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Swatch Internet Time (wikipedia.org)
103 points by alexis-d 927 days ago | hide | past | web | 96 comments | favorite

I think the biggest problem with time keeping systems is that they counts up, but our lives are not infinite. For us, time is really counting down.

After trying to reconcile the solar year with decimal time in a way that made sense, I abandoned my effort and created a time keeping system with 1095 units of time of time per year (1098 in leap years).

The units are 8 hours long, because no progress on hard problems is made in an hour.

I call it Maker Time:

The web site is @ http://willholloway.net/makertime.html A JSON API is @ http://makertime.willholloway.net/api/current

Checking the current Maker Time reminds me that I have 1060 - 349 (for sleep) = 711 opportunities to make cool things this year.

Jan 1 is a entirely arbitrary demarcation that's not actually terribly useful to the way we actually experience time and the year. IMO a better place would be one of the solstices or equinoxes (I'm partial to the spring equinox).

Also breaking the year into quarters, from equinox to solstice would be a better match for to scale we live an think on. Also it's just the right amount of time for a good portion of a large one-man project.

I agree with you cosmically, but January first has real meaning for me because its the start of a new tax year.

Feel free to create your own fork: https://github.com/willholloway/makertime

On the other hand, 6th April is the first day of the tax year in the UK, so that would work out quite well.

It's only the spring equinox on your half of the planet! You'd have to call it the March equinox which is arbitrary again. Or maybe the Northward equinox.

Waxing and Waning? depending the length of the daylight at whatever location is going to control said time standard.

I think that once you attach a finite resource to time, you get an inherent feeling of counting down. For example, attach a battery to a laptop and you start to feel the count down (power left, rather than power used).

For us humans, we could associate it with energy left before sleep, decreasing account balance until next pay day, work days left until project end, pages left until book complete.

I do however like the idea of 711 opportunities to make cool things this year though.

Very nice, I thought i was the only one creating my own personal time system! I really like the counting down part, haven't thought about that. The 8 hour block is nice, but I thought it better to carve up the day in 12 parts, locked to midday, but perhaps local sunset is a better option. If you like a modern fairytale about time go see the movie 'Momo' (in german, but subtitled) or read the book.

I really like this idea of maker time. Counting down in general seems like a good way to encourage me to get things done.

I love this concept, but it's not really granular enough. Although I agree with the premise that 8 hours is 'problem-sized', it doesn't lend itself well to humans. What would I call an eighth of one unit?


I still have to be on Manager time (standard time) when I'm interfacing with the rest of the world. But for flow states in a pure building mindset, I switch to Maker Time.

When people say Bitcoin is a money standard for the internet, it reminds me of this. A time standard for the internet, similar to UTC but human-friendly.

A few things worked against its adoption.

First, it was too proprietary. A modern initiative based on open standards would have a much better chance of gaining a foothold in niche communities, much like Bitcoin.

Second, it was before its time (no pun intended). The web was already popular, but not very real-time. There was some chat, but it was pretty geeky, not like Skype or Facebook IM now. And hardly any videoconferencing or live-streaming. And not as much distance working as happens now. So there wasn't that much demand for syncing time.

Third, digital phones were locked down by the manufacturers and carriers (watches too). It would be hard for a grassroots movement to grow if no-one could make apps supporting the new time standard.

"grassroots movement"

Having lived thru it, it was astroturf at most. It was a marketing gimmick to solve a problem that still doesn't exist.

"Here, try this, its just like things that work perfectly such as UTC or Eastern Time, but way more confusing"

Eastern time means nothing to me. How many hours do I go forward or back? How do I know if you're in daylight savings? What if I'm in saylight savings?

Sensible time for wod wode use is still a problem for casual users.

That's kind of the point. NASDAQ trading hours are 0930 to 1600 eastern. At a former job thats what mattered, although we were not in the eastern zone and had sites spread across 5 or 6 timezones. Live where you want but production hours on the production boxes were 0930-1600 eastern. A large chunk of financial world workers live in eastern standard time. They might live anywhere in the world, but that doesn't matter.

With the almost sole exception of the financial world, the rest of the world wide users stick with UTC.

Sure, professionals use real time. We're not talking about anything where time is critical.

We're talking about kids wanting to meet each other on a Minecraft server, or a band releasing a video, or simar casual online meetings.

One example is the ham radio guys scheduling a contact/net on a certain freq and UTC time.

