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New time change seen as causing discomfort, not disaster
San Francisco Chronicle


February 23, 2007
Friday AM

In 2005, Congress decided that Americans needed a little more sunshine in their lives and ordered that daylight-saving time be extended four weeks beginning this year.

Now with clocks slated to spring forward three weeks earlier than usual, on March 11, high-tech pundits are wondering how big a headache this will cause for computer users - and whether this will be a replay of the Y2K-bug drama of 1999.




For instance, airlines could be thrown off schedule, creating havoc for travelers. People could miss meetings. Cell-phone calls could be mistakenly billed during peak hours. All kinds of automatic orders and messages could be mistimed.

But John Pironti, who evaluates risks for the global computer consulting firm Getronics, said the smart money is betting that the change will cause annoyances, not catastrophes.

"It's not a doomsday scenario, it's a discomfort scenario," said Pironti, adding that while big companies have had time to prepare, small businesses and consumers might be unaware of the problem.

"Nobody knows about this," said Scott Hauge, who leads the 2,700-member nonprofit advocacy group Small Business California and also runs a 31-person insurance firm in San Francisco.

Microsoft Corp. has sought to minimize any time-change difficulties by issuing updates to the most current version of its Windows XP operating system, and it already has built the time change into Vista. But users of older operating systems, such as Windows 2000, might have to figure things out for themselves.

Apple has taken pretty much the same posture.

With the change still three Sundays away, it's an open guess as to how big or small a deal this will turn out to be. But an obvious question is: Why?

The change was one of many provisions that became law when President Bush signed the Energy Policy Act in August 2005. The act mandated that, starting in 2007, daylight saving should begin on the second Sunday in March - instead of the first Sunday in April - and end on the first Sunday in November rather than the last Sunday in October.

Energy savings was the reason given for the addition of four weeks. A California Energy Commission document said studies have generally found that longer daylight hours save money on electricity because people run fewer lights when the sun is shining.

The United States first began experimenting with daylight saving during World War I, and since then, the practice has taken hold. Today, roughly 70 nations and all 50 states except Arizona and Hawaii practice the ritual.

But that doesn't stop the arguments that seem to occur whenever the period is adjusted, as occurred temporarily during the Arab Oil Embargo of the 1970s and again in 1986 when President Ronald Reagan moved the start of daylight saving to the first Sunday in April from the last Sunday of that month.

One of the arguments against such changes has been that they disrupt sleep patterns, but in today's computer-dependent world, the bigger worries might be tech-related. In January, the Gartner market research firm warned that "few information technology organizations have any formalized risk-assessment and remediation program" to figure out how big a glitch the time changes could cause and how to fix any such problems in advance.

But in the same report, the company suggested that in three recent time shifts - in Australia, the United Kingdom and the state of Indiana - there were relatively few problems in big, central systems, but "significant problems at the application level."

Translation: Corporate America could be just fine, but Mr. and Ms. Consumer might miss a few meetings until they figure out why their automated calendars are amiss.

Don Rhodes, a technology expert with the American Bankers Association, said he is confident that financial institutions large and small - having headed off possible Y2K aggravations by extensive planning - have taken steps to make the time shift painless.

"Invariably, somebody's not going to correct something, but they'll notice within a day or two," he said.

Sarah Bulgatz, a spokeswoman for Charles Schwab & Co., said a lot of people in her firm's technology division have been working since September to make sure the switch doesn't affect their time-sensitive business.

"We don't feel there's going to be any client impact," she said.


E-mail Tom Abate at tabate(at)
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