back to article Boffins mount campaign against France's official kilogramme

International boffins are mounting a determined diplomatic push to end the practice of measuring mass by reference to a 130-year-old metal cylinder kept in France, saying that the French ingot is no longer up to the job. The Consultative Committee for Units, whose chairman is Blighty's Professor I M Mills FRS, and which counts …


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  1. Stoneshop Silver badge


    Le Kilogramme is to walk the Planck.

    1. IglooDude

      leading to...

      Mass panic amongst the boffinry.

  2. Code Monkey

    Good call

    Thanks for the metric system and all. It whizzes on pounds and ounces from a great height.

    Now it's time to let go before the French "kilo" becomes as anachronistic as the comedy weights and measures it replaced.

    1. Number6


      Imperial units are good for random party pieces, such as asking people if they actually know the size of an acre (one chain by one furlong). SI units are boring in comparison.

      1. Graham Dawson

        It's all about factors

        The reason we use a 360 degree circle and 60 seconds in a minute are because of the factors you can get from this. A base 12 measurement system gives you more factors to work with than base ten, which gives you five, two and... ten. With base 12 you get five, two, ten, six and three, which is easy to understand when you're working with fractional mathematics. Fractions, I find, are more intuitive than decimal maths. Get a decimal point on the wrong place and you're out by an increasingly large factor. Get a fraction wrong and it's obvious immediately.

        By curious coincidence the length of a yard, and a foot (and consequently an inch) can be derived using nothing more than a time standard and the motion of the stars. Despite popular belief these measurements aren't based on some sovereign's oversized foot, which is why they're remained so constant for so many thousands of years (tens of thousands if you count the megalithic yard).

        This is the best page I could find describing the process:

        Now, the problem with imperial measurements isn't an inherent one: they lack standardisation, which isn't a flaw of the units but of the people using them. Many were derived from the existing basic units for use in agriculture, and others were modified to fit that use (the mile used to be 5000 feet long, the same distance as used by the Romans, but was modified under Elizabeth the first for some reason). The solution would be standardisation, which was never actually tried on anything other than an ad-hoc and contradictory basis (most of the criticism of imperial measurements is how ad-hoc they appear, which is true if you take the entire gamut of measurements grouped together under "imperial", many of which were taken from informal measures for various things but which aren't actually related to the basic units). If you go back and work from the basic measurement of the inch, foot and yard you could create a set of standard measures for weight, volume and length that would be far more versatile than base ten metric. It would be rather revolutionary.

        On the other hand metric can be converted between units counting on your fingers, if you're willing to give up some flexibility and a few useful factors. It's all about what you want to do with it.

        Advocacy over. :)

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Thumb Up

          I would add...

          I agree with all of that and I would add that the current metric measures also lead to unwieldy amounts like 498 ml cans of stuff which might have been measured imperially using single digits.

          Metric measures may be easier to calculate with arithmetically (being based on units of 10) but they don't actually make for handy numbers in real life..

          1. joylessdave


            that is the stupidy of the manufacturer for not adding 2ml and labeling it as .5L or 1/2L not the fault of the metric system

        2. Anonymous Coward

          Say whaaaaa!!!??

          "A base 12 measurement system gives you more factors to work with than base ten, which gives you five, two and... ten. With base 12 you get five, two, ten, six and three, which is easy to understand when you're working with fractional mathematics."

          Copy-paste fail, one presumes? But I have to ask... what were you hoping to save time on?

        3. Rombizio
          Thumb Down


          The metric system is the only one that can be used for accurate microscopic measurement. Also, the metric system is MUCH more intuitive since division by ten is easier than divisions by 12. You think the Imperial system is more intuitive only because it is the one you have been using. Try to measure the larvae of bed bugs on my laboratory using the Imperial system and you will never use it again in your life.

          Have said that, there is a reason why the Imperial system lacks standartisation: It is based on a very old method of measurement that has not evolved because it has no precision for scientific application. No reason to have two systems imo.

          1. David Cantrell

            Pointless title, which must contain letters and/or digits.

            "The metric system is the only one that can be used for accurate microscopic measurement"? Bullshit. Just like you can measure a billionth of a metre, you can measure a billionth of a yard. Your problem is simply that your tools are set up to provide easy access to SI units.

          2. Red Bren

            Your laboratory?

            "Try to measure the larvae of bed bugs on my laboratory"

            Do you mean your bed? What other experiments do you carry out? Actually, no! I don't want to know...

            Mine's the white one with the biros in the chest pocket.

          3. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            I don't know about you but...

            I count by adding one the previous number. It's simple and easy, even for me.

        4. Jimbo 6

          Factors / base 12

          @ Graham :

          Surely multiples of 12 aren't used much in Imperial weight systems (unless you're talking the 12 troy oz in a troy pound) - 12 is more commonly used in money calculations (12 pence in a shilling, 240 in £1) ?