Live "events" like superbowl and the endless self-congratulatory entertainment industry awards. I'll meet you on IRC during the superbowl and we'll comment on the commercials.

To some extent computers and the internet are a tool for making time not so critical. We both need to be available for a phone call, but not for email. To watch the same network TV show we both need to watch about the same time, but we can watch youtube videos anytime. Thats the other oddity of "internet time". If we're going to make obsolete concepts, why not "internet distance" or even worse "internet long distance"

Personally the arrogance of making it based on Swatch's headquarters in Biel ruined it for me.

Plus why would any other watch company now support a time system based on another companies 'headquarters'

It's a shame since it was a good idea.

After sixteen years, it remains a silly novelty and nothing more (I'm surprised to discover it is still even a thing). People aren't going to keep track of two separate times - especially one that is so different from the normal time they keep. All people really need is for us to adopt one universal time, do away with timezones, and deal with the "horrible" fact that some of us will be 9-5ers and some will be 12-8ers and so on.

It seems it would be a far simpler adjustment to make than inventing a new "time".

I've always loved this idea. It just makes sense. People argue against the "circular notation" of a clock face and how it relates to 60 minutes/seconds, but all that analog stuff is dead.

The way you experience time most certainly is analogue. Hint: time does not advance in units of seconds, it is continuous.

I was a huge fan of this in '98. Was very sad to see it fail. I even wrote custom software for Litestep so you could see what beat time it was.

"but all that analog stuff is dead."

I still wear a analog Watch

Just curious — aesthetics aside, what other advantages do you think an analog watch provides?

> Just curious — aesthetics aside what other > advantages do you think an analog watch provides?

Think of an analogue watch as a 2d graph where one of the dimensions is t. If you have a table of numbers you can compare them by looking at all the cells or you can graph each row one a cartesian (or polar or...) plot. Both contain the same info, and the table probably has higher resolution, but which tells a more illuminating story?

On a watch face, the minute hand is the biggest win: you can see at a glance approximately what time it is / approximately how long you have / approximately how far away you are which is what you usually need. I definitely think in terms of it being about "a quarter past fourteen" or "half past seven". The digital watch has too much precision and requires too much parsing.

The hour hand gives you similar data on a larger scale, but you typically need that less. And in fact though the watch face shows 2x 12 hours, when I look at it I see the normal 24 hour clock.

The second hand is good when you're working out since as you see it sweep to its goal you might push harder to get one more rep in or whatever, but this is a less common need and in fact many analogue watches come without a second hand.


The analogue clock face is an example of more humane design for specific problem domain, sort of the like US & Imperial unit systems. They are utterly useless for engineering (but even in engineering I use both MKS and CGS depending on the problem domain -- and its community). Miles and km / acres and hectares -- it's no big deal to me either way. But when making a staircase, cooking a meal for three people or resizing a dress pattern, the ability to use a system that naturally decomposes into rational factors is appropriate. And that's the beauty of the babylonian time system: despite the annoying (though necessary) primality of the week, there are plenty of factors available for subdividing the intervals.

> The digital watch has too much precision and requires too much parsing

Funny, my stance on analogue clocks is they have too little precision and require too much parsing. If I'm tired or stressed it can take me seconds to read one, while digits practically beam the numbers into my head simply through the act of glancing at them.

I do have to admit, though, most digital watches are monstrous things, with tiny displays to leave room for all the trademarks and other nonsense they feel the need to plaster everywhere. I seriously don't understand why they're almost universally awful.

> aesthetics aside, what other advantages do you think an analog watch provides?

* Appreciation of craftsmanship. Look at a watch with 10+ complications and try not to be impressed. Do not get me started on the Patek Philippe Calibre 89.

* Sentimental attachment/Nostalgia, e.g. the family heirloom.

* EMP resistance

* Permitted inside testing room during LSAT administration

It's a self-winding Watch so I don't need a Battery.

I grew up with analog Watches and reading them is not a problem for me but i understand the point to use Digital Watches.

I Personally don't like the aesthetics of Digital Watches ;)

- you can locate the north with it

- if you are using a 24h sovjet analog clock or a pocket sundial (as i do), you are more in tune with the cosmos on which our time, day and night schedule is based

- it associates time more with quality then with quantity

- can be purely mechanical, no electricity or batteries

I also wear an analog watch, but it's just aesthetic. It's actually slightly less useful than a digital watch because it doesn't have a backlight, calendar, stopwatch, etc.

