Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Another Modest Proposal - Lucien Guillaume

Another Modest Proposal - Lucien Guillaume

(Note: From Steven R. McEvoy, please see the not at the end of the essay, to explain its origins, and some other titbits.)

An Essay on Time: The Plan
Step One: eliminate Daylight Saving time change
Step Two: expand use of 24-hour clock
Step Three: Select one standardised time, eliminate time zones, International Date Line.

2018 Version

The Fourth Dimension

The continued progress of existence and events:

This essay presents a proposal for a different view of visualising, interpreting, and displaying time. It aims at simplification and standardisation, the elimination of arbitrary constraints which complicate the existing approaches. At first it may seem bizarre to people who are quite used to, and accepting, the current environment they happen to find themselves in. However, as an educational exercise, it provides food for thought regardless of whether it may develop into an actual change or not. Your comments, if any, regarding this seminal stage will be appreciated as a valued contribution to help me refine and modify my approach as well as to contribute to its further elaboration

This is in the spirit of Occam's razor (in Latin: Lex Parsimoniae), a problem-solving principle devised by William of Ockham (c. 1287–1347), stating that “among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected. Other, more complicated solutions may ultimately prove correct, but—in the absence of certainty—the fewer assumptions that are made, the better.

STEP ONE: Eliminate the Daily Saving Time.

Currently: We advance the clocks by one hour (or fraction thereof) from a date in the spring to a date in the fall. The initial idea or pretext used to justify the move was to save energy by benefiting more from the natural sunlight hours.
Besides the fact that this is an arbitrary decision trying to offset a natural phenomenon, it has disadvantages in application. The dates do vary from one country, or province to another. The case for the energy saving has not been proved. On the other hand a peripheral consequence is that there is a proven increase of traffic accidents and heart problems around the start and end dates.
In addition it has some logistical implications: Some institutions and companies do not reduce salary entitlement when the shift is reduced by one hour, but pay overtime when the shift is increased by one hour.

It creates a lot of work for many individuals when we consider the number of clocks, watches, etc., which have to be reset twice a year all over the world. And besides the number of people who, by inadvertence, do not comply properly, there is also some information which fails to be updated in time, on the Internet for instance, such as the schedule of periodic events.

There is no perceived concrete benefit except for the authority who feels that his/her signature on a decree has the power to have the sun rise and set one hour earlier or an hour later.

We might wonder why this change takes place twice a year, and not, for example, four, six, or eight times, or even on a weekly basis, thus reducing the amount of time change.

A more logical approach is to do away with this arbitrary procedure, retain the standard time throughout the year and leave the initiative to companies and institutions to decide whether they decide to change their operating hours,
For instance, a company with currently operating hours “9:00 to 17:00” may decide to switch to “10:00 to 18:00” (or “9:30 to 17:30”) for a specific seasonal period. The core period throughout the year becomes known as “10:00 to 17:00” with additional scheduled periodic availability “9:00 to 10:00” or “17:00 to 18:00”, depending on the season.

This scheme can be implemented with a wide flexibility within an area or an industry. If the various entities do not synchronise their operating hours, the rush hours are spread out and the traffic becomes lighter and more fluid.
Going back to basics, farmers will keep on performing their work according to the position of the sun, regardless of what it might be called.

This Daily Saving Time approach is reminiscent of Y2K, the numeronym for the Millennium bug which created a wave of concern at the time. We take note of the date and wait for something important, potentially catastrophic, to happen. To use a metaphor popularised by Jean de la Fontaine in one of his fables: “La montagne accouche d’une souris”, or as Shakespeare’s expressed it in his comedic play “Much ado about nothing”. The fact that you do not want to miss the date may create some stress regardless of what may, or not, in fact happen.

Elimination will remove a conversation topic (reminders in the media, “we are losing/gaining an hour”). We can converse about something more useful.
The elimination is a step towards simplicity, a return to a natural process without arbitrary constraints. It adds a measure of flexibility in application.

STEP TWO: Expand the use of the 24-hour clock.

Currently, we mostly use the full 24-hour clock or a duodecimal clock of twelve hours being repeated and qualified by reference to 12 o’clock which therefore gets an increase in relevance. (Besides Navy bells, monastery times, etc.). The day seems unnecessarily centered, focused on the period of lunch time.
This is the result of an arbitrary decision. And we may wonder why the duodecimal was chosen in the first place: (actually quite handy, divisible by 2, 3, 4, 6.), as opposed to another number, instead of 2 x 12 hrs, 3 periods of 8 hours, 4, periods of 6 hours.

The 12-hour clock requires an alphanumeric notation (am/pm suffixes) which introduces a level of complexity in order to avoid potential ambiguities, and the need to differentiate between Noon and Midnight by specifying 12-noon, or 12-midnight., while the 24-hour clock is used extensively quite successfully and efficiently in domains such as the military, transportation and scientific fields.
It does not require redesign of a dial which would necessitate a narrower segment of 15 degrees to display a succession of 24 hours, harder to read. The existing layout showing paired, for example concentric, combinations 1.00/13:00, 2:00/14:00, etc. is quite suitable without any change. Furthermore the trend nowadays is to shift to digital timepieces.

