Trope-a-Day: Microts

Microts: Ah, the wonders of time measurement.

The Eldrae have a number of time measurement systems (well, when you’re an interstellar polity, you more or less have to, since local days and years vary all over the place and it’s handy if your time units bear some resemblance to what nature is doing). But there are two systems that are used more or less everywhere, so I’ll talk about those a little.

The first, “weavetime”, is the one that technical systems use internally, and as the basis for all the other systems, because it defines the base unit, the “pulse”. (It’s not actually the fundamental unit, I suppose, because it’s not the Planck time, nor is it a nice clean number in terms of things atomic clocks, etc., actually measure, but it’s the traditional “second”, if you will. It’s actually based on the length of a nominal resting heartbeat as a multiple of the Planck time – roughly 3/4 of an Earth second, in their terms.) And for scientific and technical purposes, weavetime just agglomerates pulses together, producing kilopulses (about a third of a local hour; 21.6 minutes), megapulses (24 local days; 26 of ours), gigapulses (124 of their years, 122.5 of ours), etc.

Weavetime is defined by consensus agreement of baseline clocks located aboard each and every stargate in the plexus, which together produces the “empire time reference frame”, a nice preferred standard by which everyone can agree what the time is despite all the wormhole FTLing. It also includes the standards for the frame-correction algorithms used to synchronize lighthugger starships and other objects moving at inconveniently relativity-invoking speeds up by defining the difference between the absolute pulse (“empire time”) and the local pulse (“wall-clock time”).

Said lighthugger starships, incidentally, generally make their own lives simpler by using “mission elapsed time” internally, thus avoiding having to use a pulse too different in length from everyone else’s, and go back on the local timebase when they arrive.

But weavetime is kind of inconvenient for day to day use – the nearest “day-length” unit, quite apart from not matching any planet anywhere, is the 144-kilopulse unit at 52 Earth hours, which is not that useful.

So for regular living, people use Imperial Standard Time, which in the finest traditions of hegemonists everywhere is essentially the same as planetary time for the eldrae homeworld, only using the precisely calculated weavetime pulse. It’s local time for there, and for everywhere whose day length is too short (e.g., space stations, where the local day can be around an hour), or too long (tide-locked worlds, where the local day can be around a year), or too weird (e.g., moons of gas giants, where argh conventional calendar does not work), to have a practical local calendar; it’s also used universally as the commercial calendar to work out public holidays, the financial year, etc., etc.

IST uses a local day that’s approximately 26 Earth hours long; that time unit is referred to as one “cycle”. It divides it in half precisely into day and night – which works well for their world, which lacks any axial-tilt-equivalent due to not being a conventional planet and so has no day-length variation – and then divides the day into twelve “hours” (~ 65 Earth minutes) and the night into six “watches”; each of these are individually named, although in writing them briefly it’s acceptable to number them instead.

The name actually doesn’t refer to the whole period, but rather to the moment the period centers around, so while an hour is divided into 72 minutes (each ~ 54 seconds), these are counted as 36 “rising” minutes before the named moment, and 36 “falling” minutes after it. Watches are, obviously, divided into 144 minutes, 72 before and 72 afterward.  And each minute contains 72 pulses.

The calendar divides the homeworld’s year (333.3 local cycles in length), into 333 cycles with an additional intercalary cycle (“Calibration”) added every third year (and omitted every thirtieth) to fix the lag, in turn divided into 37 weeks of nine cycles each, which pleasingly allows the weeks to fit evenly into the year and make each calendar date the same day of the week. It’s also divided into months (whose length is taken from the period of the more prominent of the planet’s moons, but which no longer follow its phases, since they’re now synchronized with the years) each 27 days long. This, obviously, doesn’t exactly fit into the length of the year, so there are nine intercalary cycles added at various points to make up the slack.

For New Year and New Readers

For readers who are relatively new to the Eldraeverse and didn’t catch it first time around, have a little New Year’s fic:

The Darkest Night

(For those who are curious about such things, yes, the Harmonious Calendar very carefully sets the new year equal to the winter solstice. Except it’s not actually a solstice, because *there*, axial tilt isn’t the Reason for the Season.)

Fantastic Measurement Systems: Some Notes

Copied and pasted from the G+ comment thread on this trope-a-day, as I deem it worth repeating for other interested parties:

Jasper Janssen:

I assume there is lots of vocal arguing about why don’t you simply adopt a straight duodecimal system, get with the program man, it isn’t 5145 any more!

Actually… no, not really.

This all ties back to one of the fundamental psychological differences between Homo sapiens and Eldrae alathis . Namely, that our brains are literally hard-wired to generate error signals when we see other human-shaped things disagreeing with us. We’re programmed right down at the meat level to tell other people that They’re Doing It Wrong, or to suffer mental stress when other people Tell Us That We’re Doing It Wrong.

The eldrae don’t have that innately, and while they have a scientific understanding that some minds can be wired that way, they don’t really grok the urge.

The powers-of-12 system was invented by the Fellowship of Natural Philosophy (the largest and oldest of the scientific branches) because it was useful for the sort of things they do. But it never occurred to them that they ought to go out and tell everyone else that they were doing it wrong. Sure, they published it for anyone who wanted to use it to use, but that’s about as far as it went.

And even if they had , the Edifacient Sodality of Bakers and Pastrywrights (say), would just have come back to them with, “Okay, so, show me how this will lead to better pie?” As far as they’re concerned, they’ve got a perfectly cromulent system of units already, optimized over literally hundreds if not thousands of years for the purpose of helping them turn assorted ingredients into delicious pastry. They’re smart, rational people; they’ll listen to practical arguments for adopting it, but they don’t feel any urge to change just for the sake of it, because they’re Doing It Wrong, or because there’s a One Right Way to do it, and were you to make that argument to them, they’d still be waiting for your point after you were done.

