One week out from Daylight Savings here in 49 out of 50 of these United States, time may be on your mind more than usual. Especially if you’re trying to coordinate with anyone in other countries, who likely have not thrown their Daylight Savings switch just yet. Or unthrown it, if they are in the Southern Hemisphere, I guess.
In short, it is a time in the world when everyone in it seems to be asking, “what time is it there?”
Let’s take a moment to get to the root of that question, with another: Why do we tell time based on location?
After all, we’re all here on the same planet here. Our gravity and our clocks all work the same way.
When you want to call me or meet up on Zoom, we don’t want to fuss with timezones or daylight savings or which hemisphere you’re in or I’m in or what time it is if we happen to change our locations between when we make our agreement and what time the thing is.
We just want to know when the thing is! What time do we show up?
It doesn’t matter that it’s breakfast for you and dinner for me and somebody else’s lunchtime. Just set the meeting already!
There is no good way to solve this right now. Go to doodle.ch or timeanddate.com or something?
Why not just say what time it is on Earth and be done with it. We’re not astronaughts and this shouldn’t be rocket science. Simple math outta do it.
So I got fed up and made some. It’s incredibly simple, though it looks a little scary at first. Stay with me here.
The answer is to use Base60, just like the ancient Sumerians did. This is how we ended up with hours and minutes and seconds in sixty part divisions in the first place. (Btw, I’ve played around with metric time too, but it isn’t pretty.) The Mayans used Base60 for their time calculations as well.
How does it work?
- 1 Second x 60 = 1 Minute
- 1 Minute x 60 = 1 Hour
Yeah, I bet you knew that part already. You probably learned about the big hand and the little hand in kindergarten.
But then after we finally get that all figured out, we go to the calendar?!? A calendar is an entirely different tool with entirely different rules that we use together with a clock to say where in time (based in location) something is going to be.
I say entirely different rules because they really are. The more you look into it, the freakier it all gets.
We use the cycles of the Sun and Moon to count up all time after Hours. Clocks are left to tick and tock to themselves, and that sound and lovely method of counting are completely disconnected from our calendars. Which is pretty weird, don’t you think?
Sure, it makes sense if you have Days that are governed by the relationship of the Earth to the Sun, and Weeks and Months that are based in lunar cycles. I mean, it makes sense if you don’t move around the globe much, and you don’t need to teleport your voice or your image across the planet often. And if you keep falling asleep and hitting the reset button, and the snooze button on the calendar occasionally.
These days, though, our Days are quite different. We do that kind of teleportation all the time, so to speak.
What time is it on Earth?
It’s all the times, all the time!
We divided our planet up to (roughly) 24 increments because there are 24 hours in our days. Then we spread this around the world as lines of longitude. Again, if you don’t hop across those lines of longitude routinely, or go visit Santa at the North Pole or hand with penguins at the South Pole, it (mostly) works fine.
Did for a few millenia, anyway.
Since the last turning of the millenium, not so much.
On Earth, which is (roughly) a sphere, is always daytime AND it is always nighttime. Half the planet is in shade, while the other half receives the ever-shining rays of the constant Sun. We spin around and call it night and day, but what does the spinning have to do with what time it is? I mean really?
There are 365 days in a year only because our planet spins around that many times getting to the same position relative to the Sun. But so what?
And while we’re at it, why are there 366 days in a year sometimes? (Yes, I do know why we have Leap Years, and how often we have them. I’m asking why we do calendars so stupidly that we need them.)
Every year should have the same number of hours, minutes, and seconds in it. The fact that it doesn’t is plum crazy! Historically, it wasn’t. And now it very much is. Crazy, I mean.
How many times the moon goes around us here on Earth never, ever line up with how many times we go around the Sun, either. We have all sorts of truly bizarre calendrical calculations to fudge that into some kind of sense. Yet there is no kind of sense to it, and there never will be.
Then there are the seasons, which have to do with how far over the Earth is wobbling. Unless you’re in the middle and the wobble doesn’t change things for you. But again, anytime it’s Summer (and Daylight Savings) somewhere, it’s Winter (and not Daylight Savings) somewhere else. And verse visa. I mean, vice versa. I mean, it’s all so unnecessarily confusing when everything is double-backwards that I don’t know how we’ve made it this far, honestly.
I’d say it’s high time for a change, wouldn’t you? An upgrade of the ages to the way we tell time.
What if we stopped trying to do the impossible, and just continued with everything you learned in Kindergarten?
Sixty Seconds to a Minute.
Sixty Minutes to an Hour.
Sixty Hours to a… um. Well, let’s not call it a “Day”.
We’re gonna need two new words.
Because I’m writing this, I’m going to propose them. If you have better words to propose, please add your contribution in the comments.
Okay, here goes:
- Span = 60 Hours, aka 2.5 days
- Spread = 60 Spans, aka 150 days or 5 months
Then we can have
Spread : Span : Hour : Minute : Second
And suddenly any event that you’re planning to meet someone at, virtually or otherwise, very likely fits inside that five-part identifier.
Because that’s nearly 25 years. All in the span of ##:##:##:##:##. That’s as many characters as your Social Security Number, but much better organized and easier to remember in five chunks.
Pretty nifty, huh?
As an extra bonus, it also now becomes possible to count the seconds/minutes/hours/etc between any two points in time. That’s really hard to do with the current calendar model. So how long does anything take? There’s always a question, usually confusion, and plenty of mistakes that we just shouldn’t put up with one minute longer.
This is cool and all, but exactly when is/was 00:00:00:00:00? That is, what is the zero hour on our new clock? And how does it intersect with the time we grew up with?
Yeah, this part is totally arbitrary, it’s true. But so is the current calendar where our zero hour is supposed to be at the birth of Jesus — who was apparently born in the year 4 B.C. because the math in our current system is so wonky! No kidding.
For our Earth Temporal Standard, I propose using the same zero as International Atomic Time which started on January 1st, 1977.
And that would make the time of this posting today 47:01:11:36:30
Yes, if you’re paying attention you’ll notice the odometer on our new chronometer spun around a few times between then and now. We’ll cover the other terms outside the scope of our human planning needs in another post soon. (Hint: it’s just more Base60 slots, with some super-useful twists as we calculate back in time)