Computers May Have Issues Updating Automatically for Daylight Savings Time
By Robert Miller
Daylight-saving time means end to winter's darkness
Tony Posca, the owner of Andrea's Pastry Shop in Newtown, has grown tired of winter, of starting his day in darkness.
"I really look forward to sunlight," he said.
With spring pushing on through, and the sun rising at about 6:20 a.m., things have been looking up. When he opens the shop door at 6:30 a.m., the day and his life are brighter.
But now, alas, dawn's been delayed.
The federal government has ruled that daylight-saving time will begin today, three weeks ahead of the old start -- the first Sunday of April. That day, established in 1986, was, in turn, about three weeks earlier than the previous start at the end of April, set in 1966. It will also end later this year, Nov. 4, instead of the last week in October.
The U.S. Congress and President George W. Bush approved the change as part of the 2005 Energy Policy Act. The rationale for the change -- as it has always been for daylight-saving time -- is that it will save energy, increase productivity and make people happier because they'll have an extra hour of sunlight at the end of their day.
That it means some unhappy, sun-starved people will go back to turning on more lights at the beginning of the day -- for at least a month, when the steadily-gaining sun catches up to where it is today -- never figures into the equation.
"I'm sorry, but daylight-saving time has never saved as much as a lump of coal. It is intrinsically unscientific. It cannot be proven,'' said Michael Downing, a professor of English at Tufts University in Medford, Mass., and the author of "Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight Saving Time."
What it has done, however, is force people to go through the whole "spring forward, fall back'' drill three weeks ahead of time.
Robert Yastremski, operations manager for HART/Housatonic Area Regional Transit, said he does not expect his drivers to have any problems making stops in the dim early-morning light that's more akin to early February.
But Yastremski said HART has tried to make sure that the drivers remember to reset their clocks and report to work an hour early just to stay on time.
"We don't want people punching in at the wrong time," he said.
Yastremski said HART has also tried to alert its riders, especially the elderly and handicapped residents who depend on the SweetHART buses to get around.
"We'll be watching," he said "But I think in all the years we've had to switch to daylight-saving time, we've only had one mistake."
Humans, however forgetful, may be easier to program than computers.
Because of the early arrival of daylight-saving time, all the computers that were scheduled to automatically add an hour on April 1 have had to be reprogrammed, both to switch over today and to not switch again in April.
"It's like a little Y2K," said Peter Courtway, chief information officer for Danbury Hospital, who has been checking out all the hospital's equipment for daylight-saving time readiness. "If it switched again on April 1, it would be a great April Fools' Day joke."
But David Milman, chief executive officer of RESCUECOM.com ,a Syracuse, N.Y.-based company that has about 600 computer technicians nationwide, said there is an important difference.
"People began planning for Y2K two or three years in advance," Milman said of the switch from 1999 to 2000. "They began thinking about this two or three weeks ago."
Milman said new computers will automatically handle the switch without a hitch. Older ones may need software downloads.
If your only worry is that the clock in the corner of your computer screen is an hour off, Milman said, you could simply wait until it makes the switch, as programmed, on April 1, when it's used to starting daylight-saving time.
"But what if you're an airline?" he said. "What if you're a hospital, where there's time medication is delivered by computers? What if you're addicted to your Blackberry or Palm Pilot, and it's an hour off. You'll be missing appointments and plane flights."
The people who thought up daylight-saving time never envisioned doing anything but moving the hands of your grandfather clock with your finger or turning the knob of your pocket watch. Benjamin Franklin first suggested it in 1784, claiming it would cut down on the expense of candles because there would be more afternoon light.
The idea had to wait another century until an Englishman, William Willett, took it up in 1907 with a pamphlet called "Waste of Daylight" and convinced the British Parliament to adopt it in 1916.
The United States adopted daylight-saving time during World War I and World War II -- as always, as an energy-saving act. For the 20 years following the end of World War II, the United States was a crazy quilt of time, as individual states chose whether to adopt the time change. It wasn't until 1966 that the country adopted a uniform system for the spring forward, fall back switches.
President Richard Nixon tried instituting year-round daylight-saving time in January 1974 during the first Mideast oil embargo. It proved so unpopular that it was dropped the next year.
Downing of Tufts said there's never been any conclusive evidence that daylight-saving time does anything but shuffle the god-given hours of the day around. If anything, he said, it encourages Americans to drive around more in the well-lit late afternoons and evenings to shop. This does not save energy.
Downing said the two industries he's found to benefit most from the time change are the golf industry -- more light to grab that extra round -- and the barbecue business -- the more daylight, the more ribs on the grill.
"I'm not sure how that applies to New England," he said. "There's not a lot of people playing golf here in March."
Posca, of Andrea's Pastry Shop, agreed. As much as he'll miss the early morning sunshine for a month, he said, more people will come to his store later in the day.
"There are a lot of people who don't like to stay out after dark," he said. "So this actually is better for business."
The change does suit people who want more afternoon time. Paul Nonnenmacher, of Newtown, commutes daily to his job as head of public affairs for the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority. Nonnenmacher said even though he gets up after 5 a.m. to exercise on his StairMaster, the morning bustle -- exercise and breakfast and getting his daughter ready for school -- doesn't leave time to joyously salute the dawn at his home.
"It will be much nicer to have an extra hour of daylight to drive home in," he said. "I leave Hartford at 5:30 p.m., 6 p.m., and it's only now starting to be light on my ride home."
Downing said the real reason behind the switch is this: The U.S. Congress and the Bush Administration can bill the extra three weeks of daylight-saving time as an energy-saving measure. Even if it doesn't really save any energy, it will make people think something's being done to address a complicated problem. Even if it isn't.
"Congress loves to say 'This gives us more time,'" Downing said. "But Congress can't give us more daylight."
Contact Robert Miller
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