Fighter pilot, Royal Navy 1945, Hydrographer Iraq 1947-52 India 1952-53, Canadian Hydrographic Arctic explorer 1953-1960, Writer-producer Canadian National Film Board 1961-72, Freelance journalist, audio-visual producer 1972-2009, National Press Club of Canada 1961 - 2006

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Ough-Zone on time zones

A brief, and timely overview of Time

— as we know it.

By governmental decree, the wrist watches, internal bodily, and digital automobile clocks of law-abiding citizens of east-west or west-east travellers, jump up instantaneously one hour ahead or jump down one hour behind their previous settings the instant they drive, hike, or meander across the border of a time-zone on their travels.

So far, there is no way to persuade the great timekeeper itself in the sky, the overhead sun, to also act in a matchingly disciplined manner. The world goes round and round in its usual fairly steady and smooth way, with no sudden bumps or jolts every hour on the hour — and at about a speed of 1,000 miles per hour at the equator, 600 mph at the mid-latitude comfort zones, and timelessly just twisting around-on-the-same-spot at the poles. The sun is completely impervious to our people-made rules and regulations.

And added to this there is the person-made

Daylight Saving Time.

Surely there would be overwhelming global approval if the annoyance experienced by most everyone, twice every year, to have to reset a multitude of digital timepieces embedded in computers, televisions, VCRs, automobiles, and a welter of other everyday contraptions could be eliminated.

But there is nothing we can do to alter the the timing of our lives. The ponderous celestial workings of our solar system, let alone the entire universe, govern us in irresistible strictness. Their laws are immutable in regards to mankind. Also, somewhat incredibly, even to womankind.

What we all see is what we all get.

So what can we do to live with, or perhaps to ease, the situation?

Our first option is the most simple:

Do nothing spectacular.

Just abandon observing daylight-saving time every summer.

Especially as the alleged advantages arising from such an inane 100-year-old attempt to tinker with the natural sequence of rapidly moving daylight hours, benefits only a minor portion of the world’s population.

Due to several factors:

Scattered geographical features — rivers, lakes, shorelines, mountains, etc.

Wiggly political boundaries.

Arbitrary political fiat and, very importantly:

In which part of your particular time zone you live.

Because though time zones are essential for regulating modern patterns of transportation, business, and most other aspects of civilization, they are not all the same in value or extent or accuracy. They vary enormously in size and shape, a fact that enormously affects the everyday lives of two thirds of the world’s sprawling urban population.

All China, for instance, (which is just one massive time zone); parts of sprawling Russia; northwestern North America; Australia (three zones but with five differing zones at times); parts of Canada (six time zones); South America — all these have some of their time zones grossly distorted in size and shape. This leads to ridiculous situations for the people living there whose daily lives can be inexorably inconvenienced by the wonky time zones imposed upon them.

These times are usually seasonally and artificially altered by one hour or, confusingly, just half an hour, in an attempt to hand out extra daylight hours by benign authorities to naive citizens during summer months.

But awkward inbuilt sun-time differences already occur between the eastern and western extremities of our mandated time zones. They always have. And always will.

Earthly time is measured by longitude. In fact longitude is time. It is denoted by meridians — lines drawn on maps and charts, which run from the north to the south poles and denote the distance, in degrees of angular measurement, between the global zero or prime meridian (which runs through the Greenwich observatory, near London in England) to the meridian running through the place from which the measurement is made. The value of this angle gives the local solar time. This is because every fifteen degrees of longitude is equal to one hour of earthly time.

In some extreme cases of oddly shaped time zones, though, civil time can get well out of hand.

For instance, this means that residents of Gaspé, Québec (64 degrees of longitude west) and residents west of Thunder Bay, Ontario (90 degrees west) who by civic decree, share, and are expected to faithfully follow, the dictates of the same designated hour of the clock known as the Eastern Time Zone, if unconstrained by personal duties and employment schedules, or if not imbued with a lax rebellious nature, will seasonably differ in their getting up and going to bed habits by as much as one hour and forty minutes of elapsed daylight.

Even more so for those people in the outermost regional extremities, east and west. Because some of their close neighbours, even those living less than a stone’s throw away, but situated on the other side of a time-zone boundary, have their clocks set for another full hour’s time difference.

How can we mitigate the effects of sharing such misshapen time zones? Well, if you are a working person who commutes to work each day, the first thing to do is undergo an honest personality self-assessment and classify yourself as either a predominantly morning person, an evening person, or an all around in-between person. This will help in deciding where you should live in relationship to your place of employment, entertainment, or social activity — and how far you will have to travel each day getting there.

If you decide that you are a morning person you should live to the west of your place of employment. Thus in the winter, when daylight is curtailed due to the sun’s southerly declination, in the early mornings you will be heading east to meet the dawn and in the evenings you will be driving west to prolong the sunset. The resulting gain of daylight in this manner might be perhaps four minutes each way. A possible forty minutes of valuable stolen daylight, more or less, for each work week.

For an evening person, driving west, away from the approaching dawn and back home to the east away from the setting sun, the result would affect a similar total number of daylight minutes, but these would be negative, daylight minutes lost to the night.

