It’s that time of the year again when we mess with the clocks and sleep schedules on behalf of the idiots who don’t know the difference between a schedule and a clock. I complain about this every year, although I’m having trouble keeping this rant fresh as the years drag on. Sooner or later I’m going to have to stop bitching about this, which is basically equivalent to admitting defeat.
Here’s a video from Tom Scott talking about what a nightmare it is to deal with time zones in software:
The important thing to note is that the job is actually pretty easy until you have to deal with the madness that results from the ever-shifting rules and spotty observation of DST.
Check out the Wikipedia page on DST and note how every time someone sensibly tries to stop this madness there’s a group of ninnies who cook up some irrational moral panic to justify the status quo. Let’s talk about some of the landmark moments in this planet-wide campaign of chaos and annoyance…
The Year-round Experiment
In 1974 the US tried switching to DST year-round. However, the dingbats had an unbeatable counter-argument: “Think of the children!” Apparently they didn’t like that kids had to go to school in the dark. As someone who attended school in the 80s:
- That happened anyway. I still spent a good bit of the year waiting for the bus in the dark.
- Is this actually more dangerous? Did anyone bother collecting any data? No? Okay then.
- This is an insane way to handle this problem. Assuming we can’t handle the extreme danger of having our children stand under streetlights for a few minutes in the morning, the obvious solution is to reschedule school.
“Hey man, let’s go stargazing tonight at 7pm.”
“That won’t work. The sun is still up at 7.”
“Okay. Let’s turn our watches back an hour. That way when we meet at 7 the sun will be down.”
“You’re so clever!”
Different school districts begin at different times anyway so it’s not like there’s some rule that forces school to start at a particular time. Just have school start whenever it makes sense for your area.
In Alaska they do not need DST. Their latitude is so high that they basically have round-the clock daylight in summer. But they observe it anyway. They tried to get rid of it, but someone worried that this would put them five hours out from Eastern time and that might make coordination of travel and phone conversations more difficult.
This person has evidently never tried to coordinate anything with people from another time zone. The problem isn’t how far apart you are, it’s how many different sets of rules there are for DST observance. Having someone else change THEIR clocks is annoying enough, but if I’m also changing MY clocks and we’re doing so at different times, then that’s more than double the chaos. Check out this CGP Grey video at the 3:50 mark to see what makes this such a nightmare.
As someone who’s worked with a lot of remote teams spread around the world, this has been a source of confusion and annoyance for most of my adult life. In a group of three or more people, there will ALWAYS be at least one person who gets out of phase and doesn’t show up when they’re supposed to. When someone tells you “Let’s meet at 6pm my time next week” you can’t just ask what time zone they’re in and leave it at that. You need to know which country and you also need to know if that country observes DST and when that observation period begins and ends.
California recently began messing with some legislation that would cause them to adopt year-round DST, thereby ending the twice-yearly clock-changing. It’s apparently on the ballot this year. The timing of this is pretty good. Voting this year falls just two days after the clock change, which means the annoyance will still be fresh in everyone’s mind when they go to vote.
Then again, this is the part of the year when we roll the clocks back. Maybe voters won’t think, “Yes! Let’s end this dumb system.” Maybe they’ll think, “Hey, that extra hour of sleep was nice. Maybe we should keep this.” I don’t know.
If California decides to do away with the time changes, then that might give other states enough motivation to try the same.
I realize that regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum, this issue probably ranks pretty low on your priority list. Which is why I feel safe talking about it. While the policy wonks are debating the merits of the “Putting Kittens into Blenders Act” versus the “Protecting Cherub-Faced Children From Raptors Initiative” it’s nice that we can come together and agree that this one issue isn’t a big deal in the grand scheme of things.
Earlier in the year I came across a video talking about the supposed “heart attacks and accidents” statistics. There was a study that showed that, yes, if you look at the Monday after the switch there is an increase in those sorts of things. However, if you look at the rest of the week the numbers go down. What you end up with is that the week has overall the same number of deaths, but those deaths are just front-loaded in the week. The people who had heart attacks after the time switch were going to drop dead either way, it’s just that the change sped the process up a little.
I’d planned to share that video here, but I’ve since lost the link and I can’t remember what the title was or who made it. Please share the link if you’ve got it.
EDIT: It has been found! Does daylight savings kill people?
Note that most people oppose the time switch because it “increases heart attacks and car accidents”. Other people support or oppose it based on energy savings that are hopelessly minuscule either way. For the record, I don’t oppose the clock changes on the basis of energy savings or personal safety. I oppose it because it’s fucking annoying.
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