An Epoch By Any Other Name…

In chronology, an epoch is an instant in time chosen as the origin of a particular era. For no reason other than that I am sleep-deprived from watching too many hours of consecutive episodes of The Twilight Zone, courtesy of the Sci-Fi Channel’s New Year’s marathon, here are four questionably notable epochs, chosen for no particular reason, and ending with one that actually references this date in history.

December, 1908: A fledgling teenaged painter fails the entrance examination to the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna for the second time. Had he passed, Der Teppichfresser (“the Carpet-Chewer”), as Adolph Hitler would later be called, would probably have been nothing more than a bohemian footnote to art history instead of the 20th century’s most infamous, anti-Semitic, possibly monorchic, mass murderer.

March 2, 1949: One day in 1943, General Electric engineer James Wright “crossed a diamond with a pearl” (with apologies to Steely Dan’s Kid Charlemagne) – he accidentally dropped boric acid into silicone oil and came upon a compound that bounced 25 percent higher than a normal rubber ball, and could copy any newspaper or comic book print that it touched. In 1949, unemployed advertising salesman Peter Hodgson attended a party at which the novel “nutty putty” was the chief form of entertainment. Apparently, the hitherto obtuse Mr. Hodgson had an epiphany; he borrowed $147 (adjusting for inflation, $1277.32 today) and bought the production rights for nutty putty. The now renamed “Silly Putty” debuted on this date and garnered more than $6 million in sales for the year, making it the fastest selling toy in history, and forever changing the perception of Mr. Hodgson among his former advertising colleagues.

August 18, 1962: John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison jettisoned Pete Best for Richard Starkey, a k a Ringo Starr, thus ending the run of the band The Quarrymen for a band whose name provided fewer Scrabble points, The Beatles.

August 7, 1964: H.J. RES 1145, a joint resolution of Congress known as the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, an act to “promote the maintenance of international peace and security in southeast Asia,” [and one that gave President Lyndon Johnson the authority to increase U.S. involvement in the war between North and South Vietnam] was, according to National Security Agency historian Robert J. Hanyok, based on “translation mistakes that went uncorrected, altered intercept times, and selective citation of intelligence… deliberately skewed by mid-level agency officers.”

January 1, 1970: According to Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie, a couple of long-haired hippie scientists at Bell Laboratories and the inventors of the Unix operating system – widely used in business, technology, education and home computing (Apple’s Mac OS X operating system is based on Unix) – midnight GMT on this date was the moment when time began – epoch time, that is. Unix measures time in the number of seconds – 86,400 of them per day, with the occasional second added for a leap year – that have elapsed from the Unix epoch, 00:00:00 UTC on January 1, 1970, to the date in question. For the sake of brevity, if not sanity, Unix epoch time is written in the ISO 8601 date format, which is 1970-01-01 T00:00:00Z.


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