(As a not unrelated psychological quirk, they find the parallel existence of multiple ways of doing things natural in a way that we don’t. Even the most rabid individualist running on human hardware has to silence or otherwise deal with that little nagging inner voice that wants to conform with the group. We define ourselves, as humans, largely by reference to other people.

They… really don’t. The dominant inner voices an eldrae is listening to concern themselves with devotion to ideals – which they call estxijir – and to their brilliant, shining, unattainably perfect Platonic ideal of themselves – and that one’s valxijir. Notions, on the other hand, like conformity or relative status games don’t form part of their psychology, and even social identity per se barely gets a look in. Those are concepts both alien and, for that matter, deeply creepifying.

All of which alien minds are alien foo is background to say that the competitive-standards, This Is The Way Of Progress, All Right-Thinking People silent arguments for, say, metrication bounce right off people who see measurement systems only as tools to be used to help them immanentize their awesome, when relevant and best for the task at hand, and not as signifiers of anything at all.)

So, practical arguments (“Makes better pastry! For Great Excellence!”) work. (And, indeed, there are branches which advocate various systems for various things on those grounds.)

Coordination / specific consistency arguments work – everyone understands why the Spaceflight Initiative declares that everyone contracted onto one of their projects will compute trajectories, etc., in the powers-of-12 system and otherwise use Lorith-Llyn Engineering Units.

And some de facto standards exist – when Llyn Standard Manufacturing, ICC, declares that they’re calibrating all their components in Lorith-Llyn Engineering Units, the majority follows suit because it’s just common sense to be compatible with the 800-pound gorilla in the field.

But absent something like that, no traction is there to be had.

Jasper Janssen:

I did say duodecimal, not decimal — nothing wrong with factors of twelve per se. What bothers me about the outlined system is the spurious factor of 2 you introduce by using a 24 there. That makes calculations needlessly difficult when they have to cross that boundary, which is particularly annoying if you have a (monetary) system that goes from macro to micro with all nice and regular duodecimal factors and that one factor of 2 in there.

And conceptually, it also makes it not a power of twelve system, which itches my brain.

Oh, just the money , right. I thought you were talking about weights and measures systems in general (which, aside from the strict powers-of-12 system used for scientific purposes, includes all manner of irregular factors around the same base units).

Well, that started out that way for much the same reason that many non-decimal currencies here did – when setting up the esteyn way, way, way, way, way back in history, it turned out that 1/144th of it was an inconveniently large penny-equivalent unit. 1/288th, on the other hand, was just right , and in practice, since most people just had to worry about the selenis being 1/24th of a lumenis most of the time (an esteyn being a big chunk’o’money), that’s why the difference is where it is.

(There’s also a factor of 6 further up – 6 esteyn = 1 arien – but an arien is almost purely money-of-account used under certain specialized circumstances, like guineas, so.)

Why didn’t they duodecimalize it later?  Well, three reasons:

(a) The size factor of the penny-equivalent unit still applied. Es. 1/144 was too large. Es 1/1728 was way too small. And just as in the weights-and-measures systems that are focused on non-scientific functions, people want to use units scaled to be optimal for their common usage.

It’s not optimal from the point of view of centralizing standardization, etc., or mathematical purism, but – since the people who run the monetary system are the people who have money-focused estxijir and they think it’s optimal from the point of view of how people actually use their cashy money – fitness for purpose kicks both of those in the face and does it its way;

(b) I’m actually pretty sure the “easy calculation” aspect never came up in their context, simply because their society – for a variety of reasons too lengthy to go into in this comment: genetic, demographic, economic, religious – achieved widespread literacy and numeracy both somewhere around the early Bronze Age – so by the time people might have been mooting the idea of duodecimalization, it simply wouldn’t have occurred to anyone that handling these irregular factors wasn’t already about as don’t-consciously-think-about-it mathematically trivial as it could get;

and (c), it being a free society and all, anyone who found it useful (some accountants, the Guild of Numbers, difference engine Stannic cogitator programmers, etc.) was perfectly at liberty to write currency amounts as a single number of esteyn with a duodecimal point in it if they wanted to. And thus, they did.

And as per (b) above, people generally considered it intuitively obvious that something priced as four-and-ten cost Es. 0.46.

Trope-a-Day: Fantastic Measurement System

Fantastic Measurement System: Well, yes.  Both for money (the esteyn, to match base-12 Imperial mathematics, uses the 288-system: 12 selenis to the lumenis, 24 lumenis to the esteyn, and also goes down so far as to include special units for micropayments and up so far as to include units convenient for major bank transfers – particularly important since there’s not a standardized international clearing mechanism, making correspondent banks, letters of credit and currency transfers matters of some importance);

And for everything else.  The time measurement system has already been mentioned (see Alternative Calendar), but of course, there’s also the Imperial System (sic) of general measurement, notable for basing its core units on the Planck units, and permitting them to be scaled up and down using the equivalent of SI prefixes, or their base-12 equivalents, for scientific purposes, but also including traditional units (after the fashion of the traditional US or Imperial systems) based off the same core units for convenience in non-scientific situations, including a variety of craft- or task-based units which bake sensible basic assumptions, safety margins, etc. right into the measurement system.

If this sounds complicated, it is; their point of view on that amounts to, essentially, “cope”.