Mars Trilogy (timekeeping)

Look, I’ve only read the first book, well 70% of it, I’m still busy with the rest, but I’m sure the concept of time keeping is not going to change. I’ve mostly enjoyed the book (written by Kim Stanley Robinson), although it’s getting a bit long after the excitement of the first quarter. But anyway, timekeeping, it’s ridiculous. Red Mars is a Sci-Fi book based on the starting decades of populating Mars and making it habitable.

It starts focusing on the ‘first 100’, the first 100 people to arrive on Mars. They were all specially selected out of thousands of applicants to go to Mars. They’re mostly scientists and engineers with skills that they can use to develop Mars once they arrive.Screenshot_2016-05-14-18-16-45One of the early concepts introduced in the book is that of timekeeping. Something which, as they’re a bunch of scientists, I’d think would be rather important. Mars has this problem in that a solar day on Mars is marginally longer than a solar day on Earth. On average 39min longer.

This poses a problem when working on Mars, as how do you keep time? Do you have watches run an extra 39min? So after 24h00 is 24h01 up to 24h39? You can do this, in my opinion it’s a better solution than what took place in Red Mars, but it’s not what scientists do. Not the scientists at NASA anyway. No, they just redefined a second. Or rather gave the Mars Second a definition equal to 102.7% of an Earth Second. And it works! It’s good.

It means that any software can continue to operate on Mars, as long as the clocks they are set to work with are setup to a Martian clock. Well the time will work in any case, dates become a bit more complicated. But that’s not the topic of this article.

In the Mars Trilogy, the scientists’ solution in this situation was to run a clock at the same speed as an Earth clock. Then when 24h00 came along it would stop. It would stop for 39min, and then the clock would start again at 00h01. This time when the clocks were not running is referred to as the timeslip. And took on an element of meaning in the book, but egal.

The main reason they chose to do this is because, as opposed to rovers etc., we actually have people living in this timeframe now, people who are used to the length of a second and whose delicate minds don’t need the extra strain of not knowing how long a second is.

I disagree. From a scientific perspective alone, how do you record things taking place in this timeslip? How do computers react, how much extra effort is it to work around this; when it would be much easier to just make the second marginally (imperceptibly?) longer.IMG_20160514_181814I saw a recent video on YouTube where participants were asked to count to a minute in their heads and say stop when they got there, with interesting results. Mainly supporting my opinion that no one’s going to pick-up a 2.7% difference.

But it’s a book, and maybe I shouldn’t take it so seriously, it’s a nice plot device, if in my opinion a complete bogus conclusion to come to for a bunch of scientists.

If you’re interested, you can view a NASA article on the topic of timekeeping on Mars here, goes as far to include things like timezones and dates. Interestingly, the Wikipedia article on Mars timekeeping includes a mention of ‘timekeeping in fiction‘.

I was initially triggered to read the books after hearing in a podcast (I think it was Still Untitled) that a 10 part series was being produced based on the trilogy. According to Wikipedia it has however again been shelved.

Being legal is frustrating

Four years ago I bought a laptop on a student special with the local universities. Pinnacle were the local distributors and the laptop came pre-installed with Windows 7 and Office professional. Wonderful. But it didn’t come with installation DVDs. I queried this with Pinnacle and they said I should use the Lenovo software (OneKey Backup) to create a backup install which would then have everything ready to go. Fine.

A few months later I buy myself an SSD and now want to install Windows on it. Do everything necessary but the 36GB original install complains that my 120GB SSD is too small to install Windows on… So I repartition my original HDD to have an 80GB windows install. Create new backup install, and successfully install on my SSD.

Fast forward to 2016 and for several reasons I haven’t once reformatted my hard drive since original install. But now it’s time. Backup everything I need. Boot up my backup DVD and try and install onto the same SSD. It complains the drive is too small. This is the same drive I installed on four years prior. No other hardware changes have taken place. I spend the next several hours rebooting trying different types of things; use an Ubuntu live CD to format the drive and remove the extra 100MB partition that Windows makes. All efforts are unsuccessful.