          The main multipliers in the Avoirdupois weights system are 8 and 7 (16 oz in a pound, and 14 pounds in a stone - hence everything upwards is neatly divisible by 7 and 8). Why ? ~ because there are 7 days in the week, and the Roman army unit was eight men (as the British Army unit still is).

          So a hundredweight (112 lb) of wheat, for example, easily breaks down into 1 stone per man; if it has to last them a fortnight, they each have exactly 1 pound per day. One pound of meat = 2 oz per man, etc. That's where the metric system really falls down, just try splitting a ton of horse feed into 7 equal parts.

          (Also - IIRC - there is a theory that the Mesopotamians - from whom we get our 360 degrees & 60 minutes - used base 60 because they counted using each joint on each finger, not because they knew it could easily be broken down into factors. Though they may just have been clever bastards.)

          1. Anomalous Cowherd Silver badge

            Makes you think

            If only the author of Genesis had decided that god creating the world in 8 days instead of 7, we'd all be working on a base-2 system. 64 minutes in an hour, 16 ounces to a pound, 128 pounds to a hundredweight...

            And who wants to be a millionaire would be satisfyingly binary all the way up.

        5. Lukin Brewer

          Celestially inspired.

          Heh. The Mesopotamians and Babylonians also started western astrology. Most people are familiar with the 12 signs of the Zodiac. However, each sign (or house) was divided into three decans (because there are three signs ruled by each of the four elements, natch) and each decan was graduated into 10 degrees (for accurate recording of the positions of the planets - do keep up). 12 houses make 36 decans make 360 degrees. Simples! So much nicer than those dreary new grads, too.

          If it's ease of use (and factorization) that you want, I'd say go for a binesimal system: divide the circle in half, then keep halving the divisions until they come out small enough, like with a compass rose. How does a 512-degree circle (and a 128-degree right angle) sound? 'Cause, as any physicist will tell you, the only measure of angle that's scientifically meaningful is the radian, and I can't really see Joe Public getting to grips with that.

      2. Paul Crawford Silver badge


        Surly you mean good for jokes such as:

        Q: Why has an elephant got 4 feet?

        A: Because it would look silly with 6 inches!

        Thanks, its the one without the good joke book...

        p.s. If a child asks, its the trunk you are referring to.

      3. Telboy

        rods poles perches

        Surely you mean 160 Rods or is that poles or perches.

        All in fact are the same thing,

      4. bluesxman

        RE: Fun

        I realise we don't know each other, but for the avoidance of doubt -- please do not invite me to any parties.

  3. Harry

    So, how long will it be ...

    ... before the first spoof "official 1Kg weight" advert appears on eBay Nigeria ?

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    ...if someone breaks in there and slices a bit off, will everything weigh more? It sounds like some crazy villain's plot to take over the world - when the kilogram weighs less he'll be able to get into some bank vault because the pressure sensors calibrated to 50 kilograms won't work anymore, etc etc...

  5. frank ly Silver badge

    I am amazed

    "Elaborate precautions are taken to ensure that the kilogramme doesn't change mass - a complicated official cleaning procedure is carried out to remove atmospheric oxidants from the surface. "

    This is ridiculous. All they need to do is give it two coats of epoxy varnish and the problem is solved.

    1. TeeCee Gold badge

      Re: Sooo...

      He wouldn't need to get into some bank vault by devious means, accessing it in the conventional manner will do.

      1) Deposit 100 kilos of gold ingots in bank vault. Get receipt for same.

      2) Saw 30% off the standard kilo.

      3) Withdraw 100 kilos of gold from bank vault.

      4) Wait for new kilo definition issue to be resolved.

      5) Profit!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Buy a few billion kilos of gold,

        And the gamble of switching might pay off.

        on second thoughts, probably just better off going to ladbrokes.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          And the rest of us would be laughing at you

          Cos gold is still measured (and traded) in pounds troy, not kilos.

          1. jonathanb Silver badge

            That is true

            however imperial measrements are now defined by reference to their metric equivalents. For example, the troy ounce is defined as being exactly 31.1034768g.

      2. JohnG Silver badge


        Nice idea TeeCee but don't the banks measure gold by the Troy ounce?

      3. Yag


        If you deposit 100 Kg of gold, *reduce* the actual weight of the Kg by sawing off the standard Kilogramme, then withdraw 100 (new)Kg of gold...

        Won't you actually *lose* gold?

    2. Stoneshop Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      You may want

      to get hold of the Superdupont comic, the first album. Okay, it's about the meter, but one of the stories is quite like your plot.

  6. Anonymous Coward

    But surely...

    ..the measurement should be a gramme, not 1000 grammes

    1 Litre

    1 Metre

    1 Gramme.

    All other mesurements are derivitives of this.

  7. Robert Heffernan

    Does that mean...

    ... when a builder asks his apprentice how heavy those planks are, the correct answer is always 1kg?

    1. mspletz

      meters and liters and Kilos, oh my!

