... with all due respect to those who want a return to £sd, I find the use of anything but nested dozens in monetary units to be pointless. Bring on the pound of *100 pence, provided we have coins of *60p, *30p, *10p, 6p and perhaps 3p and 1p. (I realize the last are not worth much, even less when there are *100p per pound instead of 100) The North American, Southern Pacific, etc., dollars should obviously be similarly divided, bringing to an end the validity of the well-known saying: "As phony as a three-dollar bill".

Paul Rapoport, Department of Music McMaster University, HAMILTON Ontario Canada

Various mentions of five-finger counting in the last six issues of the JOURNAL seem to suggest that God got it wrong, or was sabotaged, when making Man who arrived with five fingers. But God got it excellently right: it was Man that interpreted it wrong.

One should not count individual fingers of one hand with the opposite hand; one should count the segments of each finger with the thumb of the same hand.
I have used this method for many years and have always started at the base of the little finger, ending with a dozen at the top of the forefinger; but I suppose one could start at any of the four 'corners'.
This method also allows one to count with one hand at a time and not lose the place, so to speak.

James de la Mare, LONDON

Mr. Robin Hancock has sent us a tape on which he expresses his view that decimalization/metrication is for cultural, not mathematical, reasons. In fact, he says, reasons are not given: the attitude is "accept it or else ... "
Mr. Hancock tells us that he met the metric system at school and even then reacted instinctively against its rigid denary inflexibility, its "user-unfriendliness".
He feels that a whole generation is being indoctrinated as a result of a weakness in the national character (and is not sure whether this weakness Is inherent or instilled).

Mr. Hancock also points-out that the English-speaking peoples gave rise to the most successful culture ever, and it is that which is under attack: the greatness of Britain, he avers, owed much to her breaking-away from Europe and forming a much better society subsequently; but that is now being eradicated, regardless of past sacrifices and lives given to defend it; that history is being re-written to Britain's discredit (giving as an example a children's text in which the French are credited with inventing the steam-engine).
The DSGB - and others of similar views - need a much broader audience, he says.

A reader draws attention to the new application form for a driving licence, which asks whether drivers can read "a car number plate with figures on it which are 79·4 millimetres high", from a distance of (a) "20·5metres" or (b) "12·3 metres".

So wonderfully, manically meticulous are these figures that one might conclude, along the lines of Chesterton's essay, The Mad Official, that the DVLA had gone quite off its head.
The explanation, of course, must be the same as that for the guide book to Berkshire I read some years ago, which described the hole in the famous "Blowing Stone", of Uffington as being "around 46 centimetres long". Boggling at this admixture of vagueness anf precision, one realised that some poor soul must have been given the task of "metricating" the guide, which originally had "around 18 inches".

I see, incidentally, that the Laws of Cricket have now been updated, to allow for a cricket pitch to be "20·12 metres" long, and the stumps to be "71·1 cm above the ground---.
I am not sure whether it would please M Delors to see us coming so meekly into line - or whether it would merely confirm him in the belief that we are a people so irrational as to be beyond redemption.

Christopher Booker, writing in the SUNDAY TELEGRAPH, March1992

SIR -Andrew Gimson's article (July 6) subjected the metricators to some deserved sarcasm, and rightly implied metrication was an assault on convenience and human qualities.

It is an act of cultural vandalism, designed to obliterate the hard-won and practical modes of thought which enabled Britain to achieve the Industrial Revolution by having a measuring system based on common sense ratio, proportion and human scale that leaves "toytown" metrics floundering.

The metric system is not rational, merely decimal. It is defeated by the housebrick, the simple binary mathematics of kitchen-weighing, the geometry of angle - and hence time - measurement, and by the economics of packaging. It substitutes strings of figures and decimal approximations for straightforward ratios and fractions.

It is astonishing that journalists alone voice opposition to this externally-inflicted disease. Why do we not hear from the politicians or academics? Why are there no scientists prepared to break from their decimal-metric thraldom and consider natural proportion, practical (not laboratory) measurement and even, perhaps, the flawed number-system itself?


