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March 12, 2011

Daylight Savings Time Theory

From today's NY Times: Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?
The Saturday Evening Post asked, in jest, “why not ‘save summer’ by having June begin at the end of February?” And an Arkansas congressman lampooned the time reformers by proposing that we change our thermometers: move the freezing point up 13 degrees and a lot of folks could be tricked into burning less fuel to heat their houses.

The change is disconcerting. But more unsettling still is the mystery we’d rather not face: If clock time isn’t real, what is time, anyway? We don’t understand time, and we definitely don’t want to admit that our allotment is limited. We just want to get on with our day.

Alternative Theories of Daylight Savings Time

  • There is one theory that daylight savings time was invented by college students who needed another hour to complete a report.
  • Another theory is the government developed DST to convince the Russians we were "ahead" in saving time. The Russians freaked out and built nuclear weapons until they went bankrupt and lost the Cold War. It wasn't Reagan at all.
  • Some indigenous cultures believe DST is a fallacy. "White man cuts off end of rug, sews it to other end, thinks rug is longer."

Winter Months: Work and Leisure, Light and Darkness

This graphic shows the presumed hours of "work" and "leisure", juxtaposed against the hours of darkness and sunlight, during the winter months:


Wasted Daylight in Summer Months

If "we" schedule our work and leisure in the summer months the same as we do in the winter months, we squander some hours of daylight, and (theoretically) spend more on fuel than the available daylight would require:


Saving Daylight Time by Shifting Work and Leisure

Rather than rescheduling all our activities (baseball is at 5pm in winter and 6pm in summer), we can shift our work and leisure activities in a virtual sense by resetting the clocks.


Marginal Benefit of Daylight Savings Time

This final graphic depicts the marginal benefit of daylight savings time - there is one additional hour of sunlight during the period considered "leisure hours".


Railroads, Aviation, and Time

We deal with "standard time" because of the railroads, who preferred to not deal with "local sidereal time" with each train station subject to the local definition of high noon. If the railroads gave us standard time zones, what did the airlines give us?



Aviation found accommodation of even standard time zones to be onerous, so pilots, airlines, and weathermen deal with "Greenwich Mean Time" (GMT) or "Zulu Time", for time-zone-Z. This is one global time zone based on high noon at Greenwich England. So when it's 0500 am here, it's 1000 GMT.


Politically, the use of the phrase Greenwich Mean Time was considered Eurocentric, and the term Zulu conveyed implications of colonialism, so the inoffensive term , or Coordinated Universal Time (UCT) is now used for Zulu time.

If you call up the National Observatory for a time check, you'll hear the time given in Coordinated Universal Time. (I would point out that the four-letter code for the UCT radio station is: WWVB)

ZULU or UTC Time and Dates

What really strikes me as being artificial, and the ultimate demonstration of how contrived the whole thing is, isn't the designation of Zulu time: it's the declaration of Zulu Dates.

For instance, when it's 9pm or 2100 here, it's 2am or 0200 in Greenwich.
But if it's 9pm on Tuesday the 5th here, in Zulu it's 2am on Wednesday the 6th.
That's just too wierd, and anytime anybody attempts to engage me in unnecessary discussion about Zulu time, I generally raise the ante and ask them about the Zulu date. It's generally a show-stopper.

Asking about Zulu dates is the chronological equivalent of injecting predestination into a discussion of religion -- which leads us back, full circle, to the question: Does anybody really know what time it is?




Of course, there are lots of ways to "save" time.

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