Time Math: Part I

Think you’re good with numbers? Think that addition and subtraction are simple? Actually, it’s likely that you’re only capable of performing arithmetic when operating within the decimal numerical system.

Whether by nature or nurture, our minds are conditioned to think in base 10, which explains why some anniversaries are more significant than others. Binary and hexadecimal are examples of numeric systems that do not have a base of 10, but we don’t need to enter those worlds in order to encounter difficulties, for we regularly deal with units of measure that do not scale by tens. Let’s look at some examples.

How many inches tall is a 6.25 foot person? Chances are the answer didn’t immediately spring into your mind, so you did some simple math to find the answer.

6 * 12 + .25 * 12 = 75

But what if we have to deal with a more complex problem, like 5 miles, 61 yards and 2 feet minus 10,000 inches?

(5 * 5,280 + 61 * 3 + 2) * 12 – 10,000 = 309,020

Suddenly the impracticality of the imperial system becomes apparent, and the metric option seems like an attractive alternative. Although the metric system makes measuring mass, volume and distance quite simple, we have yet to devise a viable solution for time measurement. Time is by far the most perplexing system of measurement for a number of reasons.

First, the base of the units of time vary. This is why entering 75 on your microwave will cook your food 15 seconds longer than entering 100. This is not a problem unique to time, but the amount of variation here is extreme. There are 60 seconds in a minute, 60 minutes in an hour, 24 hours in a day, 7 days in a week, around 4.33 weeks in a month and 12 months in a year. In addition to these variations, most of the world uses a 12-hour clock, which means that a day is made up of a hidden base 12 unit. To complicate things even further, the term day may refer either to a 24-hour period or only a section of the same period between sunrise and sunset.

The second reason for the complication is that the units of time are not uniform in duration. Although the smaller units don’t vary, the length of months and years does change. A month can be anywhere from 28 to 31 days, and a year, though usually 365 days, is sometimes 366. A day can also vary in duration. In nations that use daylight savings time, one day every year is 23 hours long and another is 25 hours. On top of all that, time changes depending on where and when we are. Time zones make keeping time difficult during travel and also cause many people to miss their favorite television programs. These inconsistencies may not seem strange, but if we were told that a foot wasn’t always 12 inches or a kilogram wasn’t always 1,000 grams, we would surely question it.

Third and finally, humans share a close link with time, and standard time is our first language. However, unlike our relationship with other dimensions, velocity and direction through time can not yet be altered. Because of this, our behavior is influenced heavily by the time of day, the day of the week and the month of the year. Our relationship with time is part of the reason why it’s so difficult to change the system (yet we are somehow able to suddenly decide that it’s an hour in the future during daylight savings time).

In light of the intricate and unique nature of time, let’s look at progressively difficult series of problems in order to understand just how challenging time math can be.

  • How many minutes are in November?
  • How many hours are between 3:00 AM and 7:00 PM?
  • How many days are between July 3 and September 19?
  • How many hours are between 5:00 PM on Monday and 9:00 AM on Wednesday?
  • If January 14th is a Wednesday, then what day of the week is February 5th?
  • How many minutes are between 11:43 AM on January 3 and 1:17 PM on November 19?
  • What time is 1,000,000 seconds after 10:10 PM on January 1?
  • How many seconds are between 5:19:31 PM on September 5, 231 BC in Rome and 3:26:04 AM on August 22, 1746 in Central China?

Doing math with time in our current system is extremely convoluted. However, metric time isn’t the quick fix that it is for other units. We’ll explore some possible solutions in part II.

Keep Out the Devil

Across the country millions of people spend their days locked in tiny cells. In every city we see large sections of fenced land containing massive multi-level structures dedicated solely to housing inhabitants. With barely enough space for a bed and a few belongings, residents pass their time by playing games, conversing with one another or watching television. Of course, they usually have little free time, since a majority of their day is spent serving society by performing the more unpleasant but necessary jobs. Most of the people trapped in these facilities end up there because of poverty or poor choices, and they can’t wait to be free and move on with their lives. Yes, apartment life is terrible.

The apartment is a very interesting concept for many reasons. While residents live in close proximity to each other, even sharing hallways, elevators and laundry rooms, they tend to avoid social interaction. Also, apartments are usually managed by an elected council of representatives, producing a unique political dynamic. However, there is one behavior in particular that consistently and seriously threatens the security of the entire building’s population: holding the door open for others.

Holding the door was once considered a chivalrous act. While many still interpret it as such, others are insulted that a stranger has judged them too frail or incompetent to open their own door. The way they see it, helping certain strangers with trivial tasks such as holding the door is discriminatory, and they’re right.

Despite our culture’s emphasis on equality and individualism, people regularly treat others differently depending on many outward characteristics, including sex, age, race, clothing and physical ability. Whether we’re giving up our seat to a pregnant woman, offering an elderly person our place in line or donating to the homeless, the motivation for these acts is based on the perception that another’s need is greater than our own. While it may be that those we are assisting do not require assistance, the fact is that these deeds of kindness are often based on shallow judgments and forgotten tradition. However, it could be argued that since these kind acts are motivated by empathy, they ought to be encouraged. But empathy doesn’t ensure a positive result, for as Dr. Grant stated when confronting Billy about the stolen raptor eggs, “some of the worst things imaginable have been done with the best intentions.”

One might wonder how something as simple and well-meaning as holding the door for a stranger could be harmful, but if we make the decision to allow an unknown person into the building, then the safety of each resident is compromised. If it’s acceptable to allow strangers through the building’s security system, then we might as well prop the door open for all to enter.

We may defend this behavior by arguing that the stranger seemed honest and kind, but the truth is that we were simply overcome by the obligation to be polite. Martin Vanger was right when he said that the fear of offending is greater than the fear of pain. Also, if our argument for allowing a stranger into the building is based on a brief judgement, then we’re claiming to possess the ability to determine who is and isn’t a criminal by merely looking at them for a few seconds, which would render the debate over torture and interrogation meaningless and the entire judicial system useless.

So if we aren’t supposed to hold the door for strangers, what about people we recognize from our building? First of all, it’s entirely possible that we are mistaken. It could also be that we do recognize them, but they are no longer is a resident of the building. In fact, they could have been evicted after breaking up with their partner, and they’re returning to exact revenge – revenge made possible by a careless and helpful stranger.

Whether it’s a mother pushing a stroller or an elderly man carrying groceries, the risk is too great to allow them to enter freely. We must do what’s fair and sensible and shut the door in their faces.