One Hundred is Everywhere!

By The Metric Maven

On March 2nd, 1962 Wilt Chamberlain set the single game scoring record in the NBA. He scored 100 points. This record is an astonishing achievement. The game was not televised, there is no video of it, and only an audio recording of the final quarter exists. The photograph taken by a sports photographer is iconic and succinct. Wilt holds up a piece of paper upon which the photographer has written 100. The closest anyone has come to this record since, was when Kobe Bryant scored 81 on January 22, 2006. Some professions become obsessed by 100. This number is considered a milestone (yes The Metric Maven can use this as a metaphor) for some television programs. The program is then eligible for syndication. Frylock from Aqua Teen Hunger Force becomes obsessed by 100, in their one hundredth episode. This is the 100th essay published at The Metric Maven, and so 100 is the topic.

Why do I bring this up? Well I’ve become concerned that people might have the impression I don’t like 100 because I would vanquish centimeters (actually centi-anything). There are many cases where I encourage, in fact almost demand the use of 100. Much like the epiphany about eliminating centimeters, it took me a while to embrace 100, and understand its importance in other metric contexts. Let me begin at the beginning, which involves gas mileage.

I had stumbled across the fact that most Europeans do not compute their fuel efficiency in Liters/kilometer, but in Liters/100 kilometers. I could not see why on earth they would do this. What possible benefit could it have? On my last trip, my car got  32.87 miles to a US gallon, which is 7.16 Liters/100 kilometers. The formula is Liters/100 Km = 235.21/mpg. Here is a quick table:

MPG  L/100 Km

10     23.52
15     15.68
20     11.76
25      9.41
30      7.84
35      6.72
40      5.88
45      5.22
50      4.70

The liters per 100 Km values give a much better intuitive understanding of the actual fuel efficiency. Fearlessly using Naughtin’s Laws, let’s remake the table in terms of milliliters

MPG  mL/100 Km    Gasoline Volume Saved

10     23 520
15     15 680              7840 mL         (10-15)
20     11 760              3920 mL         (15-20)
25      9410                2350 mL         (20-25)
30      7840                1570 mL         (25-30)
35      6720                1120 mL         (30-35)
40      5880                  840 mL         (35-40)
45      5220                  660 mL         (40-45)
50      4700                  520 mL         (45-50)
100    2352                2348 mL         50-100 MPG is close to difference from 20-25 MPG

Rick’s 1968  Roadrunner 10 MPG  23.5 L/100 Km

What this shows us is that going from 45 MPG to 50 MPG saves 520 mL. Bottled water is generally sold in 500 mL bottles. What’s the difference when we go from 20 to 25 MPG?—2350 mL which is over two liters (i.e. a two liter bottle of soda). We can immediately envision the change in fuel economy, and it is large. Going from 10 to 15 MPG saves 7840 mL or almost four 2 liter bottles of soda. Going from 45 to 50 MPG saves only about two aluminum cans of soda. We can see that increasing fuel efficiency from 20-25 MPG (5 MPG increase) saves about the same volume of fuel as going from 50 MPG to 100 MPG (50 MPG increase).

My friend Rick owned a 1968  Plymouth Roadrunner in the 1970s. It was the era of Muscle Cars and Ed “Big Daddy” Roth. Rick’s car had nearly a 3/4 cam and was designed for high performance, but not fuel efficiency. It was the last of the cars from the era defined by the film American Graffitti, which was released in 1973, and proved to be a swan song. Rick’s Roadrunner averaged about 10 miles per gallon or 23.5 L/100 Km. My current car averages about 35 MPG or 6.7 L/100 Km. It takes 16.8 liters less than Rick’s old Roadrunner to traverse 100 Km. Rick’s old car may seem like an anachronistic gas guzzler, but should you happen to drive an M-1 Abrams tank, it has a fuel efficiency of 470 L/100 Km. Now that’s a gas guzzler.

My friend Kat on the other hand, is at the other end of the fuel efficiency spectrum She drives a  2010 Honda SH150i and has a calculated mileage of 114 MPG. Wow, that’s 2.1 liters per 100 kilometers.  While that’s serious fuel efficiency, Kat tells me the 2011 Genuine Scooter Company’s Stella scooter claims 140 MPG or 1.7 L/100 Km!