      > the measurement should be a gramme, not 1000 grammes

      The choice is somewhat arbitrary; just because gram doesn't have a prefix doesn't mean it is the basis for the unit. After all, a liter isn't really a base unit either, being a volume of 1 /1000 of a cubic meter... What determines the basis for the set is really just convenience.

      There are two basic SI 'sets' of units, the MKS set (meter, kilogram and second) and CGS (centimeter, gram and second). The MKS set is the most common, as it is a good set for 'ordinary' things such as cars, factories,etc. The CGS set is preferred typically by the nuclear boffins, as the smaller unit set aligns more closely with the smaller scales involved.

      1. Chemist

        "aligns more closely with the smaller scales involved..."

        Bit of a Hobson's Choice really - I don't think working with 1e-18 kg or 1e-15 g makes too much difference

      2. Daniel Evans

        A mere 7 base units and all (one per day of the week?)

        Although the Candela is unloved by most, and the Mole is slightly strange, as it's just a big number.

        1. M man


          7 Units 7Days.....hmmm thank god its Kelvinday.

      3. Charles Manning


        Naah, millimetres.

        Metric building/engineering plans are almost always in mm, even for "big things" like houses, cars and the like.

        Nuke boffinss will likely be dealing with far smaller units than mm. As soon as you start using exponents then you use metres: 55x10^18m. Nobody uses exponents with mm.

        Centimetres are just a low-brow measurement for "something about the same magnitude as an inch". Use them in any professional capacity (building trade, science, etc and you'll be marked as an impostor).

        1. Naughtyhorse

          marked as an impostor

          or of course an american, they do love their centimetre. dolts

          even better than that, in some states some utilities use imperial and others use metric, giving rise to such wonderful questions/statements as 'our 110kV cable runs 85m alongside the road, 3m from the kerbline, the 9 inch watermain joins out route 54 feet from one end and runs 12 feet 6 from the kerbline... so when we energise will there be a bang?

          metic is the only rational system, I had endless arguments with my old man about factors of this that and the other, and roman soldiers getting their bread for a fortnight. it's all bollocks.

          Any measurment system can me useful so long as there are human scale units in there - microfortnight, attoparsecs, or indeed the bulgarian airbag all work. though with a rational system you dont need to remember millions of factors to convert between them eg feet per second into miles per hour etc etc etc

          more interesting question is _why_ is THE kilo gaining weight whe compared to al lthe witnesses?

      4. Steven Jones

        SI Units

        If a bunch of spanner-wielders want to use something else, then fine, but the SI units of meter, second, second, ampere etc. and the derived quantities, like the Newton, were agreed on by the scientific community in 1960. They are defined by physicists and it isn't going to change.

        The CGS units are not SI units by the way. It may be an alternative metric unit, but SI it is not.

        1. Stoneshop Silver badge

          Which one?

          "the SI units of meter, second, second, ampere etc"

          The first second, or the second?

      5. Tom 13


        Or Celestial Goofy Shit as we called in Asto class because we never could figure out why you'd choose it as your base when the closest star is over 4 light years away. But for some reason it was and therefore the exponents were always even larger.

        1. PT


          I see we are still some way off achieving standards of spelling. Gramme? Metre? Seriously, WTF? Speak English. Once the perfidious French lose control of the last physical standard there will be no further reason to humour them.

    2. John I'm only dancing

      And also surely

      1/1000 of a litre is 1gram of pure water, you know a 1/1000 of a kilogram. Why not base all measurement on pure water, not heavy water, just normal water...

      On second thoughts, best not, some trendy "I only drink pure water' git will come along and drink it!!

  8. Nebulo


    There doesn't seem to be an official (= Register) unit of mass. Yet.

  9. AlistairJ
    Thumb Up

    Put it on eBay

    It will make a fine paperweight.

    1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

      There is the Jub

      Although technically, that is a unit of weight, I'm pretty sure The Reg unit of mass could be defined as the mass required to produce 1 Jb of weight, under standard gravity at sea-level. (1Jb = 4.2Kg)

    2. Graham Dawson


      The most common comparisons seem to be a fully loaded 747 and a bag of cement. A london bus must surely be in there somewhere as well.

      1. Blue eyed boy
        Thumb Up

        Not forgetting Wales as a unit of area.

        If it were flattened out it would be bigger than E*****d

    3. Nigel 11

      Register unit of Mass

      Isn't the Pound (1 lb) odd enough, considered along with its siblings: grains, ounces, stones, hundredweights, tons, and you really don't want to know about its cousins. Oh, you do? Well google "Imperial Units of weight"

      The centihundredweight (or cCwt?) might be amusing: cancelling, you get exactly one weight. (1 wt.)

      In passing, why do the French use tonnes, when clearly they ought to use megagrammes?

      1. Graham Dawson

        Same reason there's a 500g metric pound

        Stubborn refusal to give something up. Sort of like me with feet, as you will hopefully see somewhere higher up. :D

    4. Geoff 25


      Or should that be paper-mass?

      1. C-N

        re: paper-mass

        As long as you use it here on Earth, it makes a decent paperweight.


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