‘User-Friendly’ metric

One of our readers, John Frewen-Lord, asks why popular resistance to the simplicity of metric measures is now limited to a few English-speaking countries. With change in the air, he makes a few suggestions to help the stalled metric changeovers. If you are a Metric ‘Purist’, turn away now…

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Is this the UK’s oldest kilometre sign?

A sign showing kilometres on the route of the first ‘London’ marathon had its anniversary this week. For a century, it has pointed the way for anyone trying to retrace the steps of the original runners towards the finishing line at White City in London, where the 1908 Olympic Games were held.

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Metric, a truly natural system

At the time of writing NASA scientists are eagerly awaiting the results of soil sampling from their latest Martian probe Phoenix. Crucial to that experiment is confirmation of the presence of water. That precious substance essential to all life both here on Earth and maybe elsewhere. It also plays a big part in shaping the world geologically and meteorologically both here and possibly on Mars. What more natural a substance to choose for defining a unit of mass as was the case originally with the metric system.

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First Emperor showed the way – 2000 years ago

I recently had the pleasure of visiting the splendid (Chinese) First Emperor exhibition at the British Museum. Apart from the terracotta warriors, what impressed me the most was the way that Qin Shihuangdi imposed standardisation on his vast empire – including, of course, weights and measures.

Qin Shihuangdi unified China by conquest in 221 BC. One of his first acts was to decree that only standard weights and measures were to be used throughout the empire. The bronze weight illustrated below is inscribed as follows: “In the 26th year [of his reign the king of Qin] united the princes of the [individual] states; the people enjoyed peace, and he was proclaimed emperor [huangdi]. He issued an edict that all weights are to be standardised. Where they are not uniform, or where there are any doubts, let them be standardised and classified.”

(Acknowledgements to the Trustees of the British Museum)

Also of interest is the measuring cup illustrated below. Its capacity is a “half dou”, which was the most popular size in use. Strangely enough, it is almost exactly equivalent to one litre. Obviously, this must be sheer coincidence, but it does give the lie to the British imperialists’ claim that the pint is “natural”, whereas the litre is not.

(Acknowledgements to the Trustees of the British Museum)

Here in Britain the first recorded attempt to standardise weights and measures can be found in Magna Carta (1215), but it was not until 1824 that imperial measures were standardised by the first Weights and Measures Act. Unfortunately, our current crop of politicians lack the perception or the political courage (or both) to acknowledge that a single system of weights and measures is a basic requirement of a modern society. Hence we have, to quote another Chinese leader*, “one country, two systems”.

*the late Deng Xiaoping, referring to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region

Visionary sci-fi writer uses metric

The late Arthur C Clarke who died this month (March 2008) wrote what may be regarded as his most memorable non-fiction article in 1945. He was the first person to propose the use of satellites in geostationary orbit to form part of a global communications network.


It was quite fitting that his orbital calculations and other details were entirely in metric in recognition of the future as seen from early post-war England.

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Metric and the decline of UK manufacturing industry

Metric Views’ attention has been drawn to an article recently posted on the “Weekly Gripe”. This links the decline in the 1980’s of the UK’s engineering and manufacturing industries to their failure to embrace metrication in the decade before.

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