Help Create a Truly Happy New Year
Summary. Given that we live in a four-dimensional world, keeping track of time and planning future uses of it are important aspects of our lives. Numerous calendars have been used around the world, each associated with an organized religion, the most widely used today being the Gregorian. This note proposes a non-sectarian Planetary Calendar that can also be used to track religious and other holidays and is so simple that you can carry it in your head. One radical element of this proposal is that it puts the entire planet in a single time zone. This note also reviews some local calendar history that spread around the world.
Our early ancestors saw that there was a big clock visible above, namely the daily movements of the Sun, Moon, stars and planets. They soon figured out that the positions of the stars correlated with seasonal climate changes and after they invented writing they started creating calendars in conjunction with organized religions that established various religious holidays. Over time the , , Hebrew, , , Arabic, Persian, Khmer, Thai, and Tongan Calendars were developed, among others. The Gregorian Calendar was named after , who introduced it in October 1582. As you likely have noticed, it includes a dozen irregular months with some bearing the names of ancient Roman Emperors. There are 14 kinds of Gregorian calendars that occur in semi-random order, each starting on one of the seven alternative days of the week and are either Leap Years or Step Years.
The reason that the Gregorian Calendar dominates today is a byproduct of some intertribal wars that began about 50,000 years ago and a successful world domination scheme started a couple of hundred years ago by racist Christians– see .
LESCAL. In 1966 I designed, set up, named, and started managing the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (SAIL). Using the DEC PDP-6 timesharing system that had been ordered by John McCarthy, I found a fixed-format calendar-printing program that I think was called CAL. I then wrote for myself a program called LESCAL that made customizable Gregorian Calendars in assorted formats. It was evidently the first to enable users to keep track of events of personal interest online and that idea soon spread around the world.
LESCAL provided 63 alternative formats with weeks starting either on Sunday or Monday and with choices between one month per letter-size page, one year per big page, or weekly 2 x 4 inch pages. I used the latter because there were no pocket computers then and I could put a year’s worth of those little pages into a small pocket notebook to manage my life. I put in family birthdays and other things such as the dates, locations and starting times of the thousands of bicycle races at which I officiated, ranging from local to Olympic and other international events.
When the Stanford University Registrar heard about LESCAL he asked me to set it up to cover recognized holidays and main academic events such as the beginnings of classes each quarter as well as Midterm and Final Examinations. For years, I kept his office supplied with calendars looking ten years ahead for planning purposes.
Planetary Calendar. I now propose a new kind of calendar without any built-in holidays so that it can be used around the world in a consistent way and has an associated timekeeping system that makes it easier to keep tabs on the rest of the world. It dumps the use of months along with the Roman Emperors and instead identifies dates by their week number (two digits) and day number (one digit). However, for practical reasons I suggest retaining one element of the Gregorian Calendar, namely counting years from its “Current Era” beginning date since many of our historical records are based on that. Instead of having 14 kinds of calendars, like the Gregorian, it will have just two: Step and Leap Years, which are identical except for the last day of the year. However, there are some related choices to be made about when to start years and days, time zones, and how long weeks should be, as discussed below.
Note that when we are given a specific date in the Gregorian Calendar it is necessary to look it up in order to figure out which day of the week it is on whereas under any of the calendars proposed below the day of the week is specified by the low order digit of the date, which substantially simplifies planning.
New Year’s Day. When should we start each year? Several calendars, including the Gregorian, start near the winter solstice, when the duration of sunlight is shortest. That made sense when most people were farmers and that was a turning point toward increasing sunlight in the northern hemisphere. Of course, when the duration of sunlight is shortest in the northern hemisphere it is longest in the southern hemisphere.
Another choice, which was used in some old calendars, is to begin at the vernal equinox, when days and nights are of approximately equal length. Note that the vernal equinox in the northern hemisphere coincides with the autumnal equinox in the southern hemisphere, making the length of the days about the same in both places then. That makes sense to me because the vernal equinox is about the time that plants start growing a lot, making it a true beginning. Since most of the world’s population lives in the northern hemisphere, I suggest that its vernal equinox be used.
Whatever starting date is chosen for the calendar, it will be necessary to make a one day adjustment approximately every four years to deal with the fact that the earth’s orbit around the Sun is not an integral number of days.
Time Zones. After clocks were invented, various cities around the world set up standard times for their locations, so there were hundreds of time zones. The start of each day was put at midnight because that made sense for farmers, who were the dominant group then and who were normally asleep at that time.
When railroads started operating, they had a serious scheduling problem with so many time zones and managed to get the world divided into 24 zones, each an hour apart, so that their schedules could be made more coherent. However, that still leaves us with some problems when trying to guess in which time zone a given city is located and whether or not they are on Daylight Savings Time. Things get more confusing on long flights over multiple time zones.
I suggest a radical change: put the whole world in one time zone, which will allow everyone to know what time it is everywhere. Under that system schools, businesses and the like would set their own operating hours as they like, just as they do now, and would likely continue to show them on their web sites. Daylight Savings Time would be eliminated but organizations would be free to adjust their business hours with the seasons if they wish. For timekeeping, I recommend representing hours and minutes in a form that is already widely used, with 2143 specifying hour 21 and minute 43.
Under this scheme, normal work days in some parts of the world would span parts of two calendar days, but that happens a lot already and people manage to deal with it. The start of the day would have to be assigned to a particular longitude and the simplest choice would be zero degrees longitude, which would put everyone on Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), though arguments can be made for other choices. Note that the typical start of working days under Pacific Time (9 AM) would then become 0100 GMT and what are now Mountain, Central, and Eastern Times would each be incrementally one hour later. Also, the silly imposition of Leap Seconds at the end of each year would be eliminated.
Weeks. Still another thing to be chosen is the length of the week., which began as a marketing cycle. Ancient communities generally held farmers’ markets a fixed number of days apart, the intervals ranging from about 5 to 10 days in various parts of the world. Some early Romans settled on 7 day weeks somehow and various organized religions, chose different week days to meet so as to distinguish themselves from others.
We can stick with 7 day weeks but it appears to me that advancing technology, with the increasing use of machines to replace people, makes it possible to maintain productivity with a shorter week, such as six days – nominally four working days with two day weekends. Again that is up for grabs. I offer two versions below.
Days. In talking about days of the week, I suggest dropping names like Sunday and Monday and their translations into other languages and instead use two character codes, such as “d1” for Monday.
7 Day Weeks. As at present, divide each year into 52 weeks, numbered 1 to 52, which would naturally have 364 days but add an extra day called “d0” to Week 1 every year and call it “New Year’s Day.” In Leap Years, add another day, called d8, to the last week of the year, making those years 366 days long.
6 Day Weeks. Alternatively, divide each year into 61 weeks, numbered from 1 to 61, yielding 366 days in the year, just right for Leap Years. Identify the days in each week as d1 to d6 but in Step Years omit d6 from week 61. In other words, Step Years would take a step backwards of one day.
In Summary, I suggest starting each year at the northern hemisphere’s vernal equinox, running the whole world on Greenwich Mean Time, and using six day weeks. There are other proposals to drop daylight savings time and use a single time around the world as proposed , but that one would needlessly preserve months, including those named to honor corrupt Roman Emperors.
Other alternatives can also work but whatever we do, let’s dump the Roman Emperors!
I have now added the goal of getting this proposal adopted worldwide by 2042 to my Bucket List so that I can die peacefully in 2043, as planned.