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Against Universal Time

Sunday morning, in the wake of our yearly leap forward to Daylight Savings Time, Vox ran the above video arguing that we should simply abolish time zones and establish a universal time. Their argument is that this would simplify a lot of things. For example, if I set up a teleconference at 1 pm, I wouldn’t need to tell people what time zone that is. They would all just call in at 1 pm, whether that corresponds to morning, evening or afternoon at their location.

At first blush, this doesn’t seem like a terrible idea. Our time zones are rather arbitrary in some ways, put together mainly to eliminate the confusion of cities all over the world having their own local time. It is a bit of pain to coordinate things like teleconference and remind everyone of what local time it corresponds to for them. Moreover, this would not be unprecedented. China has one time zone for the entire country and it appears to be a mild inconvenience at worst.

On the other hand, China only covers three to five possible time zones and much of its population is concentrated in the Eastern half of country. It’s not clear you can apply that lesson the United States, let alone the entire world.

I have some experience in this. I work for a NASA mission and, to keep things clear, all mission-related work is done in Universal Time (UT) — which is essentially Greenwich Mean Time. This makes sense for a space mission because the spacecraft has no “time zone”, orbiting the Earth every 96 minutes. It’s a bit confusing at times — when planning observations, I have to constantly remind myself that “tomorrow” starts in the early evening. But I’m sure, like the metric system, use would make it familiar.

But the real problem is this: while time zones may be arbitrary, our sense of time is not. Our sense of time is related to the motion of the sun. We defined our system of time-keeping such that the sun was roughly overhead at noon. This isn’t the case now, since we have time zones and fixed clocks which don’t changed based on the Earth’s orbital eccentricity or our location within a broad time zone. But the idea of setting our clocks by where the Sun is in the sky is the foundation of our system of time-keeping.

And this is important because the Sun, for most of us, defines our circadian rhythms. Absent alarm clocks, we wake up depending on when the Sun is the sky. We go to sleep based on how long ago it set. Our energy levels and work productivity can vary through the day. Deprived of this information, our bodies tend to do weird things. Our current time-keeping system is designed to roughly mimic that circadian rhythm for everyone living on a spherical planet.

By contrast, a universal time would be more arbitrary. The time of day wouldn’t get less confusing, it would get more confusing. Because it would no longer be defined by the position of the Sun at our location but by the position of the Sun somewhere else on the globe and our location relative to it (two variables we can not measure without computers). The only way to get a sense of what time of day it is would be to either have an electronic device or make a mental conversion based on your location.

And now we see the problem. No matter where I am in the world, noon is when the Sun is (kinda) directly overhead. Seven to eight in the morning is when the kids wake up. Midnight is time for me to hit the sack. Nine to five is work. These aren’t just arbitrary numbers; they are defined by our biological rhythms and by the position of the Sun. I have to make some adjustments when I travel (I married into an Australian family and go there every few years). But after a week, at most, my body settles into the local rhythm, based on where the Sun is at that location.

With a universal time, these rhythms are now disconnected. So nine-to-five is work … in England. If I visit Israel, work is now seven to three. If I’m in Australia, work is now 10 pm to 4 am. The clock loses all meaning.

And, returning to the example of a teleconference, it arguably makes things worse. I regularly schedule international teleconferences and the time zones help with that because I know that a teleconference is only tenable when it is working hours in both locations. Knowing that 11 am on the East Coast is 8 am on the West Coast and 4 pm in the UK tells me that’s a reasonable meeting time. Knowing it is 11 am everywhere doesn’t change anything — I still need to make some adjustment based on the circadian rhythms of the people at each location; it’s just now a little harder to figure out.

In short, changing everyone to universal time doesn’t “solve” the problem of time zones, even assuming that is a problem. It merely turns it upside down. Ultimately, there is no way to work around two basic facts of human beings: we live on a spherical planet and our circadian rhythms are defined by the location of the Sun relative to our location on that spherical planet.
Image by FOTOGRAFIA.Nelo.Esteves Against Universal Time


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Michael Siegel is an astronomer living in Pennsylvania. He is on Twitter, blogs at his own site, and has written a novel.

