Sunday, November 17, 2013

How many days has a 70 year old Greek lived? Calculating calendars and other oddities.

Last week I read a short blog post about an ancient Greek who was trying to figure out how many days a 70 year old man would have lived. In the post the author points out that for us this is a fairly straight forward calculation.

70 * 365 + (70/4) = 25,567 +/- 1 days

That is 70 years times 365 days plus approximately 17 leap days (the actual number of leap days depends on the year and date of your birth). But for the Greeks the number of days was entirely different. The Greeks had approximately 30 days in a month, with 12 months per year with an extra leap month added every two or three years depending on how they chose to do their counting. If we assume that a leap month was added every other year (i.e. every other year has 13 months) we get:

(70 * 12 + 70/2) * 30 = 26,250 +/- 30 days

Thus for a 70 year old ancient Greek (ancient in many ways) he would have lived for 26,250 days or about 71 years and 10 months (plus or minus a month depending on when he was born). So a 70 year old Greek was actually almost 72 years old by our reckoning.

But now it gets more complicated.

Here I figured a leap month added every other year, but in reality it would have been every three years instead. You see the way the ancient Greeks did their calender was they used the new moon to mark the first day of a month and the first month was always began on the first new moon after the summer solstice. The only problem is that the summer solstice happens every 365 days (~365.24 days really) but twelve lunar cycles take approximately 354 days.

Thus if the months are determined by the lunar cycles but the years are set by the sun then every year the months will drift approximately 11 days with respect to the start of the year, every year. Hence they Greeks in order to keep the same month as the first month of the year would add an extra month (of 30 days) every two or three years. It works out better if we do it every three years (i.e. they had to do less fudging of the dates), so if we now assume a leap month is added every three years and no every other year let us figure out how many days a 70 year old man would live.

(70 * 12 + 70/3) * 30 = 25,890 +/- 30 days

This is getting closer to our original count using our system of 365 days plus a leap day every 4-ish years. There is only a 323 day difference so our 70 year old Greek went from being almost 72 to being not quite 71 simply by changing how we factor in leap months.

But wait there's more! You may recall that I mentioned that for the Greeks a month begins when they see the new moon. Up until now I have assumed that this happens every 30 days, but this is not quite true. You see it takes the moon about 29.5 days to return to its relative position from our point of view. Which means that the Greeks would have measured a month to be either 29 or 30 days depending on how they determined when the new moon appeared. Over all it should average out to about 29.5 days per month (or about 354 days per lunar year). So let us go back and recalculate how many days a 70 year old Greek man would have lived.

(70 * 12 + 70/3) * 29.5 = 25,458 +/- 30 days

Wow! This turns out to be 108 days shorter than our 70 years! Thus by this reckoning a 70 year old Greek would not have quite been 70 years old according to our counting. And all of this depends on how the Greeks chose to set their calendar.

All this was of course complicated by the fact that the Greeks could choose to add a few random days here and there in order to get festivals or other special occasions to land on a certain day depending on what they decided. Plus this way of calendaring was not uniform among the Greeks themselves and neighboring kingdoms may choose their new years and other dates, such as leap months, differently. So in some cases you could walk 20 miles to a neighboring kingdom and when you cross the border your age changes! (And you thought crossing timezones was complicated.)

This is just one thing to keep in mind while reading ancient documents. Dates and things may be a little different than you would expect. It also makes it harder to calculate a date unless you are given some astronomical standard by which to calculate the date.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Stories from My Mission: "Just imagine how they would behave if you weren't a member of the church!"

In my last area of my mission I got to know a particular member family fairly well. They were one of the few very active families in the ward (yes! a ward! the only one I had in my entire mission) and we could rely on them to always be at church and not have to worry about them getting offended because someone looked at them cross eyed and never coming back to church.

One day I decided that we should pass by their house. We had not seen them at church on Sunday so I had a brief thought to pass by and see how they were doing. At the time I thought I was just being lazy and we didn't have anything better to do so I thought, "Well we'll just go stop by to kill some time." Little did I know that our visit would help the family. When we got to their house we could tell that not everything was familial love and peace at home. There was yelling and much commotion. I wondered if we should just walk on by without stopping but we did stop and stood at the gate and clapped. No one immediately answered our call but soon some of the younger children (early teens to pre-teen) came out of the house. Let's just say that there were some uncharitable words exchanged in front of us quickly followed by some physical violence, immediately followed by extended yelling.

