5. Unravelling the Weave of Time

18 November 2014

What with the week?

the Seven Day Circle by Eviatar Zerubavel is the essential book about the 7-day week. It’s out of print, but you may come across it at the library or online.

So I had to finally come to terms with the 7-day week. I had hoped to incorporate it into the perpetual structure of the 52-week year, but realized that such a necessary change would make people less likely to adopt it.

Also, theAbysmal calendar is meant to be invisible in terms of applying symbol (outside of numbers), so weekdays were by necessity out. This makes things easier.

weekday-starTaking a Whack at the Week

There are so many different ways to measure regular lengths of days – the Maya use their sacred numbers 13 and 20 for many of their important measures of time, in parts of West Africa, market calendars can have interrelating cycles of 4, 5, and 6 days.

The best example of a calendar with several different weeks running at the same time is the Pawukon used on the island of Bali in Indonesia (curiously, it’s one of the few places I’ve visited in that hemisphere).

By looking at the factors, you can easily figure out what length of week are possible.

13 month calendar
2 x 2 x 7 x 13

Although 2 and 4 day weeks are possible, I think that 7, 13, and 14 day periods are more useful here. Although longer periods are possible, I limit “weeks” to 2-20 days. So with theAbysmal, I also created equivalent images for the year using 13-day weeks. I don’t have a proper name for them. the Spanish call them trecena, and I have been calling them fortnight, although that’s technically 14 days. Here’s what the 13-day year looks like.

Market Weeks

But the real creative spark came when I considered how to divide this up like a 360-day calendar. I needed to remove 5 days – the New Year Day was a given. The remaining 4 days could either be the two before and the two after the New Year day, however, I thought of the mid-quarter days.

Year-1---wheel-of-the-yearWith the New Year Day (roughly the southern solstice) and the four mid-quarter days removed, we have 360 days to work with. In practical terms, it means that any of the “weeks” of the 360-day calendar skip those 5 days – they don’t count. they are null days, or non-weekdays if you will.

360-day calendar
2 x 2 x 2 x 3 x 3 x 5

That allows us to have weeks of 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 12, 15, 18, and 20 days contained within the calendar year. The market week calendar looks like this.

In the end, this calendar allows more choice than any other of which I’m aware, in terms of possible measures of time to follow. The gregorian calendar has a 7-day week, and the irregular lengths of months. You can schedule by the week, by the month, or measure of month (quarter, semester, year).

Calendar users that wish to use unbroken progressions of weeks are certainly free to do so. This really opens up the playing field. How would you use a 5-day week?

Unravelling the Weave of Time, Part the 4th

18 November 2014

Assumptions and bias where you might not expect.

with the discovery of the patterns in daylight, I played around a lot with the images. It illustrated how heavily our cultural bias is weighed by the perspective of the northern hemisphere – not the southern, or even the tropics, or the high arctic. They all have very different experiences with the movement of the sun throughout the course of the year.

13-month-N-numbered The length of day remains relatively stable between the tropics. In the arctic, the sun stays overhead at high summer, and is never seen in the depths of winter. The idea of the sun rising in the east is an alien concept in the arctic. As is the notion of a “day” the way we’ve come to accept it as day and night.

So I endeavoured to make southern hemisphere equivalents for the images I’d come up with.
13-month-S-numberedThis lead me to question a number of our labels for standardized international points of reference.

Months of the Gregorian Calendar – replaced with numbers
Days of the Week – not explicit part of theAbysmal
Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn – ?
Equinoxes – ?

Why are the tropics named after western constellations? Equator seems a fair name for everyone, but there are different traditions to naming constellations. Ask the Chinese. I’ve taken to calling the tropics the Northern and Southern Tropics, so we have the northern and southern solstice, depending on which hemisphere the sun happens to be in (so, Southern Solstice falls on or about december 21)

Equinox ≠ Day = Night

It turns our that the Equinox, although it means “equal night” isn’t the day that the day and night are equal. It is the day that the sun’s apparent path is directly over the equator. The time when the day and night are of equal length depends on the line of latitude where you find yourself.

Biggest Mythbuster Moment of the whole exercise right there. Not so much a busting of myths as holding up ancient facts to old beliefs.

So here we consider the variety of human experience, culture, and realize that although theAbysmal calendar is designed for everyone’s use, it may exclude some. When this turns out to be the case, finding a way to include those some would be important.

Unravelling the Weave of Time – Part 3

18 November 2014

As elements come together, the thing explodes.

What is it with learning that it does that?
I was hoping to construct a world calendar, and I struggled with reconciling all the different ways of naming the days. Fortunately, there’s any number of calendar conversion sites and apps.

However, that didn’t help me because I am befuddled by the backend of software/websites. There are already time reckoning systems that are used for converting and standardizing dates and times.

Julian Day (not to be mistaken with the Julian Calendar, although it’s an easy mistake to make) is a continuous count  of days beginning with the equivalent of Nov 24 4714 BC.

2,456,283 is the Julian Date for December 21 2012.

Unix Time Code is a count of seconds from Jan 1 1970 based on Coordinated Universal Time (UTC).
theAbysmal uses these, but changes the start point to the launch of theAbysmal Calendar. Also, theAbysmal keeps a corresponding count of lunar months. This addition is intended to better traslate between lunar and solar calendars.


To distinguish different parts of the calendar, I’ve termed the 28-day period “month” and the lunar month “lunation”.

