I wrote this post in 2013. Given that today is the start of daylight savings time and a few things have changed, I thought I’d do a little rewrite and republish.
Do you remember POPCORN? Not the movie snack, but the phone number? I do. It was the first phone number my parents allowed me to dial on the phone. I got to dial it twice a year when the clocks changed for daylight savings time. It was one of those things you got to do that proved you were getting older – a small right of passage.
It was all a part of the twice-a-year thing when we changed the clocks. I recall asking my father what was daylight savings time and which bank the daylight got deposited to? I did want to ask how we could withdraw and spend the saved daylight, but it was clear from the look on his face that it wasn’t a good time to pursue the question. So, I and my brothers would just call POPCORN and listen to the woman’s voice give us the correct time and go around the house changing all the clocks while listening to my mother complain about how the change was going to make her late for everything.
Didn’t matter whether it was spring or fall, the time change upset my mother. Well a lot of things upset my mother – like us three brothers “springing forward” to change clocks – this involved a lot of jumping, pushing and “mother, he hit me.” “Falling back” would get mom in a right foul mood. Best not to describe that.
Technology has really changed the clock changing rituals. In the 80’s it meant that in addition to the wrist watches and alarm clocks, there were VCRs and microwave ovens that needed to be changed. The 90’s added computers, cell phones and car radios to the list.
Then came the whole Y2K scare. Remember that? There’s half a million survivalists out there who were greatly disappointed not to be able to stay in their bunkers for more than just the weekend. The other effect of Y2K was that we in the computer business simply got tired of hearing about it and having to change the clocks on a billion computers twice a year so we put our collective heads together and programmed the whole thing so it just happens, as we say in the business, “auto-magically”.
Now, your cellphone and computer already know when to change and do it without bothering to pester you with the age-old question, “Is it spring forward and fall back or spring back and fall forward?” These days computers, cellphones, tablets, GPS, some cars and that new mystical thing call IOT (the internet of things) use a something called, NTP (network time protocol) to request the current time from the closest atomic clock. Yes, these devices completely bypass the old POPCORN system and go straight to the source.
In case you missed the news, most phone companies turned off their POPCORN systems in 2007.
After 2000 there was one other really big time scare that most of you just simply dismissed. In 2005 our friends in the US congress decided to extend daylight savings time (DST). Easy enough for them but then they didn’t have a billion and half computers all hard-coded to go to DST on the first Sunday in April. The major effect of the change from starting DST in April to starting in March was the employment of about 10,000 software engineers for three months to figure out how to reprogram those billion and half devices.
That and it really screwed up my satellite clock. Yes, I am a bit of a techno geek and for Christmas 1997 a friend bought me a clock that syncs it’s time once a day to a satellite that broadcasts the time from the atomic clock in Washington DC. That was the year I stopped calling POPCORN. The clock has a built-in feature that automatically switches to DST on the first Sunday in April. Cool!
Yes, cool until congress changed the date. Now my fancy satellite clock is wrong for two months out of the year. But my brand new iPhone is much smarter and has a mode where it periodical calls congress and asks, “Dudes, when’s DST starting this year?” and changes accordingly.
Which is where we are now in our house. Eighty percent of the devices in our house automatically change to the correct time and the other twenty still need to be changed manually. So, we now go around the house looking at our Fitbits (which auto-update to NTP) and change the few things that aren’t connected to the internet: Alarm clock, the stove, microwave, two wall clocks and the cat doors.
These days there is a new thing coming at you – the internet of things IOT. This system lets things like stoves, washing machines, cat doors, doorbells, and microwaves talk on the internet. In a few years, I won’t be walking around the house changing clocks and instead of beeping, the microwave will just send a text to my eye glasses telling me dinner is ready.
Of course that will be right after the refrigerator reminds me to buy more frozen pizzas.
Till next week,