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Archive for the tag “calendar”

Who says Americans don’t save more? (A daylight saving time post)

So now most Americans have successfully transitioned to Daylight Saving Time.

What does this mean?

It means that I’ve going to have a lot of fun dealing with my corporate parent for the next few weeks.

You see, I work for an American subsidiary of a French company. Which means that when I get to work at 8:00 in the morning, I need to get cracking immediately if I need to contact the head office, where it is nine hours later, or 5:00 pm.


That was certainly the case on Friday, March 9, when both the United States and France were on Standard Time. But on Monday, March 13, when the U.S. switched to Daylight Saving Time and France didn’t, then it’s a…wait a minute…sorry, my brain hurts. It’s either eight or ten hours, or something.

According to Time and Date, this discrepancy won’t be resolved until March 25, when France joins the United States in Daylight Saving Time. It turns out that much of the Northern Hemisphere goes to Daylight Saving Time on that day. However, Israel waits until March 30, the Gaza Strip until March 31, and Cuba until April 1.

The net effect is that North American countries such as the United States and Canada have a longer Daylight Saving Time period than European countries.

Who says Americans don’t save more than the citizens of other countries?

Oh well…I guess it could be worse. I could be working for my company’s Australian subsidiary. April 1 happens to be the date that Australia LEAVES Daylight Saving Time. In this Southern Hemisphere country, Daylight Saving Time doesn’t begin until October 7.

My respect for the Ffundercats’ mathematical skills has just increased dramatically.

The problem with ancient (and modern) calendars

Continuing on the calendars theme, let’s devote some time to the biggest problem with calendars.

The problem with calendars is that they try to explain two things which are not identical – the phases of the moon, and the seasons of the year.

The moon circles around the earth in a 28-day orbit, and when observed from the earth, the sun hits the moon in particular ways during that 28-day cycle – for example, the full moon, when the entire moon is illuminated by the sun, and the new moon, when the moon cannot be seen from the earth.

But at the same time that the moon circles around the earth, the earth itself is circling around the sun. This dictates certain things, such as the longest day of the year and the shortest day of the year.

And the two rotations do not agree. Consider the Islamic calendar, which is a lunar calendar. When this is contrasted with the Gregorian calendar, which is (primarily) a solar calendar, you find that the Islamic calendar is much shorter. In Islamic countries that use both calendars, this means that specific Islamic holy days occur earlier and earlier on the solar calendar. Presently, the month of Ramadan occurs in the summer in the Northern Hemisphere. But as time passes, the month will be observed in the spring, then in the winter, then in the autumn, and eventually in the summer again.

The earlier calendars were lunar calendars, presumably because the phases of the moon are much easier to observe. But this caused problems for the ancient people of Egypt:

The earliest Egyptian calendar was based on the moon’s cycles, but the lunar calendar failed to predict a critical event in their lives: the annual flooding of the Nile river.

And if you’re an Egyptian and you don’t know when the Nile is going to flood, you will have serious problems. The solution?

The Egyptians were probably the first to adopt a mainly solar calendar….[T]hey devised a 365-day calendar that seems to have begun in 4236 B.C.E., the earliest recorded year in history.

But what of the calendar that we use today? It is derived from the Julian calendar, created by Julius Caesar to solve a problem with politicians.

Before the Julian calendar was introduced, priests in the Roman Empire exploited the calendar for political ends, inserting days and even months into the calendar to keep the politicians they favored in office. Tired of the chaos that this undependable system eventually gave rise to, Julius Caesar finally set out to put the long-abused calendar back on track.

Benjamin Franklin’s Daylight Saving Time joke is taken seriously

I have written about Daylight Saving Time in the past, and since we’re about to start Daylight Saving Time here in (portions of) the United States, it’s fitting to look at the practice.

The idea behind Daylight Saving Time, of course, is to provide more light in the evening, allowing people to save energy.

However, the idea of shifting clocks to save energy isn’t a 20th century invention. The idea was originally raised by Benjamin Franklin in 1784. Franklin’s essay begins by describing an evening with friends in Paris. After he returned home:

I went home, and to bed, three or four hours after midnight…. An accidental sudden noise waked me about six in the morning, when I was surprised to find my room filled with light; and I imagined at first, that a number of those lamps had been brought into it; but, rubbing my eyes, I perceived the light came in at the windows. I got up and looked out to see what might be the occasion of it, when I saw the sun just rising above the horizon, from whence he poured his rays plentifully into my chamber, my domestic having negligently omitted, the preceding evening, to close the shutters.

Despite Franklin’s vast learning, he professed surprise at this:

Your readers, who with me have never seen any signs of sunshine before noon, and seldom regard the astronomical part of the almanac, will be as much astonished as I was, when they hear of his rising so early; and especially when I assure them, that he gives light as soon as he rises. I am convinced of this. I am certain of my fact. One cannot be more certain of any fact. I saw it with my own eyes. And, having repeated this observation the three following mornings, I found always precisely the same result.

Franklin then observed that if Parisians were to conduct their affairs by sunlight rather than candlelight, immense amounts of energy could be saved. Sound familiar?

But how do you get people to change their hours of waking and sleeping? Those who worship the Founding Fathers as guardians of our freedom will be disappointed by Franklin’s proposal:

First. Let a tax be laid of a louis per window, on every window that is provided with shutters to keep out the light of the sun.

Second. Let the same salutary operation of police be made use of, to prevent our burning candles, that inclined us last winter to be more economical in burning wood; that is, let guards be placed in the shops of the wax and tallow chandlers, and no family be permitted to be supplied with more than one pound of candles per week.

Third. Let guards also be posted to stop all the coaches, &c. that would pass the streets after sunset, except those of physicians, surgeons, and midwives.

Fourth. Every morning, as soon as the sun rises, let all the bells in every church be set ringing; and if that is not sufficient?, let cannon be fired in every street, to wake the sluggards effectually, and make them open their eyes to see their true interest.

This is certainly a strong program to enforce reductions in energy use, and one wonders how freedom champion Benjamin Franklin could advocate such a draconian program.


He was joking.

The complete essay was published in the Journal of Paris in 1784, and I’m certain that all of Franklin’s friends enjoyed a good le chuckle over it.

Little did Franklin know that a hundred years later, people would take the proposal seriously.


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