The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

It's 2023...in Chicago

For once, instead of using clever blog tricks to wish Niue all the best in the new year ten hours after our own, I thought to use the same clever blog trick to mark 2023 right here in Chicago.

So, let's pause for 12 months before the 2024 election cycle kicks off and we all get crazy again. Here's to a boring new year!

Stupid time zone tricks

This moment in the January 6th committee proceedings was total Daily Parker bait (h/t George Conway). It came as the committee interviewed Max Miller, former senior adviser to the XPOTUS and as of next Tuesday the US Representative for Ohio's 7th district. He wanted to establish that no one called his White House office for hours after the insurrection began, pointing to the phone logs as evidence.

I'll let the J6 lawyer explain it:

MILLER (p 120 line 15): I want you to pull up the time from when I left the White House, there's a period of time, there was about 4 or 5 hours, of no phone calls.

J6 LAWYER: And I think what you're referring to is, if we look here...you have a call from Mr. Caporale at 10:40 am.

A: Uh huh.

Q: And the next call that's reflected on your records is 6:40 p.m. on January 6th, so, as you said.

A: So I wanted you to to bring that up is to show you, look, no one called me, right, when things were going wrong....

Q (p 121 line 8): No, I appreciate your perspective, and actually my colleague just corrected me. I need to point something out about how the phone records is—

A: —it's 5 minutes, isn't it?

Q: No, no, no, no. So what that is, is a sign of Greenwich Mean Time. I don't know if in the military you know what that is. So each line reflects whether the time is either Greenwich Mean Time or off of Greenwich Mean Time by some amount. And, at that time of year, the East Coast is 5 hours off Greenwich Mean Time. So, when you see the 6:40 calls on January 6th, the one after Mr. Caporale, you have to take 5 hours off. So that would be...1:40 pm.

A: ...Time is not important...

Congratulations to the anonymous committee lawyer understanding that "18:40Z" is actually 13:40 -0500. Although, now that you mention it, maybe the phone log actually said "18:40 -0500" which would be the time Miller said it was? Too bad we can't see the exhibit.

Tick tick tick

I always find it interesting when a literary magazine takes on technology. In that spirit, the New Yorker does its best to explain the Network Time Protocol:

Today, we take global time synchronization for granted. It is critical to the Internet, and therefore to civilization. Vital systems—power grids, financial markets, telecommunications networks—rely on it to keep records and sort cause from effect. N.T.P. works in partnership with satellite systems, such as the Global Positioning System (G.P.S.), and other technologies to synchronize time on our many online devices. The time kept by precise and closely aligned atomic clocks, for instance, can be broadcast via G.P.S. to numerous receivers, including those in cell towers; those receivers can be attached to N.T.P. servers that then distribute the time across devices linked together by the Internet, almost all of which run N.T.P. (Atomic clocks can also directly feed the time to N.T.P. servers.) The protocol operates on billions of devices, coördinating the time on every continent. Society has never been more synchronized.

In N.T.P., [David] Mills built a system that allowed for endless tinkering, and he found joy in optimization. “The actual use of the time information was not of central interest,” he recalled. The fledgling Internet had few clocks to synchronize. But during the nineteen-eighties the network grew quickly, and by the nineties the widespread adoption of personal computers required the Internet to incorporate millions more devices than its first designers had envisioned. Coders created versions of N.T.P. that worked on Unix and Windows machines. Others wrote “reference implementations” of N.T.P.—open-source codebases that exemplified how the protocol should be run, and which were freely available for users to adapt. Government agencies, including the National Institute of Standards and Technology (nist) and the U.S. Naval Observatory, started distributing the time kept by their master clocks using N.T.P.

A loose community of people across the world set up their own servers to provide time through the protocol. In 2000, N.T.P. servers fielded eighteen billion time-synchronization requests from several million computers—and in the following few years, as broadband proliferated, requests to the busiest N.T.P. servers increased tenfold. The time servers had once been “well lit in the US and Europe but dark elsewhere in South America, Africa and the Pacific Rim,” Mills wrote, in a 2003 paper. “Today, the Sun never sets or even gets close to the horizon on NTP.” Programmers began to treat the protocol like an assumption—it seemed natural to them that synchronized time was dependably and easily available. Mills’s little fief was everywhere.

This being the New Yorker, one could describe the article as the author explaining how he met this programmer Mills and the politics around Mills' retirement from computing. It's better-written than the Wikipedia article, anyway.

Somebody call lunch!

I've gotten two solid nights of sleep in a row, and I've got a clean desk for the first time in weeks. I hope that this becomes the norm, at least until November, when I'll have a packed musical schedule for six weeks as the Apollo Chorus rehearses or performs about 30 times. But that's seven months off.

That gives me plenty of time to listen to or read these:

And finally, in compiling geographic source data for Weather Now, I discovered that the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) assigned an official designator the location where the Ingenuity helicopter landed on Mars: JZRO, for Jezero Crater.

Early afternoon roundup

Now that I've got a few weeks without travel, performances*, or work conferences, I can go back to not having enough time to read all the news that interests me. Like these stories:

Finally, Michelin has handed out its 2022 stars for Chicago. Nothing surprising on the list, but I now have four more restaurants to try.

* Except that I volunteered to help a church choir do five Messiah choruses on Easter Sunday, so I've got two extra rehearsals and a service in the next 12 days.

