blog · git · desktop · images · contact · gopher

A different perspective on time


I’m a time nerd. Sort of. Okay, maybe that’s exaggerated. Still, time is reliable, accurate, and simple (let’s ignore Einstein for a minute). I like that. Even as a small child, I liked digital watches because they are precise. It’s “13:38:21” and not “my clock’s hand is close to something”. Today, I own a digital, radio controlled, solar watch because it’s maintenance free and very accurate.

A friend of mine recently bought a 24-hour one-hand watch by Botta Design. This is virtually the opposite of what I like – so I thought.

First, of course, it’s not a digital watch. I can’t tell whether it’s 13:38:02 or 13:38:47. For me, as a time nerd, this is important. Even worse than a common analog watch, it has only one hand and shows the full 24 hours of the day. This means that its “resolution” is even lower than a normal analog watch. You can only guess, “yeah, it’s something between 13:35 and 13:40”.

Second and third, it’s neither radio controlled nor solar. I am very lazy. I don’t want to take care of adjusting watches all the time, nor do I want to exchange batteries.

What I really do like about that watch is its 24-hour design.

I took this opportunity to learn a little something about JavaScript and HTML 5 canvases. So, I programmed a 24-hour watch:

The clock not only shows the current time but also sun rise, noon, and sun set. This, of course, is only possible when the script knows your time zone and geographical location. Thus, if you don’t live in southern Germany, you’ll have to provide your longitude and latitude. For Bangkok, something like this should be appropriate:

This will only work in a meaningful way if you actually live in Bangkok because the script asks your browser for the current time.

– Update 2023-11-10: Added support for asking the browser about your location (might take a moment):

Also note that the sun path calculations are only rough estimates. They’re not 100% accurate. This is just fine because the sun doesn’t disappear all of a sudden. Twilight takes some time to pass and the actual “brightness” during that time depends on clouds anyway.

Still, it gives you a good idea about “day time” and “night time”.

I’ve been running that watch in a browser window during the last week. To my surprise, it changed the way I think about time.

First of all, the mere fact that you can see the whole day is very important. A digital “13:38:02” is nice and accurate, but you can’t really grasp how much of the day has already passed. You also usually don’t realize that there’s a big difference between going to bed at 21:00 and 23:00. With a 24-hour clock, you get the complete picture.

The real Botta watch has fixed “day time” and “night time” indicators. My script tries to show reality. This is very nice. Before using that clock, I didn’t even know when sun rise or sun set actually happened.

Most importantly, though: I now care a lot less about the “13:38 vs. 13:39” issue. It’s just not important to know this all the time. Sometimes, yes, you need to know. But these are rare occasions. A 24-hour one-hand clock really is accurate enough, I think. I “worry” less now. (That’s a german problem, I guess.)

All kinds of questions pop into your head after you’ve used a 24-hour clock for a while. Why do common clocks divide the day into 0h to 12h and 12h to 0h? Why not “day time from 6h to 18h” and “night time from 18h to 6h”? Why use “two periods” in the first place? Who came up with that?

Turns out, both ideas, 12- and 24-hour clocks, are very old. But why the 12-hour clock – and even that ridiculous “AM/PM” system – has become so popular, is an enigma to me.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to buy these 24-hour watches. I couldn’t find one single wall clock of this type. Hopefully, soon, manufacturers won’t be needing to make all kinds of different watches anymore. With the rise of programmable smart watches, users might get more freedom and could choose their clock design by themselves.