On Time

I’ve ranted before about the fact that military time just makes so much more sense. Restarting the counter at 12 doesn’t make sense.

I started this thinking it was a really sensible critique of our horribly-broken system of time, but upon re-reading it, I’m starting to think that it may instead be a disturbing look into how my mind functions.

Aside from our broken 12-hours system, here are some more things that bother me about time:

  • Time is continuous. It does not shift forward an hour or backwards an hour based on daylight.
  • As someone developing code that uses timestamps and is used across many time zones, time zones are a disaster. If I wake up at “4pm” and eat lunch at “1am,” who cares? There is no need for us to shift our numbering to match that of others. UTC works great here, as it’s the standard from which timezones are calculated. I’m going to wake up at 12:30 UTC to get ready for work. Like everyone else on the East Coast, I have to start my day at 2pm. The argument about cross-continental telephone calls is nonsensical. Instead of thinking, “It’s midnight there, I shouldn’t call!” I should think, “It’s 9pm! They go to bed at 6pm over there, so my call wouldn’t be appreciated!” It’s actually the same calculation.
  • 60 seconds in a minute. 60 minutes in an hour. 24 hours in a day. Why are the numbers so ridiculous? We could at least use metric time, with consistent intervals, e.g., 100.
  • Why are seconds, minutes, and hours distinct counters? I once wrote a little script that would display time of day as a number, 0 (very start of the day) to 100 (very end of the day). As you wanted more specific time, you added decimals. As time was less important, you dropped digits. Significant figures — “50” is noon-ish, “50.0000” is exactly noon.
  • Worse than the 60/60/24 thing, there isn’t even a consistent number of days in a month. In fact, there aren’t even a consistent number of days in a year, thanks to leap years.

I think I need to get a 24-hour wristwatch and keep it in UTC. I’m used to making the conversion between real time and outdated 12-hour time, so calculating timezone offsets mentally wouldn’t be that much worse. But even this is outdated, since it still uses seconds, minutes, and hours.

Can we all get together and boycott Daylight Savings Time? The benefits are great, but in the mind of an engineer, it’s a crude hack put in just to accommodate certain special conditions. Time is constant, and daylight is cyclical. If the problem is that you’re sick of doing things in the dark, the fix isn’t to hack time, it’s to stop scheduling events in the dark.

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