By The Metric Maven
It is a strange aspect of human social interaction that often two people will become embroiled in an argument, part ways, go home, continue to fume, and then be unable to recall what the subject was that precipitated the argument.
I have had an opposite situation occur when talking with my friend Sven. I find myself involved in a conversation, Sven brings up a point I’m only slightly absorbing. I tend to dismiss the information from my mind as not that important, pay little attention to it, and then go home. When home I suddenly become highly agitated as I recall what he said, think it over, and then violently agree with his point.
This has happened twice that I recall. One instance was my initial half-hearted entertainment of the idea forwarded by Sven that perhaps centimeters might not be a good idea. I only vaguely recall what that conversation was about. In the second instance, my mind cannot recall what initiated Sven’s comments at all. What I do recall, was what he said in response: “You know, you should consider using the International Dating method.” No, this is not a suggestion for a method I might use in order to meet and date attractive women from overseas. What he was suggesting is writing dates as YYYY-MM-DD or year first with a
dash hyphen, month next with a dash hyphen and then the day. So the founding of the US would be on 1776-07-04. The Gettysburg Address was given on 1863-11-19. Pearl Harbor was attacked on 1941-12-07. The Day The Music Died was 1959-02-03. Strangely, by coincidence, my father called for the ambulance that day.
My mind showed about as much interest in the information Sven offered as it might have when shown the losing numbers printed on a year old lottery ticket. I went home, my mind started thinking about what Sven had suggested. It first it struck me that this dating method was a bit odd and perhaps unworkable. The more I thought about it, the more I realized how useful it would be, and then began violently agreeing with him. I realized that International Dating (ID) could solve many problems I had with my business data, engineering data, my outside work—well—it would help with a lot of things.
It is common in the US to write a date like July 4, 1776 as 7/4/76. Of course this leads to a problem that without some prose to provide context, that the date could be interpreted as July 4, 1976, which was the bicentennial of the US. A person in say Britain could look at the 7/4/76 as April 7, 1976. Other countries use day first, month second and year third. These ambiguities are eliminated when International dating is used. It is important to understand that leading zeros must be included when using ID. So 1776-07-04 is the correct way to write July 4, 1776. 1776-7-4 is not a valid representation, there must be leading zeros as shown previously. The date 1976-07-04 is unambiguous as the date of the US Bicentennial.
Our Hindu-Arabic number system always has the largest digit first and the smallest last from left to right. So 1234 has the one-thousand digit first (1), the one-hundred digit second (2), the tens digit next (3) and the final digit is the ones (4). This of course continues if a decimal point is added: 1234.567. It only makes logical sense to have the year first, month second and day third like we do for all other numerical representations.
When dates are written using the international standard (ISO 8601) computers automatically sort files and folders by date. This may seem like a small and inconsequential thing, but it is not. It completely changed how I did my work as an Engineer and non-professionally. The first thing I realized was that I could use it to name engineering drawings and their revisions with greater utility. The file naming form is something like this for most of my files and folders.
Name or Title which is constant YYYY-MM-DD Changeable Title or Description.
Des Moines Register 1975-08-23 Islands in a Metric World.pdf
This allowed me to have a common method of naming technical papers, newspaper articles and other files so they would automatically sort into the name of the journal, the date and the title of the article. I create folders for my consulting projects with a Project Number-YYYY-MM-DD Client Name and Project Description. Here is a screenshot of my backup folders for this blog:
A UK website has a great explanation of the ways international dating can be implemented. It turns out that one can also uniquely add on the time of day using a 24 hour clock. For instance The Apollo 13 spacecraft was launched on 1970-04-11 13:13 CST. Yes, people forget, Apollo 13 was launched on the thirteenth hour and thirteenth minute that day–well in central standard time anyway. There are a number of useful variants allowed by the ISO 8601 standard.
Somewhere during my adventure with International Dating I realized that Pat Naughtin was a promoter of its use. I was sold. When people fly to visit me, I track them on a website that has the departure dates in international format. My father volunteers for a small town historical society. One of their projects was to scan all the old newspapers into electronic format. When I looked at the resulting files, the newspaper files were all named with international dating, and sorted themselves automatically. This provided confidence that the company that scanned them probably knew what they were doing. I don’t recall exactly when I discovered that my computer (PC) could be set for the international date standard—but set it I did. It can also be set for 24 hour time if one wishes. The USMA Website has a nice discussion of how to set your computer to display the international date. I have changed all my computers to display ID. The more I used the ID notation the more I liked it. My computer backup folders are always sorted, and I can erase the oldest with ease.
It is after I used ID for about three to four years that I could really see how nicely it allows one to organize folders and files on a computer. This is yet one more important international standard, which we probably do not teach in our public schools. Which like the lack of the metric system in our country, hinders our society, and keeps it mired in the past. The time for measurement and standards reform in this country has long passed. We need more than just a new metric board with Congressional authority behind it in this country, we need a US Standards Modernization Board which would implement the latest most efficient international standards into our country, teach them in our schools, use them in our government, and use them in our places of business. We can stand still and refuse to change, but the world will continue to progress forward, and we will suffer for it—even if we are not aware why.
If you liked this essay and wish to support the work of The Metric Maven, please visit his Patreon Page and contribute. Also purchase his books about the metric system:
The first book is titled: Our Crumbling Invisible Infrastructure. It is a succinct set of essays that explain why the absence of the metric system in the US is detrimental to our personal heath and our economy. These essays are separately available for free on my website, but the book has them all in one place in print. The book may be purchased from Amazon here.
The second book is titled The Dimensions of the Cosmos. It takes the metric prefixes from yotta to Yocto and uses each metric prefix to describe a metric world. The book has a considerable number of color images to compliment the prose. It has been receiving good reviews. I think would be a great reference for US science teachers. It has a considerable number of scientific factoids and anecdotes that I believe would be of considerable educational use. It is available from Amazon here.
The third book is called Death By A Thousand Cuts, A Secret History of the Metric System in The United States. This monograph explains how we have been unable to legally deal with weights and measures in the United States from George Washington, to our current day. This book is also available on Amazon here.