I would suggest that the use of the 12-h be phased out progressively into complete elimination.

This does not seem to be quite revolutionary. A more drastic change which is not considered here, would involve decimalisation which was actually implemented in a previous historic event: Each day in the Republican Calendar was divided into ten hours, each hour into 100 decimal minutes, and each decimal minute into 100 decimal seconds. Clocks were manufactured to display this decimal time, but it did not catch on. Mandatory use of decimal time was officially suspended 7 April 1795, although some cities continued to use decimal time as late as 1801 [Wikipedia]

STEP THREE: Universalise one standard time.

The third step consists in adopting world-wide one unique, standard time, such as the already existing UTC/GMT and eliminating the plethora of local times.
[Quote] Wikipedia: UTC is the time standard commonly used across the world. The world's timing centers have agreed to keep their time scales closely synchronized - or coordinated - therefore the name Coordinated Universal Time. [Unquote].
This approach represents a step towards the overall aim of standardisation and simplification. It enables the straightforward calculation of flight times without reference to local times based on time zones. It is also more accurate than the latter. For example:
Toronto, ON, longitude 79 west, is 316 min, i.e. 5 hr 16 m1n, behind UTC/GMT
Vancouver, BC. Longitude 123 west is 492 min, i.e. 8 hr 12 min behind UTC/GMT
AC181 leaves Toronto 10:00 + 5:16 = 15:16 UT, arrives Vancouver 12:08 + 8:12 = 20:20 UT
Duration of flight: 20:20 -15:16 = 5 hr 4 min
AC116 leaves Vancouver 10:00 + 8:12 =18:12 UT arrives Toronto 17:25 + 5:16 = 22:41 UT
Duration of flight 22:41 – 18:12 = 4 hr 29 min
In addition, these results, based on longitudes, are more accurate than those published in the schedule, based on time zones (5:08 and 4:25 respectively). This is a neat, straightforward approach, compared to the complex method of time zones which incorporate many exceptions and deviations.
Furthermore, it eliminates the need for the IDL (International Date Line) concept, and therefore the resulting necessity of adding /subtracting one day when crossing the antemeridian (180 degrees) in one direction or the other, which may create some confusion, although it enabled  the story behind Jules Verne’s :”Around the World in Eighty Days”
We may expect some reluctance to accept this revolutionary concept (except perhaps in the GMT time zone).  I can imagine the reaction of people missing the point: “You want me to have lunch at 12 noon (UTC/GMT), at the same time as the people in London, while here in New Orleans, the sun has not risen yet!” “No, you still have lunch when the sun passes your meridian; you may call it your lunch or noon meal, but the UT will be 18:00 like everywhere else on the globe. You keep on getting up when the sun rises at 12:00 at your place, go to work from 15:00 to 23:00, have dinner at 01:30 and retire when you feel like it.
[Subsidiary question, why did I select New Orleans for this example?]
When such an approach becomes an accepted standard practice it will not appear any stranger than our denomination of summer and winter in relation to the mental images that these terms may evoke. People in the Southern Hemisphere do not object to the fact that their winter is the warm season while their summer is their cold season.
[Quote] Australian Government, Bureau of Meteorology: In Australia, the seasons are defined by grouping the calendar months in the following way:
Spring - the three transition months September, October and November.
            Summer - the three hottest months December, January and February.
            Autumn - the transition months March, April and May.
            Winter - the three coldest months June, July and August. [Unquote]


On the surface this initial essay describes a logical sequence of three consecutive steps aiming at simplification and standardization of the ways we describe time:
(1) Eliminate the Daily Saving Time methodology,
(2) Extend the use of the 24-hour while abolishing that of the 12-hour clock, and
(3) Adopt one world-wide standard time. Bingo!
But, reading between the lines, besides being a form of mental exercise on known concepts encountered in everyday life, its discussion, through the reactions it may inspire, may be seen as a tool to dissect the attitudes of individuals, ranging from clinging to unquestioning acceptance of the status quo, to open-mindedness to new ideas, and potential adaptability to change.

And to end on a lighter note of whimsicality, here is a jocular afterthought: After quoting Wikipedia: The 24-hour clock … system is the most commonly used time notation in the world today, and is used by international standard ISO 8601. It is popularly referred to as military time in the United States, English speaking Canada, and a handful of other countries where the 12-hour clock is still dominant. Zulu Time Zone is often used in aviation and the military as another name for UTC +0:00.
And, in this year MMXVIII,
Let us keep things clear and simple,
Not occasionally, but XXIV / VII

This essay is a theoretical exercise that my uncle has revised a number of times over the years. This year he shared it with select family members. As a father of children, I have observed the impact of time shift, year after year. I would love to see it go the way of the dodo. I have written about Lucien twice before:

Possibly the oldest active student at UW (2006-09-01)
The Undergrads: Who Are You? (2006-09-01)

This essay is posted here with permission. I greatly enjoy the chances I have to spend time with Lucian. He is bar far smarter than I. And have a wealth of experience. I hope you enjoyed this sampling of his thought. And yes he still continues to take courses every year.

(I ran into Lucien walking back from Kitchener to Saint Jacob's last summer and we chatted in the street.)

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