Monday, March 27, 2006

A Modest Proposal

This post describes some issues they're having because some Australian states decided to delay Daylight Savings Time a week, but apparently nobody told their Exchange server(s). Not a huge deal really - some meetings may be off nu an hour for that one week - but it does bring up the issue of how timezones are a real pain in the calendaring world.

You can read elsewhere about the timezone issues, about there being no standard (NIST, IETF, ISO, ANSI, or otherwise) for timezones, and about there not even being standardization in one country (there was a fairly funny "West Wing" episode where two supposedly brilliant guys miss their plane because they're in a part of the US which doesn't do the daylight saving time thing). You'll quickly wonder why we let ourselves get in the mess we are in with timezones.

The answer? We let the political bodies get involved in determining where timezones begin and end, and whether to participate in daylight saving time changes. So instead of having a set of evenly divided timezones, like orange slices, we have a larger set of irregular pieces, with different rules and regulations apply to each as far as when to switch to an hour ahead or behind, or not - however their voters see fit.

It is high time for some international body to hold a meeting, and declare that henceforth we're all going to use one set of regular timezones, without adjustments for daylight savings time to mess us up twice a year. The question is, how to define them?

A lot of people would probably go for 24 zones, 15 degrees of longitude each. That's a simple case, but each zone is then over 1000 miles wide at the equator. That means that there's quite a bit of variance between solar noon (when the sun is directly overhead) and the noon on the clock. The east end of the zone is approximately 30 minutes behind solar noon, and the western end is 30 minutes ahead.

If I had to have timezones, I'd propose that we do 96 zones which are 3.75 degrees of longitude wide. The center of each zone would be 15 minutes from the zone to either side of it, and a zone would be approximately 250 miles from side to side, which is large enough to encompass most states, cities, townships, or what have you.

I have, however, a more radical proposal - do away with timezones entirely. Everyone set their watch or the time on their computer or whatever to UCT, the time at the Greenwich Meridian, and just adjust your thought processes - in most of Florida, for example, we'd get used to going to lunch at 17:00 and getting off work at 22:00. The times we use are just arbitrary names for one part of the day, anyway; they're probably all based on concepts like "noon" - everyone has a local "noon" when the sun is overhead, but you can call any clock time you want "noon", everyone will know what you mean.

This would have its opponents, especially in the US where we haven't even gone to the metric system yet (why the world's most scientifically innovative country can't seem to work in base 10 is a mystery to me) - but it would sove a lot of other issues and it would definitely make the calendar software folks happier!

While we're warping time (not space) - realize this would get rid of Daylight Saving Time too - which just modifies the local referents for what time it is: "noon" moves to a different point in the sky because somebody said so. I won't miss it when it's gone.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Eventful and. Upcoming

Eventful and Upcoming are two very similar "event database" systems, which host event listings, allow you to add or search for events, and allow you to filter them by various criteria or tags.

I think Upcoming is pretty good, but Eventful wins in my book for one simple reason: I can click on a button in an event, or list of events, and open it in my calendar program, currently Outlook, as long as that program handles files of MIME type "text/calendar". This makes it really easy to move an event listing to my own personal calendar, which is where it needs to end up. I've only tested this on my PC - it might work on a mobile phone, if that phone's software can handle opening the file type. I'm told the PalmOS can open it, but that may only be in e-mail, and not a browser. Even so, it's very useful.