I guess that's unavoidable, if your rotations-count per orbit is a prime
September 26, 2022 5:48 AM   Subscribe

 
i saw this the other day and it kind of drove me nuts. the calendar is easy to explain if you understand it as a political/historical phenomenon. it’s a reflection of the history of society. why would aliens be free from their own history? why would they be beings of pure logic, devoid of desires (the engine of human action). if they can’t grasp history the calendar is going to be the least of their worries
posted by dis_integration at 5:52 AM on September 26, 2022 [38 favorites]


Kind of puts (Mefi’s own) Yoon-Ha Lee’s Machineries of Empire books in perspective! (In which manipulating the observed calendar — holidays, rituals, cadences — causes observable changes in the laws of physics.)
posted by sixswitch at 5:58 AM on September 26, 2022 [7 favorites]


Could be worse, could be Early Roman.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 6:00 AM on September 26, 2022


I like how the aliens are sympathetic at first about our eccentricities before learning the true extent of how weird things are.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 6:01 AM on September 26, 2022 [4 favorites]


I've seen arguments (and a quick google suspects they're well-discussed) that a base-12 system is much easier than base-10 because it's much simpler to do mental math with. Hence its use in time and older measurement systems.
posted by restless_nomad at 6:09 AM on September 26, 2022 [5 favorites]


I'm pretty sure the aliens would be like "yeah, I guess that kind of tiered system makes sense, since your limited minds can't easily handle numbers with more than two digits. Oh, us? We just count the number of seconds since the release of our operating system. What do you mean, 'which release'? The only release. It's an operating system! Why wouldn't you write it right the first time?"
posted by phooky at 6:15 AM on September 26, 2022 [25 favorites]


[later, alien infiltrators talking in the diner] "... and get this! They have multiple releases of each of these operating systems. And they keep changing stuff, which means they have to be able to tell them apart, so they give them all names. Now guess what they name them after!"
"Okay, what do they name them after?"
"No, guess guess guess!"
"Ok, fine. Um, political leaders?"
"No, it's so much worse. They name them after years in their weird calendar!"
"Wow. That is exactly backwards."
"I know!"
posted by phooky at 6:21 AM on September 26, 2022 [7 favorites]


Human-readable version of the Twit thread.
posted by JustSayNoDawg at 6:21 AM on September 26, 2022 [6 favorites]


i saw this the other day and it kind of drove me nuts

I don't see it as much on Twitter but that's just a function of how i organize my timeline but this is a quite popular subgenre of Tumblr posts that regularly achieved virality, and yeah, it's cute the first few times but eh, if I needed hokey retreads of golden age scifi clichés I'd sooner read Asimov's pre-human-only Amazing stories again about how something so special in humanity is the magic ingredient no aliens can understand.
posted by cendawanita at 6:28 AM on September 26, 2022 [2 favorites]


It's also clearly centering modern western measurement systems, and, as dis_integration points out, culture-neutral mathematical solutions, which are by no means universal, as the "ideal" that an advanced alien species would obviously use, which is not only problematic but incredibly lazy science fiction. I like the genre on tumblr, generally, but this is not a particularly deft example.
posted by restless_nomad at 6:36 AM on September 26, 2022 [3 favorites]


This is my periodic mini-rant that the French Republic would have had a much better chance to loosen the stranglehold of monarchy and religion in Europe and therefore perhaps stood the test of time had they gone with TWO days off per ten-day week in the Republican Calendar instead of one (though ineffectually sort of one and a half). Liberalization of labor policy (along with demand-side economics, IMO) have tended to result in the most stable, steady growth economies in the last 150 years.
posted by tclark at 6:58 AM on September 26, 2022 [8 favorites]


I am of the mind we should use the Egyptian calendar: 12 months of 30 days with a 5 day period of holiday at the end of the year.
posted by snwod at 6:59 AM on September 26, 2022 [10 favorites]


“And how do you count the years before the religious leader’s birth?” “Oh, we just count backwards.” “I suppose that makes sense, like a number line.” “Yes, but there’s no year zero. So no one can agree on when a century starts.” “And a century….” “Is back to base 10.”
posted by Ishbadiddle at 7:03 AM on September 26, 2022 [4 favorites]



I'm hearing the alien's part in the Great Gazoo's voice, who I just found out was voiced by Harvey Korman.
posted by mmrtnt at 7:11 AM on September 26, 2022 [6 favorites]


The one fix I'd really like is having one day a year that isn't a Monday or a Wednesday etc. so the same pattern of days would happen every year. Of course, we'd need two of these non-days in a leap year
posted by ockmockbock at 7:11 AM on September 26, 2022 [2 favorites]


in virtually every other language they are named after the same Roman gods we used to name the planets

Virtually every other language? German, Dutch, Swedish, Norwegian, and even Finnish would like a word, as would (I suspect) pretty much all non-European languages.
posted by jedicus at 7:16 AM on September 26, 2022 [7 favorites]


I noped out of that fairly early on, and only then looked up at the name of the tweeter. Who even in my limited use of twitter I have encountered before, and even followed for a while, before I realized they were so prone to this kind of wankery.

If we ever make that First Contact, and survive it to make subsequent ones, we will discover that we are typically fucked up for a sapient species in our galaxy, for reasons that are too tedious to enumerate in the margin of this blog comment but which have to do with the universality of the fitness rewards for selfishness and a capacity for fooling your conspecifics into devoting time and resources to your interests. And also the fact that the one invariant of our essential nature as revealed in our actions is, it is our essential nature to be socially-determined. And also the fact that our social systems will produce all kinds of artifacts that have highly path-dependent properties which wind up being basically arbitrary.

In summary, there is zero probability of the conversation happening as TFA imagines, and not because of the impossibility of meeting ET persons in the first instance. It is possible that TFA is amusing for some people, and even that the number of such people is larger than the number who are merely annoyed by it.
posted by Aardvark Cheeselog at 7:30 AM on September 26, 2022 [3 favorites]


I ... did not take this as being quite as seriously intended as some of you are viewing it.
posted by kyrademon at 7:40 AM on September 26, 2022 [46 favorites]


Foone uses they/them pronouns. Please stop misgendering them.
posted by zamboni at 7:43 AM on September 26, 2022 [13 favorites]


i saw this the other day and it kind of drove me nuts. the calendar is easy to explain if you understand it as a political/historical phenomenon. it’s a reflection of the history of society. why would aliens be free from their own history?

Right? I mean, sure, it would show up on their version of Cracked as '5 Weird Things Humans Do With Time', or make it on to their No Such Thing as a Fish as one of those things that sounds amusing, but makes sense if you know the history and context. But the calendar won't be why aliens get scared of/for us.
posted by Garm at 7:45 AM on September 26, 2022 [2 favorites]


The part about 12 being the wrong number of months because the moon orbits every 27 days bugged me. The synodic period (the time from one new moon to the next) is 29.5 days, and that's obviously a more natural basis for a month (as well as being closer to 1/12 of a year). We can't "see" the sidereal period! (Edit: At least not without some serious observation of the stars.)