I give up and decide to use a legit Windows 7 install DVD I have to just do a plain install. Alas after installation it doesn’t like my key (the one stuck under my laptop), as the DVD is for Windows Ultimate, and my licence is for Windows Premium… Windows used to have their install DVDs freely available through Digital River. But discontinued this service a few years ago. After some extended searching I get hold of an ISO that, after installing, seems legit and is happy with my key. Yay.

I spent more time trying to get an audio book playing than it took to listen to the book. I have lost every other piece of DRM-locked music I have paid for.


But now I don’t have Office. So I begin the same search for an install for Office. I had earlier run a program to extract the CD-Key from my installed software. Again the Digital River ISOs had been discontinued. MS does offer install files for download on their website, but you have to input a valid CD-Key, and the licence for my CD-Key apparently didn’t match any of the versions they had for download. I get hold of some ISOs through different sources, but none of them are playing ball with my CD-Key…

So what eventually happens? I break down and buy Office. Through all my searching, I kept on getting adverts for MS’s Home Use Program. Basically, if your employer has some deal with MS, you can get Office 2016 Pro for like R150. My employer had never advertised this to us (that I recall), but I typed in my work email address and the next day there was an e-mail at work stating that I am eligible. So R150 later I have Office 2016 installed. My biggest gripe (besides having to pay for something I kinda already had) is that it installs everything! Skype for business (which you can’t use a normal Skype account with), MS Access, OneNote and Publisher which I don’t use. There is no option to only install specific software. And no option afterwards to remove some of the software.

But at least I have a working computer again. And I’ve made copies of all the CDs and installs I used. Stuff knows what use the Lenovo OneKey backup DVDs are to be used for.

All of this boils down to DRM, and how difficult it makes people’s lives. Those who try to do the right thing get blocked at every corner. Whereas I could easily have downloaded a cracked copy and be done with all these hassles. Argh!

I made a mistake

I’ve been wanting to get myself a TV for a while. I moved into a fully furnished place at the beginning of the year, with free DSTV and thus a TV. But it was an old 74cm CRT. Massive thing (honestly, I weighed it and it’s 49kg), but not the greatest picture, especially with my PS3.

So I’ve been looking for the past month or two and was pretty much waiting for a sale on a Samsung or Sony, say R5,000 for a decent 42″. Then about three weeks ago, Hi-Fi corp have a sale on a JVC 42″ smart TV (JVC LT-42N630SA), with wi-fi and a bunch of other features. Great I decided. It only cost R4,000, and I was willing to take a slight quality knock for the lower price and smart TV capabilities. Sadly the TV was sold out before I could get to the store.

Then this week I see the same TV is on sale again for R5,000. Fine I decide, let’s just get it, although it’s more expensive, you would pay quite a premium for the same functionality in a Samsung. So I went and bought it. Oops.

It’s not that  it’s a terrible TV, it’s just really not great. The process was fairly painless, but shucks. I can’t remember how long it took to startup the first time I turned it on. I’m quite sure it was in excess of 2 minutes. I have a lot of complaints about this TV. the biggest one being it’s usability. Everything just takes forever (or doesn’t work).

  • Under normal conditions it takes 25s to start up
  • The “Google TV Remote” app to use your cell as a remote is not allowed in South Africa (ie you can’t use it), Even though there’s a brochure for it in the box.
  • The preloaded Youtube app doesn’t work.
  • Menu and interface is logical, but very laggy, and unpredictable at times.
  • Pushing buttons on the remote doesn’t always seem to do anything.
  • The system update button kills the ‘settings’ app each and every time.
  • Video quality on my RF in was terrible
  • You can’t change the picture mode (4:3, 16:9, original, etc.)
  • Sound quality is below average
  • The whole time while connected to Wi-Fi or a USB device, the icons show in the bottom right corner (I tried for a few minutes to turn this off but couldn’t find a way)

What it has going for it

  • It does have Wi-Fi and a ethernet port, so it should be capable of more.
  • Picture quality was decent
  • The TV is pretty cheap.
  • It is a good looking, well built TV

But in the end I took the TV back. I couldn’t deal with it. Hi-Fi corp gave me a full refund without any issues. I had a look at some other TVs, but in the end went to Game and picked up a Samsung 40″ for a few hundred rand less than the JVC.

