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Input Junkie - WhenTF? !!!11:11%#&!!
March 10th, 2014
09:47 am

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WhenTF? !!!11:11%#&!!


Link thanks to andrewducker.

This is a 10 minute rant about the difficulties of establishing timelines if you (poor fool!) use what humans tell you about when something happened. He's not talking about the vagaries of memory. The problem is time zones, which are arbitrary and political and vary in more ways than I could imagine.

I'm not summarizing the video because it's fairly concise and it builds nicely, but if you want to know more or use text, have some wikipedia. Time on a ship.... there are ideal time zones at sea, but in territorial waters, the ship will use local time zones.

France has 12 time zones (has territories), Russia has 9 time zones, China has 1 time zone. Other oddities.

And then, of course, he gets into calendar changes, though mostly Gregorian/Julian.

And leap seconds, which are handled in several different ways. Do listen to the end, where he explains the Google leap smear.

I have a new theory about the Fermi paradox. All traces of civilizations get destroyed by programmers, who feel that the only possible kindness to fellow programmers (including alien programmers who might try to code aspects of civilizations) is to just not face them with the problems of keeping things straight.

I first ran into a discussion of this sort of problem in an article (possibly by Barbara Tuchman, probably in the late 70's) about medieval chronology. One of the fundamentals of history is to know what happened before what-- otherwise, you can't possibly talk about causality. however, any sort of unified calendar didn't happen until relatively late. Before than, people tended to talk in terms of reigns of kings. Have fun comparing between kingdoms.

This gets us to Wolfram Alpha which looks to be a delightfully powerful search engine/computer language. It's connected to huge amounts of information and computational power, so you can just ask it to show you a tour of all the capitals in South America, and it will give you a map with a route. It does math! It makes animations! Seriously, it looks to be both fun and useful.

My first twitch is tragically old school. If you're doing something important, do you want to be completely dependent on your connection working? Well, people depend on the cloud, and I depend on the cloud, and I'm sure there's some sensible way to think about when you should and when you shouldn't depend on the cloud.

My second twitch is probably better founded. I was looking at the South American tour, and thinking, but what if some country changes its boundaries? This doesn't happen often, and I have no particular expectation that it will happen any time soon in South America, but it does happen. Reading a little further about Wolfram Alpha, they reassure me that it's updated. How can I be sure that the updates are current and accurate? Good question. I don't even know if there's a good way to automate the idea of "data may be messy, you might want to check".

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From:kalimac
Date:March 10th, 2014 02:48 pm (UTC)
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I can give a practical response to a case of the question you raise last. I recently finished compiling a convention restaurant guide for an active downtown area. I quickly learned, while gathering data, not to rely on ANYTHING online for reliable information on which restaurants had opened, which had closed, which restaurants even existed, or even where they're located. Not Yelp, not the restaurants' own websites, not the impressive-looking guide from the city's convention bureau, and especially not Google Maps, which is absolutely rife with errors and omissions. Only on the spot physical inspection can be relied upon, but even then you need the online info as a checklist, because it's possible to overlook things when you're walking down the street, too.
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From:kalimac
Date:March 10th, 2014 03:06 pm (UTC)
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Another thing that bugs me is that even the most detailed time zone maps say nothing about which areas use DST and which don't, let alone when they use it. Since DST is, at least in the US, for significantly more than half a year now, it seems to me that that's the real time zone, and that regular time should be treated as the exception. So Arizona should be on maps in the same time zone as California - except for the parts of Arizona that do use DST. It never is, though. I've seen written descriptions of what Arizona and its various parts do; I've never seen a map showing it that way.
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From:xiphias
Date:March 10th, 2014 03:42 pm (UTC)
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My perfect situation would be for everybody to use GMT at all times, and it'd be written in four-digit 24-hour time. But you could also use local time, by using the "o'clock" phrasing. "O'clock" would be truly local time, not "time zone" because there wouldn't be time zones. "Noon" would be "when the sun is highest overhead", "six AM" would be when the "when the sun is the farthest to the East it's going to get today", "six PM" would be "when the sun is the farthest to the West it's going to get today."

You could tell local time by looking at the sun position. So, for my house, local noon today would be 16:54. But I'd call it 12 o'clock.
[User Picture]
From:nancylebov
Date:March 10th, 2014 03:53 pm (UTC)
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Your perfect system wouldn't solve the problem of past records, though at least the past information would affect fewer and fewer people.\

If there was an effort to implement your system, I'm betting it would be adopted incompletely, adding another layer of complication.
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From:kalimac
Date:March 10th, 2014 05:00 pm (UTC)
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How would that not just make things vastly more confusing than they are already?
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From:xiphias
Date:March 10th, 2014 05:02 pm (UTC)
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I didn't say it would make it EASIER -- I said that I'd LIKE it better.
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From:redbird
Date:March 10th, 2014 06:42 pm (UTC)
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So you actively want a system in which "one hour" is a different number of seconds during the day than it is at night, and both those values change daily? (Furthermore, the amount of time from six a.m. to noon would almost always be different than the amount of time from noon to six p.m.) If I didn't know where you live, I'd guess this proposal was coming from someone who had always lived close to the equator, and hadn't thought of that aspect.

Just for amusement value, how would you define six a.m. at Prudhoe Bay on June 30th? Or six a.m. there on December 1st?
[User Picture]
From:nancylebov
Date:March 10th, 2014 09:52 pm (UTC)
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Faint memory-- I think medieval European Christian time-keeping included hours of different length related to the length of the day. This doesn't mean it would be especially much workable for a modern society, just that I think there were people who weren't near the equator who did it that way.
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From:kgbooklog
Date:March 11th, 2014 02:40 am (UTC)
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how would you define six a.m. at Prudhoe Bay on June 30th? Or six a.m. there on December 1st?

Doesn't "farthest West" and "farthest East" already cover that? Anyway, you only need a definition of "Noon" and how many hours in the day to derive everything else.

I'd be more worried about when dates would change in that system. If it's at 00:00, then 1/3 of the planet would have date changes in the middle of a normal workday.

Personally, I'd be happy just to get rid of DST.
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From:witchwestphalia
Date:March 12th, 2014 01:23 am (UTC)
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I loved the video. It's a great rant. Computerphile has posted a bunch of other videos. The youtube username is, by the way, a project by a journalist named Brady Haran. Great stuff.
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