Anyway, while none of Earth's calendars have a leg to stand on when being amused by the patchwork nature of the others, I did a double take when I first saw a list of Turkish months.
posted by aws17576 at 7:48 AM on September 26, 2022 [8 favorites]


Ha, this very morning my wife was checking an app to see when a bus would come, and the app was expressing the ETA as an 8-digit number with no explanatory unit, 27 million and something. I looked and said, Oh, I bet that's the number of minutes since January 1, 1970, which my 11-year-old kid snorted at because I say nonsensical stuff like that all the time, but then we copied the number into a calculator and divided it by the number of minutes in a year--which she knows is 525,600 because of the song from Rent!--and voilà, the number was 52.7 years! So I got to explain a little bit about Unix time until everyone pretended it was time to go catch the bus. So what I'm saying is, when the aliens start having questions about time, send them to a freshly caffeinated & overexplainy dad type to walk them through the historical accidents and syncretism and musical theater sometimes needed to figure out when it's now, and maybe they'll decide our thinking processes are too stringy and annoying to digest easily and they'll a catch a bus to some other planet instead of eating ours.
posted by miles per flower at 7:49 AM on September 26, 2022 [33 favorites]


International Fixed Calendar
The Intermational Fixed calendar is a 13-month calendar which is easier to keep track of than the current 12month calendar.

Using the International Fixed Calendar, each year would have exactly 52 weeks split evenly into 13 months of four weeks and 28 days. Those days would be easier to manage as well: Each number date would fall on the same day of the week each month (the 20th, for example, would always fall on a Friday). Holidays would be easier to remember, and moveable ones, such as Labor Day, would have fixed dates.

It’s even good for business: Since each month would contain the same number of business days, month-over-month statistical comparisons would be more accurate. If I recall correctly, full moon and new moon would be on the same day every month,
posted by dancestoblue at 7:52 AM on September 26, 2022 [4 favorites]


I appreciated it pulling together the oddities of the US calendar and timekeeping, with its patchwork quilt of histories and cultures, including one Pope’s patch to a pontifex’s previous patch. I took it more in that light than a serious exploration of what first contact would definitively be like.
posted by sgranade at 7:53 AM on September 26, 2022 [1 favorite]


All these things that try to make things logical ignore it would cause huge issues with religious celebrations, and I can't even imagine having to deal with the issues nearly all IT systems would have to deal with. This is solving a problem that isn't really a problem at all.
posted by geoff. at 8:00 AM on September 26, 2022 [2 favorites]


It's also clearly centering modern western measurement systems
And they also make the same reply I got 50 times on the original thread which was like "this is us-specific, other cultures do blah blah blah"

An obvious error on my part. I can't believe I made it so obviously American-specific without explaining why.

Next time I do a thread like this, I'll be sure to explain in THE VERY FIRST TWEET that it's a hypothetical conversation happening in America, and not leave that ambiguous.
posted by zamboni at 8:01 AM on September 26, 2022 [10 favorites]


Obligatory falsehoods programmers believe about time

The only thing I hate dealing with more than time is credit cards. Different kind of headache, PCI compliance is no joke. But at least there are rules.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 8:03 AM on September 26, 2022 [5 favorites]


Using the International Fixed Calendar, each year would have exactly 52 weeks split evenly into 13 months of four weeks and 28 days. ... If I recall correctly, full moon and new moon would be on the same day every month,

Not possible -- as stated above, a lunar (synodic) month is about 29.5 days. Awkward numbers like that are the reason we can't have a fully rationalized calendar that still respects the basic units imposed on us by the Earth, Sun, and Moon.

Some years ago, I taught a math class that went into rational approximations. (The content was basically this article if anyone wants to go down the rabbit hole.) Students worked out why a lot of world calendars have used the Metonic cycle, and why a 33-year leap year cycle outperforms the Gregorian 400-year cycle, etc. All these seemingly kludgy cycles with weird numbers are the best we can do to cope with the incommensurable day, month, and year the uncaring solar system has given us as basic material.

My students enjoyed debating whether a 33-year cycle or a 400-year cycle was more practical, and where the balance should fall between accuracy and usability. I had one student who was quite insistent on maximizing accuracy, and I joked that in her ideal society, we would need priests to tell us what day it was. Her response: "YES THIS IS HOW I AM GOING TO SEIZE POWER"
posted by aws17576 at 8:04 AM on September 26, 2022 [17 favorites]


I’m pretty sure alien civilizations are going to have their own idiosyncratic, dorked-up calendar, as well.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:17 AM on September 26, 2022 [2 favorites]


Except if you are counting in seconds; then we start going negative at Jan 1, 1970 midnight UTC which is the real start of time. Everything else is just localization. Of course don’t forget that we also have a few leap seconds in there — although hopefully never again.
posted by interogative mood at 8:20 AM on September 26, 2022 [2 favorites]


I ... did not take this as being quite as seriously intended as some of you are viewing it.

Yes, everyone gets that it's a joke. The problem is that it's a bad joke, built on highly questionable priors that are illustrative of engineer's disease.
posted by NoxAeternum at 8:30 AM on September 26, 2022 [7 favorites]


It is popular to wonder about why in English, our days are named after gods except for Sunday and Monday, and the answer is actually really simple:

they're all named after celestial bodies, and those are named after gods. Specifically, the five celestial bodies that can be seen with the naked eye, Mars, Venus, Mercury, Jupiter and Saturn, as well as, of course, the Sun and Moon. You can see this in the way that Japanese, which adopted a Westernised calendar but had its own names for these celestial bodies based on Chinese elements, adopted the same naming scheme, so they have Sunday, Moonday, Fireday, Waterday, Treeday, Goldday and Earthday.

Why Norse gods? One of the things that Romans liked to do is to go into an area and make equivalences between the local gods and their own gods, hence why Tyr gets a slot but not, say, Freyja or Baldr, but there's no real equivalent for Saturn in Norse mythology. The Norse invaded England and brought their names for the days of the week with them, and they stuck.

More's the pity. Having two days that start with the same letter is bullshit, and we have four. The Japanese have the right idea.
posted by Merus at 8:39 AM on September 26, 2022 [4 favorites]


(please do not get on my case about how 金曜日 is probably better translated as 'Metalday' because I was trying to do a thing with the starting letters)
posted by Merus at 8:45 AM on September 26, 2022 [3 favorites]


foone is well worth following, and the twitter thread is timely, since the Jewish New Year celebration, Rosh Hashanah, began in the evening of Sunday, September 25, and ends in the evening of Tuesday, September 27. The Jewish (lunar) calendar new year is 5783, Shana tovah, y'all.
posted by theora55 at 8:45 AM on September 26, 2022 [13 favorites]


Metafilter: freshly caffeinated & overexplainy
posted by theora55 at 8:45 AM on September 26, 2022 [3 favorites]


How... have I never noticed that Sepember is 7, October is 8, November is 9, and December is 10? This is one of those jaw-dropping moments. I mean, I speak Franch and Spanish and a little Italian, and I love ROman history. How...
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 8:50 AM on September 26, 2022 [9 favorites]


I'm a fan of naming consistency.