And most importantly, I’m happy with it. It responds quickly and without hassle. It may not be ‘Smart’, but it can still play files from USB, and there’s always my PS3 I can use.

How could our calendar be better?

We have a very set calendar. The whole world works on it. There’s not much we can do about this now, but what if we wanted to, what if we wanted to structure it better? I got into a conversation recently, and I noted how convenient it was discussing dates in March, while in February, ’cause February is a beautiful 28 days long this year, 28 days = 4 weeks, which means that if the 11th of February is a Tuesday, the 11th of March will be one too, this can be convenient. The conversation progressed and a new calendar was born.

Our current Gregorian calendar has pretty much been in place since the 1500s,  based on the rotation of the Earth around the sun and some historical factors. The Gregorian calendar had but a few minor alterations on the Julian calendar which had been in force since BC times. I would never suggest changing too much, start small, but don’t try break everything at once.

A year is 365 days long 3/4 times, roughly. We keep the leap system, it’s a great approximation, doesn’t need any messing with and the year numbering system won’t be of any concern for us for a very long time. Months however, that’s where things start getting annoying. They’re all different lengths. But why. Some people give offhand comments to the Lunar cycles, I don’t really care.

365 is an awkward number, however, take a day off and you get 364. Know what 364 factors into nicely? 7. That’s right. How convenient is that. So my proposition is  52 weeks of 7 days with an extra day. That’s not really at all different to how we currently function though. My first goal is to take that extra day, and instead of designating it Monday or Tuesday, it will be called New Years Day. Some people will recognise it as a holiday, others not, either way, it won’t be a day in the week, it will just be a day. That way you can have the start of each year starting on the same day. 31 December is a Sunday, then we have new years day, then we have 1 January which is a Monday.

But this doesn’t help that much; now we have 52 weeks. Know what 52 divides into nicely? That’s right, 4. Exactly 4 weeks per month. I propose 13 months of 4 weeks each. This means that every month, if the 1st is a Monday, the 1st of the next month will be one too. How cool is that. No more hassles about figuring out what the date of the weekend in May is, it’s the same date as the one in April. So this is easy enough, all you need is to think up the name of our new 13th month and chuck it in somewhere.

One thing I’ve neglected is our balancing leap years. To solve this problem without stuffing up our calendars, I propose a 2nd New Year’s day. It can either be placed directly after our current New Year’s day, or we can place it at an arbitrary point in the year, where ever we want.

Now as great as my idea is, it does have some downfalls/drawbacks. The biggest of which is the honouring of birthdays or other significant dates. But this isn’t too much of an issue. For most events, it’s the date itself that is important, not where it falls in the year. various countries days’ of independence, the 27th of April is the date that is important, not that it falls 117 days into the year. Events where the time of year is important, such as Easter, are anyway calculated anew each year.

The only major impact comes in the form of dates which will no longer exist. The 29th of April for example. There best way to handle this in my opinion is to move all of these dates to the new month, as it will be bare and boring. So anything (this includes birthdays (may affect ID numbers)) occurring on 29-31 Jan will now occur on 1-3 <insert awesome new month name here>, 29-31 March will become 4-6 of the same month. Easy, besides some historically important dates, but if we have a look at the following xkcd, we can see that in general earlier dates are more interesting:

So to summarise.

  • Year begins on New Year’s Day, which is not part of the week.
  • After New Year’s Day is the 1st of January
  • The year is made up of 13 months of 28 days each.
  • During Leap years an additional ‘New Year’s Day’ is added to the calendar

I propose that we start this new calendar at the beginning of 2018. This will be a Monday, and although it’s the second day of the year, will follow on from Sunday 31 Dec 2017. This gives us plenty of time to sort out all the niggles, print the new calendars and start teaching our children the better way. It will make our lives easier I’m sure :)

Once we get this right maybe we can get a start on decimalising time.

EDIT: Apparently I’m not the first to consider this. Roman Mars of 99% Invisible did a podcast about the calendar recently discussing some of the early proposers of such a calender. Give it a listen here.