Time change offers hassle recalling Y2K

Plugged In

New daylight saving extending period by four weeks may mean grief for our smart gadgets

February 22, 2007|By Mike Himowitz | Mike Himowitz,Sun Columnist

Remember Y2K? That temporal computer glitch is a hazy memory today, but there's another one on the horizon that could cause us grief in less than three weeks: Call it the Daylight Saving Devil.

Y2K, you'll remember, was the result of years of neglect by programmers who cut corners by using two digits for the year in date calculations - threatening worldwide crashes when the clock ticked into the year 2000. This time, Congress created the Daylight Saving Devil by approving the U.S. Energy Act of 2005.

Its purpose is to save energy by extending daylight-saving time by four weeks - one in the fall and three in the spring. Starting this year, daylight time will begin on the second Sunday in March (that's March 11) rather than the first Sunday in April. It will end on the first Sunday in November, a week later than before.

What makes this a hassle?

The worldwide proliferation of "smart" gadgets - that's what. Most relatively new computers, PDAs, smart phones, upscale alarm clocks and other gadgets with internal timekeepers are programmed to adjust to DST automatically. They either advance the time one hour on their own, or alert you to do it. But this intelligence assumes that they know when daylight saving begins and ends.

Unless your computer, PDA, cell phone, pager or significant digital other was built after Congress acted - and the programmer was smart enough to adjust the DST dates - the clock won't change automatically this year, or prompt you to do so, until mid-April.

That will leave your computer clock an hour behind for three weeks, unless you set it manually or live in Arizona or Hawaii, two states with the good sense to leave time well enough alone (They don't observe daylight- saving time at all).

Although the Daylight Saving Devil may not have the horror potential of Y2K - a case where hard work averted disaster - the Daylight Saving Devil promises its own brand of mischief.

If you use a computer clock to tell time, you'll be an hour slow. The same goes for calendar programs that alert you to upcoming events or software that the office uses to schedule everyone's time.

Payroll applications that rely on an accurate clock for overtime or hourly pay could be thrown off. The same goes for lawyers and others who rely on accurate time stamps for billing, or for meeting deadlines on documents they file electronically.

Embedded controllers that automatically lock and unlock doors or set alarm systems will be off-kilter, not to mention programmable thermostats and coffeemakers. You can come up with more examples if you think about it.

Most corporate information technology departments have developed fixes, but not all are aware of the problem. If you use a computer at work and you're lucky enough to have an IT department, ask a technician if the company is making the daylight- saving adjustment.

Even then, you should be wary of calendar and time-sensitive to-do notices for three weeks after March 11. They might be inaccurate.

At home, where you are the IT department, you have choices to make.

The simplest: Wait until March 11 and turn on your computer. If it hasn't recognized the new start of DST, you can set the clock forward an hour and you're good until fall. Of course, that won't fix the problem permanently - and you might still have some calendar and scheduling problems.

It's better to deal with the issue up front. If you recently bought a Windows Vista machine or have a Mac with OS X 10.4.5 or later, don't sweat it. The DST adjustment is built in.

Microsoft and Apple have instructions for downloading patches for earlier versions of Windows and the Mac OS, as well as for mobile devices.

You'll find Apple's at http:--docs.info.apple.com/article.html? artnum=305056

If you have Windows XP, Windows 2000 or a gadget running a mobile version of Windows, visit http:--support.microsoft.com/gp/dst_topissues

There, you'll find directions that walk you through the process. For most XP users, it's likely to be a normal session with the Windows Update utility.

Mobile devices (PDAs and smart phones) will be trickier. If you're not comfortable with the directions, find a friend who's more conversant with the device to help you. (Sorry, I won't be able to do it).

If you have an earlier version of Windows (meaning Windows ME, Windows 98, or Windows NT), Microsoft makes it difficult to find information about adjusting your clock. The company's position is that it's time to upgrade the operating system or buy a new computer.

But deep in the bowels of instructions for daylight-saving patches, I found a reference to Microsoft's Time Zone Editor, which works on all versions of Windows, the company says.

The program, tzedit.exe, allows you to specify the starting and ending dates for daylight-saving time. When I tried it, the program defaulted to the new DST dates - meaning I had nothing more to do. That might be all you have to do, too. It certainly didn't set my computer on fire or anything like that.

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