austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,
austin_dern
austin_dern

I just sit there and stare as you hop from shrub to shrub

I haven't decided yet what to do with my leap day. Yeah, I know, it's been scheduled for a couple thousand years now, but there's no point my planning that far ahead since I'll forget the plans. I can forget my plans even as I make them, until a few months after the event when I sit up in bed and realize I missed a great chance. Worst is when I wasn't even in bed when I realize I missed it: I have to rush home, possibly cutting off a conversation mid-sentence, brush my teeth, and get into bed to sit up. That's the sort of thing giving me a reputation as an eccentric.

My guess is most people will take the leap day on the 29th of February. That's pretty cliche, but it has a lot of public support, and it's hard to find other places for it. In 1996 I deposited my leap day into my checking account, but when I took it out again the monthly fees had reduced the day to only 23 hours and 48 minutes. I don't mind losing twelve minutes from my day when I'm doing something with them like turning on an air hockey table and setting a paddle down to see where it hovers if nobody touches it, but I want that to be my choice. I don't want it lost because someone else built their fractional reserve of winter days. And that's a real loss, given the current trouble in the credit market: a sound reserve of willfully deposited winter days could secure over $482 billion, or $486 billion, in global productivity, and requires little more than slipping some previously unsuspected symbols into the stock ticker at the bottom of the business channels. Once again banks are punishing themselves with their nickel-and-daying of depositors.

The Romans had a slick scheme you're going to think I made up: they threw their leap day in as a second, duplicated, 23rd of February. There's a good reason for this you're again going to think I made up: before Julius Caesar they had a calendar that didn't come close to 365 days, so they sometimes had to throw in a whole leap month, Mercedonius, which they put between the 23rd and 24th of February. I think I have that right. Every time I think I've figured out the Roman calendar it sounds more wrong than what I thought before. But they worked hard to make sure their calendar was hard to figure out, which is why few Ancient Roman computer programmers got the date display to work. Nevertheless, I'm somewhat confident they would go from the start of February to the 23rd, then sometimes throw in a Mercedonius month of 22 or 23 days, then pick up February at the 24th.

You know who must have have felt ripped off? People born in Mercedonius just before Julius Caesar reformed the calendar and wiped it out except for that duplicated February 23 or 24. That guy from that play that I should remember who had to wait for his 21st birthday and was born on February 29 had it tough, getting a birthday only every four years, but the last people born in Mercedonius suddenly stopped getting any birthdays. This is why we have that cadre of Romans from the late Republic, trapped at whatever age they had in 46 BC, wandering the earth, serving as lessons for calendar reformers, teaming up with Swedish folks born on the 30th of February, and muttering in Latin how nobody buys them presents except at Saturnalia.

On the other hand they never suffer the indignity of having a pleasant dinner at a restaurant when the waitstaff comes out to clap in something very like rhythm and singing a public domain song hastily rewritten to mention ``Happy Birthday'' and the restaurant's name. So there are benefits to having your whole birth month lost, as long as none of their friends lie to the waiter about your birth dates.

I think I'm going to take my leap day right after the 23rd, and call it the 29th of Mercedonius. Nobody will see it coming.

Trivia: The Roman priesthood's monopoly on the calendar was broken in 304 BC, when Cnaeus Flavius stole a copy of the code which determined the calendar dates. The calendar became a public document afterwards, but the priests and patricians maintained control over the placing of intercalary months. Source: The Calendar, David Ewing Duncan.

Currently Reading: Energy Forms: Allegory and Science in the Era of Classical Thermodynamics, Bruce Clarke. I realize this is dangerously liberal-arts major for a mathematics and physics major to read, but it's mighty interesting and Edward Bulwer-Lytton is turning up a lot more than I figured. Had I been asked, I would figured on ``not at all''. I would not have foreseen Victorian-concept cyborgs.

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