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101 thoughts on “Against Universal Time

  1. I can see huge fights over which nation “gets” to have the prime working hours of the day during daylight hours. And while in some ways, other nations could adapt – say, for example, the central US gets stuck with 2 am being our “noon,” I could see my university just changing the times when face-to-face classes meet in the book so I have “3 am to 5 am” labs, which are really during what you might call “biorhythm afternoon” and are what used to be 1 pm to 3 pm…

    But I could see those who would have us do all our teaching online pushing even harder for middle-of-the-night-here “virtual office hours” because “some parts of the world are active now, and hey, look, anyway, it’s noon, you shouldn’t be complaining.”

    Even worse than a huge fight over who “gets” to have noon close to actual (“biorhythm”) noon, would be “Hey, let’s shift who gets that every 5 years” so that every five years the times change and you maybe go from having to conference calls at your “local” 11-pm-biorhythm-time to conference calls at your “local” 6-am-biorhythm-time. And everyone would hate that.

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    • I can see huge fights over which nation “gets” to have the prime working hours of the day during daylight hours.

      There’s a completely fair way to decide ‘who gets real noon’…no one, because we can also stop lopping off the extra partial day in a year and making leap days out of them.

      If we make each year be 365.25 days long, like they really are (1), we solved the problem. We put the normal 365 days in a year, and then we have a quarter day, and then everyone is now offset by six hours.

      So if, at a certain location, the sun is directly overhead at 0000 one year, it’s overhead at 0600 the next, then 1200, then 1800, then back to 0000.

      1) Well, it’s 365.24 days, so now each year is slightly too long, but we’ll wait until we’re added an entire day and _remove_ it, which we’ll have to do about every ~133 years. (Which is what we do now by withholding the leap day every 100 years unless it’s every 400 years.)

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        • Yeah, I agree, that is six hour is too much. So I’m going to change my proposal to make the partial day 0.2425 of a day like it correctly should be, so we completely avoid any leap days at all.

          This has the added advantage that we’d only have to adjust the clock by *does math* 5 hours, 49 minutes, and 12 seconds. While that isn’t much of an advantage over an entire six hours adjustment, I feel it is slightly easier.

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            • Each child gets a special sextant? I mean, my understanding of sextants suggests you’d still have to take the reading at proper noon… but the sextant would tell you what *your* longitudinal position is, then its just a few quick calculations and voila, your watch is set.

              So not only your personal noon, but your personal longitude.

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            • I’ve actually always thought it odd how we are technically incorrect in every single age limit under the law, and do not seem to care.

              We have all sorts of laws about how you have to be 18 or 21 to do something, and yet we just blithely let people who are 17 years, 364 days, and 4 hours old do them. We even have signs that say ‘To buy tobacco, you have to have been born on this day in 2000’ or whatever, but as far as I understand, the law _actually_ says ‘you have to be 18 years old’, and those are not the same thing.

              And we just ignore that, for some reason. I dunno, maybe there’s some sort of ruling that people change to a specific age at the first second of their birthday, regardless of when in the day they were born.

              This isn’t even getting into the fact that, years are not evenly divided into days, so those deadlines can end up a day off anyway.

              For example, if you are Jan 1, you are not exactly 18 ‘years old’ at the same time on the Jan 1 18 calendar years later.

              To be exactly 18 years older would require you to be 6574.365 days old (18 times 365.2425 days), and at the ‘moment of your birth on your 18th birthday’ you are at either 6574 or 6575 days, depending if that 18 years hit three or four leap days.

              If you were born on Jan 1 2000, for example, reaching 18 will hit four leap days, so is 6575 days later. And as you only needed 6574.365 days day to reach 18 years, you actually reached ‘lived on this planet for 18 years’ about 17 hours earlier than you thought, sometime around 7 in the morning Dec 31.

              Meanwhile, someone who was born Jan 1 2001 turns 18 about 9 hours _later_ than they think, because Jan 1 2019 only passed three leap years so is only 6574 days after Jan 1 2001 so they need to live another that partial day.

              You do, however, hit _sixteen_ exactly correctly. And twenty. Because you always have the correct number of leap years to fix the partial days you lived. (Well, barring the fact that the year is .2425 days and not the .25 days that leap years correct it to. To have the leap system fix that, you would have to live to an exact multiple of 400 years.)

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  2. But circadian rhythms are independent of an arbitrary designation of time. Sure, it’s nice to know that noon is when the sun is about overhead, but that is covenient at best. It’s something people would adjust to in a relatively short amount of time.

    Sure, those of us who grew up thinking about time relative to solar position would probably always maintain that in our head space*, but kids would adjust just fine.