Onesday, Twosday, Threesday, Foursday, Fivesday, Sixday, Sevensday

January, February, Marchuary, Apriluary, Mayuary, Junuary, Julyuray, Augustuary, Septembuary, Octubuary, Novembuary, Decembuary
posted by mmrtnt at 8:51 AM on September 26, 2022 [11 favorites]


I mean, I speak Franch and Spanish and a little Italian, and I love ROman history. How...

Because, going back to Roman history and in particular the programs by Augustus to cement the legitimacy of his rule, two months to commemorate his uncle/adoptive father (July) and himself (August) were crammed in.
posted by NoxAeternum at 8:54 AM on September 26, 2022 [2 favorites]


The one fix I'd really like is having one day a year that isn't a Monday or a Wednesday etc. so the same pattern of days would happen every year. Of course, we'd need two of these non-days in a leap year
I'm convinced this is Amazon's goal with Prime day.
posted by joeyh at 8:58 AM on September 26, 2022 [4 favorites]


My favorite Wikipedia entry related to calendar reform is the one for 46 BC, the Year of Confusion:

This year marks the change from the pre-Julian Roman calendar to the Julian calendar. The Romans had to periodically add a leap month every few years to keep the calendar year in sync with the solar year but had missed a few with the chaos of the civil wars of the late republic. Julius Caesar added three extra intercalary months to recalibrate the calendar in preparation for his calendar reform, which went into effect in 45 BC. This year therefore had 445 days, and was nicknamed the annus confusionis ("year of confusion") and serves as the longest recorded calendar year in human history. The actual planetary orbit-year remained the same.

The story of how we arrived at the current system of measuring time, dates, and eras is endlessly fascinating and while the Twitter thread does do justice to how convoluted and messy its history is, I think it's worth pointing out that it strikes a pretty good balance between scientific precision and ease of use.

I would say that even ignoring his central place in Roman history as a military commander, politician, and writer, Julius Caesar deserves to be one of most famous figures in history for his calendar reform alone. We're all still using his calendar 2000 years later (albeit due to European colonization).
posted by fortitude25 at 9:34 AM on September 26, 2022 [3 favorites]


HN did this a day or so ago: Someday aliens will land and all will be fine until we explain our calendar | Hacker News

It does really seem like it's "calendar" month or something. I've seen way too many things about calendars and days over the past week or so.

There is only one answer but it's all based on 'e^(i*t)' carried out to multiple dimensions. And that even in basic form involves two irrational numbers and an imaginary one.

Gonna have to put aws17576's "rational approximations" readings, but it's all really moot. The Earth speeds up and slows down in spin and the orbit changes slowly, the Moon is moving further away as we speak. The calendar will always be changing in the long run.

Oh and the 12 is better thing is because it has the factors of (1,2,3) which give (12,6,4). Multiply by 5 to get 60 and you get (1,2,3,5). Square the 60 and you get 360 degrees in a circle. Cube and you get degrees, minutes, seconds. Doing things by 12 gives a whole bunch of rational equal subdivisions. Doing things by 10 doesn't, fewer equal subdivisions that aren't infinite decimal expansions.

It's a joke. It's also a programmer thing like character sets and encodings that can be hair pulling or bashing your head against the wall PITAs. Don't get me started on NTP and clock synchronization. It's turtles all the way down.
posted by zengargoyle at 9:37 AM on September 26, 2022 [2 favorites]


"and we further subdivide the months into 'weeks', which is 7 days."

If the part of NJ these aliens land in is the Ironbound district in Newark, they'll be further amazed by the Portuguese version which is the eight day week. If someone tells you that something is going to happen "daqui a 8 dias" what they mean is "a week from today," but they count today. so an event next Monday would happen in M, T, W, T, F, S, S, M -- or, eight days!
posted by chavenet at 9:47 AM on September 26, 2022 [4 favorites]


of course the aliens will land in New Jersey. of course.
posted by supermedusa at 10:05 AM on September 26, 2022 [5 favorites]


If the part of NJ these aliens land in is the Ironbound district in Newark, they'll be further amazed by the Portuguese version which is the eight day week. If someone tells you that something is going to happen "daqui a 8 dias" what they mean is "a week from today," but they count today. so an event next Monday would happen in M, T, W, T, F, S, S, M -- or, eight days!

This is exactly what always bugged me about the naming of intervals in music, but I like the idea that a week = an octave!
posted by aws17576 at 10:10 AM on September 26, 2022 [3 favorites]


engineer's disease

You know, for a website that so frequently dislocates a shoulder patting itself on the back about how enlightened it is (and strives to be), there sure are a lot of core participants that like to throw the above epithet around with nary a care.
posted by BlueDuke at 10:11 AM on September 26, 2022 [7 favorites]


of course the aliens will land in New Jersey. of course.

It is traditional.
posted by stevis23 at 10:12 AM on September 26, 2022 [3 favorites]


And to complete the loop on "HN (or the orange hellsite, if you prefer) linked to this same thread before":
GOOD NEWS despite linking to my Twitter, which clearly has my pronouns in the bio, the top comment (on HN, though we're not immune as seen above) already misgenders me.
[..]
welcome to hacker news. we have three bits of feedback, no matter why you're here, from creative writing to reverse engineering video games to building weird keyboards:
1. we love your content
2. we hate how you produce it
3. you are a man
I mean I guess it's my own fault, given that I've got such an obviously masculine name and I have a male character in my profile picture. it's obvious that anyone would see this twitter account and assume "man"
For as much as we like to see ourselves as a better social media site, we could probably aim for a higher bar than repeating Hacker News's comments.
posted by CrystalDave at 10:14 AM on September 26, 2022 [12 favorites]


All these things that try to make things logical ignore it would cause huge issues with religious celebrations,

Yeah, this is apparently an issue for many. My understanding is that when the Gregorian calendar arrived, Protestant countries were reluctant to adopt it because of suspicions it was a Papist plot to make them celebrate Easter on the wrong date. Thus for nearly two centuries, England and France, say, were on two different calendars. Fave bizarro literary/calendar crossover fact: Shakespeare and Cervantes both died on April 23, 1616, but they died a week and a half apart.

I was talking to someone a few days ago about how the calendar is a bit creaky; I suggested he look up what happened in Samoa on December 30, 2011 or just about theee centuries earlier in Sweden at the end of February, 1712.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 10:16 AM on September 26, 2022 [8 favorites]


Yay foone! I thought it was a fun thread. Mark me down as a bad joke enjoyer.
posted by Jpfed at 10:16 AM on September 26, 2022 [6 favorites]


That entire twitter thread was typed on a computer keyboard which has the rows of keys slightly offset from one another. There is no reason for that other than the fact that mechanical typewriters needed levers underneath the keys to function, so they were slightly offset to make room for them.

Meaning that everything we have and do have aspects (and often all of it) that have no other reason to be what they are than historical contingency. Even the symbols used to write down the purest of math are what they are because random non-reasons.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 10:19 AM on September 26, 2022 [6 favorites]


(Missed the edit window on the post above).

