The words of the song are true – “Life’s a game of give and take”. And today, February 29, is the day we take back to make the Earth’s journeys around the sun fit in properly with the 365-day year of the Gregorian calendar.
Now this isn’t an argument against striving for perfection, and it’s not an excuse for slackness, but it helps if we think of life’s “rules” as somewhat loose fitting. It can give us a creative edge. I’m writing this as I enjoy some food with my colleague Gerald Haigh (@geraldhaigh1) in King’s Cross before going on to the House of Commons for a presentation of Microsoft’s latest technology offerings for schools.
So it’s a good time to reflect with another laid-back veteran about life and time and the need to keep a wide perspective. If our lives get a little chaotic people think that we might have “gone off the rails”. I don’t want to worry you, but there are no rails.
In the days before desktop publishing and the digital revolution, production journalists (subeditors) used to have to count or estimate the number of words in a story to work out the space it would occupy on a page. It was called “casting off”.
A ‘standard’ typesize, for example, would give us roughly 30 words to an inch for a ‘regular’ column size on a page. Pages and whole editions were based on these sorts of estimates.
Working in centimetres? Just convert lengths by the assumption that an inch is 2.5 centimetres. If ever the words break the boundaries you just make the appropriate deletions.
So whole business enterprises, including highly successful ones, can be based on estimates? Yes.
So back to the give and take. Our Gregorian calendar, which was given to us by Pope Gregory XIII, meanns that today, February 29, 2012, is the day we snatch back to take up the slack of our estimated calendar. Our planet, Earth, takes approximately 365.242199 days (a tropical year) to complete one orbit of the Sun. So the 365-day calendar constructed all those years ago is out by six hours, so that if we didn’t slot in an extra day, February 29, every four years, we’d seen go wrong – over 50 years that would be 12 days.
Yes, it’s good to be correct, tidy and precise, but hey, we’re human and we have to keep things in perspective. Get the big ideas right and you can always nip and tuck at the edges for a comfy fit.