(Another unrelated, but practical countering aspect here, regarding living to the east of your daytime workplace, means that you will not have the have the danger and annoyance of the low-lying sun in your eyes while driving to and from your destinations).

For those in-between, the neither morning or evening types of persons, they should choose to live anywhere to the north or south of their workplace. Also choose a workplace situated in a region midway, or fairly close to the middle of their time zone, where their clock time will always be within a few minutes of solar time. With little difference in longitude from their home to office they will suffer no gain or loss of daylight minutes. And maybe lead humdrum rather unexciting lives.

Second option:

This would call for support by all the world’s leading industrial nations — an historic agreement for change on an international scale. By presenting such a plan, perhaps to the United Nations assembly, Canada might lead the way forward and gain international credit.

A permanent solution to this annoyance could be achieved if all those who wish to continue the practise of adding one-hour on normal solar time during the summer months to gain an artificial saving of daylight, and those others who endorse its full abolition or want a different modification, would agree to a half way compromise. A fifty-fifty deal. This could be done by instituting a permanent, but less radical, alteration of civil time by adding or subtracting just one unnoticeable half hour to solar time.

This would be fairly inconspicuous for solar-time purists and yet provide pro-manipulating-others with an acceptable acceleration or deceleration of just a tolerable thirty minutes in the sun’s rising and setting. Of course there would still be the fifteen-minute-sized, plus or minus, seasonal variations due to the ‘Equation of Time’ which is caused by the earth’s orbit of the sun being slightly elliptical, but then nothing’s perfect, except perhaps for the two-litre bottles of Wells India Pale Ale from Britain stocked by our beer stores here in Ottawa.

How might this be done? Well, to suit either morning persons or evening persons we could simply formally agree to move the prime meridian, from which all earthly time is measured, from its present position and birthplace at Greenwich, London, England, just seven and a half degrees eastward or westward.

Probably most popularly, for eastward proponents, this would mean digging up the brass rail strip marking the zero meridian of zero longitude, at present marking Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) or Universal Time (UT), and transferring it to a new location close to Cologne, Germany. There it could be left in the good hands of that city’s university’s KOSMA—the Koln Observatory for Sub-Millimetre Astronomy.

Or, if preferred by a majority of others, the zero longitude datum mark could be moved westward to a position running dead centre down the middle of bustling modern Ireland, about eighty kilometres west of Dublin. If the meridian were to be placed there it would run very close to the town of Tullamore which providentially is the home of the Tullamore Astronomical Society (TAS) and a founder member of the Irish Federation of Astronomical Societies.

This proposed moving of the prime meridian, from which our normal civil time has long been measured, would cause little or no upset to tradition. In the 1950s the actual, long-established, Greenwich observatory, because of excessive light pollution overhead, was bodily moved, together with the Astronomer Royal himself, to Herstmonceux Castle, in Sussex. Later, parts of its facilities (though probably not including any body parts of the Astronomer Royal) went to the Canary Islands; Cambridge University; and Queens University in Kingston, Canada.

The prime meridian of zero longitude at Greenwich is nothing more than an arbitrary, invisible and ethereal geographical starting point. It was established in 1675 by King Charles II when vital nautical navigation and time keeping were first becoming tinged with exact science. This was also during the time of the noted diarist, Samuel Pepys who was literarily a really bigwig, being the randy Secretary of the Navy and President of the Royal Society. Though being such a vital entity, the prime meridian only really exists in imagination and for practical scientific purpose.

Today, as modern positional astronomy, mapmaking, and navigation is ruled by global positioning using satellites and computerized systems, if zero longitude were to be moved elsewhere the installation of nothing more than a symbolic marker would suffice as a bench mark, just as does the present brass strip which has been embedded in the paving stones at Greenwich Observatory for many years.

For in fact this brass-strip marker is not the true prime meridian anyway, as tectonic plates, whole continents and all land masses tend to slowly slip and slide about geologically upon the earth’s plastic surface mantle.

So this most exact zero meridian (upon which it and the Global Positioning System is based) is a purely theoretical one and wanders a few metres or millimetres one way or the other as the earth’s crust in the Greenwich region, carrying the hallowed Greenwich brass strip, together with all its surrounding infrastructure — pubs, fish and chip shops, churches and shopping centres, without any let or hindrance by municipal, local government, NASA, or international United Nations’ permit, slides slowly and erratically about.

Thus, following a new international agreement of compromise, any necessary updating of equipment to account for such a proposed easterly or westerly seven-and-a-half degree move, involving a mere thirty minutes change in clock time, would largely require no more than a few updating computer key strokes to be made by all parties concerned.

Third option:

Of course a much easier way to solve the summertime ‘daylight saving time’ question would be to completely forego the disrupting annual changing, out of, and back into, local standard times. Just leave it as it is, and simply change our lives to suit our existing standard solar time zones. This by merely adjusting all ordinary business and civil activities to suit the local clock settings as they are presently apportioned — primarily by switching from our conventional nine to five business hours for typical workdays to say, from eight to four, or some other suitable combinations.

Either way, we would all be free of those bothersome six-monthly updates of the varied digital timepieces embedded in our growing domestic accumulations of electronic gadgets.

No comments:

Post a Comment