Just want to clarify that this wasn't intended as a specific callout of NoxAeternum—it's just been an obvious (to me) blind spot in MeFi's attempt to 'work on itself' over the recent years. People who would, in any other case, be up in arms over calling any type of behavior a 'disease' and connecting it with a specific group of people blithely use that phrase as a quick-and-dirty shorthand.

I've meant to post about it many times; this was just the case that crossed the tipping point.
posted by BlueDuke at 10:21 AM on September 26, 2022 [2 favorites]


That entire twitter thread was typed on a computer keyboard which has the rows of keys slightly offset from one another. There is no reason for that other than the fact that mechanical typewriters needed levers underneath the keys to function, so they were slightly offset to make room for them.

Normally that would be a straightforward assumption, but when it comes to Foone...
posted by figurant at 10:30 AM on September 26, 2022 [7 favorites]


Those days would be easier to manage as well: Each number date would fall on the same day of the week each month (the 20th, for example, would always fall on a Friday).

Someone’s trying to gloss over the fact that the 13th would also always fall on a Friday…

I thought this was funny and is being way overthinked on this site. It reminded me of that poem skewering English—sure, there are reasons that rough, cough, and bough don’t rhyme in English, but that doesn’t mean it’s not weird and amusing to point out.
posted by ejs at 10:39 AM on September 26, 2022 [5 favorites]


If the part of NJ these aliens land in is the Ironbound district in Newark, they'll be further amazed by the Portuguese version which is the eight day week. If someone tells you that something is going to happen "daqui a 8 dias" what they mean is "a week from today," but they count today. so an event next Monday would happen in M, T, W, T, F, S, S, M -- or, eight days!

Oh, now the inane internet argument about "working out every other day = four days a week" makes sense, it's in Portuguese.
posted by meowzilla at 10:53 AM on September 26, 2022 [7 favorites]


Mod note: One comment deleted, please note: the poster of the Tweet uses they/them pronouns.
posted by loup (staff) at 10:53 AM on September 26, 2022 [5 favorites]


Japanese [...] adopted the same naming scheme, so they have Sunday, Moonday, Fireday, Waterday, Treeday, Goldday and Earthday

Oooh I want to switch to this just to save space on calendar widgets, since all the days of the week can be abbreviated with a single letter. No more of this "Th" header or the obscure "R" for thuRsday. Also, Goldday just sounds more fun!
posted by meowzilla at 11:02 AM on September 26, 2022 [2 favorites]


Here is a list of calendars for the curious.
posted by aniola at 11:02 AM on September 26, 2022 [1 favorite]


People who would, in any other case, be up in arms over calling any type of behavior a 'disease' and connecting it with a specific group of people blithely use that phrase as a quick-and-dirty shorthand.

Many of the people who use the term, myself included, are either engineers or engineering adjacent. And I can assure you that I do not use the term blithely - the point of it is to point out that the lack of consideration for other fields of study that seems to be a part of STEM culture really feels like something endemic within that culture that is transmitted, and needs to addressed.
posted by NoxAeternum at 11:10 AM on September 26, 2022 [4 favorites]


Square the 60 and you get 360 degrees in a circle.

3600, surely.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:33 AM on September 26, 2022 [2 favorites]


"Why don't you just use the Long Count calendar we taught you the last time we visited?"

(To be clear, that's absolutely a joke and intended to make fun of ideas so silly nobody should believe them.)

This is quite fun. Thanks! Calendar reform is several pages down on my list of personal goals, but it sure would be nice.
posted by eotvos at 11:47 AM on September 26, 2022 [1 favorite]


Japanese also doesn't have names for months. They just number them.

The thing I notice is that you're going to have messed up calendars historically because calendars are hard. So earlier efforts will have mistakes that were then patched but then the patches needed patches. Toss in a few revolutions, a collapsing polity, a few egomaniac rulers and you'll get a messed up calendar that finally works but it'll be ugly.

Much like all of our other measuring systems. They're a mush of several different measuring systems some using different bases all jumbled together and scrambled into one Frankenstein system that works but badly.

If you meet people with a calendar that makes sense it means that at some point there was a new, rational, calendar invented and they switched.

Which IS what we see with metric. Everyone previously used dozens of competing kludge systems and then a switch to a single sensible system. Except for 'Murca.

I would love to see calendar reform but I don't think we'll get it. The Gregorian calendar is a bit of a mess but not so much of a mess that it annoys people enough to change.
posted by sotonohito at 11:53 AM on September 26, 2022 [3 favorites]


I'm a fan of naming consistency.

Me too. I enjoy Quaker (Society of Friends) date notation. Today, for example, is second day, the twenty-sixth of ninth month 2022. MetaFilter was launched on fourth day, the fourteenth of seventh month 1999.

Calendar reform is quite deeply in “If everyone would just…” territory:
If your solution to some problem relies on “If everyone would just…” then you do not have a solution. Everyone is not going to just. At not [sic] time in the history of the universe has everyone just, and they’re not going to start now.
 — (source)
posted by scruss at 12:03 PM on September 26, 2022 [5 favorites]


I love the amount of history that is embedded in the calendar, and I wish that more people knew more about it. Humans are so desperate to find patterns, and it is so annoying that the natural cycles which define our daily lives have defied thousands of years of effort to fit them into neat little buckets. When I taught introductory astronomy to artists and business majors I’d give a little spiel about these cycles.
  • Sometimes the sky is bright and blue, and sometimes it is dark with little dots. When it’s dark, all your friends tend to be asleep. (“Astronomy level zero”)
  • Sometimes the bright blue day is briefer, and sometimes it’s longer.
  • If you can keep track of when the long warm days are starting or ending, you can predict when the herds will move, and you can also reliably make bread come out of the ground. The people who figured this out tended to outlive their neighbors.
  • Sometimes the moon disappears into the dawn, then reappears in the dusk the next night.
  • It’s a lot easier to count twelve of these “new moons” between plantings than it is to count up the corresponding thirty-dozen days, especially without written records.
And tada: you have a lunar calendar with a solstice-to-solstice error of about about a week. You need a “leap month” every few years, and maybe after a few decades of occasional leap months someone figures out to watch the stars in addition to the moon. If your intergenerational information transfer is an oral tradition, it’s going to be hard to do much better than this.

It is a myth that the Romans had a ten-month year. The Romans had a twelve-month year, but it started in mid-March, near the equinox. (Perhaps on “the ides,” but I forget.) The leap day in February was at the end of the year, and Sept, Oct, Nov, and Deci were the seventh through tenth months. The Romans were way too smart to lose sixty calendar days every 300-day year. The new year started in March or April until the 1700s, and the move didn’t take place everywhere in Europe at once. People who traveled between England and the continent would write dates like “2d March 1758/9” to be “clear” about which March they meant.

