Don’t know how to date?

It’s troublesome that so many people don’t know how to date, and by date I mean keep track of the time.

Take the 24 hour clock, for example. If someone told you to meet them at nineteen hundred thirty hours would you know what they meant? Maybe if it was formatted as 19:30 it’d be more easily understood? Like a musical score, I can decipher the meaning, but I haven’t immersed myself enough in that world to fluently read it as second nature.

Then there are the months to contend with. I never memorized how many days each had, and it was only in recent years that I learned a trick to calculating them involving counting on and between the knuckles of the hand where knuckles count as 31 days and the spaces as 30 (or in the case of February, 28 days… or is it 29 next year?), with the 4th knuckle counted twice. I must remember to ask how bars treat folks whose birthday falls on the 29th. And if Leap Years aren’t confusing enough, there’s also years that contain Leap Seconds.

Now let’s say a friend in Europe writes that they’re coming to visit you in Seattle on 1/4/12. Are you going to think it a nice bonus to New Years or will you realize instead it’s April Fools Day? As a researcher, I find this quirk particularly annoying when citing articles. One would think news agencies would be smart enough not to use that format. To top it off, an article out of Australia dated April 2nd in the U.S. papers regarding having cloned the extinct Tasmanian Tiger was in fact written the previous day their time, and they caught a lot of flack for their lie.

In the international world of the Internet, who knows the time where the person you’re chatting with is? I mean, I know Seattle is -8 hours GMT, but apparently it’s also -7 hours UTC. About all I know is that during college when I needed to call my parents in Germany, I had to add 8 hours to my clock.

I’ve even heard of a place in the U.S. where one half of the town is in one Timezone and the other half in another. That’s gotta be really confusing when reading the TV Guide. And just why do people in the Central Timezone get to watch their nightly shows an hour earlier in the day relative to the sleep cycle? Is it because the Central Timezone is primarily farmland such that they have to get up at the crack of dawn?

Then there’s the Daylight Savings Time phenomenon that some people and places follow (or don’t follow). This one’s a doozy for anyone who owns a clock, and for folks not following the news, I can only imagine how many people are early/late to church on Sunday because of it. I know I ended up standing outside my old apartment for more than an hour waiting and watching for the Kingdome to be pulled before someone mentioned it was was Daylight Savings. Then they had to go and replace it with an open air stadium for a winter sport because the billionaire who funded it believes being in the elements is part of the game… as if he’s not going to be sitting in a heated luxury suite. At least the other new stadium has a retractable roof. And to think we here in Seattle only had the measly Kingdome for these sports and more for so many years.

As the years pass, the days get longer as the rotation of Gaya slows, though that was offset a bit by the recent Japanese tsunami quake. And as someone asked at, “What time did tsunami hit Japan?” The response was, “The earthquake occurred at 14:46 JST (05:46 UTC) which triggered the tsunami. This Tsunami hit Japan only after a few minutes.” So again one might ask, “What time did tsunami hit Japan?”

When I was a kid, I wanted to quantify meanings for terms like “a couple”, “few”, “some”, “a handful”, “several”, etc. People interpret these values differently. And I still don’t understand what to do if someone were to say “meet me next Saturday” to mean the one after the upcoming one. I mean, if a teller said “next in line” would that skip the person at the front of the queue?

Then there’s this famous psychology study to measure the accuracy of clocks around the world with Japan being the most accurate due to their demands on “time is money” while more laid back nations where “see you at noon” might mean 4 o’clock I’ve heard referred to as “Jamaican Time” when a friend of mine brought his Rastafarian friend over to my place whose sense of urgency was nonexistent. Even his pitbull didn’t seem to have a care in the world, unlike some big dogs I run across these days in my neighborhood.

As for the accuracy of clocks, nothing beats atomic clocks, right? But even then, if two atomic clocks are synchronized, and one of them is airlifted to circumnavigate the globe, when compared once again, they measure different times. They knew this back in the 1950s according to the antiquated encyclopedia set I grew up with at home. The concept of “digital” wouldn’t have been included in the set, so learning how the Swiss who invented digital clocks sold the patent to the Japanese wouldn’t have been there either.

So given all of these permutations of what should be a straight forward subject by now given that we’ve had thousands of years to pound out the rough edges, it’s no wonder the software industry has proven itself relatively clueless when it comes to the matter. Shoot, even in the days Before Christ engineers had figured out a system of gears that could calculate eclipses which was recently replicated using Legos, but as my boss at Microsoft put it, “A lot of programmers don’t know how to write.” And given that our computers are constantly requiring updates (usually to fix a problem that can be exploited by hackers), they don’t really know how to code as well. As they taught us in class: “If it works, it’s correct,” a concept I found blasphemous.

In my early programming days with a music software company when Multimedia wasn’t yet included in the Windows 3.x series, we needed a good, fast timer for our sequencer, but what we got was the number of milliseconds after the software was activated upon startup rolling over when the 16-bit count reached its maximum, meaning that the code requires special casing to determine exactly how much time actually passed. And with the number of timers we could set extremely limited by the operating system, and strange anomalies occurring if we set the timer to a fine resolution — something still not resolved today as one may notice in animated GIFs across browsers — it’s any wonder that real-time software relying on the date actually exists.

Take the Y2K fiasco: “The problem is that they decided for Y2K to roll the clock back to 1972 (because 72 is structurally the same as 2000, but you knew that),” writes (Oh the pesky dot com dot. It’s almost as bad as the <> citing standard according to the The Modern Language Association of America. But I digress.) Apparently the software designers didn’t foresee a future and past when it came to keeping track of the date. I blame it on all the advice to live for the moment and to learn things for oneself (i.e., the hard way).

One would hope that Microsoft would have learned their lesson after that, but then the Christmas 2008 launch of the Zune digital media player crashed on New Years for several hours because of an internal-clock glitch unable to cope with the leap year. I guess bad habits are hard to break…. though bad programming habits make breaking it easy. Too much “if error, fail”; not enough “if success, continue”… which reminds me I should actually learn about “throw/catch” if I want to succeed as a programmer these days and not end up with a dreaded Blue Box of Death popping up during product launches.

Around this time I had started playing a Facebook game that contained so-called Bosses one could challenge once every 24 hours. There were numerous Bosses, and typically only a few could be challenged per day. I felt I should create a webpage to keep track of the times automatically, and so I looked into the JavaScript Date object. Suffice it to say, the object interface is daunting, and I didn’t want to spend days trying to figure it out. So I googled for some countdown timer code and found a snippet that I can only assume so many other developers have found too.

Then one night as Daylight Savings Time was happening in Europe (but not quite here in Seattle yet) I noticed my timers were off by an hour. So back to the Date object I went praying I could fix this flaw, and here’s what I came up with:

var timezoneDifference = ( - dateFuture.getTimezoneOffset()) / 60;
if (timezoneDifference) dateFuture.setHours(dateFuture.getHours() + timezoneDifference);


Sweet and simple, though I’m sure it’s not “correct” despite it working, and what about all those dreaded leap seconds and such? Granted it’s not my job to figure it out, but it must be someone’s job, right? Yes, no, can I see a show of hands? (Or are you still trying to figure out the knuckle thing?)

Whatever the case, with all the time I’ve spent trying to figure out how to date computers, I never learned how to date people.

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