    *Kind of like how despite preferring metric units, I still use English units in my head as a natural reference. I ‘know’ how long an inch or foot is, how much a pound is, etc.

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    • Agreed, the circadian thing only becomes a problem when you have to simultaneously meet (eg. conference calls) with people in other time zones. I suspect a universal time zone thing would become most important for that, or for things like v. long distance travel.

      I use both metric and English units. Each one is a good tool for different systems. When working in the lab or the field, I use metric (and harass students when they try to measure things in inches). But when I’m cooking or quilting at home? I use the “old” measurements because most of the patterns/recipes I have call for that. I would hate for some federal “all metric” mandate where when my measuring cups broke or wore out, the only ones I could get were in “milligrams” (which doesn’t even work for substances of differing densities) or “milliliters” because in recipes requiring precision, it is not enough the same and I don’t enjoy having to measure out, say 172 mL of something instead of a more round “cup” measurement.

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      • I always find it funny to read recipes auto-converted from imperial to metric units by software that has no concept of significant figures.

        Nobody in France measures out 118 mL of rice when the US recipe calls for half a cup, any more than Americans measure out 135/256 of a cup when the French recipe calls for 125 mL.

        A cup is 250 mL (even though it’s not). A pound is 500 g, or if you value fussiness over easy arithmetic it’s 450 g. It’s certainly never 454 g (even though it is).

        We did have for a while a measuring cup with gram scales for half a dozen substances – rice, sugar, flour, maybe cornmeal, can’t remember them all – which seemed like rather a convoluted way to avoid just getting out the kitchen scale that was sitting right next to it in the cupboard.

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    • The problem is that now it is easy to say that everyone has a 9-5 day or an 8-6 day. But most of the world would not be able to say that if everyone shifts to one time zone.

      Also, the conference call thing would seriously be a problem.

      Also, as has noted, there is going to be a fight about who gets to have their biorythem noon close to official noon. It may be unfair of me, but I wonder whether blase-ness about this is a function of Americans giving themselves an upward of 50% chance of getting their way on the issue. As someone who would normally be living in the eastern hemisphere*, I know I’m going to get shafted if this happens. Also, almost every former colony is going to object to this. One of the things conquerors regularly did was change time zones on the conquered. Japan moved Singapore to Tokyo (GMT+9) standard time when they occupied us. We shifted back to Malayan standard time (GMT+7.5) and changed to Malaysian standard (GMT+8) when Malaya, Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak left the British empire and formed Malaysia. When we left Malaysia two years later we kept ourselves at +8 because it was close enough.

      The question is not whether in some alternative world it would be an acceptable system. The question is whether it would be better than the current one ( or sufficiently better such that it is worth changing). We already have GMT. It is fairly easy for any given country to change its time zone. The reason why they haven’t changed can be chalked up to a massive status quo bias or to the fact that there really isn’t any advantage. (or maybe the advantage is not so significant that it is worth changing over for. But given how ready countries generally are to change time zones, the advantage must be really minor)

      In fact, its harder for countries to change their units of measurement than for them to change time zones. Yet, every other country has changed to the metric system (with the US and UK being the only major exceptions). So the status quo bias effect cannot be that large. I’m pretty sure that there isn’t any net advantage.

      People may bitch about turning their clocks forward or backward, but it would almost certainly be just as bad for office hours to change in the winter. Remind me again why universal time is better?

      *While I am currently in the UK, there is no way I’m staying past graduation.

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      • All that is probably true, but arguing against UT because it’s a political shitshow is vastly different than arguing that our biorhythm is somehow tied to where the sun is when the clock reads noon.

        Also, I do teleconferences with Europe and Asia every week, and we somehow manage to keep a thought with regard to who is awake & when without too much pain. I don’t see how UT would change that. It would require people to think about such things a bit differently, but that’s all.

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        • I don’t think his point is about biorythms per se (or at least let me steel-man it) rather than a point about how we construct our identities. It seems to me that we construct our view of ourselves around both biorythmic as well as purely conventional markers. its like 8:00 am is my breakfast time. 1:30 is my</i. lunch time etc. We construct our sense of ourselves based on these conventions. It also works on a social level. everyone knows that 12-2 ish is lunch time. Any earlier and you are wondering into brunch territory. Any later and you wander into high-tea territory. While working from 8-5 is a very recent thing, it is a thing in that the world over, we attach particular numbers to our working hours. Those numbers mean something to us collectively speaking. Sure, its arbitrary and in time we will form other conventions and form meaning in different ways. But the mere fact that we could form meanings differently doesnt mean that the way we form meanings now isn't valuable to us.