The linked tweets mention the “anno domini” convention for the zero of the Christian calendar, and the fact that Europeans were either murky or entirely ignorant about the idea of “zero” when that convention was established. But it’s worth remembering that a major factor in getting the calendar right, down to the day, was the Christian belief that God wanted Easter to be celebrated after the (Catholic computation of) the Jewish Passover, which comes from a lunar calendar. Easter jumps around, because the first Sunday after the first new moon after the spring equinox requires you to mix the incommensurate lunar and solar calendars. The Julian calendar, which has a leap day every fourth year, is just about as good as a single observer can do in one lifetime: the solstice shifts by about a day every 100 years.

The Gregorian calendar was impossible to invent without many centuries of continuous written records. Omitting a leap day every hundredth year gives you 365.25 ——> 365.24 days per year on average. Restoring a leap day every 400th year takes you to 365.2425 days per year on average. The length of the year may have been the first scientific measurement in human history to be accurate to seven significant figures. It took a thousand years of record-keeping to accomplish.

Yes, the calendar is confusing. That’s because we kept getting it nearly right.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 12:22 PM on September 26, 2022 [43 favorites]


Onesday, Twosday, Threesday, Foursday, Fivesday, Sixday, Sevensday

So come on over to Portugal where Monday is "second market day," followed by "third market day," "fourth market day," "fifth market day" and thank god it's "sixth market day" (segunda-feira, terça-feira, quarta-feira, quinta-feira and sexta-feira". (then sábado, from the sabbath, and domingo from dominicus)

not only does the full week have 8 days, but the working week has five days nominated as if there were six.
posted by chavenet at 1:18 PM on September 26, 2022 [5 favorites]


Toss in a few revolutions, a collapsing polity, a few egomaniac rulers and you'll get a messed up calendar that finally works but it'll be ugly.

Yeah; I just today learned, in looking at all this stuff, that Lorraine (the French former duchy) changed calendars five times in 224 years, with the latter four all occurring in 70 years. From Julian to Gregorian in 1582 like a lot of the Catholic world, back to Julian in 1735, back again to Gregorian in 1760, to the French Republican Calendar courtesy of the Revolution in 1793, before they chucked the whole thing as a bad idea and went Gregorian for the third time in 1805.

And tada: you have a lunar calendar with a solstice-to-solstice error of about about a week.

This development process makes it weirdly inexplicable that the Islamic world never saw fit to correct the error they knew was there, what with solar calendars being pretty useful for agriculture. I can buy "counting twelve moons is easier than counting 365 days" as a motivation for using moon cycles as a way of tracking the solar cycle, but that assumes you're tracking solar cycles at all. You have a lot more leeway on crop scheduling in the tropics which are largely the cradle of Islam, but even there seasons do kinda matter and it's odd that a people who certainly would have been capable of it (and who were pretty well aware of the purely solar and lunisolar calendars their neighbors had developed) never bothered to synchronize their calendar (and attendant festivals and whatnot) with a major, important agricultural rhythm.
posted by jackbishop at 3:08 PM on September 26, 2022 [1 favorite]


Many of the people who use the term, myself included, are either engineers or engineering adjacent. And I can assure you that I do not use the term blithely - the point of it is to point out that the lack of consideration for other fields of study that seems to be a part of STEM culture really feels like something endemic within that culture that is transmitted, and needs to addressed.

Some. You have no idea if it’s many. And I don’t object to the sentiment—just the lazy and offensive shorthand.
posted by BlueDuke at 3:40 PM on September 26, 2022 [1 favorite]


The new year started in March or April until the 1700s,

Isn't this the origin of April Fools' Day? Mocking people who celebrated the "old" new year instead of the "new" new year. In other words, the early modern equivalent of "OK Boomer."

TBH this is the best explanation of time/calendaring I've ever encountered.
posted by basalganglia at 5:28 PM on September 26, 2022


Also, Goldday just sounds more fun!

Sadly, it’s more properly Metalday, since it’s one of the Taoist elements. Although, I gather people were often paid on Fridays, so Goldday kind of works, too (this might be a folk etymology, though).
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:35 PM on September 26, 2022


$ sunclock.pl 
子   丑   寅   卯   辰   巳   午   未   申   ▄▄   酉   戌   亥   子
0045 0245 0444 0644 0844 1044 1244 1444 1644 1741 1844 2044 2244 0045
MetaFilter doesn't do wide characters that well. That's midnight to midnight '子', There are three hours between midnight and dawn, 丑 寅 卯 , the last is dawn. Then three to noon, 辰 巳 午, the last is noon. Then three to dusk, 未 申 酉, the last is dusk, then three to midnight, 戌 亥 子, back to the last is midnight.

There were clocks that did this. And even a bespoke watch that did this. The markers of hours move depending on latitude and time of year. The numbers change on the rational level. On the human level.

On the human level, it's early, middle, late * 4.
# midnight
{ animal => 'rat', kanji => '子', kana => '九', number => 9 },
{ animal => 'ox', kanji => '丑', kana => '八', number => 8 },
{ animal => 'tiger', kanji => '寅', kana => '七', number => 7 },
# sunrise
{ animal => 'rabbit', kanji => '卯', kana => '六', number => 6 },
{ animal => 'dragon', kanji => '辰', kana => '五', number => 5 },
{ animal => 'snake', kanji => '巳', kana => '四', number => 4 },
# noon
{ animal => 'horse', kanji => '午', kana => '九', number => 9 },
{ animal => 'goat', kanji => '未', kana => '八', number => 8 },
{ animal => 'monkey', kanji => '申', kana => '七', number => 7 },
# sunset
{ animal => 'rooster', kanji => '酉', kana => '六', number => 6 },
{ animal => 'dog', kanji => '戌', kana => '五', number => 5 },
{ animal => 'pig', kanji => '亥', kana => '四', number => 4 },
It's a nice little script, could be better. Uses modules for sunrise/sunset that could be made better. Not sure the degree of the sun counts as dawn/dusk, etc.

I use it all the time. The '▄▄ ' thing grows taller and is an indicator of how far you are in the period. Still have about an hour before it's dusk.

Weird calendars and time schedules have their own purpose and usage and reasoning. Irrational wheels within wheels withing wheels.
posted by zengargoyle at 6:14 PM on September 26, 2022 [4 favorites]


I remain firmly in camp, "Aliens will take one gander at all of us and go, 'Christ, look at these assholes,'." Maybe if we float all our calendar options in front of them for consideration we can stall long enough to avoid calamity.
posted by The Adventure Begins at 7:36 PM on September 26, 2022 [5 favorites]


I just wish the seasons wouldn't start ON the solstice/equinox. Those days are clearly the MIDDLE of the seasons. The summer solstice isn't when summer starts, it's when summer is fucking miserable, and it's been running up to that for six weeks or more.
posted by nushustu at 8:36 PM on September 26, 2022 [5 favorites]


nushustu, that's going to depend on where you live, but I have to disagree with you for most places I'm familiar with, at least in the world's temperate zones. There's a lag between the peak/trough in insolation and the peak/trough in temperature, on both the daily and annual scales. I don't think many (Northern hemisphere) places that have serious winter experience February as the beginning of spring! (yet)

I'm writing from the SF Bay Area where the lag is even greater than in most places thanks to the massive ballast that is the Pacific Ocean; our warmest months are September and October.
posted by aws17576 at 8:50 PM on September 26, 2022


This development process makes it weirdly inexplicable that the Islamic world never saw fit to correct the error they knew was there, what with solar calendars being pretty useful for agriculture.

heh, i only am just learning about the various schisms ongoing in our side of civilizational history, and still I can't tell you exactly why. there are actually calendars like the ones kept by the fatimids that actually will have extra days added as custom to keep it regular to the solar cycle, but the main thing as understood by muslims these days is that its main purpose is for religious reasons. except there are (heretical?) calendars out there who do something similar to the fatimids BECAUSE of religious reasons (e.g. even along the equatorial belt, surely fasting season ought not to fall on the months with the longest daytime - so I've seen samples but I can't say more not being a fluent Arabic speaker, where the adjusted calculations are made to ensure that Ramadhan falls on the shorter daytime months -- as supported by the Quran, the argument goes -- and the main haj season to be done in autumn ie the cooler months).

