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An ending, a beginning

A French republican calendar date inscribed over the entrance to a barn in France (Mury), near Geneva. Inscription reads: L AN 2 DE LA REPUBLIQUE FR. (Year 2 of the French Republic). 1793 or 1794.

Of all the human constructs that shape our ways of thinking, chief among them has to be our collective understanding of time. After all, dates, months, and years do not exist objectively and separately from human experience. Birds and insects are not arranging to meet at 9pm on Saturday the 22nd.

For anyone who spent any time in formal education in the western world and then has paid taxes, the question of “when does the year start?” might have at least three answers. We might answer with the calendar year (January), the financial year (April), or the academic year (September).

Elsewhere, more than 20% of the world celebrate Chinese New Year, which depending on the moon, happens in either January or February each year. Jews celebrate Rosh Hashanah, their New Year, usually sometime in September. Endings and beginnings are happening all of the time for different people and in different places.


Using the calendar that I, and everyone else I know, use it’s currently the 15th of November 2021. This is the Gregorian calendar and, stepping back from it a moment makes it all sound a bit odd. For instance, months have different lengths, and then there’s the concept of ‘leap years’… which are worked out thus:

Every year that is exactly divisible by four is a leap year, except for years that are exactly divisible by 100, but these centurial years are leap years if they are exactly divisible by 400. For example, the years 1700, 1800, and 1900 are not leap years, but the years 1600 and 2000 are.

United States Naval Observatory

As Wikipedia’s list of calendars shows, there is a plethora of different ways of organising time — and for different reasons.

I’ve discussed many times in my presentations that literacy is a form of power. It’s a way of legitimising certain practices, attitudes, and approaches to the world. The same could be said of calendars, which impose an official way of looking at time. This is why the French Republican calendar, the Soviet calendar, and the Era Fascista calendar exist; they offer a revolutionary break with the past, represented by a rending of time itself.


This is all interesting in and of itself, and I could start getting into the decimalisation of days and weeks, but my main reason for mentioning it is somewhat more prosaic. Ever since discovering the French Republican calendar, I’ve been fascinated by the way that months were named after the weather in Paris at that time of the year.

The days of the French Revolution and Republic saw many efforts to sweep away various trappings of the Ancien Régime (the old feudal monarchy); some of these were more successful than others. The new Republican government sought to institute, among other reforms, a new social and legal system, a new system of weights and measures (which became the metric system), and a new calendar. Amid nostalgia for the ancient Roman Republic, the theories of the Enlightenment were at their peak, and the devisers of the new systems looked to nature for their inspiration. Natural constants, multiples of ten, and Latin as well as Ancient Greek derivations formed the fundamental blocks from which the new systems were built.

[…]

The Republican calendar year began the day the autumnal equinox occurred in Paris, and had twelve months of 30 days each, which were given new names based on nature, principally having to do with the prevailing weather in and around Paris and sometimes evoking the Medieval Labors of the Months. The extra five or six days in the year were not given a month designation, but considered Sansculottides or Complementary Days.

Here is the list of months of the French Republican calendar:

Autumn

– Vendémiaire (from French vendange, derived from Latin vindemia, “vintage”), starting 22, 23, or 24 September
– Brumaire (from French brume, “mist”), starting 22, 23, or 24 October
– Frimaire (From French frimas, “frost”), starting 21, 22, or 23 November

Winter
– Nivôse (from Latin nivosus, “snowy”), starting 21, 22, or 23 December
– Pluviôse (from French pluvieux, derived from Latin pluvius, “rainy”), starting 20, 21, or 22 January
– Ventôse (from French venteux, derived from Latin ventosus, “windy”), starting 19, 20, or 21 February

Spring
– Germinal (from French germination), starting 20 or 21 March
– Floréal (from French fleur, derived from Latin flos, “flower”), starting 20 or 21 April
– Prairial (from French prairie, “meadow”), starting 20 or 21 May

Summer
– Messidor (from Latin messis, “harvest”), starting 19 or 20 June
– Thermidor (from Greek thermon, “summer heat”), starting 19 or 20 July
– Fructidor (from Latin fructus, “fruit”), starting 18 or 19 August

We live about seven lines of latitude north of Paris, but the above is not too far off in terms of a description of the weather where we are. I guess that’s particularly true as climate change warms the planet, meaning that weather which would have been ‘normal’ slightly further south than us in 1792, becomes the ‘new normal’ here in 2021.

More than anyone else I know, the seasons have a great affect upon my energy levels and disposition towards the world. Sometimes I wish it weren’t so, but I am not a robot. I’ve learned to embrace it, giving myself a break and expecting great things of myself at other times of the year.

According to the French Republican calendar we’re almost at the end of Brumaire. I would like to say publicly that Brumaire can get very firmly into the sea. I am looking forward to Frimaire, and then Nivôse starts on (or around) my birthday. But the real action starts in in the month of Germinal, towards the end of March.

Coincidentally, Germinal is also the name of Émile Zola’s masterpiece, an “uncompromisingly harsh and realistic story of a coalminers’ strike in northern France in the 1860s”. It’s one of my favourite novels.