"What exactly does it mean -- to wind a watch?"

> People argue against the "circular notation" of a clock face

I have never heard this argument and I am not very sure I understand what it means. What is the argument? Who are these "people"?

And as long as we're discussing "out there" time notations, I'll throw out my support for a calendar system that makes more sense. 12 30-day months with a 5 (or 6) day "Holiday Month" at the end. Adjusting the "week" to be 10 days instead of 7. 3 weeks a month, 9 weeks a quarter, 36 weeks a year. Work 7 of the 10 days in a week would be the same as a 5-day work week (2 more days off a year actually).

Maybe, but that ship has sailed. No-one is going to reform this.

There are many problems with time (see http://www.quirksmode.org/blog/archives/2009/04/making_time_...), but the number of hours per day or the number of days per week or month are none of them.

You might be interested in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Fixed_Calendar

I remember it still being used at Kodak when I was a kid and my father worked there.

That's what I have in my time system UIT (linked earlier). I renamed the days to nullday, unday, duoday, triday, quadday, pentday, hexday, heptday, octday, nonday. One nice feature is that if I tell you that it's 1st Unday today, you can see immediately that it's the 12 day of the year (since 0th Nullday is the first day of the year).

What you describe sounds a lot like the French Republican Calendar (linked from the See Also section).

I honestly ask why?

Dates would be the same day forever. Financial quarters would be even and easily divided. Never print a new calendar. Etc.

Seems like all the complexity and special casing of the time keeping is moved into the "holiday month" at the end. E.g., Which financial quarter does it belong to? Moreover only 5 or 6 out of the 10 weekdays will occur in the holiday month, then you have to reset to "Monday" again to have a fixed date->day mapping.

Perhaps a start would be not naming months after dead early roman emperors

Actually, a decimal time works really well on a circular clock face:

http://kybernetikos.github.io/UIT/ (you need to permit gps to get the correct rotation and drawn on light/dark periods).


Beats time is no more 'digital' than the 24-hour day. It's 10 base which makes it easier for us to calculate, and without time zones, makes it easier to communicate around the world as we become more global.

I think maybe Swatch gave up to early on this? It could have just been another measurement on their watches. Not the main one, but secondary.

There's no way this was going to be an overnight change.

> Beats time is no more 'digital' than the 24-hour day. It's 10 base which makes it easier for us to calculate, and without time zones, makes it easier to communicate around the world as we become more global.

But 'digital' literally means base-10 (as in, like the digits on your hands), so in what sense is it not digital?

It was a nice idea but I think Swatch made a big mistake by taking their headquarters as the base to calculate it.

It needed to be an independant concept to bring other companies/competitors on board.

It was probably mainly a PR idea, though a good one … on the other hand, from a neutral point of view, Biel/Switzerland is not really different from Greenwich/UK as a zero point.

It's an arbitrary choice, just like how Unix time is since 1970, or how UTC is timezone for Greenwich England.

Greenwich wasn't arbitrary at all.


Historical precedent and agreement make the choice no less arbitrary - 0 degrees could have been anywhere, there is no technical reason that Greenwich was chosen.

It says so right in the article.

Choosing Greenwich as 0-longitude meant that the International Date Line would be located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, avoiding a situation where it could be two dates in the same country simultaneously.

Have you looked at the map for the IDL?


That not jiggered by politics at all.

I thought we were talking about the "arbitrary" choice of Longitude 0. What's the political (and not economic) basis for the later IDL modifications?

That fails to make the first choice any less arbitrary - the choice was made to line up with existing sea charts - which of course used the Greenwich as 0 - but Greenwich as 0 was an arbitrary choice in the first place - not all arbitrary choices are bad ones, that was the crux of my argument in the first place.

Not to be too US centric, but the time standard should be set around New York City. Bankers in London and San Fran all work on NYC time.

What about non-bankers in London or the rest of Europe?

Do you mean that only bankers can afford a watch ? ;-)

Handy tip: one .beat (or a milliday, if you like) is about 1.5 minutes. This means that one percent of one day is about fifteen minutes. Try thinking of tasks in terms of percentages of a day. You spend about 30 percent, give or take, sleeping. You spend 30-40% working most days. How does one spend the remaining 30-40%? One percent showering. Three or four percent preparing meals. Adds up.

