…measuring time

Regardless of how we think of time –as a divine invention, human convention, or something else-, there is something fascinating in certain numbers that by themselves create milestones and call us to certain behaviors. For example, reaching years that end in zero somehow inspire journalists, commentators and many others to think about the greatest achievements of the decade or make predictions not just about the coming year but about the next ten years.

Why seven days a week?
But how did society conclude that there should be seven days in a week? Why not eight or six or any other number? Those of us in Western-influenced civilizations would probably attribute this to the story of creation in Genesis (the first book of the Bible and of the Torah); and the Muslims’ Qur’an also describes creation in six days and one dedicated to rest. Still, some sources suggest that Babylonian, Persian and Chinese calendars had seven-day weeks that predate the most ancient vestiges of Jewish civilization.

Some attempts to change the way time is measured include the French Revolutionaries in the 18th and 19th Centuries (1793 to 1805 and then the Paris Commune in 1871) and the USSR between 1929 and 1940. The former was a 10-day week that attempted to reject Christianity while neglecting any consideration of how the French would like working for nine days before having a day to rest! The Soviet attempt to reject Western customs also failed, even though their calendar had a rest day after five work days –after experimenting with only four work days followed by a rest day between 1929 and 1931. Inefficiency, lack of popular support, and other reasons converged to a return to the seven-day calendar.

Still, other cultures have used different lengths for their weeks. A Wikipedia entry documents weeks from three to twenty days, defined by peoples around the world, including some from currently Hispanic areas like the Basque, the Mayans and the Aztecs.

Why 24 hours, 60 minutes or 60 seconds?
Even more intriguing to me is how we currently have 24 hours in a day, each composed by 60 minutes, which in turn have 60 seconds each. A credible explanation suggests that “sexagesimal” systems are based on the multiplication of the twelve phalanxes that our four fingers have (not counting the thumb), times the five fingers in the other hand. Just like the decimal system is allegedly based upon ten fingers from both hands, ancient civilizations would use their fingers to keep track of the number of units they were trading or keeping track of. Alternatively –or complementarily--, there are twelve lunar cycles in a year. An added benefit that enhances this number is that both 60 and 24 are divisible by various numbers, making it easy to split hours, minutes, or days in halves, thirds, fourths, sixths, etc.

Again, the French revolutionaries tried to change civilization by defining a new clock for which the day was divided in ten hours of a hundred minutes of a hundred seconds, yielding 100,000 seconds per day. Having received my basic education and two university degrees outside the British metric system, these attempts make sense in my mind. Dividing multiples of ten is easier to my mind than using other factors. However, these arrangements did not last long.

What if things were different?
It’s hard to imagine what our world would be if we were using another time measurement paradigm. It is possible that nothing would be that different since we still have to customize time to our own professional needs. For example, lawyers, accountants, psychologists, career coaches, music teachers, and so on may use 15, 30, 60 minute intervals for a basic session in which they are able to meaningfully interact with their clients. Ultimately (or, should I say ideally!), the task is what determines the time needed but some standard measure is often needed to be able to make an adequate diagnosis and provide an adequate service.

Have you come across a profession or a service with an unusually short or long billing cycle? What is the “outstanding event of your decade”? What do you expect to be the “outstanding event” for the next one?

Let me know your thoughts or comments on my facebook profile or via email to drolivaslujan_at_gmail.com.

To learn more:
The site: http://www.webexhibits.org/calendars describes a variety of ways to measure time. It is one of ten fascinating “WebExhibits” of an interactive, online museum.

http://www.horology-stuff.com/time/24hours.html gives interesting explanations to why we have 24 hours in a day.

…counting blessings

It’s that time of the year again…! By the time you read this, hopefully the stats for Black Friday have presaged a better shopping season than last year’s, supporting the economic recovery that we have been expecting and very much need. Yes, the stock market has been rallying with a strength not seen in years and unemployment figures improved just before Thanksgiving, but the two-digit statistic of this “trailing indicator” (meaning that it usually improves only after other indicators like industrial production or retail sales do) is still a major cause of concern –especially when we can identify faces in our family or circles of friends that can be counted among those unemployed!

Yes, for many of us, this is a season to be jolly, as our families have a roof above their heads and the little ones –as well as the older ones—will be receiving clothes, toys, candy, and so many other seasonal treats. When our industries are doing well –or, at least our organizations—our year-end celebrations are a must; the past few months demonstrate how easily the winds may change and, for one, I feel grateful that Education has been enjoying record enrollments, even in the face of exponential rising of tuition fees, a fact that underscores the need for organizations like NSHMBA!

But this is also a time for solidarity. To the extent that those around us are in need, this is an exceptionally fitting time to help. We know that every year there are people in need and our human, gregarious nature calls us to be there for those who are having a bad time –economically, psychologically, or in any other aspects. Still, I would argue that this year is different. With over 10% unemployment and uncertainty in business and political reforms, this year it is easier to find needs to cover!

Things we can do
Of course, the most obvious, perhaps easiest way to help is to give donations to charities, to churches, synagogues, mosques, and many other non-profits that can always use an extra dollar to further their mission. Again, this year might be a more urgent year to offer monetary help, as many non-profits are reporting that donations are down this year, and demand for their services has increased. But you know where I’m going, don’t you?

An even better, and probably more rewarding way to help is volunteering; by giving some of your precious time. Your company might have volunteering programs –let me know if you’ve used them recently!

Added benefits, documented in The Health Benefits of Volunteering, a report by the Corporation for National and Community Service (http://www.nationalservice.gov/) include greater life satisfaction, lower depression rates, longer lives, and better physical health. The report even goes as far as to suggest that volunteering leads to stronger communities and better public health at the state level! States like NV, NY, LA and FL, where the 2006 volunteer rate was below 20% had much greater heart disease rates and mortality rates than states like MN, UT and NE, where the volunteer rate is about 40% or higher. While the evidence offered is not bullet proof –they use regression analyses, which are not appropriate to determine causality by themselves—the point is well taken: volunteer 100 or more hours per year and you may see your own health improve, in addition to witnessing the improvements in those you helped.

Sometimes your family also needs your “spare time” (by the way, you know it simply won’t happen if you try to do this only during the time you have left, right?). This season gives us a perfect excuse to visit the relatives that we have not met for a while! Whether they are in a different country or just across the street, why don’t you try to take advantage of the opportunity to reconnect, to remember the old times and prepare for the next ones?

As always, I look forward to your thoughts or reactions on my facebook profile or via email to drolivaslujan (at) gmail.com. ...and Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah! Happy Kwanzaa! I hope that your worst moments in 2010 are like the best of 2009!!!