Thought Leadership

Time travel

By Colin Walls

Time is a funny thing. Mostly it just happens – now follows then and in due course along comes whenever. Physicists tell us that time advances at a slower rate the faster you go. I am travelling at about 600mph as I write this; maybe that is why a 10 hour flight seems so long. The passage of time does seem to change as one gets older [I have worked for Mentor how long??]. Apparently there are places – like inside a black hole where there is no time; likewise just after the Big Bang [but how you can have a “just after” without any time eludes me].

But, on a day to day basis it is simple enough – until we start messing with it …

Our 24 hours per day clock system is as good as any – even though I do get irritated by all the AM/PM stuff, as the 24h clock is so much simpler. Broadly speaking it is based upon Noon, which is the point in the day when the Sun appears to be at its highest point in the sky. But it is never that simple.

The rule gets broken by the system of time zones. The introduction of time zones was very beneficial – a series of one hour increments starting at Greenwich in London. At least you can figure out what time it is when you phone someone. [Having said that, I got a call at 2:00 this morning from someone thinking I was in California when I was in bed at home!] The implementation of time zones is slightly odd. Some countries are slightly “off”. Others set their zone so wide that it has odd effects at the edge. India is 5.5 hours ahead of GMT, as that seemed a good compromise for a country logically spanning about three time zones. In China, everyone uses the time in Beijing by law, even though in the Western part of the country it is something like 4 hours out!

A more significant problem is the curse of Daylight Savings Time. What is it all about? It seems to me that if the daylight is not optimal for your activity, the solution is simple: get up, go to work/school and go to bed earlier or later as required. Messing with the clocks is senseless. I am sure that the millions of man hours wasted in making the adjustments could be better spent.

Of course, it gets worse. We cannot agree when this madness should take hold of us. This coming weekend in when just about all of Europe makes the change – a most unusual example of so many countries agreeing upon something. The US [except for the few places that do not subscribe to the madness], of course, is significantly different. [Why is this?] I will be spending most of my visit to California 8 hours behind my family at home, until Sunday when it will be just 7. For the next few [how many I do not know] weeks, I will need to be very careful about attending conference calls and the like. This can only lead to reduced efficiency.

I actually believe it all started as a joke. On 1 April one year someone suggested that adjusting clocks would be a good idea just to see how gullible everyone was and it just got out of hand. OK, joke’s over guys.

[By an interesting coincidence, when I had finished writing this post I got out my new book to read: The Time Traveler’s Wife. An excellent book, a large chunk of which I devoured during the rest of my flight, it gives another angle on what time is all about.]

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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at