This is all very interesting, but it didn’t still didn’t make me a 100% 100 convert.

What caused the realization of how useful 100 could be was when I worked on controlling and quantifying my Calorie intake. (I will set aside why I’m not using kilojoules for the moment, with a promise to write about it in the future.) I had begun doing all my cooking with grams and mL. Years ago I had used a now out of print book called The All in One Calorie Counter. It had everything in it. When I looked on line I found an incredible website to help me, which is now gone.

The website allowed one to search for almost any type of food, and the output was in calories/gram and grams/100 calories. Like the fuel efficiency numbers, I could quickly understand how “calorie dense” different foods are at a glance with grams/100 calories. Because I had begun using a scale when I went to metric cooking, I could easily measure the mass of any food in grams. This in turn would allow me to compute the total calories very quickly. Here is a list of some common foods and their grams/ 100 calories.

(click to enlarge)

One can immediately see that bacon is very calorie dense with 19 grams per 100 Calories. The grams/100 Calories for meats increase up to 125 g/100 Calories for chicken. This table immediately shows one why so much chicken is consumed by people trying to reduce their calorie intake, and hamburger is not. It shows that if you’re given the choice between butter and sour cream on a potato, sour cream has far fewer calories for the same mass. Flour and sugar have equivalent energy densities.

When I would weigh out food, I could quickly halve or double the grams to obtain 50 calories or 200 calories of a food. I was very surprised at the convenience. Measuring the components out of which I make a sandwich, has given me a feeling for the amount of calories in different foods. I never had that intuition when using non-metric methods. The most important aspect for me is that because of US Government food labeling requirements, I can compute the grams/100 calories for any food I purchase. I just use this simple formula:

Formula to convert grams in a serving with known calories to g/100 C
Large Egg Food Label
(click to enlarge)

For instance suppose we use this label from eggs as an example. The egg has a mass of 50 grams (1 serving) and contains 70 Calories of energy. We compute 100*50/70 which gives us 71.4 grams/100 Calories. I would round this to 71 grams/100 Calories. We see immediately from our table that it’s similar to eating Ribeye Steak at 65 grams/100 Calories. It is about two times fewer calories than eating hamburger with the same mass.

This is when I was completely convinced of the utility of 100 in certain instances. You can imagine how hot under the collar I became when I found out that some groups want to take grams off of the nutritional labels on foods and change them to Ye Olde English!  This would screw me up seriously, and once again be a complete retreat from improving our quality of life in the US by adopting the metric system.

The use of 100 has provided options in my Engineering work that I did not previously have. When a radio wave (electromagnetic wave) travels in a coaxial cable transmission line, like the one attached to a television, it slowly loses energy.  One can measure how much energy enters this length of cable, and how much is remains at its end, divide the two values, and create a logarithmic loss “unit” called the decibel. When I measure the losses of electromagnetic waves through materials and transmission lines, it has been traditionally described in decibels/inch. Decibels per meter does not work well for high loss materials and and decibels per inch does not work well for low loss materials. It suddenly struck me one day that perhaps decibels per 100 mm was a good candidate. It was, it works, and I now use it exclusively.

In the 1970s, Australia, early in their metric switchover, pressed for a uniform price per kilogram for foods. Kevin Wilks in his book  Metrication in Australia states:

In hindsight, the decision to press for “per kilogram” only pricing was unfortunate. While pricing on a common unit basis facilitated price comparisons, it gave no guidance to the public on sub kilogram quantity selection…….


In Canada and Singapore, fractional pricing based on halves and quarters of the kilogram was forbidden, but prices per kg or per 100 g were permitted. This simple device ensured that in those countries sub unit quantities were obtained as multiples of one tenth of  a kilogram and successive halving was avoided……

For Australia to gain the fullest benefit of conversion to a decimal system of weights and measures, it was inevitable that authorities permitted and encouraged “per 100 g” pricing in addition to “per kg” pricing

I’m not as obsessed with 100 as Frylock, but I’ve realized it can give me a completely different way to look at important quantities. In the proper situation, 100 is the best way to go.

