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May 2007
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Nomenclature of Time

In the past on this blog, I have always been very self conscious when I have talked about when things have happened. This is because while the blog’s clock is on UTC, my computer’s clock is on UTC, and I keep every clock I have that has a 24 hour mode on UTC I know people who read this blog are in all sorts of time zones, relatively few of which (OK, none on a regular basis) are in places where UTC is the local time that everybody uses. And of course depending on the time of year, the local time zone where I live is 7 or 8 hours from UTC.

So I’m always thinking when I use a word like “yesterday” just what it should refer to. For instance, right now, if I were to mention something that happened the last time I had breakfast, it would be “Yesterday” if I were using UTC as my base… and as of a few moments ago it would also be be “Yesterday” on the US East Coast. But on the West Coast, where I am physically located, it would still be “Today”. Or also, regardless of time zones, if I divided things by when I slept, it would still be “today” and might still be “today” even after the local time passed midnight. But then what if I took a nap?

I have used UTC ever since sometime in college when I stopped using the Julian Date which I had used for the last half of high school and first half of college for all my timestamps. (Before that, I used something which my High School Physics teacher had coined “SFT” which was a modification of UTC where I subtracted 1 from the year, month and day so that they would be a measurement of elapsed time like the hours minutes and seconds rather than a 1st, 2nd, 3rd sort of ordinal… I hated that inconsistency.)

Now from all this it should be clear to anyone who didn’t already know that I hate the idea of timezones and local time and think they should be relegated to the dustbin of history. They might have been appropriate in an era before instantaneous global communication, but in the modern age, the idea of restricting our notion of time to try to make it so that certain numbers coincide with solar cycles in the place you happen to be physically located at the time is just plain stupid. And don’t even get me started on Daylight Savings Time. What a crock.

Anyway, in an ideal world, everybody would be using something like the Julian date, thus also getting rid of the horrible irregular calendar we have inherited. And believe me, if I could click a setting on my computer and my phone and all my devices, and easily use that as my primary date mode I would seriously consider it. The only thing that would stop me would be the fact that converting from Julian to the dates and times everybody else uses is a bit too difficult to do in my head. So Julian is unfortunately out.

Luckily, almost all devices let you define the time zone to UTC and when I need to convert to local time it is fairly easy as long as I can remember where in the world I am at the moment and what time of year it is. So UTC it has been for years, and UTC it shall remain.

But in the past when posting I have been careful… so if right now I were to talk about something that happened around the last time I had breakfast, instead of saying “Yesterday” I would say “Monday” because the event happened Monday in all the time zones where I know I have regular readers as well as in UTC. If I was talking about something that happened during those hours where UTC, the US East Coast and the US West Coast were in different days, then I usually say something like “a few hours ago” or even say a day, but specify explicitly that it is UTC. Or other such verbal gymnastics.

Well, no more! From now on, it is all UTC and without apologies! If I give a date something happened, I mean the date UTC. If I say a day of week, I mean UTC. If I say yesterday, today or tomorrow, I mean all of those as bound by 00:00:00 UTC. If I say “Early in the Day” I mean approximately 00:00 UTC to 08:00 UTC. “Middle of the day” would run from about 08:00 UTC to 16:00 UTC, and End of the Day from about 16:00 UTC back to the next 00:00 UTC.

Now, having said all of the above… there *are* terms that when I use them will be about the local solar cycle. For instance, Noon is not 12:00 UTC, or even 12:00 of what ever local time I happen to be in… it is the time when the sun is highest in the sky. “Morning” is from sunrise to noon. “Afternoon” is from noon to sunset. “Nighttime” is when the sun is not in the sky. Midnight is not 00:00 UTC or local 00:00, it is half way between sunset and sunrise. All based on the sun relative to my current location.

For instance, where I am now today morning will be from approximately 12:24 UTC to 20:06 UTC (noon) and afternoon will be from about 20:06 UTC today to about 03:49 UTC tomorrow.

I will tend to use those terms less often though, as they are meaningless unless I also provide my location, which will it generally will be close to my home at N 47°54.833′, W 122°17.382′, certainly might not always be that. And of course those terms vary based on time of year as well. So, as I said, I’ll use them less frequently.

Generally, I’ll just give a day, and it will be a UTC day. If I need to give a general time of day, I’ll usually either say something like “Around 18:00 Yesterday” or something like that. But I won’t feel bad if I don’t say UTC. Although I may say “18 UTC” if I am giving an actual time… cause after all, it is good to provide units… and that is sort of like providing units. But if I say “Monday” or “Yesterday” I won’t bother trying to think about how that might be interpreted in various time zones… it will just be UTC. Cause that is how it should be. Everybody should use UTC for everything. (Well, at least if they aren’t going to use the Julian Date.)

OK, whew. I’ve been meaning to say all that for a couple months now. Finally got around to it.