The Computus Engine

Exploring Digital Horology

2008 – present


WebPublic Speaking
The Computus Engine

The Project

I've long had a fascination with timelines. It seems to me there should exist, a dynamic, interactive timeline of history. Everything from the Big Bang to the present day. Something akin to a Google Earth for Time.

For the longest time I assumed someone else would build it. I even spoke to Google engineers about it, but no-one seemed to be working on it. By 02008 I gave up waiting and set about educating myself. This site was my attempt to keep a journal of that process.

What I worked on

The research for this project spanned a raft of disciplines. The theme of time and timekeeping is threaded through Astronomy, Geology, (Big) History, Politics and Religion. In fact, every subject you can think of. The huge scope is actually part of the appeal. You're rarely siloed to a single discipline.

Development included a new UI Component library for Flash. An isochronous Timekeeper and a dynamic, interactive timeline for History Hack Day.

What I learned

You don't know what you don't know. It turns out there's a very good reason why no-one had done this. It requires a vast amount of specialised knowledge. The road to enlightenment is strewn with gotchas, special cases and temporal arcana. Yet, I've enjoyed the learning process. Many of my personal epiphanies were discovered decades earlier. But this project has stretched and pushed me into many interesting places .

In the intervening period other projects have aimed to solve a similar problem. The closest of these is the Big History Project. It's a great resource and well worth your time. The most innovative technical project has been the Extended DateTime Format (EDTF). Created by the Library of Congress, this has since become an extension to ISO8601.

As for the future of The Computus Engine, I continue to tinker with it. I have a bunch of sketchbooks full of ideas, so it's likely I'll reboot the project at some point. There's still plenty to learn.