Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Captain’s Log, Stardate 11312.31

Well, let’s see now. If Star Trek is any kind of guide on how we shall measure time in the distant future, thus  roughly from the next century onward, it appears that a kind of chaos of dates will dominate and every household will have to accumulate, at the beginning of each year, a quite diverse set of calendars. A quite amazing welter of mostly opaque information on Star Trek dating awaits the avid fan. I’m something even less than a rank amateur. Therefore, to mark this last day of 2013, I will stick to the dating convention that began with Star Trek, The Next Generation—a phrase that experts abbreviate as TNG.

The dating in that series was based on a five-digit number and a single-digit decimal. Suppose the stardate was 42437.5. In that case the digits have this meaning:

4          [Twenty]-fourth century
2          Star Trek TNG Season 2
4          { A three-digit number ranging from
3          { 000 to 999, advancing in
7          { uneven intervals through the season.
.
5          Time of day expressed as a decimal fraction. 0.5 is noon, thus half of a day.

The first stardate used in this format was 41153.7 for the first two episodes of TNG. The last was 47988—without a decimal point, therefore suggesting midnight of the release day. The stardate I’ve parsed out above is the date of the sixth episode of Season 2, “The Schizoid Man,” which so happens to feature Darnay’s disease (link).

Needless to say, there is no way to march from a stardate to an actual year except by searching the dialogue in each episode. In some of them actual dates using our own calendar—and presumably still in use then—are mentioned. And for the avid fan, this produces hours, days, even years of useful occupation.

The Powers that Be behind Star Trek’s creation, not least Gene Roddenberry, wished to avoid repeating actual years some 200-plus years in the future. People might then be tempted to speculate if such and such a technology could or could not as yet have been invented.

My own rationalizing attempt in that title is to bow respectfully in the direction of obfuscation. Therefore I use 1 for the [twenty]-first century, two digits for year, two for the month, and two digits beyond the decimal to indicate a day. That’s good enough for dates up to the twenty-ninths century into the future until a new convention must be introduced. And no pesky annotations like Anno Domini or Current Era need clutter up the pristine screen.

Happy New Year!

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