Vive la révolution!


Image CC BY-SA Divadwg

Weeknote 45/2021

This week I tried to do exactly five hours of paid work per day. Given that there are things I don’t get paid for (some meetings, emails, etc.) then this ends up being about six hours of “work” per day. That’s enough.

It was all going swimmingly until Friday lunchtime when I started feeling a bit rough so, instead of going for a run, I took some ibuprofen. Lo and behold, I’ve got my first cold for about three years. (It’s not Covid; I did a test.) Usually in these situations, not knowing what to do with myself, I try and push through it. That just makes things worse, so I’m sitting here just eating carbs and switching from one screen to another…

Laura and I have been working on digital strategy-related work for Julie’s Bicycle this week and on the Keep Badges Weird project for Participate. We’ve also recorded three podcast episodes: two for the Tao of WAO on remote working, and one for a new podcast from John and Calum of Code-Operative. My understanding is that it’s not an official co-op project, though. Other than that, we met with a funder, as a co-op for our weekly, and I attended an Open Recognition Working Group meeting and gave the team working on Bonfire (who I worked with on MoodleNet) some feedback.


Last Sunday, I was supposed to be facilitating my home town’s first Climate Café with the help of a neighbour. However, he got sick (again, not Covid) on Saturday and so we’ve had to postpone it. We’re getting into a funny time of year, as everyone gets into Christmas mode. This is particularly true if you’re working with US-based organisations as the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas is odd. By which I mean people’s minds are usually elsewhere.

The Netherlands has announced a partial lockdown this week, which has put my trip there next month in jeopardy. We’ll see how things go, but it would be a shame not only from a professional but a personal point of view, as my wife was going to join me over there afterwards for a weekend.


I haven’t mentioned COP26 here much, if at all. That’s because, sadly, I don’t really believe that politicians will deliver much of what they’ve promised. And they haven’t promised enough to keep us below 1.5 ºC of warming. We’re shafted, and if you need the potential impact brought home to you, check this out.

It’s also been Remembrance Day this week, with the main commemorations being on Sunday. I’m not a fan of the creeping authoritarianism and militarism in the UK so, while I absolutely thank soldiers for the sacrifices they have made, I’ve made a donation to the Stop The War Coalition instead of making the token gesture of wearing a poppy.


On Thought Shrapnel this week I published:


Next week, it’s more of the same. I need to figure out with one potential client how we can move forward, as they seem to only be able to procure from within the EU. I think everyone knows my thoughts on Brexit by now…


Image based on an original photo I took near my house

Weeknote 44/2021

Coffee with pumpkin latte art

This week, I’ve been spending most of my time catching up with things I missed with and for Julie’s Bicycle during half-term. Laura and I have spent some time starting on digital strategy work for them, and I find it really interesting how we start working from opposite premises. Laura, quite rightly, points out that we/she has done this kind of stuff before, so pulls out something relevant, and remixes it into something awesome. On the other hand, I tend to start from first principles, and then pull in relevant bits from things around the web (including my own work) where relevant.

The good thing is that we end up combining our work to make something better than the sum of its parts. That’s why being part of a co-op and having colleagues as a consultant is so great. Talking of the co-op, we’ve been approaching funders after inviting Joe Roberson to our co-op day last month. The idea is that we’d partner with current or future clients on funding bids to, you know, make the world a better place. It turns out that we’re probably going to have to update our articles of incorporation to include an asset lock. So I’ve been asking the CoTech network for help.

Other than that, our intern Anne has done a great job chopping up the recording of our Badge Summit session for Keep Badges Weird last week. We’ve put them on our (updated!) YouTube channel. Please like and subscribe, etc.

Most weeks, I try and catch up with someone and see how they’re doing. But I forget to write about it here. So this week, I had a virtual coffee with Pedram Parasmand. I worked with Ped as part of a Catalyst project last year and, not only his he a very talented individual, he’s great fun. Separately, I had a good old chat with Gavin Henrick who I worked with at Moodle, but knew beforehand. In fact, he was the reason I went to work on MoodleNet.

The only other thing to mention is that I tried to go to several working group calls, webinars, and even the ePIC conference. But life got in the way a bit. Specifically, organising a Climate Café for neighbours this weekend, as well as making sure our son was OK. He had both the Covid vaccine and flu jab on Wednesday and had a bit of a reaction to them. Although his temperature had come down by Friday afternoon, he still had two days off school.


Last week, I mentioned that I was counting down the working weeks until the end of the year. So, of course, a client got back to me to say that they’d been successful in their bid to bring me over to the Netherlands to speak at the Dutch National Libraries conference, week beginning 13th December. This is actually awesome, as I really enjoyed my last visit over there and it’s an interesting structure, with the three-day conference taking place in three different locations!

I think I might take the first week of January 2022 off, instead. The beginning of the year tends to be reasonably quiet on the consultancy front anyway…


Next week, it’s work for Julie’s Bicycle and Participate, and then probably starting to plan for the Dutch National Libraries conference. I might work in a coffee shop a couple of times, as I did on Friday for the first time in 18 months!


Image based on an original photo CC BY Jeff Djevdet

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