The children went back into the house, and we could hear some more commotion coming from the house including general punishments being given out by the mother. At this point one of the older children came out and with a rather embarrassed look on her face asked what we wanted. I told her that we were just stopping by to see how they were doing. She gave me an icy glare that said, "Can't you tell? What are you deaf and dumb (not mute)?" Trying to suppress a smile I asked with a slight hint of sarcasm in my voice if there were a more convenient time for us to stop by. Again she gave me an icy glare through her embarrassment and told us that we could stop by later that evening. I told her that we would and then said goodbye.

Later that evening we did return to a much more peaceful house and a few less embarrassed and icy glares. We sat down with the mother and her two oldest daughters (one of whom was the one who tried to burn me away with her icy glare). The mother was slightly embarrassed that we had to witness the "dysfunction" of her family. She told us that she tried so hard to make her children behave but they never seemed to listen to her. At this point I asked about their absence from church on Sunday and she said that it had rained very hard the day before (it had) and the roads were extremely muddy (they were) and they had overslept (church is at 9 am) so they didn't really have the motivation to get to church.

I also asked if they were having family scripture study and prayer. She said that they tried but the past two weeks they had been a little vago (lazy) about it. I asked about family home evening and again she said that they had not had it for two or three weeks and at this point one of the daughters stopped me and said, "And that is why we were fighting! We weren't doing any of those things!"

But her mother then said, "I try so hard to teach them to behave, and in the church we are taught to teach our children to behave but it seems like they never listen and they never learn! Don't you agree Elder? They are some of the worst behaved children at church! I thought that going to church and living the gospel would teach them to not fight and to behave but they can't learn anything! That is why we joined the church in the first place, but they can't behave! Don't you agree Elder!?! They just behave like savages!"

So here I was in a friendly predicament, on the one had I had to agree with the mother her kids were quite a rowdy bunch. On the other hand I had her two oldest daughters there (aged 21 and 18 I think) and I couldn't just readily agree with the mother that they were a bunch of savages with her daughters there with both of them looking like hungry wolves ready to pounce on me if I agreed with their mother's sentiment that they were a bunch of savages. So that is when I hit on a brilliant way out of this predicament.

I said, "If you think about how bad they behave now, just image how bad they would behave if you weren't a member of the church!"

The eldest daughter looked at me and laughed and said, "Ah! You are very intelligent Elder!"

I had successfully agreed with the mother while at the same time praising the children for being better than they could be. We all laughed and the mother commented about how it was true what I said. She said that they had let many of the things they normally do, such as family prayer and family home evening and because of that contention and animosity quickly entered their home.

The next Sunday they were all back at church, the kids were wiggly and noisy, but still reverent and they were all getting along and there was obvious love in their family. They were back into their routine of family prayer, scripture study and church attendance. The children weren't perfect but they were better than they could have been.

This is one of the experiences that taught me that the gospel does not make us better than other people, but it does make us better than ourselves.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Stories from My Mission: The Spirit Leads Me to People

I was in my first area of my mission in Bella Vista with my mission trainer, Elder Tenny, when I had my first experience with being lead by the spirit to find someone who needed to hear the gospel. This was not the first time that my companion and I were lead to find someone but this was the first time that the spirit worked through me and not my companion. I don't remember how long I had been on my mission but it was probably about 10 weeks into my mission.

We were having a hard time finding people to talk to and a number of appointments "fadged" us. ("fadge" is a Spanish speaking American missionary slag word that comes from the Spanish word "fallar", which means "to fail" or "to let somebody down". In Argentina the double l (ll) is pronounced with a strong "-sh" sound so it would sound like "fashar" and when someone didn't keep an appointment that we made we would say "nos falló". That word, "falló", got corrupted by American missionaries and we would say "Someone 'falled' us" which, if you remember the double l has a "-sh" sound so it would sound like "fash-ed" or "fadged".)  If I remember correctly we had something like 20 appointments fadge in one week, so we were feeling a little down.

One morning I was thinking and praying about what to do and I looked over at a big map of Bella Vista we had on the wall of our apartment and I started thinking about where we could go to find people. While looking at the map I had a strong impression that there was a specific place on the map where we should try tracting. I remember two streets standing out in my mind and where they crossed I felt that we should go even though I had never been there nor even walked down either street. I was unsure if I really had the impression so in my mind I rephrased my question and I again felt that we should focus on a specific corner where the two roads crossed. I looked at the map and considered that specific block where I had the impression that we should go and in my mind I asked if we should focus on that entire block or on the two streets and where they crossed.