God this system would have been beautiful.

Lots of things would be easier if everybody uses the same time.

It could stay the 24h/day time format, but timezones are a pain - I always have to recalculate them for local time. Why couldn't everybody work with UTC?

And by the way: when will we finally get rid of the daylight savings time?!?

Consider this. Suppose I want to phone someone who lives in Japan and I live in the UK. Japan is +9 hours ahead of UK local time (GMT). Therefore I know if I phone slightly before lunch then I'll be phoning them in the evening.

Now suppose we all had the same time. If I phoned them just before lunch, which would mean shortly before 12:00 in the UK then I'd have to try and figure out what Japan would be doing at that time. Would 12:00 in Japan be early morning, late at night, would they be eating a meal, would they be at work? Now I have to remember where in the day different times are for different counties. However, with timezones all I need to remember is a numerical value and I can easily figure out where Japan is in the progression of a day (i.e morning, evening, night).

You need to remember the exact same bits of information in both cases, so I don't see the problem. In one case you remember it as "time difference" ("now is 12:00 +9 there"), in the other case you remember it as earlyness/lateness compared to you ("12:00 here is LIKE 12:00 +9 there").

So that would need the same exact effort.

The man benefit would be for the "let's meet at the same time online" etc coordination stuff -- where's its brain-dead easy when everybody has the same time.

Ok, but I know a lot of people who are available at work at times which do not match the "usual" work hours. Also shops have no universal opening times, some open at 7, some at 10, so you always have to check if the other side is available before calling (or just try).

I guess calling would also be easier if the used system can show if the other side is available like Skype or even better when she is available.

How would you know if it is appropriate to call someone in some other part of the globe? One way or another you have to do a lookup.

A) Everyone uses UTC. Now you have to know the business hours in Tokyo because it is not universally 8-6 anymore.

B) Everyone uses local time. Now you have to know their local time.

As an example:

I don't know where you are, you don't know where I am. I tell you I am available from @300-@800 if you want to Skype today. Let me know which time is good for you.

Which would be scenario A. You just did the lookup of finding that 0xEA's business hours are from @300 to @800.

Sure, you would have to know that. But you have to look up if the business you want to contact is open on Sunday anyway, even if they are local. Or what time they close today.

Or you have to try to figure out the whole no work on Friday thing in the middle east and Monday being part of the weekend. You always have to look it up.

What made this dream cool in the digital age is I could just have hours that I'm available and if I wanted to work late at night, I could. I considered myself a 'hardcore hacker' in '98 and what appealed was how well this lined up with my natural inclination to hack on code from 10pm to 5am every day, despite being in high school.

I didn't care or need to know where my IRC friends were. We could collaborate none the less.

If I say something like "I had to catch a 6am flight", that means something to you without knowing what time zone I'm in. Absolute and relative times are both useful.

> If I say something like "I had to catch a 6am flight", that means something to you without knowing what time zone I'm in.

But it's really meaningful only in the sense that it's early morning, so that the same information could be conveyed by saying "I had to catch an early-morning flight." (More precise information than that could always be conveyed: "I had to catch a flight 1 hour before sunrise", or whatever.)

Where it matters, UTC is widely used, for example in aviation. And local times - based on time zones – are representations of UTC too.

There's a great collection if decimal time ideas, many of which are linked at the bottom of that wikipedia page. I personally always liked the idea of making 1 day into the base unit. Then 0.5 would give you noon, 0.75 is 6pm. It seemed less arbitrary than making a unit into a 10th of a day, since that has no value except in reference to a day.

Having worked at a software company whose internal date format was indeed based on days as the base unit, I suggest that this is an extremely bad idea. 0.75 may be 6pm, but what is 7pm? 0.7916666666666666 is as close as computers will generally come, but of course it's lossy; try adding increments of an hour and sooner or later you've got an irritating rounding issue.

This is solvable using arbitrary-precision decimal libraries, but relying on one of those for just dealing with general time stuff is a Bad Idea.

I think the idea is that, switching to a decimal system, we would no longer have a use for 7pm - we would just do things at 0.8d

Sure, but trying to persuade billions of people to switch to a new system with unclear benefits and no backwards compatibility is not a recipe for success.

This is basically Julian Day, which astronomers use.

But yes, any humane 'decimal' time system is just optionally giving names to different places in the fractions of a day decimal (I say 'humane' because days have varying lengths, and so should not be used as the basis for a unit used for scientific measures).

