 kilograms, ditto on meters, ditto on liters. The Imperial System is just plain ornery. 5,280 feet in a mile? 16 ounces in a pound? For the love of Fahrenheit, these are not simple conversions.

No wonder math was miserable for me. I was learning the hard one.

7 Q&A - readers' questions and answers

Question:

"Which presidents of the USA have been supporters of decimal metric system?"

Answer:

Here are my candidates:

  • President George Washington (1789-1797) pushed for a rational decimal system of measurement based on the Constitutional requirement for national measurements.

  • President Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809) produced a report that described a decimal measurement system using redefined old measuring words Together with Benjamin Franklin, Jefferson successfully promoted the idea of using decimal numbers for a universal decimal metric system that was legalised in France in the 1790s.

  • President John Quincy Adams (1825-1829) Produced a report (in 1821) that favoured the metric system

  • President Andrew Johnson (1865-1869) Legalised the metric system in the USA

  • President Ulysses S. Grant (1869-1877) Signed "The treaty of the metre"

  • President Grover Cleveland (1893-1897) Approved the use of metric system electrical units

  • President Gerald Ford (1974-1977) signed the Metric Conversion Act of 1975

  • President George H. W. Bush (1989-1993) Signed Law EO12770 that required Government Departments to use the metric system

Perhaps you can provide others that I don't know about.

8 Rule of thumb

Normal body temperature is usually taken to be 37 °C but this can vary a bit and still be normal. Carl Reinhold August Wunderlich, in 1861, measured the temperatures of twenty five thousand people and reported an average of 37.0 °C with a range from 36.25 °C to 37.5 °C.

9 History

The years 1750 to 1790 were a period of great development of precision instruments such as highly accurate clocks, called chronometers, that were used for finding longitude while navigating at sea, and the development of the lead screw that is still used in modern lathes. The development of the metric system in the 1790s arose, in part, from the need to have accurate and precise measurements for these new technologies.

10 Hidden metric

In racing circles in Australia, after metric conversion in 1972, the length 1600 metres was for a time referred to as a metric mile. This happens because the previous distance that changed to 1600 metres was about 1609.344 metres. Changing from the old to the new in this way is "hard conversion" because you don't just keep the old distance and describe it in metric units; you look at the old distance and round it to a sensible number, in this case 1600 metres. Conversely a "soft conversion" would be to keep the old distance and to call it 1609.344 metres. Usually the soft conversion is followed by many years of language confusion. Strangely, "hard conversions" are always easier to do than "soft conversions".

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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