Monday, July 15, 2019

A Hare-Brained Idea: Replacing Local Time Zones With Universal Coordinated Time

Among the dumbest ideas I've seen in the media lately is one that proposes dumping local time zones in favor of one single standard: Coordinated Universal  Time.  ('Is It Time To Drop Local Time Zones?' WSJ, July 13-14, p. A2)   This is really  a fancy term for Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) which is the basis for 24 hour clock time.

In order to solve the problem of different local mean times, Greenwich Mean Time or GMT was developed, so people could compare the same clock times around the world. GMT is based on a 24 hour  clock defined at the Greenwich meridian. So, for example, if one is listening to the BBC from New Orleans and the time given is 13h 30 m GMT, then that means it’s 1.30 p.m. LMT in London. Since New Orleans is 6 hours earlier, that means it’s 7.30 a.m. local mean time in New Orleans.

 Thus, knowing GMT, one can always work out the local mean time at one’s location if one knows the longitude difference relative to Greenwich. (Note for the purposes here, I‘m taking London as having the same longitude of 0 degrees)  as Greenwich.  See me standing astride the Greenwich meridian below, in July,  1978:
Image may contain: 1 person, standing, walking, shoes and outdoor

Thus, local time zones are defined by their differences from UTC (In New York, UTC is - 5:00 or five hours behind. Thus a “time zone” is defined by taking the 360 degrees through which Earth rotates in one day, and dividing it by 24, since it requires 24 hours to make one revolution. Thus, one standard time zone would be generated via (360 deg/ 24 hr) = 15 deg/h or 15 degrees of longitude per hour - so be 15 degrees of longitude in expanse.  Since New York is five hours behind this means the local longitude for New York's local mean time would be at 75 degrees West.

But now a pair of Hopkins profs (Steve H. Hanke - an economist, and Richard Conn Henry- an astronomer) with too much time on their hands  -and air between the ears- want to change the way we keep time.  They want to dispense with any solar connection (local mean time, time zones) for all ordinary blokes and instead set all clocks to UTC.  Assuming enough people in the U.S. would be stupid enough to buy into such idiocy several things would happen:

i) Every timepiece on the planet would show the same hour at the same time irrespective of the Sun's position.

ii) Hence, depending on your location, "noon" could fall in the middle of the night. As the WSJ writer  (Jo Craven McGinty) pointed out: "cocks might crow when your watch shows an hour traditionally associated with tea time."

iii) Clocks in L.A., for example, would read 5 p.m. to 1 a.m.during the normal eight hour work day.

No, that doesn't mean you'd now be a night shift employee. As Prof. Henry the astronomer noted (ibid.) we'd still rise with the Sun but the times displayed on our watches would not longer mesh with what we see, given they're now aligned with UTC and not local time.  

The pair of profs clearly figure that a permanently imposed state of cognitive dissonance now associated with time will not send even more citizens around the bend.  They also underestimate the physical,  sensory connections people have with solar time - which dates far back into antiquity.   But they believe they can just erase those associations with one dictated time change The pair actually jokingly say this time is "made for Trump" and even suggest calling it "Trump time".

Asking half in jest:  "Can you imagine Trump time?"  No, but how about Dotard dumpkopf time?

And, as we might expect, the pair insist it's no biggie given it's already happening. For example,  airplane pilots as of 1972 operate on UTC, as do global stock and commodity trades. Obviously this is rational given pilots need information in a coordinated time frame, and the markets depend on such coordination given high speed algorithms which underlie most trades.

But merely because UTC is useful for specialized purposes such as market trades and commercial airlines ensuring coordinated arrival and departure times, doesn't mean the average citizen needs it. Indeed, if anyone is really het up about making a change in standards I'd say the one that trumps this time change is going to metric units - which most other industrial nations use.

A change to UTC, meanwhile, is only guaranteed to sow confusion and chaos as people - workers try to set their morning alarms and the first thing that greets them is seeing 5 p.m.  displayed when the Sun is coming up.

Economist Hanke is correct when he avers it "was originally the Sun that gave us our reference points"  adding,  "We had more than 300 time zones in the U.S."   But all that was eradicated once local time zones were established and referenced to specific longitudes.   As noted earlier, these occurred at 15 degree intervals so in a nation spanning 60 degrees in longitude, there would be four time zones (60/ 15), no more. This is rational and works for the majority of people.  When you cross time zones, say from L.A. to Atlanta, you merely reset your watch to the local time on arrival, no biggie.   

 Economist Hanke is also hyper confident that "it's only a matter of time" before the public embraces the idea. Sorry, but I can't see it. And just because essential industries and stock markets have (voluntarily) switched to UTC doesn't mean every manjack will now jump on a "monkey see, monkey do" bandwagon to ape the markets and industries.  Especially because some overpaid,  pointy -headed economist believes it's a great idea.

Just my 0.02. I could be wrong.  But I'd make a Vegas bet that I'm not.

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