The Right Number of Time Zones is Zero

US Time Zones

Happy DST-is-over day, everyone!

Maybe I'm just grumpy from wandering the house changing (1) the stove clock, (2) the microwave clock, (3) the clock in my daughter's room, (4) the clock by the living room TV, and (5) the clock in our bedroom. Still to go: (6) my coffee machine's clock and (7) my BCD Clock at work, but those will have to wait until Monday.

[Update: Oops. This was written before I went anywhere today. So add in: (8 & 9) car dashboard clocks.]

Each is digital and (of course) has different buttons to push in different sequences and combinations in order to "fall back" out of DST. As I age, I speculate I will no longer have the mental capacity to figure out some of these.

At least all the computers (including the TiVo) are smart enough to set their own display-times back an hour; so is my Casio Solar Atomic Watch and the Atomix Wall Clock in my home office.

Good for them. But this simply means that an invisible horde of programmers were working behind the scenes over a span of decades, managing to master the timezone rules and teach these devices how to push their own buttons. Simply to relieve me of the tedium.

As a sometimes-programmer, I can tell you that one of the trickiest bits of coding involves the concept of "days": they're always 24 hours long, except twice a year, when they are either 23 or 25 hours long. Not only is it hard to get that right, it's often difficult to figure out what "right" is.

Example: producing a daily time-series plot of network traffic. For the 23-hour day in the spring, the 2am-3am period doesn't exist—what should that look like? Worse, the 25-hour day in the fall essentially replays the 1am-2am period. How should that look? (After years, I haven't been able to come up with anything better than an ugly zigzag.)

Could we do better? Sure! You might have already noticed my recommendation in the title of this post. More below. But first some recommended reading:

There's a great article by Allison Schrager over at the Quartz website: "The US needs to retire daylight savings and just have two time zones—one hour apart". (The image at right—no, your right—is stolen from this article.) The Atlantic has Alexander Abad-Santos opining: "Daylight Saving Time Is America's Greatest Shame". (That might be overkill—what about Obamacare?—but it's still worth reading.)

Also see this amusing and fact-filled video explaining the history and foibles of DST:

And if you need more: Wikipedia on DST and time zones.

Now: Abad-Santos and Schrager advocate the marginal solution: at long last, get rid of the dreadful DST. It's arbitrary, woefully spotty and complex, and (hence) confusing and wasteful in modern times. It's probable that the claimed benefits (chiefly energy savings) are either negligible or actually outweighed by costs.

Shrager goes on to recommend that the US adopt an even simpler system: just two time zones (for the 48 contiguous states). She observes that people in the EST and CST timezones do a lot of stuff at the same time anyway, with people on CST just doing those things one clock-hour earlier than those on EST. So: merge EST and CST into an "Eastern" timezone, merge MST and PST into a "Western" timezone.

But they don't go far enough. As a libertarian, I think we should erect a wall of separation between time and state. The only reason for the patchwork hodgepodge of time-setting rules is due to the legislative meddling of politicians. We should all just use Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). We should do away with the antiquated and unnecessarily complex concept of timezones altogether.

Yes, this would mean instead of working 9-to-5 tomorrow, I would be working 2-to-10 (PM). And, next Thursday, Big Bang Theory would be on at 1AM instead of 8PM. (Bob Newhart is returning as Professor Proton! Not that it matters, but this gives me a reason to go on living.)

In fact, forget that AM and PM stuff too. We'd probably move to 24-hour notation at the same time, since it doesn't make a lot of sense to talk about ante- and post-meridian unless it's your meridian.

There's nothing particularly difficult about this, once the conversion is over. And everything would be a lot simpler thereafter. Employers could, if desired, flexibly adjust working hours seasonally so employees would have a decent amount of sunshine after work. But nothing politically mandated.

And if you wanted to go outside to feel the sun on your face at high (local) noon, you'd be able to figure out how to do that easily enough on your own.

This brilliant idea, as near as I can tell, has only been advocated by this guy. But after you've read the arguments for abolishing DST, ask yourself: why not go all the way and make things really simple?

I could get started today by setting all my computers' "timezones" to UTC. Maybe I'll do that. And I could even do it to a lot of servers at the University Near Here! (I wonder how long it would be before anyone noticed?)

[Update 2017-11-30: Now retired, I never did that, to my occasional regret.]


Last Modified 2018-11-04 5:29 AM EST