Daylight Savings Time Shift May Be a Small Nuisance for Computers
By David Hayes
Don't look for a Y2K here
Early DST was seen as way to save energy, but businesses spend millions to get clocks ready.
An engineer will push a couple of keys early Sunday and digitally reset Union Station's trademark lobby clock.
A similar scenario - sometimes automated, sometimes not - will play out at the Country Club Plaza clock tower, in corporate computer rooms and - if you've prepared - even inside your home computer.
Daylight-saving time comes to us three weeks early this year, a spring-ahead present included in the Bush Administration's Energy Policy Act of 2005.
According to some reports, the change has cost U.S. businesses as much as $350 million. But it was adopted thinking that more daylight hours in the evening would cut energy use.
For information technology workers, it has done anything but. Daylight-saving time has even been described as a "mini-Y2K."
We all remember Y2K of course. Planes were to fall from the sky, cities were to be blanketed in darkness and network programming (gasp!) was in jeopardy.
As we all know, the stroke of midnight 2000 turned out just fine, a good excuse for a party and wild fireworks.
The potential for catastrophe after midnight tonight? If you mess up really badly, you might show up for 10 a.m. services Sunday when you meant to attend at 9. Your VCR might tape "Brothers and Sisters" Sunday night instead of "Desperate Housewives" (no worries; both are reruns anyway).
"It has the potential to be a low-level nuisance," said David A. Milman, chief executive of Rescuecom, a national computer repair and maintenance company.
The issue is pretty simple and not unlike that which led to the Y2K scare of 1999. With the exception of computer software produced in the last year or so, any software with a time or calendar function wasn't programmed for the change mandated in 2005. The software was programmed to make the change on the first Sunday of April.
That means computers with older Windows and Apple operating systems will display the wrong time starting on Sunday if the software hasn't been patched.
That, of course, is the light side of daylight time. The change could potentially affect anything from devices that dispense drugs to the popular BlackBerry phones to stoplights on city streets.
For the most part, even unchecked, the problems would be minor in comparison to the disaster scenarios that accompanied Y2K.
Calendars in BlackBerry's and smartphones might alert us to appointments at the wrong time, potentially jeopardizing a meeting or even a business deal.
"Y2K-2? No. Being an hour late for that meeting on Monday, March 12? A possibility," said Phil Bond, chief executive of the Information Technology Association of America.
"This is going to have more potential for frustration than disaster," Milman said.
In some cases, companies have been working for months to make sure they're not affected. Think Harry Lloyd in that classic scene from "Safety Last!" - Lloyd hanging from the bending hands of a clock on the upper story of a skyscraper.
Well, maybe it hasn't been q uite that rough for the information technology staff.
But because Microsoft didn't supply a patch until February, there's been a lot of scrambling in the last month or so.
Forrester Research projected that U.S. companies will spend $350 million to deal with the change.
Cerner Corp., the health-care software company based in North Kansas City, is in an industry that's being most careful about the change.
"Over the past few months, Cerner has installed software changes for most of our enterprise applications and worked closely with our information technology suppliers to prepare for the change in daylight-saving time," said Rich Miller, Cerner's chief information officer.
The change at Cerner has involved as many as 15,000 computers, laptops, servers and smartphones.
Although there's no indication how late the pizza trucks will be showing up at Cerner's world headquarters tonight, the company is staffing for contingencies, Miller said.
For the record, DST Systems, the Kansas City-based computer-centric information processing business, declined to talk about its daylight-saving plans.
Robin Raskin, a technology columnist for Yahoo Tech, said consumers would be mostly unaffected.
"For most of us, it's just going to be cocktail chatter," Raskin said. However, she offered a couple of recommendations for just about anyone:
oLook at all your devices on Sunday and make sure they're showing the correct time - especially those that have changed automatically in the past.
oBetween Sunday and April 1, especially in the first week or so, check with your appointments to make sure your schedules mesh.
Raskin said that problems with Microsoft Outlook could lead some people to miss meetings - either by accident or, perhaps, not so much.
"My guess is you'll have a few people using this as a great excuse," Raskin said.
Time in a nutshell
Computers: Computers running Microsoft Vista and Apple OS X operating systems generally are set. Microsoft XP users who have set their computers to automatically download updates also are in good shape. (To check, go to your computer's control panel and check on the automatic updates icon.) Apple users check out http://docs.info.apple/ .com/article.html?art num=305056 for more information.
Cell phones generally are synchronized with a wireless company's network and won't be affected.
Smartphones, BlackBerries: Both Palm and RIM are supplying software patches to update the internal calendar functions in those devices for the change. Check the manufacturer Web sites.
Digital cameras, camcorders, stoves, thermostats, some VCRs and DVD players: Reset for daylight-saving time manually, as usual. Some devices - VCRs that use the TV signal to set the time, for instance, should be unaffected. Both the major cable companies and TiVo have patched their digital video recorders. ReplayTV users need to check the company's Web site and perform a minor fix.
GPS navigators: While newer car and handheld GPS devices include a daylight saving update, older devices don't. Consumers can change the time themselves or download updates from manufacturer Web sites.
Worst-case scenario for consumers? Do nothing, and those devices that updated themselves automatically in the past will catch up on April 1, when daylight time originally was scheduled to arrive.
It's not over yet. We'll need to perform the same checks in November. Daylight-saving time is being extended one week and will end Nov. 4.
@ Go to KansasCity.com for links about daylight-saving time.
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