Monday, November 3, 2014

Daylight Savings Time Bewitched

It has nothing to do with farmers, but something to do with golfers. A Mad Men special feature illustrates the history of Daylight Savings Time in America. Its origin was wartime rationing, where inefficient home boilers consumed coal and oil for heating. After WWII, each state or major city set its schedule for switching to daylight savings time. Which meant confusion during the months of April and October. It was in the 1960’s that daylight savings time would be a state, not local issue, and the start and end dates would be the same nationwide. Residents of Arizona and Hawaii don’t need to bother with clocks. In the southernmost states, air conditioning costs outweigh the reduced lighting costs. Nevada and Florida retain daylight savings time to avoid a 2-hour time difference with neighbors California and Alabama, which both stretch further north. The Atlantic Magazine reported a disruption of sleep cycles, increased heart attacks, exacerbation of sleep disorders, and car accidents in the week after the spring time shift. And I don’t think it’s a big deal. On cargo vessels, clocks advance or are retarded an hour per night, or every other night. Rather than a single change at 2am, advances or delays are made in 20 minute increments at 8pm, 12am, and 4am. This is so that each officer on watch splits the difference. Because the ship’s clocks rely on an electrical frequency of 60 hertz to keep time, a time change is the right time to synchronize the ship’s clock to GPS time. On the fastest ocean liners, clocks advance 90 minutes per night as vessels took the “great circle” route form New York to England and Northern Europe, shortening the distance and time between time zones. Twice a year, the sailor’s, pilot’s and traveler’s daily clock-changing becomes a national affair. Local sunrise and sunset times are determined by longitude and latitude. Longitude determines the sunrise and sunset times, and latitude determines the number of hours of daylight. Last year in November, I was in Portland, Oregon. One gripe was that the evening commute ended in darkness. This is nothing unusual in New York. At the winter solstice (I took note of this last year), “flag retreat” took place 15 minutes after classes ended at 4pm. In the summer, “flag retreat” occurs after 8pm. And, for the record, the sun sets earlier in New York than it does in Washington, DC. In 2007, Daylight Savings Time was extended to almost 8 months of the year. As a result, “Change your clock, check your smoke detector” is no longer the golden rule. Morning commutes in October now take place under darkness. Most famously, Daylight Savings Time now covers Halloween. All my trick-or-treating was done after sundown. Not so for today’s tots, who can finish before pitch black.

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