Educational Comments

From 'GEOMETRY JUNGLE, a schools' mathematics text:

The word 'protractor' is dropped, the device now being called an 'Angle-Measurer'.

A die is now called 'a dice'.

Regular polygons are drawn by pupils only with the said 'Angle Measurer', never by construction.

The regular dodecagon is just briefly mentioned (not by name, but as 'you could use twelve sides'), whereas hexagon, octagon and decagon are illustrated and emphasized.

Introduction to the topic:

"Over the next seven weeks you will be travelling through the Geometry Jungle. Shortly you will arrive at the 'Landing Point' in the bottom left-hand corner of the map. You are on a quest to retrieve the golden sphere. This is a solid ball of gold which was stolen from your people by the evil polygons. The polygons are a act of many-sided shapes who will cause you some problems throughout your journey."

No, this is not material aimed at seven- or eight-year olds, but is provided for secondary school pupils aged thirteen...

The 1991 SMP Maths Paper 4 [a mathematics exam paper] suggests that there may be forthcoming a £5 coin in the shape of a pentagonal curve of constant width (CCW).

There are no 'number-base' questions in the entire exam. No questions involving weeks/days or minutes/seconds appear. One very small clock-time question uses a gap between hours and minutes (13 15). Front-cover instructions for the examination give times using a decimal point between hours and minutes.


The Educational TV programme, 'Mathsphere' (BBC2), focused on Richard Branson's Pacific flight in a hot-air balloon. The German-sounding engineer/navigator gave the capacity of the balloon in cubic feet, then obediently translated it into cubic metres ... During the flight, Branson and the navigator talked in terms of feet/min. for climb- and descent-rates, knots for speed and nautical miles for distance, of course. The programme presenter, however, insistently rendered these distances in kilometres, even stating at one point that one degree of Latitude is equal to one-hundred -and-eleven kilometres (never mentioning that it is actually sixty nautical miles).

PSI Albion 1, SI Metrique 0

The ITV programme "Scientific Eye" demonstrated the idea of pressure by resting the weight of some bags of sugar on a one-inch wooden cube, which in turn rested on the tyre of a bicycle wheel. The tyre began to squash when the appropriate number of bags was used. Thus, the notion of "pounds per square inch' was clearly shown.

One can only guess at the pain caused to the producers of this otherwise rigidly metric series: having to use a square-inch unit must have been bad enough; also having to give the weight of bags of sugar, which used to be 2lb but have now been metricated to lkg, as "about 2lb" would have been pure anguish. A further point to be relished was the use of a gravitational unit - the Lb - which is readily understood by ordinary people but usually forbidden by scientists.

So, why did they do it? Well, the SI pressure unit is the Pascal, which is 1 Newton per square metre. A Newton is that force which will accelerate a mass of 1 kilogramme at a rate of 1 metre per second per second.
Tyre pressures are supposed to be given in bars: one bar equals 100 kilopascals . Got it? Now try to explain that to a child of no more than average intellect and devise a simple demonstration, using familiar objects and materials, of what is meant by a tyre-pressure of, say, 1·8 bar...

No wonder that the Industrial Revolution was brought about by practical men in Britain and the USA, unhampered by abstract absolutism and so building their steam-engines to work on - pounds per square inch!

Historic Measures of England


WINCHESTER, once capital of Wessex and seat of government of the Saxon kingdom of Anglia, was the repository for national standard weights and measures and was associated with London - a rising centre of commerce - up to the Tudor period. No samples of Saxon measures remain. Their values are deduced from documents and grave-goods.

William the Conqueror wished to be regarded as Edward the Confessor's lawful successor and so stated that measures and weights "..most trustworthy and duly certified..." should be "...exactly as the good predecessors have appointed."

Later commercial and political revisions decreed destruction of the old standards but this, happily, went unheeded by some on the administrative periphery. Winchester Museum holds many originals, including Edward III's haber-de-pois weights (still valid today), Henry VII's and Elizabeth's capacity measures and their standard Yard - all invaluable as research anchor-points.

The Museum has issued a booklet illustrating the measures held and summarizing their history. It is available for £1 post paid from The Historic Resources Centre, 75 Hyde Street, Winchester, Hampshire SO23 7DW.