A logical calendar? Never! The pre-Julian Romans (see above) had a good thing going.
It’s almost the new year. And you know what that means: stories about academics’ plans to finally make the Western calendar reasonable and logical. And you know what that means on Discoblog: a quick tour through all of the times when we changed what we were doing because switching over just made sense.
Like the metric system, for example. The quick, unanimous adoption of this eminently logical system by grateful nations the world over has been a sterling example of how reasonable we all can be when we put our minds to it. Pretty much everyone is on board, except for Liberia, which is working to put itself back together after one of Africa’s ghastliest civil wars, and Myanmar, home of the WHO-certified world’s worst health care system. And, of course, the United States, which would rather incinerate a 125-million-dollar satellite in the Martian atmosphere than convert feet to meters. (It also has a pretty crappy health care system. Related?)
The speed of light may define a meter and atomic clocks may define a second, but a century-old cube of metal still defines the kilogram–at least, until scientists give this antique lump a 21st-century makeover.
As far as the kilogram is concerned, the year is still 1879, but scientists are meeting in London this week to discuss a change for this humble unit. As the Guardian reports:
“The kilogram is still defined as the mass of a piece of platinum which, when I was director of the International Bureau of Weights and Measures, I had in a safe in my lab,” said Terry Quinn, an organiser of today’s meeting. “It’s a cylinder of platinum-iridium about 39mm high, 39mm in diameter, cast by Johnson Matthey in Hatton Garden in 1879, delivered to the International Committee on Weights and Measures in Sevres shortly afterwards, polished and adjusted to be made equal in mass to the mass of the old French kilogram of the archives which dates from the time of the French Revolution.”
A design student at University of the Arts London created this useful work of sci-art by putting unfamiliar units—such as “as many grains of flour as people on the planet”—on a measuring cup. The piece is part of his Domestic Science collection, which aims to help people “better conceptualize certain scientific constructs”—although the designer, Harry White, noted in an e-mail that “the measurements vary from being quite accurate to almost a joke, a reflection on the nature of measurement in science.”
His other pieces include evo-cut, a “set of cutlery designed according to the principles of population genetics and natural variation,” and You’re one in a million, “containing a million dots, one of which is yellow,” to help people “feel what a million and a millionth are like.”