Let’s do lunch Feb. 30

Since just three days are left on the 2011 calendar after today, this subject is appropriate, I guess:

Researchers at The Johns Hopkins University have discovered a way to make time stand still — at least when it comes to the yearly calendar.

Using computer programs and mathematical formulas, Richard Conn Henry, an astrophysicist in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences and Steve H. Hanke, an applied economist in the Whiting School of Engineering, have created a new calendar in which each new 12-month period is identical to the one which came before, and remains that way from one year to the next in perpetuity. …

“Our plan offers a stable calendar that is absolutely identical from year to year and which allows the permanent, rational planning of annual activities, from school to work holidays,” says Henry, who is also director of the Maryland Space Grant Consortium. “Think about how much time and effort are expended each year in redesigning the calendar of every single organization in the world and it becomes obvious that our calendar would make life much simpler and would have noteworthy benefits.” …

According to Hanke and Henry, their calendar is an improvement on the dozens of rival reform calendars proffered by individuals and institutions over the last century.

“Attempts at reform have failed in the past because all of the major ones have involved breaking the seven-day cycle of the week, which is not acceptable to many people because it violates the Fourth Commandment about keeping the Sabbath Day,” Henry explains. “Our version never breaks that cycle.”

The proposed calendar would give eight months 30 days and four months — March, June, September and December — 31 days. (So if you have a birthday Jan. 31, May 31, July 31 or Aug. 31, now you won’t. And what happens to Halloween?)

Do the math, and eight 30-day months and four 31-day months equals 364 days, not 365. (The earth revolves around the sun once every 365¼ days, give or take a few decimal points). Their solution is to add not an every-four-years leap day, but a leap week — an extra seven days added to December every five to six years. (Which should kill the idea right there for those of us who live this close to the Arctic Circle, though those in the Southern Hemisphere may consider it a plus.)

The previous graphic would be the calendar every year, except for the “Extra-Week Years.” That, the authors claim, would be a benefit. To that, fans of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Calendar and the Pirelli Tire Calendar say: Really?

The Hanke–Henry Permanent Calendar website claims (formatting theirs):

There are enormous economic advantages to the proposed calendar. These benefits come because the new calendar is identical every year… except that, every five or six years, there is a one-week long “Mini-Month,” called “Xtr (or Extra),” at the end of December. “Xtr (or Extra) Week” brings the calendar into sync with the seasonal change as the Earth circles the Sun. How much needless work do institutions, such as companies and colleges, put into arranging their calendars for every coming year? From 2017 on, they do it once … and it is done forevermore. …

An example of the “enormous economic advantages” was cited in Globe Asia:

That modern calendar would simplify financial calculations and eliminate the “rip-off factor.” To determine how much interest accrues for a wide variety of instruments — bonds, mortgages, swaps, forward rate agreements, etc. — day counts are required. The current calendar contains complexities and anomalies that create day count problems. In consequence, a wide range of conventions have evolved in an attempt to simplify interest calculations. For U.S. government bonds, the interest earned between two dates is based on the ratio of the actual number of days elapsed to the actual number of days between the interest payments (actual/actual). For convenience, U.S. corporates, municipals and many agency bonds employ the 30/360 day count convention. These different conventions create their own complications, inefficiencies and arbitrage opportunities.

Specifically, discrepancies between the actual/ actual and 30/360 day count conventions occur with all months that do not have exactly 30 days. The best example comes from calculating accrued interest between February 28th and March 1st in a non-leap year. A corporate bond accrues three days of interest, while a government bond accrues interest for only one day. The proposed permanent calendar — with a predictable 91-day quarterly pattern of two months of 30 days and a third month of 31 days — eliminates the need for artificial day count conventions.

Wait, there’s more! (That’s an ’80s cable TV reference for the unaware.) From the website:

… starting 2017 January 1, it is proposed that Universal Time, on a 24 hour scale, be used, everywhere on earth, and forevermore. As a result of this, beginning 2017 January 1, the date and time will always be the same, everywhere, greatly facilitating international understanding. …

Daylight Saving Time disappears, … but also, it stays, as changes in working hours. Time zones, such as Eastern Standard Time, still exist exactly as they do now, but are considered to be “working hours” zones. In Eastern Standard Time Zone, a “9-to-5” job is defined as a 14:00-to-22:00 (14 o’clock to 22 o’clock) job. The next calendar day begins at what we now call 7 p.m. in the Eastern Time zone. (On the West Coast of the US, the next day begins at 4 p.m.) “Spring forward, Fall back” now means that, on the chosen day, everyone changes their work hours by one hour, but the clock time stays the same. “See you tomorrow” refers to the sun being overhead, not the calendar.

Back to the news release:

In addition to advocating the adoption of this new calendar, Hanke and Henry encourage the abolition of world time zones and the adoption of “Universal Time” (formerly known as Greenwich Mean Time) in order to synchronize dates and times worldwide, streamlining international business.

“One time throughout the world, one date throughout the world,” they write, in a January 2012 Global Asia article about their proposals. “Business meetings, sports schedules and school calendars would be identical every year. Today’s cacophony of time zones, daylight savings times and calendar fluctuations, year after year, would be over. The economy – that’s all of us – would receive a permanent ‘harmonization’ dividend.”

As a former college public relations director, I can attest that publicity like this for a college is great. (Every college in Wisconsin not named Beloit is envious of the annual Beloit College Mindset List.) As an American, this calendar strikes me as a solution in search of a problem. (Henry, a Canadian, ends on the wrong foot by mentioning his late mother using Celsius temperature, which is a bad example since Celsius temperature is less accurate than Fahrenheit temperature — 1 Celsius degree is 1.8 Fahrenheit degrees.)

