Monday, August 27, 2012

Why there are 31 days in August

Many things that seem arbitrary or even sinister, are in-fact done for pragmatic reasons. Although there is a common rhyme for remembering which months have 30 and which months have 31 days, and the arrangement seems arbitrary, remembering which months have 30 and which have 31 days is easy if you know why.

Originally the calendar was much different. March was the first month of the year, which seems logical, having the year start in the Spring. However there had been some issues with the calendar and when the changes were decided, the new calendar was implemented the next month, which happened to be January. That is how December went from being the tenth month (the prefix "deci" implies ten) to the twelfth month. As the new calendar was set, March had 31 days followed by alternating 30 and 31 day months except for the last month of the year which only had 29 days.

It stayed that way until Augustus Caesar died. When Julius Cesar was killed, his successor, Augustus later had the month of his birth renamed in his honor, July. When Augustus died, the roman senate conferred a similar honor on him. However with only 30 days in August and 31 in July, it could be considered a smite to Augustus and his family. So August was lengthened by a day and that Day was taken from February which was already a short month. The months after August were adjusted as well to keep the 31/30 pattern.

Another artifact of history is the diagonal measurement of television screens. Previous readers of my writings will know that TV tubes started off as round bottles with the screen being imaged on the bottom of the bottle. The size of the screen was the inner diameter of the bottle. Later this became the diagonal measurement we have today.

Comparing diagonals does give the consumer a straightforward picture of the relative sizes of display screens when all displays have the same aspect ratio. Until now, it has either been 4:3 and since 2005, 16:9 for televisions. Vizio has recently introduced a Cinema-wide TV with a 21:9 aspect ratio. I read a review that attributed the new aspect ratio as something sinister on Vizio's part, trying to inflate the size of their screen. The article listed the square inches of the screen against the area of a 16:9 screen of the same diagonal.

The truth is, in a world where there multiple aspect ratios, the consumer will need two numbers to describe the screen size. This can be height and width or diagonal and aspect, which the company provides, actually it is what Vizio is promoting. Sometimes the press can go a bit overboard. Giving the diagonal was never intended to be misleading or confusing. As with the days of the month, it started as a way to simplify before other events made it more complex. The Cinema-wide set is a great innovation and will be great for the consumer.

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