Skip to navigation

malevolent design weblog

This blog is now defunct, but you can find more stuff over at my personal site

Time-Wasting Time

I’ve always felt that Daylight-Saving Time (which kicked in here over the weekend) is a slightly odd solution to an unclear problem. If there’s one thing you should try not to muck about with too much it’s the time, right? Yet we change every clock twice a year. When the clocks go forward you have a chunk of time that never happened; worse still, when going back the same time period occurs twice. Few programmers would ever devise such a system, whatever the (dubious) practical benefits (there’s definitely a strong consistency/elegance mindset amongst coders; politicians are at the opposite end of that spectrum, which is why life rarely gets simpler).

“What time is it?”It’s more screwed-up than you might realise. Some parts of the world observe DST, others don’t. Some places regularly change their minds. Different areas switch the clocks on different dates. Indiana is a mess. Combined with the complexities of time zones (including daft half- and quarter-hour offsets), leap years/seconds, and date/time formats, you can imagine how much effort goes into just keeping software’s time-handling accurate.


When I visited Brazil a couple of years ago they were having an election, which had been delayed. Because the elections were run by computer, they had to delay their time-switch over to winter because the hour going missing would upset the paranoid election computers and convince them someone was trying to hack the results.

Upshot: half the clocks in the country were on summer time, and everything automated that wasn't involved in the election had switched over to winter-time. Bloody confusing when you were organising meeting people, especially when you're catching flights and the airline don't seem to know which time they're working on.

Paul Silver, 28th Mar, 8:27pm

Not to mention trying to read time on the Internet. Is that my time zone, their time zone, or GMT? I think eventually, we'll adobt GMT for everyone. That would solve the leap forward/backward problem.

Of course, once we get to planetary travel it will get real complicated. "I thought you meant earth time."

Nicholas, 30th Mar, 4:20pm

Comments are now closed for this entry.