The claim that “business meetings, sports schedules and school calendars would be identical every year” is false. Business meetings are scheduled based on the availability of the participants. Sports schedules will only stay the same if the sports leagues in question keep not just the same game dates, but the same opponents in a schedule sequence, which almost never happens. (Ripon should always end its football season against Berlin, and Ripon College should always end its football season against Lawrence — the two are the oldest high school and college football rivalries in the state — but only the latter will happen in 2012.) The aforementioned school calendar question is up to individual school districts, private schools and states (such as Wisconsin’s requirement that public schools not start classes until Sept. 1), so that is an implausible assertion.

Other assertions don’t hold water. Most government offices and many businesses were closed Dec. 23 and 26 and will be closed today and Monday because, respectively, Christmas and New Year’s Day are on Sundays, which give workers five three-day weekends this year. (If you extend the “year” into next week, that is.) The calendar creators claim that this calendar “will also be pleasing to companies who currently lose up to two weeks of work to the Christmas/New Year’s annual mess,” which presumably would eliminate all but the Memorial Day (May 28, assuming the May 30 advocates don’t succeed) and Labor Day (Sept. 5) three-day weekends. Perhaps the calendar creators need to be told that tourism is an industry too. (Particularly in this state.) And you can safely predict high employee absenteeism on Dec. 23 and 26 under this calendar.

When you reach my age, the fact that my birthday would be on a Saturday or my wife’s birthday would be on a Sunday doesn’t mean much. Appropriately celebrating our anniversary on a Tuesday, though, would be difficult. I doubt our kids would be happy with birthdays on, respectively, Thursday, Monday and Thursday.

As for the time proposal, let’s consider a typical day here at the Presteblog world headquarters under the Hanke–Henry calendar. (Which apparently switches from a.m. and p.m. to 24-hour military time, which should drive the peace activists up the wall, as well as the far right, given that the former Soviet Union ran on military time and European transportation schedules run on 24-hour time.)

Jannan may be OK with leaving for work at 12:45, but then she’ll be working three nights (overnights?) a week from 22:00 t0 2:00. After I yell “Get up! It’s after 12:30!” (something my mother would have said to me 30 years ago), the kids will be at school from around 14:00 to around 21:00. Michael’s Boy Scout meetings will be Tuesdays at 00:30, and Dylan’s Cub Scout meetings will be Wednesdays at 00:30. High school basketball games will be Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays around 1:15. On non-game nights I’ll close the day by saying “It’s after 2! Get to bed!” (See previous comment from my mother.)

The Ripon College football coach believes college football games should be at 1 p.m., but his games will be moved to 19:00, whether he likes it or not. (That would be 18 hours after high school football at 1. So much for the “Friday night lights.” Should I open Red Hawk games with “Good afternoon, football fans” or “good evening, football fans”?) Church will still be on Sunday, but at 15:30. (Unless we go to St. Mary’s Chapel in Wautoma, in which case church will be at 23:30 on Saturdays.) In the fall, the Packers will play at either 18:00 or 21:15, unless they’re a Sunday night game, which will be Monday at 1:20, or a Monday night game, which will be Tuesday at 1:30. Does your church do midnight Mass at Christmas or Easter? Not anymore, because midnight will be at 6:00. And I look forward to seeing how the four over-the-air networks deal with Hanke–Henry Time, since prime time will be from 1:00 to 4:00 in the former Eastern and Central time zones, but 0:00 (or 24:00?) to 3:00 in the former Mountain Time Zone and 22:00 to 1:00 in the former Pacific Time Zone.

(Another required change will be in the Associated Press Stylebook, because AP style does not use “o’clock” except in quotations, nor does it use, for instance, “8:00,” because that’s redundant; the correct term is “8 a.m.” Without a.m. and p.m., what will replace “1 p.m.”? “13”? For that matter, what will replace “noon” or “midnight”?)

Daylight Saving Time is a subject whose controversy increases the farther south you go. Up here in the high-number latitudes, people think it’s silly for the sun to rise at 4 a.m. in June. Maybe a 10:00 sunrise makes more sense to some, but does a sunset near 2:00 make any more sense? How about, this time of year, sunrise after 13:00 and sunset before 23:00? The Boy Scout instruction of finding due north by seeing which direction your shadow points at high noon will be obsolescent, since high noon will be at, respectively, 17:00 in the East, 18:00 here, 19:00 in the Rocky Mountains and 20:00 on the West Coast.

By now, it should be obvious that unless you work for a business with customers in Great Britain and extreme western Europe, or you live within a couple time zones of Greenwich, England (which doesn’t seem to apply to readers of this blog), the time proposal would be ridiculously inconvenient. The “enormous economic advantages to the proposed calendar” are illusory since most companies’ customers are, at most, within a couple time zones of the business’ home office. Business hours are based first on their customers’ needs, followed by their employees’ availability.

The reality is that most human activities are conducted during daylight. (Though not all, as most people’s presence on the Earth probably demonstrates.) That is what our time system is based upon, including Daylight Saving Time. Converting the entire planet to 24-hour Universal Time — particularly having the day and date change at, uh, 6:00 — will be of absolutely no benefit to most people.

As for the calendar proposal, in 15 years of working in non-daily publishing, I spent, at most, one day per year working on calendars, which obviously did change from year to year. People and businesses are more adaptable than apparently Hanke and Henry give them credit for, as demonstrated by business’ use of metric measures without the feds’ eliminating the inch, pound or Fahrenheit degree. Computers make the aforementioned different-length-month issue unremarkable for most people and businesses.

While calendar creep can be inconvenient (for instance, high school football starting Aug. 19, as happened this season), we have learned to live with the current calendar, illogical though it may be. The Hanke–Henry calendar would be different, but Hanke and Henry haven’t proven it would be better.

2 thoughts on “Let’s do lunch Feb. 30

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s