Friday, May 21, 2004

hey, wait a minute

A SuperPlusDoublePremium(tm) Subscriber from Tashkent, OH, e-mailed me earlier this week:
so i see that gay couples in massachusetts were able to start marrying at 12:01am. why not 12:00am? is this the same deal as the new millenium starting with the year 2001 instead of 2000? Should we be celebrating the new year (assuming that one should celebrate this at all) at 12:01am each year, instead of at the stroke of midnight...
I have always perplexed by this as well. My understanding has always been that the stroke of midnight belongs to the next day. This is why 12 AM is midnight and 12 PM is noon; if midnight belongs to the previous day it would be the other way around. With the millenium, there was the commonsense idea that the millenium started in 2000 and then the quasi-elitish counteridea that the millenium really didn't start until 2001. I'm sure, if the New Year didn't really start until 12:01, there would be a similar quasi-elitish countercadre that would insist on waiting one minute later than everyone else to start a-kissing and a-whooping. Is there some legal sense in which the next day doesn't actually start until 12:01? Is it like a "fiscal day" that starts one minute later than the real day?

This semester, in my graduate methods course, I started off having exercises due (via e-mail) on Thursdays at 3pm. I decided later that I wanted to give students the rest of the day to do them. Which spawned the inevitable question: "What do you mean by the rest of the day? Do you mean 5 or until midnight or until 8AM tomorrow or what?" So I started putting on the exercises that they were due Thursday at 11:59:59.9 PM, as I knew that if I put "Thursday at midnight" I would get some neurotic* students who thought they needed to finish the exercise before Wednesday night turned into Thursday morning, and if I put "Friday at midnight", there would be slacker students who would insist that it was plausible to construe this as meaning that they could have the whole day Friday to do their assignment.

* This is a perfect example of how I project my own neuroses onto students. The fact of the matter is, every single student in the class could have perfectly understood that when I said "Thursday at midnight" I meant "the instant Thursday night turns into Friday morning," and yet I still would not have put "Thursday at midnight" on their assignments, because I would know it was technically incorrect.

Update, like a minute later: Incidentally, Blogger recently set the timestamp on one of my posts as being 12:01pm, even though I actually posted it at like 9am that day. I have no idea why. But, presumably, it was inadvertently reset to the start-of-day value, which means that Blogger also regards 12:01 as the real time that the next day begins.

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