what are we saving? maybe it’s the children!

In 2005, lawmakers passed a law called the Energy Policy Act.  Among its many provisions was a change to Daylight Savings Time (DST) that went into effect in 2007.  Instead of starting on the first Sunday of April and ending on the last Sunday in October, it now starts on the second Sunday in March and ends on the first Sunday in November.  This is approximately 4 weeks of additional DST per year.  Unless you have been living in Arizona, Hawaii, or off the grid in some way, this is not likely to be new information to you.

DST has a long and controversial history.  As any aficionado of Jerry Bruckheimer films can tell you, the person first credited with the idea is Benjamin Franklin.  For almost everyone in the modern world, I think the energy savings and increased summer leisure time make it a good idea.  It shifts the daylight hours so that more of our waking activities happen when there is daylight.  The idea is that fewer people will need artificial light, and those that do need it will not need it as long, therefore less fuel is consumed providing that light.  In the evening, there is more time with daylight available, to the point that 4th of July fireworks typically cannot start until after 10:00 PM in Utah.  Countless studies have shown both benefits and harm from observing it.

For the past three years, I have some variant of this post going through my head twice a year, but especially in the fall.  I am less than thrilled about the changes our politicians made.  I don’t know whether they didn’t research the impact it would have on infrastructure, or if they decided that since people in professions other than theirs would have to deal with it, they didn’t care.

There are millions (perhaps billions) of devices in the US that automatically adjust themselves to deal with DST.  Only some of those devices can be reprogrammed to the new timeframe.  Sometime in the middle of the first decade of this century, I bought a nice dual alarm clock that automatically sets itself and adjusts for daylight savings.  In 2007, that clock became unreliable for 4+ weeks out of the year.  I have not been able to find a comparable replacement for a reasonable price, so now I rely on other means for waking up.  Other devices are also not field upgradable, like thermostats.  Their owners have either had to shell out a big chunk of money to replace them, or glare at them with frustration for the hassle of manually doing what the device was supposed to do automatically.  My thermostat has a button for daylight savings time, so it’s always been manual for me.

At work, I am in the IT department, where I handle desktop computers, server computers, and network hardware.  Computers rely on synchronized time.  Some things won’t work at all if there is a difference between systems that’s more than a few seconds.  A large part of my job is troubleshooting problems.  Tracking these down requires comparing log files on different systems.  If the times on all systems are not the same to within a few milliseconds, it can be impossible to figure out what happened.  The company heavily relies on the calendar feature in Outlook for recurring meetings.  This feature in Outlook was impacted in a huge way by the DST changes.  Microsoft had to write a special program just for handling daylight savings changes in existing calendars.

My cow-orkers and I had to invest huge amounts of time in making sure that every single computer and network device was either upgraded or replaced.  This is difficult to do when you have mission-critical systems.  The changes required for timezone updates are usually at a kernel level, which means that you must reboot them for it to work.

Unlike Y2K, which was pretty much a non-event despite the hype, there were real problems with the Daylight Savings fiasco of 2007.  We didn’t find all the software that needed upgrading before it became critical.  In March, and again in November, problems cropped up that were difficult to track down, and ultimately were found to be applications, or middleware like Java, that had not been updated with the new time changes.  Even now, three years later, we still find software that does not deal with DST correctly.  Some things, like the management board in our building-level UPS, could not be upgraded.  The only way to fix it would be to replace the entire UPS.  That is prohibitively expensive.  Thankfully that one has not become an issue.  It’s more important that the network management station have the right time than the device.

There has been a nontechnical casualty to these changes as well: Halloween.  This holiday was always right after the time change.  Except on those years that it fell on Sunday (prompting churchgoers to move festivities to Saturday), trick or treating would happen after the change back to normal time, so it would get dark early and kids could count on a long and fun Halloween in the dark, even with an early bedtime.

Since 2007, parents with small kids will get them out early on Halloween and have them home before dark.  In some ways, this is a huge win for safety, but I think that it is marginally less safe for older kids and adults.  The older crowd doesn’t want to be out before dark, which means that in order to blow off the same amount of steam and get that large candy haul, they’ve got to be out later.  As the night deepens, predators become more bold and the general level of craziness due to sleep deprivation goes up.

For nearly 100 years, most of the country has had to deal with the springtime shock to the body clock, waking up an hour earlier than the week before.  The shock wears off within a week or so as you adjust to the difference.  The payoff for this injustice comes in late fall, when the opposite time change means you get a little extra sleep.

What are YOUR thoughts?

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