I’ve got this lunation thing to deal with. The moon is capricious, and does not lend herself to being tethered by rules. I kept it simple (by copying what the Chinese calendar does without realizing it). Lunation 0 for any given year is the Lunation which coincides with the observed southern solstice.

Each year has 12 or 13, depending on how things work out.

So the lunation has a dual role – it tracks the chronological count of seconds, days, lunations, as well as the lunar months for any given year.

Year-1-Lunation-2Which makes for a cluttered mess with the Gregorian, month and chronological numbers in each day, however, there’s lots of space in the middle for lunation names to other people. This isn’t a good design to use as a wall calendar, or an agenda or anything like that, however, it is meant to illustrate how it numbers the days.

Leap Seconds

theAbysmal Calendar uses UTC to calculate seconds, which includes leap seconds. IERS schedules leap seconds to be inserted, typically in December or June. theAbysmal New Year and Leap Year days in December are designed for exactly this type of adjustment. Seconds can be added or removed from the New Year or Leap Year Day without disrupting the 364 days of the calendar year.
year-0The fixed white calendar months and the varying black circles of lunations.

Unravelling the Weave of Time – Part 1

16 November 2014

How this whole thing got started.

Think of the world without any quantification of time. Where you are right now, standing, sitting, lying down, whatever. Imagine no seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years. No generations. No moments, just a seamless flow of now-ness, of timey-whimey.

How did we come up with such disparate and imaginative definitions of time out of this undifferentiated experience? How do we define it now? What do you think about when you think about what time means?

My way of exploring this question was through calendars. In retrospect, they interested me because of how tied they were to particular cultures, which informed both so much more. I learned more about Chinese culture by discovering how their calendar is devised, how it is used and how widespread it is. The investigation took me through the history of different parts of the world of course, but also belief systems and cultures, failed reforms and clever proposals, psychology, symbolism, mythology, storytelling, chronobiology, seasons, tides, plant, fungi, animal life. If you see life as an interconnected whole, you can find any of it through any other part. It’s the path that changes.

First Jose Arguelles.

I can’t recall when I first heard about the calendar of the Maya, but the first book I read on the subject was Jose Arguelles‘ “Mayan Factor”. At the time, I had a background in literature, the only civilization I’d studied outside of Europe was that of the Inca, so the material was all new, and I found much of it confusing.

What I got out of it was the mathematical basis of certain parts of the Maya’s calendar, and how intricately the calendar’s cycles drew on their mythology, history, daily lives, and sacred events. Then I compared it to the Gregorian calendar, and found it lacked much of these features.

Jose Arguelles proposed a 13-month calendar in combination with certain modifications of parts of the Maya’s calendar. I’d always taken our calendar for granted, and had never been asked to consider alternatives. How many others were there?

maya calendar featureThe Glut of Information

I began with the Gregorian calendar, and how we ended up with January 1st to December 31st, Saturday to Friday, and a leap year?

This research began pre-Wikipedia, so I spent a lot of time in the library. Most of what I found dealt with Roman holidays, and I derived what I could from references to months and time of the year. Like any story, it’s long and meandering with unanswered questions, however, I’m simplifying it here to the elements I found most significant, and which parallel the development of other calendars.

  1. Origins out of Myth: Romulus, the son of Mars, the Roman god of War/Vitality/Maleness, raised by wolves with his twin brother Remus, founded the city of Rome. They used a 10-month lunar calendar.
  2. Kingdom out of Legend: King Numa added the months of Ianudarius (January) and Februarius (February).
  3. Empire out of History: Pontifex Maximus Julius Caesar reformed the calendar to account for errors that had accumulated through misapplication of calendar rules.
  4. The dating system of AD and BC were implemented at different times.
  5. Pope Gregory XIII tweaks the leap year rule.

That’s where the Gregorian Calendar – a Roman and Roman Catholic timepiece.

What Else is There?

Lots as it turns out. Lunar calendars abound, and I hope to populate a database with names of the moons in as many languages as possible.

There are calendars, or components of calendars, that follow strict rules (leap year day every 4 years), others that follow observed phenomena (crescent moon, sunrise). Some follow the moon, some the sun, some both, some neither. Some periods were named like months and weekdays, others numbered like years. But not all people named and numbered things in the same way.

Hijra, the Islamic Calendar, follows 12 lunar months per calendar year without exception. This calendar does not align itself with the solar year. It begins 11 days earlier on the Gregorian calendar every new year.

Hebrew, Chinese, Hindu, Buddhist, and plenty of others are solilunar – they observe the cycles of the moon, and tie them to the solar year – 12 or 13 lunar months per year.

the Gregorian, Julian, Coptic/Ethiopean, Persian, Baha’i, Zoroastrian calendars, among others, divide up the solar year without the lunar month.

the Pawukon Indonesia or the long count of the Maya are tied to neither the moon nor the sun, and run according to other cultural norms.

There are fictitious calendars, reformed version of existing calendars, proposed replacements of existing calendars, and speculative calendars (martian calendar). How can such a diversity of ways of framing the day ever come to a consensus?

It can’t.


I’d settled on the 13-month calendar model as the basis for the one I was making. And I just kept finding new ways it could be used.

I drew it late one night in 2005, and have spent the last decade trying to figure out what the drawing was about.

I set up this blog in 2006 as a place to keep track of the information I was gathering – from library books, online articles, blogs, websites, etc.

I launched the calendar on Dec 21 2012, and here we are. And in case you were wondering, here is the part of the calendar that I drew in 2005 that I’m still figuring out.