My mother was very fond of poetry and other “intellectual” pursuits. In fact, she was a good deal smarter than I am, but she did not have the advantages that I have had. In a fair world, she would be Professor Emeritus of Latin at Harvard. Instead, she’s just dead. But being smart doesn’t make you perfect. For example, she could always remember the number of days in the month by using the following rhyme from The Real Mother Goose Treasury (I think):
Thirty days hath September,
April, June and November;
February has twenty eight alone
All the rest have thirty-one
Except in Leap Year, that’s the time
When February’s Days are twenty-nine
With all due respect to my mother (which is substantial), this poem really sucks. It has never been of any use to me. In fact, when I started to write this article, I titled it, “Thirty Days Hath November.” So there you are. It could just as easily be:
Thirty days hath November,
April, June and September;
And the last four lines? Are they awkward or what? This is poetry even Shakespeare would be embarrassed by, and regular readers will know what high esteem I hold that bard in.
There have been other important women in my life, one of the most (if not the most) being the Grande Dame of NASA at Sonoma State University (yes, I know, she could have done better), Lynn Cominsky. I worked for Dr. Cominsky for two years, I published a paper with her (the paper I am proudest of except for my primary Master’s Degree paper which is often cited—without attribution!—and generally misunderstood), and she, more than anyone else taught me what it was to be a scientist. She is an amazing woman. If she were evil, she would be Phyllis Schlafly. But so far as I can tell (just lunch, really), she has not turned to the dark side.
At this point in my life when I spend more time talking to Latin scholars than physicists, the most important way that Dr. Cominsky has improved my life is that she taught me how to remember how many days there are in a given month! She didn’t invent it, I assume. But I have shown it to very many people over the last twenty years and no one has known it. And now, I am going to show you.
Make two fists and put them together as in the photograph below:
All you have to do is count from the little-finger knuckle of either hand. The first knuckle is January, the space between the first and second knuckles is February, the second knuckle is March, and so on. This is printed on the photo above. The knuckles (that are higher than the inter-knuckle space) are all the 31-day months. The inter-knuckles are the 30-day months, except for February. February (the month in which I was born) is, of course, totally bizarre. Although I’m sure you know it in general, it is 28 days unless the year is divisible by 4. Except when it is also divisible by 100. Unless it is also divisible by 400. But don’t worry about that! You’ll be alerted by the news. The thing is that the months are up-down-up-down-up-down-up and then they repeat.
If you can’t remember that February is a mess, you probably don’t visit this website! As for Dr. Cominsky, she’s pretty weird herself.