IT let loose on the New Year
- 25 January, 2009 22:00
New Year is a funny time – not least because it varies depending on your point of view. Far from being something scientific and technologically tangible, it’s a bit of a free-for-all.
If, in a Monty Pythonesque moment, you should ask “What have the Romans ever done for us?”, well, the reason our year begins on 1 January is down to Julius Caesar switching to the 365-day solar calendar. But as far as I can work out, it has no astronomical, agricultural, accounting, or any other a-word significance (or b-words, c-words … or any words for that matter). It’s an arbitrary choice. Late March (or late September for us in the Southern Hemisphere) is perhaps the most logical choice for the beginning of a new year, when spring begins, new crops are planted, the cricket season starts, etc.
In the Middle Ages, Christians actually changed New Year's Day to 25 December. A little later, they decided it should be 25 March, a holiday called the Annunciation. In the 16th century, common sense seemingly prevailed and Pope Gregory XIII returned it to 1 January.
Of course, other cultures and religions have a different take on when the beginning of the year should take place.
The Chinese base theirs on phases of the moon, beginning at their first full moon after the sun enters Aquarius – which, as I’m sure you know, puts it between 19 January and 21 February. The Iranian New Year, Nowruz, occurs at the vernal equinox (usually during March). Sikhs celebrate 13 April and Thais stretch it out from 13 to 15 April. The Rosh Hashanah holiday is often called the Jewish New Year and falls in late September. The ancient Celts had Samhain, a festival held around 1 November, the end of the harvest season, to mark the new cycle of the ‘Wheel of the Year’.
Basically, everyone’s at it, so why not the ICT world? If you like the idea, when should it be? If we were to have a day that marks the dawn of a new era, a new cycle, upgrade time, a rebirth in technology’s wheel of life, what could we go for?
The release date of the first freely programmable computer seemed like an anniversary worth celebrating. However, I can only nail down the Z1 (the earliest I know of) to a development period, 1936 to 1938, not an actual date. It's the same with the first electronic-digital computer, which appeared between 1939 and 1942.
How about celebrating the introduction of the first telephone? Whatever the claims of various parties, Alexander Graham Bell got his patent in first, on 14 February 1876. Unfortunately, Saint Valentine has beaten us to that spot on the calendar. The microchip offers us a distinct possibility. Texas Instruments filed the first patent for an integrated circuit (#3,138,743) on 6 February 1959 (beating the Fairchild Semiconductor Corporation by a few months). If that rings bell, think Waitangi Day.
The first programmer's reference manual for Fortran was released on 15 October 1956. But it’s just a book. I did toy with the idea of BASIC’s birthday, but I couldn’t find its first actual appearance beyond 1964.
Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs released the Apple I computer and started Apple Computers on April Fool's Day 1976, but I’m not sure that’s the right sort of date to commemorate. All of which leaves me with one possibility: 4 April 1975. As I’m sure many of you will know, this is the day Micro-soft, later Microsoft, was formed.
So, if we’re all in agreement, it’s only four months until we can do it all again!