Oct 23, 2011

Happy Peteday!

I posed a question on Facebook questions a number of months ago, inquiring why we have 12 months in a year?  It was strange to me that, seemingly arbitrarily, we had 12 months every year with a varying number of days in each?  Who said it had to be this way?

Ignoring the effects of traveling at or near the speed of light and the relative effect of speed and acceleration as observed by the expanding universe, time to us humans on earth is constant.  There are 60 seconds in a minute, 60 minutes in an hour, and it requires 24 hours for the earth to rotate one full time (in relation to the sun).  This could have been arbitrary, if we had not used quartz as our standard for measuring time.  Easy to find and cheap to produce, quartz creates a signal with a very specific and accurate frequency when an electric oscillator is applied, making it a standard.  I suppose we could have easily picked a different gem, which would give a different frequency and, hence a different time measure.  This would be great if it cuts a few seconds from my 100M dash, but that aside, we can just accept quartz. As well, we know that the earth will rotate on its axis 365 times in one full rotation around the sun  (365.242199 to be exact, which is why we add one day every four years and another day every 500 years or so).

So my question ... what is the scientific reason for having 12 months each year?  And why is the start of every year, January 1, start on the day (position in the path around the sun) that it does?  As it turns out, there is no scientific reason ...

One explanation is that there were originally 10 months in the year, because ancients liked the ability to use 10 (number of fingers ... farming accidents aside) in their counting, and hence created 10 months.  This would explain why months of Septem(7)ber, Octo(8)ber, Novem(9)ber, and Decem(10)ber have Latin-based numeric names.  Rumor has it that during the Roman Empire, Augustus felt left out and created a month in honor of himself (August) and another after his uncle and adoptive father, Julius Caesar (July), and for whatever reasons took more days from February to fill the new months.  There is a more modern example when deceased Turkmenistan President Saparmurat Niyazov changed the names of the months and days after himself and his family.  At least he didn't add/subtract days or months.  I digress.

A more compelling reason, and one probably held closely by the ancients as well, is based around lunar days, or days between full lunar cycles.  Originally, the ancients didn't have electric oscillators and quartz, or at least hadn't put the two together, so the easiest thing for everyone to use was the second most visible celestial body, the moon.  At 29.5 lunar days, that creates about 12.4 lunar cycles in a year. Round a bit, add a few days, tweak every year and ,wham, you've got 12 months. Of course this still doesn't explain the differing number of days every month!  Ugh, where's my symmetry?

Regardless of how you look at it, I think it's time for a change.  With science and technology, there is no reason we need to stick to this arbitrary method of date keeping.  Instead, we should consider a calendar that is much easier and convenient for all! Here are my suggestions:
- Use an 8 month and 8 day/week calendar.  This would result in 45 days in each month, 45 weeks in each year. Nice and simple.
- At the end of the year, the remaining 5 days would be recognized as a 5-day "rejoicing week" (the 46th "week" of the year), where we all take time off, remember and appreciate the previous year, and get psyched for the following year. The rest of the world takes an entire week off for New Years, why don't we?  And don't worry about leap year, every four years, this special week would be 6 days long!
- The first day of every other month would mark the beginning of a new season and make each season exactly 2 months long. Given the actual equinoxes vary from year to year anyway, this method would be perfectly acceptable.
- The first day of each year would be the first day of spring. (i.e. January 1 would fall on the Spring equinox, currently on or around March 20).  It's commonly celebrated as the beginning of the harvest season, and often called "new birth". What not a better day to start a new year??
- Work weeks would increase to 10 hours per day for five days (50 hours total), but we would observe 3-day weekends every week. This would increase work hours from 2,080 to 2,250 hours per year, increasing our productivity.  We would, in return, actually increase our relaxation days from 104 to 140, excluding observed holidays.  This, I would argue, would increase productivity as well, because let's face it, who really gets enough rest with a two day weekend?  (I'm still trying to figure out what happened to Saturday!)
- Of course, all major holidays would have to be realigned in the new calendar, but that should be too much of an issue to determine.

In the end, we would have symmetry and meaning behind our days. With more time off on the weekends, people would consume, travel and vacation more.  Now, a week long vacation goes from 9 to 11 days (including the weekends)!  More consumption, happier people, economic bliss.  Who could argue that?

Of course, those who have religious reasons for leaving Sunday right where it's at will oppose, not to mention the numerous other world calendars I have to contend with.  And, let's not forget calendar manufactures and, of course, models. Who would be burdened with the difficult decision of which 4 S.I. swimsuit models to cut? This says nothing of the countless hate mails I would receive from young teenage girls around the world with a vendetta for cutting their locker calendars by 4 months!  Sorry, you only get 8 Justin Beiber months.

Regardless, it's nice to think about.  I, for one, already have my next several 3-day weekends planned, so let's get on implementing.  I guess the logical next question is: what do we name the eighth day of the week? I suppose I could take a page out of Turkmenbashi's and Augusta's strategy ... happy Peteday everyone?