What’s a Bit?

Remember, if you read it on the Internet, it must be true…

Aliens invented time.

I’m not talking about the passage of time: counting of days and years, of aging and decay… what aliens invented is the way we humans “tell” time. The generic concept of time seems to be attributed to God, even though the Bible makes no reference to the day on which God created time. So aliens may have invented that as well. But God is often credited with the creation of the Sun (back when the Sun still orbited Earth). And without days and years—which all stem from Earth’s association with the Sun—I’m not sure how time would actually pass, so I’m not going to quibble over who created the overall concept of time. Just the way we track it. The clock. Aliens did that.

alien clockHow do I know this? I wasn’t there, I didn’t see it happen. But I’ve thought about this enough to feel like I was present. Because… the modern clock—twelve hours or twenty-four hours—bugs the crap out of me. So does our calendar. And the so-called English system of measurement—which the English officially abandoned decades ago. These are enough of an annoyance that I spend untold free time contemplating the topics. This is what I’ve come up with: Humans should not have any measurement systems not based on counting to ten.

It makes no sense to standardize any measurement system on twelve units. Twelve hours, twelve months, twelve inches. To me this is proof that twelve fingered aliens were visiting—or interfering with—our planet during humanity’s formative years. How long is a day? Well, the morning can be counted on one hand: six hours. The afternoon is six more… the other hand. Same pattern with the night. The dark hours we spend awake in our home, preparing food, telling stories, making little people. And the dark hours we spend asleep. Each portion, six hours. You can count them on your fingers.

Like all other inventions that stem from alien influence, the twenty-four-hour clock was first used by the ancient Egyptians. They probably used this clock to calculate how long it took those same aliens to build the pyramids.

Without my alien influence theory, our clock makes no sense. Breaking the day into twenty-four hours seems to have happened around 3,500 years ago. Homo sapiens have been around for over 100,000 years. We are programmed, destined, to count in tens. Ten fingers, one through ten and then we start again. Look around at the gym. Newbie weightlifters break their routine into sets of ten. Not because this is optimum, but because it is natural. Have you ever counted a big stack of anything? Did you count it in twelves?

No, of course you didn’t. No one does that. And no one did it with units of time either; at least not until supposedly advanced beings with a couple of extra digits told us we were doing it wrong. Then twelve became a standard. We were even tricked into having special words for what should be known as one-teen and two-teen—eleven and twelve. But fortunately as we advance up the number grid, sensibility reigns. We revert to using ones and twos. Forty-one, forty-two, etc.

Happily, this nonsense doesn’t carry over to our currency. Here in America, we have cents, dollars and c-notes. All based on ten times ten. But it hasn’t always been this way. My son, Eli is a drummer. Well, at ten years old, he’s a blossoming drummer. He takes lessons in Hanover, so we have a twenty-five-minute drive to his appointment each week. During this ride, Eli is usually tapping out rhythms on the dashboard—using up excess energy, getting his drumming-game on. I don’t want to be left out so I tap too. But because I suck, what I tap is juvenile. Yesterday, it was “Shave and a haircut”. And that got me thinking about bits—two of them specifically. I know that two bits is twenty-five cents. But if that’s the case, what the hell is a bit?

So I looked it up. Not long ago, I bought a new laptop. Unlike my old laptop, this one has a working battery. I can do sophisticated things like take it with me to Eli’s drum lessons and research important topics. That’s what I did last night. I researched bits. Here’s what I learned: “A bit is a unit of monetary measure equal to twelve and a half cents.” Bits are currently mentioned sparingly, and only in even intervals. As near as I can tell, they are only used to advertise the price of a haircut with a shave, or as the start of an archaic sports cheer: “Two bits, four bits, six bits a dollar…” This research was only the beginning. I needed to know more. How did this start. How does a dollar become divided into eight pieces? Why not ten?

Eli’s lesson is a half an hour. Plenty of time to comprehensively exhaust this topic. Thank p8you Wikipedia. Bits are ancient, historic. From back when the money could be physically broken. Halved, and halved again, and again. Pieces of Eight. The currency of Hollywood pirates. Booty. And clearly endorsed by eight fingered aliens. The ones that occupied Spain long after their twelve fingered kin left Egypt.

I have OCD. Not the cute, orderly variety you see on TV. I don’t make neat stacks with my fast food condiment packets. I have the messy type of OCD that exists in real life. Hours in bed at night contemplating twelve hour clocks and eight part dollars. Writing nonsense like this in my head.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate order, I do. But only because it’s logical. It takes less thought. The metric system is logical. Count to ten, count to ten again, and again. Simple, predictable. Less to remember. Less to obsess over. Once you learn the basics, you never have to think of it again. Compare this to the mess we’re stuck with: Twelve inches to a foot, three feet to a yard. Two cups to a pint. Teaspoons, tablespoons (with their virtually identical abbreviations). How many rods make a league? It reminds me of a child making up rules to a new game.

I recognize that there are reasons for these units. Reasons steeped in history and tradition and alien influence. But they were clearly put together without any forethought to ease of use. I review timesheets sometimes at my work. Do you know how hard it is to calculate in your head how many hours there are between 9:35 and 4:15? Well it’s 6.67 hours, and then there are nine other days on the timesheet with similar math challenges. And over one hundred timesheets. It’s a painful way to spend an afternoon.

unThe rest of the world has gone metric. Americans refuse to do this. We’re stubborn. We think adopting the metric system is kowtowing to the United Nations. But our line in the sand creates our own disadvantage. Everyone else has switched to metric because it’s better. And it will only be a matter of time before mankind wises up and ditches that unhuman clock as well.

4 thoughts on “What’s a Bit?

  1. You had to mention timesheets! I had completely buried my memories of negotiating those weekly forms which required me to think in military time.

    For your next essay, you could explain how entropy causes the arrow of time to go always forward and never backward.

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    • Not surprisingly, I’ve thought a lot about this. I believe that all time is constantly happening simultaneously, and our beings are simply limited to traveling through one dimension of time. I also believe people who encounter ghosts are more likely seeing across a time barrier rather than seeing a “spirit.” Yes, I suppose I should write about this at some point.

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