What’s a Bit?

2016

Aliens invented time.

I’m not talking about the passage of time: the 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. I’m not going to quibble over who created the concept of time. Just the way we track it—the clock. Aliens did that.

How do I know this? I wasn’t there, I didn’t see it happen. But I’ve thought about this frequently enough to feel like I was present. 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 annoy me enough that I spend untold free time contemplating the topics. This is what I’ve come up with: humans should not have measurement systems based on anything except counting to ten.

It makes no sense to measure with 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 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.

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 usually taps 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?

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 lesson 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 you Wikipedia. Bits are ancient, historic. From back when the money could be physically broken. Halved, and halved, and halved 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 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 developed 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.

The 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 alien clock as well.

21 thoughts on “What’s a Bit?

  1. I’ve always liked the concept of a 100,000 second day, each second being only slightly shorter than at present. There’d be a 10 hour day with each hour consisting of 100 minutes. There’d be 1000 minutes per day instead of 1440.

    The biggest issue with decimals is that they can be halved only once and are only divisible by 2 and 5. With the imperial system units could be divide into many parts without using fractions. For example a dollar can be evenly divided by 2, 4, 5, 10, 20 and 50, but a £ could be evenly divided by 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 10, 12, 16, 20, 24, 30, 40, 60, 80, and 120.

    But America doesn’t really use the British system (we called it the Imperial system) properly. For example the American ton is quite different from the Imperial ton (2000 lbs vs 14 lb * 20 st = 2240 lbs or 35840 ounces). And the same goes for volume. In the Imperial system 20 fl oz make a pint whereas only 16 fl oz make a US pint, and to make matters worse, a US fl oz is not the same volume as an Imperial fl oz.

    Liked by 1 person

      • “Was” is the operative word. We changed to decimal currency in 1967 and metric measurements in the early 1970s – weight, length/distance, volume, temperature, etc. Actually a NZ pint was larger by only 3.2 US oz due to the US oz being larger than the imperial oz.

        Some habits die hard. People still order beer by the pint or handle in a bar/pub, but as it’s not a legal measure the actual size will vary from pub to pub, but 425 ml (0.9 US pt) is very common, so “fairness” is now on the other foot 🙂 . The other common measure is by the jug, also not a legal measure, but was 2 imperial pints and these days is approximately 1.125 litres, but also varies from pub to pub.

        We still refer to birth weights in lbs & oz even though they’re officially recorded in kgs. People my generation still think of human height in feet and inches, and human weight in stones (1 st = 14 lb). Somehow 6 ft is easier to visualise and remember than 183 cm, and 10½ st is easier than 66.7 kg or 147 lb.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. 12 fingered aliens 👽, eh? Wasn’t Hannibal Lecter born with 12 fingers in the books? 🤔

    *Could* we break a day… the time between one sunrise and the next on Equinox at the equator, into unit of 10?

    I’m sorry your brain does the hamster on the wheel thing, but thanks for sharing it😂 You tell a good story!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I didn’t know there were Hannibal Lecter books. I wonder if I’d like them. I see he wrote Black Sunday, which I enjoyed. This was written in 2016 shortly before I started a medication that really settled down my OCD. All that time in bed mulling obsessive thoughts and making slightly insane connections between unrelated things resulted in good stories. I sort of miss storytelling like that but I’d NEVER go off the meds. I’m starting to think about working on a compilation book and I’m looking at some old writing to polish up.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. i hate math. now, i hate clocks too. and, if we change the alien clock and/or how many hours in a day, won’t that screw up the alien clock/counter on my treadmill? how will i know how many miles an hour i’ve been running?? … and, what would it do to my microwave and oven timers? YIKES.
    Does anybody really know what time it is (I don’t)
    Does anybody really care (care about time)
    If so I can’t imagine why (no, no)
    We’ve all got time enough to cry

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    • You make good points about our appliances. If I had my way, you wouldn’t need to worry about ‘miles per hour’ because we’d be running kilometers. My son loves that song.

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    • Aotearoa New Zealand went through the process of metrication in the 1970s. Converting mph to k/hr is child’s play compared to converting miles per gallon to litres per 100 kilometres. In the former, larger numbers represent increasing efficiency, while in the latter, larger numbers represent decreasing efficiency.

      Or making bread where the ratio of liquid to dry ingredients were calculated in fluid ounces per pound pre metrication, to milliliters per kilogram post metrication. I still run across this issue whenever I want to try a recipe from an American publication. Even US teaspoon, tablespoon and cup measurement are different from ours.

      And how about comparing the heating rate of an old boiler measured in degrees Fahrenheit per gallon per hour with costs measured in pence per BTU to a new boiler raising the temperature in degrees Centigrade per litre per hour with costs measured in cents per kilowatt.

      Back then most measuring equipment was mechanical, not electronic, so everything from cash registers to scales to petrol pumps to car speedometers to package sizing had to be converted or replaced to comply with the new measurement systems. A simple example would be butter sold in 1 lb blocks pre metrication to 500 gm blocks post metrication. They are not the same size (1 lb = 453.6 gm). At least when (not if) the US converts it will be less traumatic as electronic equipment can easily switch from one measurement system to another – usually at the flick of a switch, or click of the mouse.

      Considering what we’ve already gone through, converting to a different measure of time would be a walk in the park. But I’d hate to change to a metric time while simultaneously changing all other measurements to the metric system. That would indeed be a nightmare.

      Liked by 2 people

        • It’s swings and roundabouts. 1 lb resizes to 500 gm which is slightly larger. 1 pint resizes to 600 ml which is slightly larger. One chocolate manufacturer resized their blocks to 500 gm, another simply changed their labeling from 1 lb to 454 gm. Most Manufacturers and retailers are ethical.

          It’s not in the manufacturer’s interest to raise the ire of consumers. That occurred here not long ago when one multinational confectionery manufacturer switched to palm oil as an ingredient. The response was that consumers switched to a NZ manufacturer that was a minnow on the local market compared to the multinationals. It now holds the number one spot for chocolate sales in NZ.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. The UK has a lovely blend of imperial and metric. I.e. they measure distance in km but speed in mph! Order a pint in the pub but measure volume in grams. There are others I’m not thinking of now, but I have had to get used to ditching inches for centimeters.

    I feeeel your pain on the timesheet thing. I had to picture a round clock face and mentally see how much time had or hadn’t passed, then calculate the %. Probably the most annoying thing. Now I just respond to Teams pings all day (it’s so much better! *sarcasm*)

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