          If you are going to destroy all this meaningful relations ( as in the relations each of us has to particular named hours of the day), you better have a really good reason to do so.

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          • We may construct something of ourselves relative to the arbitrary numbers on the clock, but you’d be surprised how easy it is to reconstruct it. People in the military do it all the time.

            As long as moving to UT does not require that the whole world be active from 9-5 Greenwich, the rest is adjustable, and the resistance I am hearing is from people who either haven’t had to adjust (thus the idea is uncomfortable), or just don’t like the idea.

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            • Right, it isn’t so much Universal Time as Single Clock time.

              Universal time suggests 9 am = 9 am regardless of where the sun might be.
              Single Clock just means that breakfast in Greenwhich is at 8 am, but Breakfast in Washington DC is at 1pm (wait, did I do that right?)

              Which is why I think the strongest argument against is this: “In short, changing everyone to universal time doesn’t “solve” the problem of time zones, even assuming that is a problem. It merely turns it upside down.

              Which I might rephase a bit to say that the issue is that we’ll have to memorize a hundred local customs of whether the workday in DC is 2-10 or 1-9 or 3-11 and what that means in Pittsburgh or Brisbane or Bangalore.

              Rather than a sort of “universal” start of 9 am local… we’ll have (i suspect) a greater diversity of what local time means. So, harder in mental practice, but no different for digital practice.

              In the end, its a solution to a problem no one has.

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              • That’s my main objection. People live on local relative time. If you know the local relative time, you can figure out whether people are likely to be sleeping, working, eating or whatever. If everyone uses GMT, you have to look that stuff up in a table or do the local math. That’s more work than you need.

                People in aviation, do use what they call “zulu time”, because they plan flights in GMT and suffix all GMT times with a “Z” to avoid confusion. (“Zulu” is just the radio code word for the letter “Z”, and has nothing to do with actual Zulus who use local Zulu time, not GMT zulu time.) If you want to plan flights across continents, across oceans or even to Indiana, you want to work in zulu time, but the stations people, who in charge of airport operations, use local time. That is, in parts of South Africa, they use Zulu time.

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      • @oscar-gordon

        Are people thinking that the business world would keep on operating on a by-the-clock 9-5-ish basis no matter what the sun was doing at those times?

        No, business would proceed with the sun as it currently does. The adjustment would have to be to assigning different numbers to the things that we do at the same sun-time of the day. Which would be a *huge* adjustment and won’t happen – but not as huge as the alternative.

        I don’t really understand why the intercontinental-call thing would be more of a problem if the change happened, though. It seems like the one thing it would actually help. Currently when setting up intercontinental calls you’re dealing with places with different number-times and different sun-times. But the sun-time difference can’t be altered (anyone got a proposal???). With universal time, at least there wouldn’t have to be any time-number-conversions that can result in confusion. But I don’t think that really gets you much, and anyway, as the OP points out, there is already functionally *optional* universal time, which global organizations handling highly time-sensitive issues across continents (like militaries and global shipping) already use.

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        • …That’s what I took to be the “political fight” point. But maybe it’s just “Who has to start calling 8am 7pm?”, etc. Which would also be a fight. It would probably be necessary/useful if this happened for 24:00 time to also be adopted to try to make the numbers more arbitrary than they had been.

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    • – “What time is noon here?”
      – “About 12:45 PM”
      – “Thanks.”

      vs

      – “What time is noon here?”
      – “About 7:45 AM.”
      – “Thanks.”

      We’d get used to it, I think.

      The units is a funny one.

      I know how long a foot is when I’m thinking about the height of a human body. But I know a meter better when I’m thinking about the distance to that house over there.

      I know how much a degree Celsius is when I’m thinking about whether to put on a sweater, but I know how much a degree Fahrenheit is when I’m thinking about whether the beets and the pork loin can go in the oven together.

      I have a better feel for liters and kilograms than for gallons and pounds – can’t think of an exception on those.

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      • This may be chalkupable to regional differences, but I grew up having a better feel for a pound of butter or five pounds of flour than their kilogrammic equivalent. also a 200 pound person than a 90 kilo person. even though in general i’m more comfortable with kg than pound.

        agreed on the gallon / litre thing though. half-gallons still confuse me after 20 years in the states.