Bonus update: the fog this morning made St Boniface Cemetery especially spooky-looking when Cassie and I went out for her morning walk:

US lurches to ending seasonal clock changes

As if from nowhere, the US Senate yesterday unanimously voted to pass S.623 (the "Sunshine Protection Act of 2021"), which would end daylight saving time by making that the new standard time, effective 5 November 2023. This blew up the Time Zone Committee mailing list, mostly with the implementation problems around time zone abbreviations. One of the maintainers listed four separate options, in fact, including moving everyone to a new time zone (Chicago on EST? New York on AST?), or possibly just redefining what CST and EST mean. Canada has a law that essentially lets the US set standard time zones for Canada, so it gets even more complicated the farther down the rabbit hole you go.

Fun fact: most time zone software running on most computers requires 3-character time zone abbreviations to work correctly. That rules out changing CST to, simply, CT. One maintainer suggested P for Permanent; another suggested A for Always (CAT, EAT, MAT?).

You might think this is funny, but we TZDB maintainers have the power to make your brain hurt this way.

By the way, if you think year-round DST is a good idea within our current time zone boundaries, you may want to consider when the latest sunrise will happen in 2024 if the law passes, in ascending order of orneriness:

Location Sunrise Sunset
Eastport, Maine 8:06 17:00
Miami 8:10 18:50
Chicago 8:19 17:33
New York 8:20 17:41
Salt Lake City 8:52 17:13
Detroit 9:01 18:12
Menominee, Mich. 9:29 18:21

The easternmost point in the U.S., Eastport, will have darker mornings, but still perhaps tolerable. Menominee, which actually lies a little west of Chicago, would not be a fun place to live in January.

To review: There is a reason we change the clocks twice a year, which everyone forgets until it's dark at 8:30 am.

Moreover, wall-clock time is arbitrary. We can get up earlier or later if we choose to. Cassie, for instance, gets up at sunrise, and expects me to do the same, so I actually liked the change last weekend.

We also had a bunch of messages today about Iran, which has decreed that they will no longer change their clocks twice a year, with immediate effect. Now someone in Iran has to tell the authoritarian, anti-technology mullahs why it might take up to a year for their cell phones to reflect the change.

First deployment of 2022

All of my apps run on servers that use UTC. As it's now 00:40 UTC, that means the code I just pushed to a dev server will start running on January 1st UTC, which is in fact why I waited until after 6pm to push the code up to DevOps.

It looks like Chicago will get about 150 mm of snow tomorrow during the day, giving me plenty of time to continue my four-day weekend of coding. If I can get a couple of things out of my backlog and onto my dev environment before Sunday night, I may just release the link to what I'm doing so Daily Parker loyalists can start playing with it.

As always, watch this space.

And happy new year!

You're right, we experts don't know anything

As a follower of and contributor to the Time Zone mailing list, I have some understanding of how time zones work. I also understand how the official Time Zone Database (TZDB) works, and how changes to the list propagate out to things like, say, your cell phone. Most mobile phone operators need at least a few weeks, preferably a few months, to ensure that changes to the TZDB get tested and pushed out to everyone's phones.

If only the government of Samoa knew anything at all about this process:

The sudden dumping of Daylight Savings Time by the Government last week left much of the nation waking up in confusion on Sunday as their phones and other devices automatically updated to show the wrong time.

At the time of writing mobile phones and other cellular-enabled devices and computers were displaying the time as 10 am when, in fact, under the new policy it was 9 am. 

Many Samoans who rely upon their phones as alarm clocks were awoken or arrived at church early because of the automatic update to their mobile devices.

The decision taken by the Cabinet to not activate daylight savings time this year was apparently made earlier this month. 

The coordinators of the TZDB hold their collective breaths each year while waiting for certain religious authorities to decide when to change the clocks in about a dozen populous countries in the Middle East and Africa. But those countries know about the tight timing and work with IANA and their mobile providers to prevent exactly what happened today in Samoa.

It turns out, no one even bothered to tell us that Samoa had cancelled daylight saving time until yesterday, and no one in Samoa's government ever sent us the official notice from 10 days ago.

Nice work, guys.

Nobody ever listens to poor Zathras.

The clocks! The clocks!

Most parts of the US and Canada entered daylight saving time overnight, spurring the annual calls for changing the practice:

The so-called "Sunshine Protection Act of 2021" was reintroduced Tuesday by U.S. Senators Marco Rubio, R-Florida; James Lankford, R-Oklahoma; Roy Blunt, R-Missouri; Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island; Ron Wyden, D-Oregon; Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Mississippi; Rick Scott, R-Florida; and Ed Markey, D-Massachusetts.  

In 2018, Florida passed legislation to keep DST, but a federal statue is require for the state to enact the change, according to a press release from Rubio.

The "Sunshine Protection Act of 2021" would apply to states who participate in DST by negating Standard Time, which only lasts between November to March, when Americans turn their clocks back one hour.

Of course, as one would expect from Marco Rubio and the august institution he serves in, abolishing daylight saving time fixes the problem exactly the wrong way. Permanent DST would lead to dark winter mornings for no real benefit winter evenings. Abolishing it makes a lot more sense. Cartographer Andy Woodruff built an app to demonstrate why. Simply, if you like the idea of 8:20 am sunrises in Chicago—which means 9:15 am sunrises in western Michigan—then make DST permanent. I say no.

Wall clock time doesn't really matter, anyway. The world runs on UTC.

Update: I forgot to include Binyamin Applebaum's op-ed in the Times from Friday, exhorting us to "learn[] to love daylight saving time."

Yay! 2020 has ended!

Well, it hasn't ended here in Chicago, where it's 4am on December 31st. And it won't end for ships at sea in Time Zone Yankee, 12 hours behind UTC, until 6am tomorrow Chicago time.

But on Kiritimati, it's now just past midnight on January 1st, meaning the tiny atoll in the South Pacific has become the first place on Earth to enter 2021.

Only 20 hours to go for us...and 26 hours to go until the whole planet puts 2020 safely behind us.