I still think naming the fractions might be useful (like 'satoshi').

1/10th of a day is just as arbitrary, maybe less so, then 1/24th of a day.

It's not arbitrary. Check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decimal

The only special thing about Decimal and Base 10 is that we have 10 fingers (for the most part, exceptions exist). If we had 12, then 1/24th of a day would make sense, because it would be twice our then-normal Base 12 system. It is evolutionarily arbitrary.

Check this out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-nC8J6YXqdo

base 12 (or 24) and base 60 are actually much nicer to work with mentally than 10.

10 divides by 1 5 and 10 so you can easily figure out halves and tenths thats about it.

12 divides by 1 2 3 4 6 and 12 so you can easily figure out halves, thirds, quarters, sixths, and twelths without much of an issue, less non terminating decimal nastyness.

60 is even better, as it divides by 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10, 12, 15, 20, 30 and 60 you get a whole wealth of easy fractions, and easy mental division.

This is probably the reason why a lot of ancient societies had a preference for base 60 and base 12.

you can count to 12 on your fingers aswell, using your individual finger bones on one hand + your thumb as an index.

You can extend this system to count to 60 by using the 5 fingers of your other hand seqentially to represent each set of 12.



I need to add a time period to a time point far far far more often than I need to divide a time period into thirds, quarters, sixths and twelths. And dividing into quarters is not difficult in base 10 either, so you're basically down to chosing between pleasant time arithmetic for our current world or being able to easily divide thirds, sixths and twelths. I'd rather have the nice time arithmetic.

> base 12 (or 24) and base 60 are actually much nicer to work with mentally than 10.

I would say binary is the best base, and perhaps the least arbitrary of all bases since it is the simplest.

EDIT: whoops, bad formatting.

Isn't that what MS Excel does, internally?

It should have been based on UTC ("zulu time"), not UTC+1.

Zulu Beats.

There, I fixed it.

I remember those, I don't think enough people realised/needed the utility of them at the time for it to gain critical mass. Not that many people in the population at large, have friends all over the world that they need to have accurate timesync with.

It also might have benefited from being based on UTC instead of a decimal time. It was awkward to describe any time below an hour as you needed to break down into fractions of a beat to describe regular time intervals like 15 or 30 minutes. Whereas maybe a UTC-beat watch with 86400 seconds/beats in a day could be more relevant? Probably not, it'd still have huge hurdles to overcome with the network effect, apathy and such.

I was a 14 year old who attended the initial launch at MIT. I remember at the time thinking: why have a random synthetic time, perhaps we can just accept GMT as internet time.

I still don't understand why you'd have Beil Mean Time - perhaps I haven't grown.

What would the internet time be when GMT areas are on BST? Surely you mean accept UTC time.

GMT doesn't change twice a year. GMT doesn't mean "the time people in Greenwich observe", it means, roughly, the solar mean time of Greenwich.

Who uses GMT in the summer? My bigger point is that metrologists and/or people that care about time use UTC not GMT.

Ever since I heard about this, it became an exciting idea to me.

60 seconds in a minute, 60 minutes in an hour, 24 hours in a day is just a mess for doing math and analyzing how long things take and what of our life they make up.

Eliminate all the timezone conversion nonsense and you've got another huge plus... the time system will eventually change, sooner or later. Coordinating the change will be difficult, but it's too obvious not to happen.

Actually, I don't think you can have a sensible humane time and a sensible scientific time measure use the same unit. For science you want every hour to be just like every other hour. For people, it's probably way more important that an hour is a fixed proportion of a solar day. I think it's best to just leave the scientists with second and strike out on our own for humane time.

I also have a time system that eliminates timezone conversion nonsense by being based around UTC, however to make that feel a bit more 'humane', I rotate the clock face so that local solar midday is always at the top of the face and local solar midnight is always at the bottom. You can see it here http://kybernetikos.github.io/UIT/ if you're interested.

I've always found it funny that PHP has this built in, I think it's nice when tech is weirdly political and opinionated, obviously in ways that don't screw things up.

Time zones are kind of arbitrary.. there are infinite ones, for each horizontal movement around the earth.

Related: http://thepresent.is/

Lisa Simpson would like this


I for one welcome our new logical programmer-sanity-saving standard.

wow I just nostalgia'd really hard now.

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