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Times They Are A Changin (Posted On: Monday, March 29, 2010)

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It’s been forty years now since Canada officially changed the way we calculate weights and measures, and adopted the metric system. At the outset it appeared so simple. It seemed to make so much sense for us to move into sync with most of the rest of the world by replacing the imperial system of inches, feet, yards and miles, ounces and pounds, quarts and gallons with decimal-based classifications using centimeters, meters, kilometers, grams, kilograms and liters.

And while with the passage of time we have come to understand and use many of the aspects of the metric system in our daily lives, it is by no means complete. We now generally accept temperature readings in Celsius rather than Fahrenheit degrees in our weather forecasts. Rain and snowfall amounts are reported in millimeters and centimeters. Speed limits and road signs are posted in kilometers, even though we can’t seem to agree on whether it’s pronounced ‘ki-low-me-ters’ or 'ki-law-mi-ters’. We have become comfortable with buying milk and gas by the liter. Yet we continue to prefer the pricing of some products like cuts of meat be listed by the traditional pound. Housing and office space are published in square feet. Our hockey rinks and football fields are measured in feet and yards. The price of gold is quoted on a per ounce basis. And 36-24-36, stated in inches of course, remains the gold standard for a specific set of vital statistics. Thus here we are four decades later with less than full metrication, but rather what might be called a hybrid or soft metric system.

Nevertheless, it appears there is a new movement afoot (no pun intended) to bring about a wholesale change in how we measure and tell time. Yes, for some, the time is ripe for the logical extension of the metric system to include METRIC TIME. One of the proponents of this fundamental time shift explained metric time as follows. “We’re switching from a 24-hour to a 10-hour day. And that means 10 hours will now replace 24 of the old hours. Also, each hour will be comprised of 100 minutes, and each minute, 100 seconds. We’re doing it because it will afford greater accuracy in telling the time right to the second, and it will make it much easier to do calculations involving time changes.” As a result, 5:00 AM will become 2:08 metric; 6:00 AM will be 2:50 metric; 7:00AM will be 2:92 metric.  Noon and midnight will be 5 hours 0 minutes and 10 hours 0 minutes respectively. The distinction between AM and PM will disappear as will the need for military time designations like 1500 hours instead of 3:00 PM.

It’s just a matter of time before metric time goes into effect, currently scheduled for just after midnight on March 31st a year from now. Right now it is by no means clear if metric time will aid in our seemingly unending quest for better time management. The ancient Samarians implemented a system of metric time 3,000 years ago, but apparently it just couldn’t stand the test of time. One thing is for sure though. Metric time in the twenty-first century will definitely be a boon for the makers of timepieces as all our watches and clocks become obsolete. And because accurate calculations converting between conventional time and metric time are quite complex, we all will certainly need a reliable calculator. One scenario outlines it this way. “To convert to metric time, you must first know how many seconds have elapsed in the day to that time. Divide by 86,400, and multiply by 100,000. This will give you the exact metric time. As an example, to find out what time it is at 6:30 AM, multiply 3600, the number of seconds in an hour, by 6.5. The answer is 23,400. Then divide this by 86,400. Finally, multiply by 100,000. And you get 27083.333. This is the number of metric seconds which have elapsed to that point in time. It can then readily be translated to 2 hours 70 minutes and 83 seconds. Or, 270.83 metric time.”

There is an old proverb that says, “May you live in interesting times.” So, while we take a time out here to get our collective heads around all the ramifications of what metric time will mean in our daily routines, seems there’s no time like the present to simply say…


Written by: John Hanlon


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