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        • Of course, butter comes in pounds, I didn’t think of that. Flour for me comes in kilos or cups.

          I don’t know if a cup is meaningfully an imperial unit or a metric one for me because I have to think harder to remember where a cup fits relative to ounces and pints and gallons. That it’s a quarter liter is automatic.

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          • I learned from sad experience making cookies off a British recipe once: sometimes “grams of flour” cannot be approximated by what the measuring cup says and must literally be weighed out. (They had converted grams to ounces, but it still had to be a weight and not volume measure. I know for bread you often weigh the flour – or if you’re like me, you just add until it “seems right” – but I figured cookies might be a little more forgiving. Nope, the “ounces” called for just made a sticky mess and I had to start over)

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            • Climate makes a big difference too.

              The authors of The Joy of Cooking live in New England. We live in a semi-arid climate. When we make their baking recipes they need considerably more liquid than the book calls for.

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  3. Oh yeah, this would work out real fun with the folks in Singapore I used to deal with…Don’t care what the “time” says it is….one of the two parties is not working/asleep.

    Oh, but this idea came from Vox…well…

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  4. Vox is doing one of the things that Libertarians do.

    “X is dumb. We shouldn’t do X.”
    “I’m listening…”
    “WE SHOULD DO THIS BATSHIT CRAZY THING THAT NOBODY WOULD EVER AGREE TO INSTEAD!!!!!”

    Anyway, let’s solve the Daylight Saving Time problem by getting rid of Daylight Saving Time.

    If, after that, we’re still not satisfied that we’re making enough people dance like a puppet to our universalized measurements, we can discuss how we want the people in flyover country (or other countries too? I guess?) to agree with us over what time it is.

    But let’s just get rid of Daylight Saving Time first. Maybe that will be good enough.

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    • That’s close to Vox’s argument style but not quite it. Saul gets it better. Vox is more like “Experts say that our policy on x should be y. We aren’t doing y. Therefore, we should do y.” This covers everything from universal time to year round schooling. Never mind that many families see summer time as family fun time and are going to get angry if summer break is taken away or that universal time will just screw people over.

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    • There was a proposal in Alberta to get rid of DST (or maybe go on DST permanently – same thing either way really). So Alberta would be like Saskatchewan, and just have the same time zone year round.

      This eventually didn’t get implemented, because “Oh my gosh we have to do business with BC and everything would fall apart if we stopped doing DST and they didn’t.” (never mind that we also do business with Saskatchewan just fine).

      Now BC is proposing to get rid of DST, and wouldn’t it just serve us right if they go ahead?

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      • Right… the day still starts at dawn and prime is still the first hour after dawn… so on and so forth. Though in modern practice Fillyjonk is right, 6 am, 9am, Noon and 3pm are more or less fixed… and the nocturnal prayers vary by order and custom.

        It really does make more sense if you eliminate the clock completely and work/pray starting at Dawn… then the seasons also add a different rythm and different work to the daily life. There’s a sense where Clock Time at all is rather silly.

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  5. Universal time is also going to lead to some people getting some very inconvenient phone calls. When everybody is at 2PM, I’m very sure that people are going to forget that their real, actual 2PM might be when somebody else is sleeping, partying, or eating breakfast at home before going to work.

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      • And how do people adjust? They would have to start keeping track of the business hours for each of their contacts. Then the cleverer ones could then optimize that by noticing that people who live close to each other all have the same business hours and start grouping these people into ‘time regions’ and so then only keep track of each persons ‘time region’.

        So the net result is we still have time zones, but our clocks are now complete disconnected from local sun time. What exactly has been improved?

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        • I suspect that would be the ultimate outcome. So I’d be teaching class at 2 am, except 2 am would be midmorning and I’d get to eat lunch at 4 am and I had to call a potential collaborator in the UK I’d still have to go, “Okay, 2 am my time is going to be 8 am their time except for the few weeks between us going on summer time and them going on summer time and then it would be 7 am their time and I wonder if they’re at work yet….:”

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        • But that wasn’t the argument in the OP.

          I’m pushing back against both the idea that circadian rhythms care what number is on the clock, and that we can’t figure out how to operate a global economy with a ST/UT.

          I mean, yeah, no one has put forth a good argument regarding why it would be useful to switch to a ST/UT, but we got a few bad arguments against it.

