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January 13, 2007

The Metric Office

I was reading an article on Slashdot revisiting the never-ending resistance to the Metric System in this country, and read a comment from a British reader stating that most people in his country do not use the Metric System (they use miles, pounds, etc.). I got to thinking about it, and I started wondering about the odd measurements of paper (odd to me) 'over there'.

I read quite a few technical papers in my field, and many of them come from Great Britain. A lot of those papers are a pain to format for printing, because we use 8.5 by 11 inch 'letter' paper, and the articles are formatted for A4, which is narrower than letter, but longer, by about 0.7 inches (more precisely, 210 mm × 297 mm, or 8.3 by 11.7 inches).

So I looked it up on Wikipedia, and found that A4 is indeed a Metric standard size. The standard is ISO 216, and specifies a whole range of paper sizes, with the basic stipulation that the dimensions of each sheet are width-to-length a ratio of 1 to √2. Then, any two sheets of one size laid side-by-side will exactly overlap a sheet of the next size up. To quote the article: "This simplifies copying two A4 sheets in reduced size on one, and copying an A4 sheet in magnified size on an A3 sheet or copying half an A4 sheet in magnified size on an A4 sheet."

Pretty neat, actually. And it explains the odd millimeter measurements, especially when you take into account that the 'central' sheet size is B0, which has dimensions of 1000 mm by 1414 mm.

Posted by dpwakefield at January 13, 2007 02:56 PM