The answer came back that it was that block specifically but that one corner of it was the place that we should go. To make sure I again asked in my mind if that was the place where we should go and I even asked about the surrounding area and about the rest of the block. The spirit again impressed on me the importance of those two specific streets and where they crossed and it even indicated the exact spot on the block where we should go. By this time I was convinced that that is where we were supposed to go so I pulled out my small copy of the city map that I kept in my pocket and noted the place and then continued getting ready for the day.

We had one person that we wanted to try and visit that morning so we went there first, but they were not home. We tried clapping at a few houses but no one was home. At this point Elder Tenny looked at me and asked it I had any ideas. I had not told him about the impression I had that morning but I pulled out my map and recalled where the spirit had indicated. I again considered the location and wondered if we should focus on the entire block or just on the one corner. Again the spirit indicated that we should go to the corner it had indicated before.

I pointed out the location on the map to Elder Tenny and said that we should go there. I was still mostly unfamiliar with the area so I really didn't know the best route to get from where we were to where we needed to go. When I pointed to the spot on the map Elder Tenny said "OK" and headed out. I think by that time he was discouraged enough that when his junior companion pointed out a seemingly random location on the map he didn't ask any questions. I just told him that we should go to that specific city block (it turned out to be a bit of a walk, about 1 km from where we were).

After walking for a while we came to the block that I had indicated to Elder Tenny. He pointed it out but I realized that we were at the wrong corner of the block, we still needed to go one street over to the next corner. Because I still wanted to see if the impression I had was correct I said we could try starting at the nearest corner of the block even though the spirit had indicated to me that we should go to the next corner. We clapped at the house on the corner but no one answered. Elder Tenny was still rather discouraged and probably would have given up on the seemingly random suggestions from his junior companion. After no one answered our clap I pulled out my map again and again the spirit confirmed that we were at the correct block but the wrong corner.

I told Elder Tenny that we needed to go to the next corner and he acquiesced without a comment and we walked down to the other corner. At the corner I again asked in my mind if this is where we were supposed to be. Again the spirit indicated the same as it had done before. We went over to the first house and clapped. A young man came out and we talked for a while and explained who we were. He seemed interested in our message so he agreed to have us come back. At the second house a middle aged man answered and again we talked for a while and he agreed to listen to us so we set another appointment. At the third house a women with a few small children answered. We talked for a while and she told us that she would like to talk to us, but that she would be at her parents house for the next few days in a place called barrio EPAM. Because it was a place where we would go about once a week we agreed to stop by.

The next house there was a man who came to the door. We talked briefly and he agreed that we could come back later and talk to him. We had spent an entire week with little success and in less than an hour we had met, talked to and set appointments with four new people all in a row. After the fourth house there were no more houses on that side of the street. My companion newly energized by our string of "good luck" decided that we needed to cross the street and keep going. I knew that it was pointless because the spirit had instructed me to only go that one corner and after the fourth house it told me that we were done. We tried clapping a few more houses in the area but no one wanted to talk to us.

Of the four people that we found that day we never were able to find two of them after that. The young mother we talked to was one of the people we never saw again, but we did pass by her parent's house a few days later and talked to them. They listened to a few discussions but were never very interested. The only member of their family who would talk to us was their teenage daughter, who was one of the most intelligent people I ever met in the area. More than anyone else she was willing to read and study the Book of Mormon. She had a sharp mind and over the next few months with my new companion Elder Bullock we had some of the most intellectually stimulating conversations that I ever had on my mission.

When some of the members found out that we were teaching her they were very surprised because she was known as the "popular, but dumb" girl in their high school (think ditzy cheerleader). They had no idea that she was actually very smart. She managed to read through almost the entire Book of Mormon in a few months. We taught her for a few months until one day we passed by her house and her parents informed us that she had run away to Buenos Aires with her boyfriend. She had not even bothered to stay and finish high school. I never found out what happened to her, but I know that through a unique chain of events that started with a prompting to go to a specific street corner we were supposed to meet her and teach her about the gospel and about the Church.

I don't know if any thing ever came of the other people that we talked to that day, but I do know that I was lead very specifically to that location. I would use the feelings and promptings that I had that day as a reference throughout my mission when ever I was prompted to find people. It was something that happened many times on my mission, and that is where I first learned to listen to those promptings.