Look Before You Leap

I’m not sure why I am so fascinated with Leap Year and in particular February 29. Maybe it is like when you come upon a traffic accident and no matter how hard you try you just have to look to see what happened as you drive by. (Leap year and specifically leap day is not necessarily a traffic accident but you may be able to draw the same correlation if you thought about it for a minute.) Maybe I am just fascinated at how well the human race can adapt from their failures.


The whole reason we have a need for leap year and leap day is the fact that we have yet to find an adequate measurement for time that is fool proof. The passage of time is at best a guesstimate to describe the changes that occur over a specified period. We grew up thinking of a day as being equal to 24 hours. An hour is made up of 60 minutes and a minute equates to 60 seconds. It all seems so simple and compartmentalized. The problem is that it really doesn’t equate to the way things really work. The planet is not the most consistent thing in the universe. It doesn’t necessarily spin at a constant rate and therefore is susceptible to drift. This drift introduces inconsistencies which over time become significant. Rather than trying to modify how we count time or what a day/hour/minute means we just accept the errors in our calculation and when they get big enough to make a difference we just add a day here and there. But even the calculation of when to insert this extra day is convoluted. We grew up being taught that leap year occurs every 4 years but that is not always the case. The calculation has a couple of caveats of its own. When the year is that of a century there is no leap year for that year. Ok, that’s simple enough but wait there is another caveat; unless the century is divisible by 4. So now we need to remember every 4 years except on years that are a new century but then we do count it if the century can be divided by 4. Luckily the century thing was divisible by 4 when the year 2000 came around. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to try to deal with the Y2K problem and a leap year issue in the same calendar. That planet may have just stopped on it axis it was so confused. That of course would have caused another calendar anomaly that we would have had to manage. I’m ok dealing with all of this except for the fact that my birthday occurs after February 29. This screws up the day of the week of my birthday. Take last year for example. My birthday occurred on a Friday. That’s cool, you can go out to dinner to celebrate and you have the whole weekend to get back to normal. That would normally mean that my birthday this year will be on Saturday. Not so fast Einstein. Because of leap year I skip Saturday and my birthday is on a Sunday. Well that sucks! Instead of celebrating on the weekend with a day of recovery, I skip that advantage and go to Sunday where stores close early I spend the day at church and then have to deal with the whole “keep the Sabbath day holy” moral dilemma. All this because some scientist can’t figure out a way to measure things accurately. It makes me stop to think, when we were kids we spent countless hours learning the metric system because the rest of the world uses the metric system and someday the United States would migrate to that too. We not only had to learn all the funky terms such as kilo, hector, deci, cent, milli but we also had to figure out conversion from our existing measurements to the metric system and back. With this knowledge indoctrinated into my brain I eagerly awaited the conversion to the metric system. I was sold on how much easier it was. To move from various units of measure all you did was move the decimal point left and right; it was elegant and simple. But as time moves on I find I am still waiting for the conversion and there seems to be less and less talk about going to the metric system. You mean to tell me that I memorized that there are 39.37 inches in a meter or 2.54 centimeters in an inch for nothing? Maybe all those metric geniuses need to pool their giant brain power and come up with a metric clock and calendar where we have 10 months each containing 10 weeks which have 10 days made up of 10 hours and so forth. It takes into consideration the drift of time and we get rid of the whole leap thing. Then maybe my birthday will never land on a Sunday again and I can party like it’s 1999 or whatever the metric equivalent is for time.


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