          Your argument, and Murali’s argument that the politics would be impossible to sort out, are solid arguments against.

          Personally, I just really wish everyone would do away with the stupid as feck daylight savings time, time zones are a lot more manageable when I don’t have to keep track of political efforts to alter reality. Nobody gets an extra hour of daylight.

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  6. In the quest for the longitude, both Greenwich and Paris laid claim to be the the starting point, as no one could tell either of those powers that be who is going to be right, only they could. This is only the first of many problems with the idea of “universal time.”

    Time is a construct that we have created to give us a sense of when things are, other than that it has no real meaning. Hours? Arbitrary. Days? Now those are a real thing, as we revolve around the son, creating periods of daylight and darkness. Etc. on all things time related.

    Frankly, it is as silly as the metric system. Another arbitrary and meaningless system.

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  7. Realistically, this is a stupid idea, but it’s also one that could be implemented in a day without any difficulties. There are two kinds of people: those who are affected by what time other people say it is, and those who aren’t. The first group almost all have apps. For those who don’t, we’d have to change a few signs: “Lunch Buffet 4-6pm”, “Sunrise Services 1:15am”, et cetera. Oh, and legislators would have to draft something to the effect that any time in contracts signed before 3/12/2018 would be implicitly adjusted to Universal Time.

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  8. I can imagine something of a compromise here. I think the time zones we have are just fine for most folks. It’s just that for certain purposes we have too many of them.

    See, I drive all over the continental U.S., so I’m constantly crossing time zones and I have to be careful about what the time is where I have a scheduled pick-up or delivery. It’s a lot easier with a smartphone now than it used to be but still a hassle.

    So I would suggest the implementation of a small set of “Commercial” time zones as a kind of overlay on top of the existing zones for specific purposes like scheduling conference calls or, in my case, shipping. You could have a North American Commercial Time (NACT) that would correspond to the existing CST or possibly split the difference between CST and MST. South American Commercial Time, European Commercial Time, East Asia Commercial Time, Australian Commercial Time, etc. I think about eight commercial time zones would suffice.

    So you wouldn’t have to know the difference between Chicago and London; just the difference between NACT and ECT.

    Shall we start a movement?

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  9. I’m working on a plan to take over UT-2, a time zone that runs through the middle of the Atlantic. The only people who use it are on two tiny island offs Brazil (who can be bought out) and about 20 Brits in a research station in the South Atlantic.

    Once I have control of UTC-2, I will tell the planet’s governments that unless they meet my demand for a million dollars, I will make my time zone 57 minutes long, screwing up all the world’s clocks and causing unbelievable financial damage as the days start to drift.

    I will also charge Microsoft and Apple exhorbitant royalties for inlcuding my time zone in their pull down date/time menus.

    Bwuha! Bwuhahahaha!

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  10. Everyone hates the start of DST when we lose an hour’s sleep and loves the end of it when we get the hour back. Here’s my plan: push the clock back 24 times during the year, so we get an extra hour to snooze almost every two weeks.

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    • Nah, what annoys me is for the last two weeks, the sun was coming up earlier and earlier. So much so that I almost didn’t need lights. Now, back into darkness. And with the temps coming up, the deer are starting to move. That means less time to see their dumb asses crossing the road and avoid an accident. As to the “more time in the evening”, well, I’m in bed at 10PM weeknights so what do I care if it’s light or dark out? I’m sleeping.

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      • Yeah, I’ve been thinking about this and I find it easier to change continents and deal with that jet lag than to deal with a one-hour shift either way. The one-hour shift is jusssst enough to be maximally disruptive. The jet lag is like “oh, a new adventure, I will sleep”.

        Maybe if daylight savings time shifts happened with a mandatory 3 day weekend, I’d be more kindly inclined.

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        • I think a Monday “enhanced” Federal Holiday (so it’s more than just banks, mail, gov offices, and some schoolkids) after the time change would be a good idea. Better than the idea I’ve seen floated of “make election day a federal holiday” ‘cos that just means we’d have hungover people voting.

          Then again: I STILL would probably not get off “Daylight Saving Time Day” (college professor; we seem to get ONE federal holiday per semester – in the fall, it’s Labor Day, in the spring, it’s MLK, Jr.’s birthday, in the summer, it’s Independence Day.)

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          • In most years, the spring time change falls on the first or second weekend of our two week spring break meaning kids (and teachers) have 1-2 weeks to adjust. This year, it fell one weekend earlier, so everyone is a hot mess this week with no incentive to get their shit together because everything is getting thrown off again once the break hits anyway.

