What’s the time?
A very everyday sort of question. But take away one word and it changes from mundane to challenging…
What is time?
The concept of time allows us to put events, from the most minor to the most important, into a sequence. For example, you might tell me that a parcel arrived before breakfast. And then, just as it’s useful to have a unit of length, such as a metre, and not just say things like “This piece of string is too short”, we need units of time. A day is a very traditional unit of time. This came, over time (see how the word crops up?) to be divided into hours, minutes, and seconds. In some fields such as electronics, intervals of less than one nanosecond (that’s one thousand-millionth of a second) may be important. (In that time, this computer has dealt with three events!)
Actually, there’s even a snag with defining the second as a fraction of a day. The length of a day is not strictly constant. I know that often seems true, but here I’m referring just to the physics of it! Seriously, days vary and are on average getting ever so slightly longer. So scientists had to come up with a new way of defining the second. What they settled on is all to do with radiation. We’ve all seen how sodium in common salt will turn a gas flame bright yellow, and anyone who’s done much plumbing will know how copper turns a flame green. Well, that’s all to do with the radiation that’s characteristic of an element. The element Caesium has in its spectrum a particular wavelength of microwave radiation – and all waves, of course, have individual beats (oscillations.) The second is now defined, would you believe, as the duration of 9,192,631,770 oscillations of this particular radiation from Caesium 133. You were dying to know that, weren’t you? There you are, then!
So much for the scientific bit. how do we all get on in real life? Well, it’s often said that work expands to fill the time available. So, is the reverse true? If we suddenly find that less time is available to complete a task than we first thought, can we still do it anyway?
To answer this, I carried out an experiment. I didn’t start out with this intention, but what happened was this: I was installing new lighting in a building used for community purposes, and had been advised that this building was not required to be used during August. Some problems with work being carried out by others led to a delay in the availability of the building for my work to be done, so I chose to work on the bank holiday. I made good progress, but a lot of work remained to do. Imagine, then, how I felt when I learned that the building was to be used the following evening!
I’ll just say that everyone involved was very co-operative and understanding, and the lights went on twenty minutes before the event was due to begin! So the answer is ‘yes – just, but don’t count on it.’ (Not a very scientific way to put it, I know.)
I could regale you with more scientific theory and more hair-raising anecdotes of my working life. But not now. There isn’t time.
This post was prompted by the Writing Workshop here: