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The Problem With Dates

I have a problem with... dates. But probably not the date you're thinking. Not going out, not the fruit, but the instance of time. Why? Good question.


Let's start small, wait a second. Second? Not first? Why is our base unit of time called a second? After some research, I discovered that it is the second (2nd) division of 60 in an hour, the first division of 60 being a minute. This explanation does little to subside my rage. However, it is time to move on.


One minute passes every 60 seconds. You can write a mathematical function to relate seconds (s) and minutes (m):

\[ m = 60 * s \]

Surprisingly, the factor of 60 does not bother me here. It works just as well as any other number, if not better, since 60 has its own factors of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10, 12, 15, 20, 30, and of course, 60. It is still a bit of a strange number, and the leading theory is that you can count up to 12 on one hand using your thumb to point to a finger segment, and using your other hand to count the number of 12's, up to 5 times 12, or 60.


One hour passes every 60 minutes. You like where this is going, right? You can also express hours (h) in terms of seconds - 60 to the second power. Curious.

\[ h = 60 * m = 60 * (60 * s) = 60^2 * s \]

So far, we have a nice pattern. We can say one minute is 60 to the first hours, and one second is 60 to the second seconds. You can also invert that and say that one minute is 60 to the minus first hours, and one second is 60 to the minus second hours. There was such a nice thing going, and this is where it all falls apart.


One day is the length of time it takes for the Earth to make one full rotation about its axis. One day (d) is about 24 hours.

\[ d = 24 * h \]

Not only does this break the beautiful pattern, but as it turns out, one Earth day is not exactly 24 hours. Also, during daylight savings time events, the length of the day may be 23 or 25 hours for one day.


One month (M) is about the length of time that corresponds to one cycle of the moon's phases. Also, it is 28 days. And 29 days. And 30 days. And 31 days. It is truly an awful unit of time measurement.


One year (Y) is the length of time for Earth to complete one revolution around the Sun. It is always exactly 12 months, which contain a variable amount of days. One year is about 365 or 366 days.


This is an awkward one. One week (w) is always 7 days, but it is not often used with our timekeeping system, except to define days which are working and nonworking days, and planned recurring events every 7 day interval. There are about 52 weeks in one year.

Time Zones and Daylight Savings Time

There are other ways to further complicate the measurement of time including 38 time zones which have offsets ranging from 15 minutes, 30 minutes, 45 minutes, and 1 hour from adjacent time zones. Some of which employ daylight savings time which shifts the local time usually by 1 hour for a portion of the year.

What we've learned so far

There are exact ways to express seconds to minutes, hours, days, and weeks. The numbers with an asterisk are approximated.

s m h d w M Y
s 1 60 3,600 86,400 604,800 2.4Mil~2.7Mil* 31.5Mil~31.6Mil*
m 1 60 1,440 10,080 40,320~44,640* 525,600~527,040*
h 1 23-25 168 672~744* 8,760~8,784*
d 1 7 28-31 365-366
w 1 4~5* 52*
M 1 12
Y 1

The cells containing "X" have a consistent, exact factor from one unit of time to another.

s m h d w M Y
s 1 X X
m 1 X
h 1
d 1 X
w 1
M 1 X
Y 1

There are several separations in this table. For example, there is no consistent factor to go from seconds to days. It's also clear that months and years cannot be easily converted into any other unit of time besides each other. How do we fix this?

Proposed Solution

Our timekeeping system is in desparate need of an overhaul. My motivations to create a universal timekeeping system are:

  1. Uniform time across all timekeeping devices
  2. Time system does not depend on any planet or solar system
  3. Every unit of time has a clearly defined, constant factor to convert to any other unit of time
  4. With the above true, time still tells us useful information about the position of our Sun and the tilt of Earth (time of day and season of year)

I'm realizing there's no easy way to do this. Some of my ideas involved completely remove time zones and daylight savings time, which are unnecessary obstacles in my plan.

I also need to define an "origin" of time, for example 0 AD, or the Unix Epoch (1970.) I considered using the big bang for the origin time = 0 and the heat death of the universe to be the final time, or time = 1. All decimal values in between would represent instances in time which is uniform no matter where you are in the universe. One issue with that is the heat death of the universe is googols of years after the birth of the universe, which is currently about 14 billion years old. Using my proposed timescale, we are at about time = 0.000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 001. Of course we could increase our timescale from 0 to 1, to 0 to googol. Another similar idea is using the total measurement of entropy to measure time. Turns out this is actually a theory with some issues with it.

Really large or small numbers can be "adjusted" using the metric prefixes using a base 10 number system.

For a dimensionless quantity like I'm proposing to use as the base unit of time, to make sense on a planetary scale, you would need to know the rotation and revolution speed of the planet you're on to make judgements and predictions on when the Sun will rise, and when the seasons change.

It's undeniably difficult to create a time system that satisfies all these requirements and is simpler than our currently outrageous timekeeping system. Once humans begin to colonize other planets, we'll be faced with this issue again, and won't have the time to plan one out that works. Have any ideas how we could make a universal timekeeping system? Send me an email using the link below!