            I usually have a real plan for managing the time change, but even I’m just saying, “Fuck it.” I leave for Italy next Monday and the boys head to Florida with their Aunt and Grandma on Tuesday so this week we’re just flying by the seats of our pants.

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            • Yeah, for a number of years running, we had spring break right after the time change and it was great. This year, it was not, and I’m STILL not back on the right sleeping and eating schedule.

              At least next week is my spring break and I’m going east (to a more eastern end of the time zone, where the sun will rise earlier) and hopefully that plus more free time (more sleep) will help me recalibrate my body clock. But I have been super grumpy this week and I blame the time change.

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    • Actually there is a kind of time Sidereal time which is time with reference to the distant starts not the sun. it is about 3 min 50 sec or so shorter than the solar year (sun returns to same position in the sky (typically spring equinox)). This means that everyone would get some time with sunlight in the normal time and some time with it in what is the middle of the night.

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    • Here’s my plan: push the clock back 24 times during the year, so we get an extra hour to snooze almost every two weeks.

      Dude, if we’re going to do something that extreme, let’s push the clock back one hour 126 (24*5.25) times a year, which would make each year be exactly 360 days _and_ get rid of leap years.(1) Then divide the year evenly into months of 30 days.

      We could give ourselves an extra hour every single Sunday and Thursday morning, and still have *tries some math* 23 or 24 hours to distribute to other days.

      Or, hey, if it really comes to 24 hours one year (I am too lazy to figure the math out), we could make an entire day out of that and, like, spring back all of New Years Day. Just do it twice. Party one span of 24 hours, recover the next 24 hours, still go back to work the day after New Years.

      1) Technically, we will have made the year slightly too long, because we lost the corrective ‘except for every 100 years except for every 400 years’ rule for leap years that exists because the year is an extra 0.24 days, not 0.25…but we can just wait until the extra time adds up to a whole hour and not spring back once.

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  11. Doesn’t “noon” as a concept only hold weight because it is more or less universally when the sun is high overhead? If we just call it “12” then 12 means whatever it means where you are.

    To the military folks in the audience, did you get super thrown off when you switched to a 24-hour clock? Zazzy still uses this and doesn’t seem any worse for the wear.

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    • I hate the 12 hour clock. If possible, all my clocks are set to 24 hour time. I just got a new FitBit and I’m more than a little annoyed that it doesn’t support the 24 hour clock.

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      • Zazzy also works in a hospital and I wouldn’t be shocked if it was used there. But she’ll sometimes put “1700” in an email and I know her phone clock is still set to 24 hour.

        But I doubt happy hour feels any less fun for you because it isn’t at 5.

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        • I learned 24h time very early b/c all our mathbooks were french and didn’t use 12h time. I now “pass”** as 12 hour, but secretly i’m always SO RELIEVED when someone wants to use 24 instead…
          __

          **when I’m tiredest, it goes:

          Random person: “What time is it?”
          Me: “Treiz – I mean, 1 pm”

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  12. Several people mentioned the metric system. It’s a reasonable point to make because if we’d just converted to it and said, “that’s it, we’re metric” I don’t think it would have been a problem. Everyone would have crabbed for a few months but then gotten used to it (as I quickly do, anytime I’m overseas). But the half-measures and gradualism meant everyone got hung up on conversions. I suspect a universal time would be the same way.

    As for which time zone we would use, we already have a universal time (UT) as Greenwhich mean which most of the astronomy community uses. That would seem the place to go although I suspect politics would result in each country having its own universal time. Which just gets us right back to time zones.

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    • …if we’d just converted to it and said, “that’s it, we’re metric” I don’t think it would have been a problem.

      No, it was always going to be a long drawn-out process. All sorts of laws, regulations, building codes, etc, set limits in imperial units and had to be intelligently changed. Huge amounts of capital equipment (eg, cars) with lifetimes measured in years or decades were built with imperial-unit nuts and bolts.

      What’s really surprising is that there are places where metric units didn’t win out directly, even in countries that otherwise adopted the system. Internationally, points in typography are 1/72 of an international inch (it’s an infinite repeating decimal in metric). Huge amounts of electronics are produced everywhere using 2.54 mm tenth-of-an-inch component spacing. Air traffic control globally uses knots (1.852 km/hr).

