Celsius and the 24 Hour Clock

I measure temperature in Celsius and time using a 24 hour clock, often referred to as military time. This comes up a lot in conversation because I live in the United States where these are not the standard forms of measurement (we use Fahrenheit and a 12 hour clock). No, I’ve not served in the military.

I’ll explain more in this blog post.

Global Exposure to Sanity

It’s contextually relevant to know that I’ve visited many different countries. The majority of them measure temperature in Celsius and time in 24 hour increments. It’s very useful to understand these systems in order to operate efficiently without sticking out as yet another stupid tourist.

You know who you are. 👀

For example, many showers in nicer European hotels use a thermal gauge for water temperature. If you don’t know that 60 C is going to scald your skin, you’re in for a fun surprise. The same goes for the icy splash of 25 C.

So, there’s that. Global travel requires at least a passing level of knowledge with these sorts of systems.

But that’s not really the reason I use them.

Keeping Time

Let’s start with the 24 hour clock, which has “been used for centuries by scientists, astronomers, [and] navigators” (source).

It’s the standard format used by all computer systems, too. Computers have to translate a universal timecode or Epoch time into something we visualize, which includes abbreviations in 12 hour clocks.

I spend a fair bit of time doing things with computers and so why fight the 24 hour time format?

When you stare at enough log dumps with UTC date stamps, you realize a major benefit of consistent, 24 hour increments: it makes historical record searching simple and clean. This is doubly true in situations where people are recording time. “It happened at 2:00,” says the log. In the morning? At night? Do we have enough context to figure it out? Is it really that hard to just write 02:00 or 14:00?

(No, it’s not).

Another data point – “Explicit is better than implicit.” Straight from Python’s PEP 20. You can argue with that, but you’d be wrong. 😉

I still use the 12 hour clock format in some work communications because I’m more interested in having the recipient aligned on my messaging than me being true to any particular time format. In that case, I’m strict about using the correct abbreviations as metadata.

That’s my story on the 24 hour clock. I find it to be a better, cleaner, and more efficient method of storing and communicating time. It’s been my go-to time format for most of my adult life.

Chillin’ to Celsius

Celsius is a bit newer for me. I switched over to Celsius as a primary temperature measurement in 2015.

I kept running into Celsius everywhere I went. It’s the most popular temperature measurement system in the world. That it’s better than Fahrenheit is debatable and highly dependent on perspective.

Here’s what I like about it:

The scale is fairly short and it aligns really well to the properties of water (duh). Is it negative? Then it’s freezing. Is it 20-something out? Then it’s nice.

I also run into a lot of scientific applications and global systems that default all temperature units to Celsius. For example, connecting to an API to capture weather data tends to return results in Celsius.

And last, it’s such a great way to relate to people who don’t live in a world of Fahrenheit. It’s always groovy to have your English or Egyptian colleague ask about the weather and be able to give a response in Celsius. Really builds a relationship bridge there, I’ve found. Common communication mechanisms are key for building trust.

So, all of that is to say – Celsius is just something that’s insanely popular and there’s no reason not to learn it. I really don’t use Fahrenheit much anymore and it takes me a few seconds to translate from Celsius. That’s kind of fun, in a way, because it’s different.