Time Sucks. Here’s How to Fix It.
Part 1: The Alien’s Issue
A few days ago, after scarfing down my breakfast ketchup and caviar, I walked outside to enjoy a beautiful sunrise. Except I didn’t see a sunrise at all — instead I witnessed a flying saucer descending from the sky to touch down in one of the thousands of acres of land I own.
So I hailed my personal helicopter, flew over to the UFO, and landed a few feet away. As I front-flipped out of the open door, I watched a three-foot tall green dude step out of the ship. He approached me with his hand out, which I shook cordially.
“Hello,” said the alien. “I’m new in town, and I’m wondering if you could show me around.”
“I’d love to,” I replied, “but I’m swamped for the day. Could you meet me here tomorrow at five to nine?”
“Five to nine… what does that mean?” asked the alien, cocking his head slightly, just like my delightful puppy does when hearing me scream my lungs out at my children.
“Oh, silly me,” I said, thwacking my head with my remaining hand’s palm. “That means five minutes to nine o’clock.”
“Ah. Your society works on a base ten system, yes? So does that mean you’ve split up the day into ten hours and ten minutes in each hour?”
“Actually…” I began, only to be interrupted by the little green man rudely holding up a hand.
“No, wait, I bet you split it into ten hours and one hundred minutes. That seems like it would make things easier,” said the alien with a satisfied grin.
“Well, actually,” I replied delicately, fighting the urge to snarl, “we use a system of twenty-four hours and sixty minutes, with sixty seconds in each minute. And instead of saying twenty-one o’clock, we say nine PM.”
The alien stayed silent for a few seconds. Then, without a word, he turned around, got in his ship, and left forever.
And I can’t say I blame him.
Okay, fine, so I exaggerated some parts of that. But the point stands: our time system is dumb.
The number of days in a year is unchangeable, since it’s based on something real: each time our planet spins all the way around, a day has passed. But 24 hours in a day, 60 minutes in an hour, and 60 seconds in a minute? All totally arbitrary.
In Don Norman’s The Design of Everyday Things, he proposes changing to newhours, newminutes, and newseconds. There are 100 newseconds per newminute, 100 newminutes per newhour, and 10 newhours per day. It would be exceedingly difficult to transition to this new system, but not impossible — one of our current hours is approximately one half-newhour.
It would make math involving time so much easier, and would just intuitively make sense to kids as they’re learning how time works.
But Newtime doesn’t really solve all our problems, because counting by 10s doesn’t really make sense in the first place.
“So,” you ask, “you want to re-do our entire counting system, probably throwing the world into chaos and a global depression heretofore unseen?”
Yes. Here’s how we’re going to do it.
Part 2: Counting by Anything but 10
You know how computer people are always tossing around the word “binary” with a smug look on their faces, and you want to punch them right in their stupid nose? What does binary even mean? Let’s start with what decimal is.
(By the way, if you’re one of those pompous rapscallions who already knows how to count in non-decimal, skip ahead to Section 3. You nasty piece of work.)
We generally count by tens, also known as decimal counting. Can we agree on that? Thanks. That means we have ten numbers; 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. But we don’t have a single digit to represent “ten” — instead we have 10, which means 1 ten and 0 ones. 42 means four tens and 2 ones.
100 means we have ten tens. So 1 hundred, 0 tens, 0 ones. If you want to be extremely fancy and reckless, you can think of it as:
100 = (1 x 10²) + (0 x 10¹) + (0 x 10⁰)
698 = (6 x 10²) + (9 x 10¹) + (8 x 10⁰)
When counting in binary, we only have two numbers: 0 and 1. So 10 no longer means ten, it means two, and 100 means four. (Numbers on the left side are in base two, numbers in the middle and on the right side are in base ten.)
10 = (1 x 2¹) + (0 x 2⁰) = 2
11 = (1 x 2¹) + (1 x 2⁰) = 3
100 = (1 x 2²) + (0 x 2¹) + (0 x 2⁰) = 4
In other words, 10 is one in the “twos” place, and zero in the “ones” place. So to make ten, we’d do 1010: (1x8) + (0x4) + (1x2) + (0x0).
If that doesn’t make sense yet, don’t worry, it takes a while to wrap your head around. Read on, it will probably click at some point.
That’s binary. Computers use it because transistors (the ittiest bittiest tiniest components of computers) only have two states: on and off. Those two states can be represented by 1 and 0, so you can count in binary with them if you combine multiple transistors.
Okay, enough computer talk.
So what if we want to count by threes? Now we only have 0, 1, and 2.
10 = (1 x 3) + (0 x 1) = 3
2021 = (2 x 27) + (0 x 9) + (2 x 3) + (1 x 1) = 61. Neat huh?
Here’s the thing: you can count in ANY base you want. We’ve gone through base two, three, and ten, but what if you want to count in something crazy like base eleven? Then we need eleven digits: 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, a.
So now we can have a number that looks like this: 55910a8a1. Weird!
10 = (1 x 11) + (0 x 1) = 11
2a3 = (2 x 121) + (10 x 11) + (3 x 1) = 355.
Part 3: The Objectively Best Way To Count
“Wow!” you say. “So many ways to count!”
“Yes,” I reply. “A literally infinite number.”
“Well you don’t have to be rude about it,” you spit scathingly.
I hold up my hands in self defense, but it’s too late, and you run in with a right hook that knocks my glasses right off my face and into the wood-chipper.
After a legendary fight that involves a round-trip to the Sahara Desert, we decide to settle our differences with a friendly round of rock-paper-scissors.
“Anyway,” you say, slightly out of breath from the raucous rock-paper-scissors match, “why do we use base ten? Is that really the best there is?”
I grin wildly. “Almost. But not quite.”
When you divide ten by two, you get five. Great. When you divide ten by three, you get 3.333333333333333…
Not so great.
Our ideal counting base should be nicely divisible by as many other numbers as possible, without being such a big base that it’s unwieldy to use. (For example, a base of two thousand nine hundred and eighty two would be unfortunate, because we would need two thousand nine hundred and eighty two unique digits.)
I assumed that any number above twelve is out of the picture. I did this for the generous reason of: “I don’t feel like doing all this work for any bigger numbers.”
What work, you ask?
In each base from two to twelve, I divided 10 by every other number from two to twelve. So for example, in Base Six:
10 / 2 = 3
10 / 3 = 2.
10 / 4 = 1.3, which means one and a half, since three is half of six.
10 / 5 = 1.111…
10 / 10 = 1
10 / 11 = .505050…
I then rated the result for each. The rating system works like golf, where lower scores are better. Here’s the rating system:
If the resultant number is something like 4 or 7.89, or anything without repeating decimals, it gets a score of 0. If the result has a constant repeating number, like 4.3333333…, it gets a score of 1. So,
0 repeating numbers = Score of 0
1 repeating number = Score of 1
2 repeating numbers (as in 5.787878…) = Score of 2
3+ repeating numbers (as in 5.918918918…) = Score of 3
I then added up the scores for each base. Whichever number gets the fewest points wins all the cash and prizes:
🎉🎉🎉 Six is the winner! 🎉🎉🎉
From now on, the entire world will be using base six. No need to thank me, I’m just doing my job, ladies.
Part 4: How to Fix Time
“You have taken SO long to get to the point of how to fix time,” you say as you sob into the pillow.
Okay. Here we go. Now that we know that we should count in base 6, here is how time will work.
One day = thirty-six Hours™
One Hour™ = thirty-six Minutes™
One Minutes™ = thirty-six Seconds™
And that’s right, thirty-six in base six is 100, baby!
Switching to base ten for familiarity, that’s 46656 Seconds™ in a day, while now there are 86,400 seconds. So a Second™ will become almost twice as long as a second. That’s not so bad! It’ll destroy every computer system in the world way worse than Y2K did, but that’s a cheap price to pay for the ideal time system.
There will also be 1296 Minutes™ in a day, while now there are 1440 minutes. So a Minute™ will be just a tiny bit longer, but if you can hold your breath for a minute now, you’ll probably still be able to hold it for a Minute™. Or you’ll pass out. Either way, pretty cool!
One current hour is one and a half new Hours™. Not bad. We also will get rid of the ridiculous AM and PM system, since all it does it make us sad and whiny and decrepit.
Now, take a look with me into the glorious future.
After several decades of chaos and global economic ruin caused by the switch to Base 6 and BetterTime™, the world quickly ascends to a level of prosperity undreamt of by previous generations.
No longer will there be confusion when someone says a time without specifying AM or PM.
No longer will children be confused by a clock. (By the way, all clocks will be digital and pink.)
No longer will doing math involving time be difficult in any way, besides the normal inexplicable difficulty we all have with basic algebra.
That’s pretty much it actually. Besides that the world will be exactly the same.