Even in Southeast Asia, via the Javanese/Acheh cluster (where most of the local scholarship was held) there was a localised Islamic calendar in this manner, which of course worked better for agriculture (but it's also because the Javanese in their Hindu era has also worked out their own calendar system), but all this is now lost or rather not practiced, because as with other religions, you can say whatever you like about when the festival is to take place, but if it's not practiced by the community then it won't. In my amateur opinion, it's one of those consequences of colonialism as well - because certainly the one with the 'best' timekeeping was the western one, which we all follow now.
posted by cendawanita at 9:31 PM on September 26, 2022 [3 favorites]


sunclock.pl does not go to this super-cool watch you've just described, I am disappointed. I wanted to fantasize about a sensible watch!
posted by aniola at 9:59 PM on September 26, 2022


Well, for the ultimate brain melt, foone could try to teach the aliens the Danish number system.

10, 20, 30, 40 ... it's smooth sailing. After 40, they switch to base 20. 50 is halvtreds, which roughly translates to "three times twenty, minus half of twenty". 60 is "three times twenty". 70 is "four times twenty minus half of twenty". Etc ...
posted by Termite at 11:39 PM on September 26, 2022 [2 favorites]


Well, for the ultimate brain melt, foone could try to teach the aliens the Danish number system.

So what I'm hearing is that the aliens need one class about French numbers, and then another for Danish stuff...
posted by The Adventure Begins at 12:39 AM on September 27, 2022


"Aliens will take one gander at all of us and go, 'Christ, look at these assholes,'."

Only if they're not very tall aliens.

Not sure the degree of the sun counts as dawn/dusk, etc.

They do, officially (civil twilight is a given sun angle). It's all in Meeus, which is ridiculously expensive even used. The calculations are very sensitive to mathematical precision, so I'm finding in MicroPython (single precision, it's for tiny processors) sunrise and sunset predictions can be a few minutes off official predictions. I've been toying with a local solar time clock that has an 06:00 sunrise, 12:00 sun at highest point and 18:00 sunset for a while. I just haven't been arsed enough to finish it.
posted by scruss at 8:55 AM on September 27, 2022 [3 favorites]


Febtober
posted by Dokterrock at 11:24 PM on September 27, 2022 [2 favorites]


Scruss, nice!

I wrote a CircuitPython program that does something similar, but I didn't vastly concern myself with the accuracy of the conversion. For mine, which just shows a single big roman numeral on the display, accuracy is not the highest goal.

Because of reasons, both circuitpython and micropython share a "half digit less than 32-bit floating point" precision for calculations, which is, yeah, not super accurate.
posted by the antecedent of that pronoun at 6:34 AM on September 28, 2022




Yes, everyone gets that it's a joke. The problem is that it's a bad joke, built on highly questionable priors that are illustrative of engineer's disease.

Except the actual engineer's perspective is when this guy shows up in the thread:
Incidentally this is exactly why humans will be the ones to conquer the cosmos. Your ability to invent a rocket engine is inversely proportional to how much you care about numerical consistency

When we land on alien planets inhabited by a culture that spent most of it's history optimizing their calendar instead of inventing the plug in toaster it'll all make sense

God's greatest gift to his favorite children is our ability to say "eh good enough"
posted by straight at 2:36 PM on September 28, 2022 [2 favorites]


Also, complain about the apparent ignorance of history all you want, but it is objectively hilarious that our 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th months are named "Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, and Tenth." And that we split the day up into 24 hours and count them starting in the middle of the night with 12 and then 1 and then start over again after the second 12, ending at 11.
posted by straight at 2:41 PM on September 28, 2022


aniola, japanese watchmaker celebrates ancient seasonal-way of measuring time.

That $160,000 watch was fun to watch. One watch per year!

Now I'm wondering, are there free online apps or websites that you can use as clocks that measure time using the old Japanese clock style or similar? They won't have such pretty mechanical bits, but it seems like someone would have built this?
posted by aniola at 3:14 PM on September 28, 2022


I though about making it a JavaScript and Canvas sort of single page app. I don't really know JavaScript or its modules/libraries. The math would be relatively simple with a library or API call to get the midnight/sunrise/noon/sunset/midnight times. Even easier if you just just apply transforms to drawing operations. Heh, it's all still just 'c*e**(i*t)' cycles all the way down.
posted by zengargoyle at 4:35 PM on September 28, 2022


If people would only just standardize the method of writing down the date, we'd all be happier. Day month year is the most logical.

Oh, and can you change one of June and July to be less hateful to dyslexics please and thank you.
posted by Jacen at 8:50 PM on September 28, 2022


I know it's counterintuitive, but I'm a fan of Year-Month-Day so lexicographic order is consistent with chronological order.
posted by Jpfed at 9:47 PM on September 28, 2022 [4 favorites]


We could solve the problems of the numbers not being quite right, by a little bit of geo-engineering.

Slightly decreasing the orbit of the Earth could get rid of that pesky leap day.
More orbital shenanigans could give us a really sensible number of days -- 300...400... we could have a referendum (they always go well).

Was going to suggest slowing/speeding up the spin of the earth to make the days a sensible number, but we can just redefine those I guess.

So... who knows how to set up a kick starter to get this all going?
posted by couch at 4:21 AM on September 29, 2022 [1 favorite]


Jacen: “If people would only just standardize the method of writing down the date, we'd all be happier. Day month year is the most logical.”
ISO-8601 or Death!
posted by ob1quixote at 6:35 AM on September 29, 2022 [6 favorites]


If you have never had to solve a stupid problem related to big versus little endianness, then you will be deprived of an unpleasant little shudder when I point out that any format other than year-month-day is mixed endian in the usual Arabic numerals.

(With the possible exception of languages where you say “nine and twenty” instead of “twenty-nine.”)
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 8:34 PM on September 29, 2022 [4 favorites]


Like the Fahrenheit scale, Month/Day/Year is optimized for human everyday use rather than mathematical consistency.

