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Nonstandard Time

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Over the weekend, much of the country concluded its annual exercise in mass delusion. We spent precious minutes of our lives to run about our homes resetting our clocks to the way that we had them back in the spring. And we told ourselves that we've gained an extra hour in the process. I have a confession to make, though: I don't play right.

For as long as I have needed to pretend to care what time it is, I have had easy access to clocks whose accuracy has been someone else's problem. My professional career alternates between two states: one where I need to deal with people directly, and another, a joyous time where I get to spend all of my time in a cave with forty-seven computers.

By nature I am a cave-dweller. I like people well enough: without them, I wouldn't have books to read, correspondents with whom to exchange letters, collaborators in professional endeavors, or others who might share experiences with me. All of these things enrich my life and I'm perfectly willing to do my part to reciprocate with the idea of enriching that of others. Nevertheless, the simple fact remains that most people really prefer to know me from a safe distance. That's alright with me, because they're much more pleasant when they're not annoyed. In my cave, I can do as much thinking as I like and can come out only when I really have such a desire.

More to the point is the network of forty-seven computers that I have in there. Not only are they connected to each other, but they're connected to the Internet, and therefore essentially every other computer in the world. (We invented computers, after all, as tools. They can be social so that we don't have to be.) Thanks to a lovely invention that has to do with hyperaccurate clocks that will report the time electronically to any machine that asks and a bunch of software that speaks the Network Time Protocol, computers all over the world can keep their clocks synchronized. The computers can even tell their users the time.

There are some devices, mostly of the domestic variety that don't play well with other machines. We have a video cassette recorder, for example, that has a clock that won't interface with anything but a person looking at the display and/or punching buttons on the screen. Where do I look when I actually care what time it is? Not the VCR. Hence, I have no interest in taking the time needed to fool with the clock. Let's assume that it takes me thirty seconds to reset it. If I do this twice annually and I spend sixty years of my live going through this ritual, I'm burning an hour of my life resetting the clock on the VCR just to deal with arbitrary time changes, to say nothing of times when the power goes out long enough to turn the clock back to its default display: 12:00. So as far as I'm concerned, the VCR and everything else like that can just tell me it's midnight all the time. I'll ignore them all.

Among the devices that do play nicely, a particularly useful feature can be found: the ability to adjust the clock. Precision in clocks can be very difficult to achieve, and the effects can be significant over long periods of time. Clocks that can adjust themselves to stay in synchronization can be left alone and they'll just work.

Of course, none of this does anyone any good unless there is some general agreement on an authoritative clock and a standard time. Hence, the efforts to standardize. Now we get all kinds of benefits from having clocks that people can agree on, and much of our infrastructure can run automatically.

As often happens once there is some standardization, people want to mess with the program, claiming some benefit or other. Then, of course, after whatever tweaks are adopted, there are others who want to undo the tweak.

So now we've got most states observing the change, some not observing the change, others observing it only in certain parts, and nobody knows what time it is. It gives me a headache.

Created by cmcurtin
Last modified 2005-11-08 01:34 PM


Posted by layres at 2005-11-03 11:28 AM
Finally, a use for the <BLINK> tag!

VCR time sync

Posted by gannett at 2006-04-18 07:25 AM

Think globally, there is a big world beyond your cave mate. The timezone tusstles between states is just a fraction of the problem. The USA and Europe have not yet even agreed which week of the year to start summer time yet.
BTW Over here in Europe modern VCRs/DVD recorders time sync by reading the time information read from broadcast teletext :-) This includes TZ changes for summer time.
- Gannett

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