Wednesday, December 12, 2012

12/12/12 1212: A good opportunity to look at date/time notation

This is the last day for another 88 years and 20 days until we will get to the next DD/MM/YY combination that will be all the same (i.e., 01/01/[21]01). (And I've scheduled this to post at 12:12, which really takes the biscuit for "clocking in" to the current - and dominant - mode of time-keeping on the planet.)

Kinda sad, I s'pose. Still, I was able to live during a period of time that I was able to see so many "calendrical" and astronomical events. ... and remember them, too. Heh.

One nice thing about days like this is that I don't have to worry about what date notation convention to present the numbers in. Should I use the US date convention (month/day/year), the most-of-Europe date convention (day/month/year), or the Japanese date convention (year/month/day)?

I much prefer the year/month/day convention, especially when I have multiple drafts or versions of a document or project; it allows for automatic sorting of the title to display both the evolution of the file as well as present, in explicit notation, the date when the file was last saved. This is in contrast to some people who prefer to use notation like "v2," "v3" etc., which can become cumbersome (after all, how much change is necessary to indicate a new version?) or even the massively cumbersome notation of "new" and "newer", which usually devolves into some sort of hybrid of relative notations (e.g., "new2" or "new2_newer").

Some people might say that the European date and time notation (day/month/year) makes the most sense, since the time increments are increasing from left to right. This is usually used as an extension of the argument that the United States' conventions for measurement are quite arbitrary, antiquated, and confusing:

However, the expectation of left-to-right being equivalent to small-to-big is a normative assumption that has no more logical basis than saying that left-to-right is equivalent to big-to-small. (Similarly, it may be more simple to think in terms of base-ten - as one does with metric - but that choice is also arbitrary, and we could just think in terms of 360; which is also an arbitrary choice. But along that line of questioning madness lies!) Furthermore, the European version of annotation creates large problems of file sorting by name, since the same 28 days (or 30 days if you don't consider February to be important) will be recycled 12 times within a year, meaning that a file that is being worked on for more than one month will encounter sorting confusion:

01012002 = 1 Jan 2002
01022001 = 1 Feb 2001
01032001 = 1 Mar 2001
02022001 = 2 Feb 2001

Here, 2 February 2001 should come before 1 March 2001, since dates in January do come before dates in February. Furthermore, 1 January 2002 should be at the bottom of this list, since 2002 comes after all dates in 2001. These problems go away when you use the Japanese date reporting format:

20010101 = 2001 Feb 1
20010102 = 2001 Feb 2
20010201 = 2001 Mar 1
20020101 =2002 Jan 1

See? No problems.

Earlier today, a friend of mine wrote:
I don't get this 12-12-12 hype. Unless I've somehow time-traveled, we're neither in the year 12 and Jesus is alive, nor are we in 1212 and the crusades are in full swing. 20th of December this year is a lot more interesting to me, if we're talking symmetrical dates.
I couldn't help but respond with this comment:
Heh. Presumably, you'd also be especially interested at 8:12 PM. However, that only works if you're using European date convention of 20-12-2012 20:12. If you're using the Japanese date convention, December 20 would be: 2012-12-20, which is kinda palindromic, but not really.

Once you recognize that date notation is culturally biased and somewhat arbitrary (especially once you consider the various standardization changes that happened to date notation and calendar format that occurred even prior to the standardization that was the Julian calendar in addition to the later restandardization that left us with the Gregorian calendar), then the allowance of letting people get rid of the "20" in front of the "12" makes today kind of fun.

In the end, I recognize that this loosening of the rules for date notation may not be as much fun as having access to a time machine might be, but I'm not one to really wish to travel back to the years 12 (don't know enough Latin) or 1212 (don't want to be burned as a heretic or infidel), and if we did have a time machine the calculations that we'd have to make to ensure that we actually get to that era's notation of a repetitive date value would also take a bit of the romanticism out of the whole thing. 

Anyway... enough proselyzation about date numbering formats; today is one of the twelve that come about every century that make such discussions meaningless - at least for those singular days.

Looking to the future, here's to hoping that in 100 years from today, 12/12/2112, we won't have completely gone and screwed ourselves over, thanks to our evolutionarily stone-age brains being unable to adequately comprehend the intricacies of an increasingly complex, interconnected, non-linear system that is what we call "existence." Hopefully, too, Doraemon will actually be created in September of that year!

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