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        • Almost true. If you look at a ’70’s or older French bike (not Motobacane, but Gitane or Peugeot or Mercier) all of the parts like the stem, downtubes, steerer, handlebars, etc. are actually in metric. Distances between dropouts are also. In fact every part is just a hair off (handle bars are 22mm as opposed to the 7/8 standard.) Even Italian bikes use the normal cycling measurements, though I have a ’75 Raleigh Super Course that also throws BSC threads into the mix. Here is a good breakdown of French threading.

          I find this fascinating, most bike mechs find it infuriating.

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    • Like says, no. Most of the countries that converted to metric in the 20th century were non-industrial nations such as most of central/south America or Russia* at the time of conversion, pulling themselves out of the wreckage of WWII, Japan for instance**, or industrial countries with failing industries such as Great Britain***. The U.S. was the largest manufacturing country that after WWII, with the single biggest challenge for change, the screw-thread, being in USS sizes. And due to all of the equipment being used to build WWII machinery, weapons and vehicles was built to last decades, that standard still applied to all industrial usage here.

      Many counties still use traditional measurements in areas in traditional areas of the society. Japan still uses tatami measurements in real estate, Great Britain uses stone for weight, chains are still used to measure property in the US.

      *Russia changed from its old system, marked by Arshins and Lini, at the time of the communist revolution, as they also started changed to a industrial economy, as opposed to agriculture.

      **Japan had planned to switch to metric before WWII, but the occupation of the US led to it being delayed for decades. In the early sixties, all Japanese cars were built to USS standard. I know this as my first car was a transition period Datsun.

      ***Great Britain had gone through a change like this in about 1960 as their manufacturing went form the Whitworth standard to the AF (across flats) standard. The biggest change in this was all screw threads where then changed from 55* angle to 60*. Not as strong, but more compatible with the US.

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      • Also something akin to a “metric calendar,” right after the revolution. I have a colleague who, for some bizarre and inscrutable reason, seems to love the French Republican calendar and is forever going on about what day of Brumaire or Ventose it is.

        I just look at him funny, which I think is the correct response in this case.

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  13. Incidentally, I haven’t seen anyone present the strongest argument for moving to a new clock system:

    Apparently, all humans are complete morons who refuse to change what hours they work at.

    Hence we have gibberish like daylight savings expanding more and more, and Florida just moved to it year round.

    Seriously, you want any sort of evidence that humans are doomed? It’s that we have to trick ourselves into working at a different time instead of just changing the damn hours we work at. It’s a miracle we’re not wearing pants on our head and attempting to drive our toaster ovens to work.

    Blowing up the system would give us a chance to change that, especially if we built a system that didn’t solidify so easily.

    Sorry I sound bitter here, but I have delayed phrase sleep disorder (If you don’t know what that is, it means I’m basically six hours offset from normal time, although I can force myself to about four.), and watching people and their ‘You can pry my 9-5 business hours out of my cold dead hands’ has pissed me off my entire life, watching nonsensical stuff like business that don’t even interact with other businesses and work with individuals, and would be best serviced by staying open after ‘business hours’ (Like oil change places and stuff) stick tightly to their moronic 9-5.

    ‘Well, our customers are getting off work ready to come here…time to shut down for the day!’

    Even the ones that are smart enough to open until six don’t seem to notice that ‘Hey, the vast majority of our business is the hour we’re open after five…maybe we should, I dunno, close at 1 and reopen from 5 till 8? In fact, why don’t we counter-program business hours…open early, close at 9, open lunch hours, and then open in the evening?’

    So much damn inertia that makes no sense at all.

    So it’s somewhat cathartic to see it’s not just _me_ who thinks everyone tightly holds to that for no reason…it’s so tightly held we literally are rearranging time itself with daylight savings time because we’re an entire nation of dumbasses who refuse to change their ‘business hours’.

    So I would like to toss in a serious vote for ‘blow the thing up with universal time’. It might make people and businesses start thinking rationally about what hours they should be operating.

    Note I’m not suggesting that business should be operating in the middle of the night no matter how much I’d personally like that. But there is no reason some businesses shouldn’t operate somewhat later, which would also save physical resources. (Because the more hours a business is in use, the less space it needs for the same amount of people in total. In the broadest average sense.) Maybe others, the ones that are disconnect from the business work and do not need to call or interact with office workers, would ask themselves why they are keeping the hours of the business world at all.

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