If I'm looking up a date on my calendar, I need the month first, then the day, and only rarely the year. So we usually say "March 23rd" rather than "Twenty-three March" and only append the year when necessary.
posted by straight at 10:53 AM on September 30, 2022


Day month year is the most logical.
I'll fight for year month day. It means you don't have to do anything special to sort by date. It just happens naturally.

(I suspect we agree that MDY is absurd. I agree that DMY is better.)
posted by eotvos at 11:34 AM on September 30, 2022


straightThe only reason either of those seem more "human" or "natural" to you is because you're used to them. Trust me, the other 7.3 billion people on Earth aren't pining away for your beloved Fahrenheit and mm/dd/yyyy format.

You're also factually incorrect about Fahrenheit. It was developed purely on arbitrary scientific stuff, specifically on the basis of the lowest temperature he could take a brine solution before it froze, and his 100 is a mismeasurement of human blood temperature.

This gives us a couple more arbitrary numbers to throw into the giant pile of mutually incompatible bullshit that the Imperial system is filled with. Water freezes at 32, blood temp is 98.6, and water boils at 212. That's three new numbers to memorize, all of which are inconvenient.

Blood being arbitrary is kind of unavoidable, but at least in Celcus it works out to an even number: 37. And the other two are 0 and 100 so no arbitrary numbers to memorize.

You feel comfortable with Imperial, and the godawful American date format, because it's what you're used to. The systems themselves are abominations and seem almost maliciously complex and weird.

I'll close with my favorite quote on the topic:
In metric, one milliliter of water occupies one cubic centimeter, weighs one gram, and requires one calorie of energy to heat up by one degree centigrade—which is 1 percent of the difference between its freezing point and its boiling point. An amount of hydrogen weighing the same amount has exactly one mole of atoms in it. Whereas in the American system, the answer to ‘How much energy does it take to boil a room-temperature gallon of water?’ is ‘Go fuck yourself,’ because you can’t directly relate any of those quantities.
From Wild Thing by Josh Bazell
posted by sotonohito at 2:56 PM on September 30, 2022


If I'm looking up a date on my calendar, I need the month first, then the day, and only rarely the year. So we usually say "March 23rd" rather than "Twenty-three March" and only append the year when necessary.

It may surprise you to learn that only Americans say dates like this, so this is not convincing evidence of the American system being 'more natural'.
posted by Merus at 6:51 AM on October 1, 2022 [2 favorites]


Water freezes at 32, blood temp is 98.6, and water boils at 212. That's three new numbers to memorize, all of which are inconvenient.

There's no need to memorize any of those numbers. Many people have a normal body temperature above or below 37C, and 0C/100C are only useful if you happen to live in a controlled environment at standard temperature and pressure. Even at relatively low altitudes like 1000m, you'd still have to memorize whatever the boiling point of water is at your location. Well, that or just look at the water you're trying to boil to see whether it's boiling or not.

Likewise, memorizing the freezing point of water is of virtually no benefit. Knowing that it's 2C outside doesn't tell you much about whether or not there's going to be ice on the road or sidewalk, and it tells you even less about how cold it's going to feel if you go outside.

Much of the convertibility of and consistency of metric units was lost with the creation of separate mks and cgs units. SI is at least consistently mks but that loses much of the consistent connection -- now it's 1 liter of water occupies 0.001 cubic meters of space, masses one kilogram, and heating that water 1 Kelvin requires 4184 joules.

There's a very good reason for places that make little or partial use of metric to switch more fully to it, and that's that everyone else is using it. It doesn't need to be inherently superior in some way to be worth switching to, and nowadays it offers a much smaller increase in convenience than it used to.

the answer to ‘How much energy does it take to boil a room-temperature gallon of water?’ is ‘Go fuck yourself,’ because you can’t directly relate any of those quantities.

Not if you want an answer in calories or joules, but you the answer is about about 8*(212-68) BTUs.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 8:23 AM on October 1, 2022


Celsius is good for science. Fahrenheit puts 0 and 100 as the range of outdoor temperatures most people experience (instead of like -20 to 40). Meters don't divide neatly into thirds, which is a very common measurement thing to want to do.

All I was saying about the calendar is that you can't open a calendar to the day and then find the month. Usually you turn to the month and then the day, so it makes more sense to say them in that order.
posted by straight at 9:50 AM on October 1, 2022


(Now I'm wondering if there are any systematic differences in recipes caused by Americans being more likely to think in thirds?)
posted by straight at 10:11 AM on October 1, 2022


Again: y'all are confusing "I grew up with this" with "this is natural and more 'human'".

Are all the people in Japan, France, China, Sweden, Brazil, Germany, India, Thailand, pining away longing for the more 'human' simplicity of the system you grew up with?

Of course not.

Anecdotal, but when I was working with an exchange student from Japan he expressed frustration with the American system of pricing meat in dollars per pound, it seemed really awkward and bizarre and not so human friendly to him when compared to what he saw as Japan's much more sensible and obvious and convenient system of pricing meat in yen per 500 grams.

My point? People see whatever they grew up with as natural and simple. It's pure parochial nonsense to claim that Imperial is innately superior to metric due to a vague and nebulous "humanness". It's also pretty insulting to the other 7.3 billion people on Earth who see nothing inhuman about the system they grew up using.

I'll also add that I am regularly irked by the mm/dd/yyyy system simply because it's used inconsistently and that switching to ISO 8601 and stamping out every other date format in existence would make life a lot easier.

GCU Sweet and Full of Grace I will concede that at no point in my entire life have I ever asked how much energy it took to boil a room temperature gallon of water. I did, once, wonder how much energy when expressed as heat my car produced while slowing down from highway speed to zero. And it turns out the answer is fairly easy to compute in metric and somewhat less so in Imperial.

But you're correct, of course I never actually wonder "what temperature is boiling water", what matters is that its boiling.

I do think the fact that Celsius has freezing at zero is more convenient than you make it out to be, you know that when it's close to 0 you need to watch out for frozen roads while in Imperial you need to remember that it's close to 32. But yes, the truth is that mostly matters for people learning the system, once we've learned and memorized all the godawful pile of random numbers we mostly aren't taxed unduly by them.

But... That said, I do think you've wrongly downplayed the convenance factor of metric being in base ten (or 100, or 1000 if you want to look at it that way). If I need to know how many feet are in 1/3 of a mile (to pick that apparently all important division by three emphasized by some people) I'm going to have to reach for a calculator while if I ever need (for some ungodly reason) to know how many meters are in 1/3 of a kilometer I can just instantly say 333.

On that basis alone I think it's sensible to make it the universal system and give up our ridiculous American attachment to Imperial.
posted by sotonohito at 11:31 AM on October 1, 2022


you know that when it's close to 0 you need to watch out for frozen roads while in Imperial you need to remember that it's close to 32

All respect but I think you must never have spent time as an adult in a place with hard winter? Bridges ice up well above freezing depending on wind. There can be unmelted ice anywhere but especially in shady spots and dangerous slush just ev-er-y-where well above 50F. Knowing "Oh, it's 3C, that's slightly above freezing!" doesn't help in the slightest.

