Decades, centuries and millennia

Blame it on DennisJanuary 1 is NOT the start of a new decade. To the CBC and the other arithmetically-challenged media who insist otherwise: it isn’t. You just don’t understand how to count to 10. No matter how you spin it, 9 years is not 10.

And even if it was, starting or ending a decade or any other period of time has no magical significance. Neither history nor culture, neither politics nor science work along calendrical timelines and our own calendar is an arbitrary construct for convenience only. But back to the numbers. It all comes down to simple numbers.

I get that counting from one to 10 is tricky for some folk (like CBC editors). It’s easy to get lost and forget that there are ten digits in there. “One, two, three, uh… seven… nine… four… is that it?” But here’s how it works:

1… 2… 3… 4… 5… 6… 7… 8… 9… 10

Feel free to print this sequence out for future reference. Try it using your fingers. See? Ten numbers when you count from one to ten. Pretty amazing, eh? Well, that’s how our calendar works, too.

So if the above arithmetic hasn’t boggled your mind too much already, let’s do some basic counting. We’ll start with a decade. The word itself comes from the ancient Greek through Latin: dekas is in ten in Greek, decas is Latin. A decade can mean a set of ten things, such as books, chapters, or even prayers, but for this article we’re interested in one use: counting years. A decade is ten years. Not nine, not eleven.

Sure, you can pick any arbitrary group of ten years and call them a decade, but that dilutes the significance considerably. 1964-1973 is a decade, technically, but unless it’s associated with a significant historical event or issue, so what? Who celebrated the start of a new decade in 1974?  Same with 2010-2019 – technically correct only as a decade in marketing or in slipshod media reckoning. (I’m sure you are aware that, in the example decade above, it marked the ten years of direct U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.)

The first decade in the western calendar starts with year 1, just like your fingers do,  and ends with… have you figured it out yet? That’s right! Year 10. Years 1 through 10 are the first decade. Now with a little effort, you can calculate the first century – 100 years. Spoiler alert: that’s years 1 through 100. And the first millennium? Right: years 1 through 1000. See the pattern? You start counting with 1, not 0. Decades, centuries and millennia all start with a year ending in 1. And they close with a year ending in zero. Just like counting from one to 10 on your fingers. You don’t count from 0 to 9, do you? Then why do it with years?

So what is 2020 in those terms? Start with 2001, the first year of this millennium and count 10… 2001 to 2010, then another 10; 2011 to 2020. So 2020 is the LAST year of the current decade, not the start of a new one. Got that? Apparently the CBC doesn’t, but like local media, their credibility is long past its best-before date. I digress.

Calendars are not like the odometer on your car. Odometers start at zero, so when you see 1, you’ve travelled 1 km (or miles if you prefer the archaic imperial system). When the numbers on an odometer roll over to 2,020 it means you’ve travelled a full 2,020 kilometers and number 2,021 is just starting. Calendars, on the other hand start at 1, and the appearance of year 2020 indicates we’ve done 2,019 years and the 2,020th is about to begin, not ending.

You can also count years like you count the pages in a book. You start with one. You don’t begin reading the second set of 10 until you read to the very end of page 10. Or like money – count from one. If I owed you $10 and gave you $9 because I started counting from zero – would you accept it? Think of years as pennies. How many pennies are in $20? Is $19.99 the same amount as $20? Would a bank give you a $20 bill if you gave it $19.99 in pennies? We count house numbers, cookies, bottles of beer – everything else from one. So why are some people trying to make us count years from a non-existent year zero? Zero isn’t a number – it’s a place marker. Doesn’t anyone take math in schools these days? Or maybe they think there’s a ‘decade’ with only nine years lurking in the calendar.

I blame Dennis.
Continue reading “Decades, centuries and millennia”

Six years ago…

Anniversary cartoonI received a notification last week from WordPress noting that I registered with them six years ago. Six years with their blogging platform… happy anniversary to me… what, no flowers? Party favours? Is this my modern life: email reminders from software companies?

That got me thinking about dates and anniversaries. And in trying to recall them all, keep the dates straight. Pull the weave apart and follow the threads backwards.

Why are we humans fixated with numbers that are easily divisible by five and ten? Is there any more relevance, more importance to an anniversary of 5, 10 or 20 years than one of 7, 11 and 19 years? Is it some biological need for a certain type of mathematical order? A need for a tidy whole number divisor? An innate tidiness?

Or is it really a cultural association that has been artificially built and reinforced by commercial interests to sell certain products at identifiable times of our lives: jewellery, flowers, cards and so on?

Is six years some sort of personal milestone that is somehow different from, say, five or seven years? Is six years a “yeah!” or a “meh…” event? And would ten be a “hooray” event simply because the number 10 resonates better than nine or eleven?

Well, to be fair, it’s not much of an anniversary either way. I didn’t spend the last six years exclusively with WordPress. I set up an account, tinkered with it, and experimented with a test blog hosted on their servers. I spent a lot of time looking at what their product could do, at the merits of self- versus WP-hosted services, and at issues like stability, users, plug-ins, etc.

I also tried some of their competition, too. For my purposes, I felt WP was superior in most aspects. But then I’m a bit of a tinkerer: I like to get at the code and hack a bit, especially the CSS and HTML. Coincidentally, it was the same year I started playing the ukulele (and charango, but that didn’t last, while the uke has).

But despite having kept an account with WordPress, for most of the decade I’ve been blogging, I used a mod installed on my Invision-based tequila forum instead. (I am now curious and must check to see if those early WP test posts are still online somewhere, though as far as I recall they were left in draft mode, not published for public amusement).

After several years with Invision, I was unsatisified with the mod and wanted more features, control, and more stable software. My old archives are still online but all my new material – almost 700,000 words worth – written in WordPress, is here.

I finally made the move to a self-hosted WordPress blog in December, 2011 and after some tinkering, and test posts, I began to blog continually with the WP software here in January, 2012. So perhaps WordPress should have sent me an anniversary remind of that date, instead.

Continue reading “Six years ago…”