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I Can Quit Anytime I Want

By The Metric Maven

Bulldog Edition

In 1967 cigarettes were advertised on television. One of the most successful ad campaigns was for Benson and Hedges 100’s cigarettes. The commercial started out saying “Oh the disadvantages of the new Benson and Hedges 100’s. They’re a lot longer than King Size, and that takes some getting used to.” (If you actually watch some of these commercials look for Ken Mars of Young Frankenstein and McLean Stevenson of M*A*S*H.)

One of the humorous vignettes that follow shows the driver of a Volkswagen Beetle rotating his head quickly to view an attractive woman passing by, only to smash the end of his cigarette into the closed driver side window. The song “Disadvantages of You,” by The Brass Ring plays as another man lights his cigarette, at an inappropriately short distance from the end of the cigarette. To his surprise, a vendor of balloons pops one as he fills it from a tank. Humorous scenes continue until the narrator ends with:

Benson and Hedges 100’s are the new longer filter cigarettes, three puffs longer, four
puffs longer, maybe five puffs longer than king size–once you get the hang of them.

Chesterfield 101 Cigarettes — A Silly Millimeter Longer

It was clear from the commercial that puffs were not a very accurate way to measure cigarettes. In the 1960s people had no idea what the 100 in Benson and Hedges 100’s was, but that was about to change. Chesterfield then provided an educational service via advertising, by introducing their Chesterfield 101 cigarettes. That classic 1960s commercial started out at the scene of a wedding in which a woman asserts she always cries at weddings. The narrator then states:

“One-o-one, one millimeter longer than the 100’s.”

Man: “One millimeter longer?—must be a joke.”

Second Man: “I was the first guy that ever dated her.”

Woman: “Doesn’t look any longer”

Man: “It’s silly.”

Chorus: “A silly millimeter longer, one-o-one. A silly millimeter longer, one-o-one.”

Man: “Good—it sure tastes good.”

Second Woman: “I’d like it even if it wasn’t one millimeter longer.”

Narrator: “One-o-one it tastes one better.”

At that point it was known that cigarettes are 100 mm long, and 101’s were a millimeter longer than that, which is a very small dimension. Benson & Hedges also advertised it had a king size version. They marketed these as Benson & Hedges 85’s. Wow, didn’t any one see the irony in having imperial titled “King Size” cigarettes which are 85 millimeters in length? Well, Americans didn’t seem to realize they were smoking metric sized products with a French name either. The word cigarette is French for “small cigar.”

The battles with public smoking had only dawned when these commercials were aired. Many people when confronted about their smoking would often say “I can quit anytime I want.” This indicated that they were really in control, not addicted to nicotine, and smoked by choice. If they became convinced smoking was a bad idea, they would just quit–no problem. Amazingly over the next few decades Americans began to give up cigarettes until it now appears to be a minority activity in the US.

When I took machine shop class a couple of years back, there was a fellow there who had been a Navy machinist. He would become visibly annoyed at my metric assertions. One day in frustration he walked over to a milling machine with a digital read-out and said “look we can quit using inches whenever we want, just poke the button.” He did so and millimeters were displayed. What I later realized from Pat Naughtin’s essays and videos was this was a perfect example of how dual scales prohibit metrication rather than promote it. His assertion also made me think of the old cigarette commercials, and how as long as cigarettes were available everywhere, people had a hard time quitting. In those days a smoker who was without cigarettes, and trying to quit, could always “bum a cigarette” from a person nearby. Cold turkey was the only way to quit smoking, but the availability of cigarettes made it hard. In those days there were even cigarette machines, like soda dispensing machines, in most malls—and anyone–even minors–could purchase cigarettes from them.

The machine shop teacher didn’t realize that changing to metric was not just a matter of millimeters, but also milliliters, grams, kilograms, newtons, pascals, and so on. Like a smoker who knew how  to quit, but never tried, he had no idea just how much was involved with embracing metric, and as long as he had the old way nearby and accessible, he would make no change. He was “just blowing smoke.” This sort of delusion is why anti-metric people, including the former Director of NIST, David Gallagher, feel comfortable to dismiss metric by saying “use it if you want, you have that choice.” They are essentially saying they can quit Olde English whenever they like, and yet never do. Dual measurement devices are as effective at promoting the metric system as the non-smoking sections of restaurants were at keeping out smoke.

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