If I need to know how many feet are in 1/3 of a mile

You don't. In any circumstance where you might need to measure out that distance, you'd either measure 1760 feet or 587 yards and not care how many miles that is or measure out 1/3 mile and not care how many feet that is.

On that basis alone I think it's sensible to make it the universal system

The good reason to adopt SI is to make it a universal system that everyone uses. This is an extremely good reason to adopt and actually use it, and is an entirely sufficient reason to do so. Getting everyone on the same page about measures for real work would ensure that we're not feeding pound-seconds into something expecting newton-seconds and fucking up our expensive spacecraft.

It somehow being inherently superior is not a good reason since we're no longer doing any mechanical or engineering math of any significance with pencil and paper or abacus. It doesn't matter which way is better for using with pencil and paper any more than it matters which way is better for counting on your fingers.

I did, once, wonder how much energy when expressed as heat my car produced while slowing down from highway speed to zero. And it turns out the answer is fairly easy to compute in metric and somewhat less so in Imperial.

"1/2 * 4000 pounds * (60mph)^2 in btu". The answer is 619 btu. Or 481382 foot pounds if you'd rather, or 0.18kWh. Yes, it would be easier to work out using nothing but pencil and paper in metric/SI. But it's even easier and better to just dump it into google; doing it with pencil and paper is just a silly and error-prone stunt.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 12:10 PM on October 1, 2022


Blood being arbitrary is kind of unavoidable, but at least in Celcus it works out to an even number: 37
There is an implicit assumption here about measurement precision and about the range of natural variation. Using a thermometer with sub-degree precision, the same person can have different "body" temperatures when measured with an oral, tympanic, axillary, or rectal thermometer. The width of the "normal" ranges is a degree or so. And while 37.0 is a good approximation to an integer, it's a poor approximation to an even integer.

I have a dim recollection that 0ºF was the temperature at which ice formed in Fahrenheit's local harbor — an immensely practical reference value. I also have a dim recollection that the distance of 180º between the freezing and boiling points of fresh water was a nod to the geometry of the circle, where those two states are as far apart as possible. In that case, body temperature near 100º would have been a coincidence. I don't have a source for these recollections, unfortunately.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 8:19 AM on October 2, 2022


I'm left reflecting on the superiority of metric being more scientific and rational because everything reduces down to simple decimal divisions, and I'm realizing that is probably the most humanistic, only-makes-sense-because-you-were-raised-with-it position of all. The calendar and imperial measurements are base-12 because that is so much simpler to work with when you are actually measuring things, being divisible by 2,3,4 and 6. In decimal, 1/4 is not a whole number and 1/3 is non-terminating. You literally can't divide something into thirds. You can only deal in 10ths. It's useless for geometry, and super-bad for binary computing. If you had to pick any base number for your counting system, really only a prime number would be worse. What a different world it would be if we had twelve fingers instead of ten!
posted by team lowkey at 10:51 AM on October 2, 2022


Man, that got me thinking about why we have this illogical number of fingers, and then realizing, oh right, we don't. We have 4 fingers on our hands, and this thumb thing moved around from the back of the paw to better grasp things. The only logical thing is to change the entire human race over to octal numbering. Great for computing. Still can't do thirds, though. :(
posted by team lowkey at 11:04 AM on October 2, 2022


If you enjoyed this conversation you might appreciate lindybeige's hour-long YouTube on the history of British currency and why the divisibility of the old system made it superior to decimal.

Two farthings make a ha'penny, two ha'pennies make a penny, six pennies make a sixpence, two sixpences make a shilling, two shillings and sixpence make half a crown, eight half crowns make a pound. There are no whole crowns. Also twenty-one shillings make a guinea but you hardly need to worry about that because you only use guineas to buy racehorses and pay legal fees.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 11:07 AM on October 2, 2022 [2 favorites]


the divisibility of the old system made it superior to decimal

Unless you work in a bank. Calculating interest on LSD would be about as easy as, well, calculating interest while on LSD ...
posted by scruss at 4:16 PM on October 4, 2022


I don't really have a preference what system we use to measure things, with the exception of that Japanese clock that measures time based on the world around us. I bet that would be super popular as a bike touring/kayaking/backpacking/hiking/sailing/climbing/farming/getting good sleep/not sunburning/etc clock app.

This is what's so neat about the humans being social creatures. Y'all caring about things like how to measure time, for instance. There's probably people here who understand the nuances of keeping all the world's clocks ... synchronized or whatever the difficulties about time in programming are. It means that I can care about other important seemingly minor big deals that y'all don't care about and together we can all have a world that sometimes just works in ways we don't always even recognize and that is SO COOL.
posted by aniola at 8:14 PM on October 4, 2022 [2 favorites]


Half of the superiority of the metric system is the fact that, weirdness of the SI/MKS differences aside, there is only one litre, one metre, one kilogram. You never have to worry whether the user of a unit is french or english or american to decypher how much stuff is in a gallon, which material is being measured in ounces or how long a foot is. In fact there isn't any decyphering at all.

Also, no Slugs.
posted by Mitheral at 1:01 PM on October 5, 2022 [1 favorite]


aniola the time thing is really fascinating to me. Especially now that we really do have exactly one planetary agreed on time. No debate, no local time, and all clocks (that matter) are synced to within 5 billionths of a second.

Long ago I found a book about how we developed our system of Coordinated Universal Time. It started with the joke that a person who has one clock always knows what time it is, but a person with two clocks never does, and then goes on to say that Humanity now has one clock.
posted by sotonohito at 5:00 PM on October 5, 2022


Except for the clocks of someone I know in Chile. Just recently, Chile apparently adjusted their daylight savings time by a couple weeks so it wouldn't interfere with a political thing and now his cell phone and computer are confused about what time it should be.
posted by aniola at 10:06 PM on October 5, 2022


Especially now that we really do have exactly one planetary agreed on time […] synced to within 5 billionths of a second.
Even here, nature continues to defy our efforts to put information into tidy intuitive boxes. Events separated by tens of milliseconds or less, like the ticking of my clock compared to the ticking of your clock, are physically impossible to synchronize if they occur on opposite sides of the Earth. In the language of relativity, they are “spacelike separated” and observers in different reference frames will make different correct observations of which event occurred first. Even if everyone agrees on a reference frame (“co-moving with Earth’s core” and “co-moving with Earth’s local surface” are popular choices), you still have a gravitational effect that the number of clock ticks between two observable events depends on the altitude of the clock. If your weekend is too short, you can extend it by spending it on a mountaintop.

A person with two clocks may never know what time it is, but a person with ten clocks can decide which eight are the most consistent.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 4:59 AM on October 6, 2022 [2 favorites]


My Latin is strong enough that my first response to "what number month is December" - is 10 and then I curse Caesars Julius and Augustus and go "12".

The two day weekend is going to stay with us - on a planet with people in all time zones, the only way you can be sure that any commercial software is not being used online is after about 7pm Friday in Hawaii and before 7am Monday in New Zealand
posted by Barbara Spitzer at 10:32 PM on October 6, 2022


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