The Annual Rant About Daylight Time

Imagine the ridiculous conceit that the sun would change its place in the heavens or the earth pause in its rotations because some men in Detroit were unable to do the math necessary to talk with their business partners in Boston and New York, after the telegraph and telephone made that even possible. Or the perhaps more ridiculous thought that the better way to have “more” daylight after work is to move the hands of the clock to trick us into starting work earlier rather than, oh, I dunno, working less. These conceits function reasonably well, for some definitions of well that include its opposite, because the clock is, in these cases, providing less a means of measurement than a means of coordination.

The clock no longer describes the relation of the sun to a given point on the earth, and hasn’t since the invention of Standard Time, yet we insist on maintaining the fiction that it does, despite periodic affirmation to the contrary. We have, for the most part, given up attempting to attend to our circadian rhythms. We have, for the most part, surrendered control to our devices. The clock tells us when to rise, when to work, when to eat, when to study, and when to stop. Electric light provides the illusion of daylight, and our buildings — malls, offices, and factories — hide the sun to disguise the passing of time. The information age hasn’t changed these industrial habits, but made them worse: computers have no need for the Vitamin D, and we’ve adapted to their dim screens by staying inside so that we might see the moving pictures. Even cows stay indoors all day, lit by artificial suns, for convenient milking on schedule.

All of which makes the biannual altering of the clocks even more nonsensical than it was to start.

This weekend I was awakened just after falling asleep because someone couldn’t deduce the problem from the messages logged by their application telling them explicitly what the problem was. One of the ordering systems sets a default future due date six hours ahead of the order placement date, so every year, because timezone math is annoying, from 20:00 to 21:00, the damn system throws an exception because there is no time between 02:00 and 03:00. And this problem only exists because the computers are using America/Dallas, because that’s where the corporate headquarters are. Nor did it occur to anyone that a due date when people tend to be sleeping might be problematic.

Just pick something and stick with it. Using Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) for the whole Earth would seem a reasonable basis for discussion. It’s not like we’ll ever visit the moon or Mars any time soon.

The Browser History Fell Through a Memory Hole in my Pocket

If not careful, the brogrammers responsible for the attention deficit economy and big data collection will find their work has gone the way of interactive television. People use tools because they are — wait for it — useful.

You’re not the customer; you’re the product.

A web browser keeps, or kept, a history of where the user has browsed, what sites he’s visited, pages he’s read, where he’s been. It uses this information in the back button, but it’s also exposed as a list. The user can, more generally, retrace his steps. Additional windows and tabs in the browser interface led to discontinuities in the history, so while browsers still send referrers, they are, for the most part, lost to the user.

As my habits have shifted from a desktop to a pocket computer, I’ve noticed a key missing feature. Where has view source gone? And with my time being spent in specialized “apps” that are really just handicapped web browsers, an annoying behavior of iPhone memory management has me poking around Medium‘s and The Guardian‘s apps for something that should be there but isn’t: my reading history.

iOS has made what I consider odd design decisions, some of which have bled over to MacOS. (And speaking of questionable design decisions, that lowercase m I just didn’t use.) It assumes a well-connected network, values currency, and behaves as though local memory, storage, and power are tightly constrained. (The latter is a hoot considering how many years location services — and valuing currency — have been draining batteries.) In practice this means that if you leave an app for a minutes or seconds, say to check an incoming text, the app throws away its state and you lose your place.

Started that long think-piece on Medium on something dreadfully pressing, but it’s time to make dinner so you’ll get back to it later, where later is tomorrow or next week because life is like that? In the middle of cooking a new dish and scrolling along through a recipe as you add ingredients, then your mother calls, the page reloads, and now you’re confronted with adding another tablespoon of ghost pepper or none at all? That YouTube video you were meaning to finish watching later? Yeah, it’s disappeared. But, well, at least you can look for it in the vast store of clicks that Google has on you: you can see what was captured.

Safari will reveal your history. But Medium doesn’t. Facebook doesn’t. Twitter doesn’t. Other apps don’t. They haven’t been that considerate. It’s pretty obvious all these folks know exactly what I’m reading and watching and listening to, when, and for how long. They use that data to serve up recommended fodder, advertisements for my attention. But there’s no courtesy of a reach-around. No trail of breadcrumbs for me to follow back out of this dungeon to what led me here in the first place.

If you want to continue the data harvest, it’s necessary to feed the cattle.

The Customer Perspective

There’s too much wrong with the FCC — in all its various political, technical, and regulatory aspects — to get into arguments on the line. However, I’d like to point out one small piece of anecdata from Number Two Daughter’s iPhone 6. From the customer’s perspective, Internet access providers are common carriers.

Number Two Daughter (15) has service with Cricket (a subsidiary of AT&T) and pays $30/mo. for cellular service with a 2GB/mo. soft cap on data usage. It’s a soft cap because after using 2GB, the transfer rate is throttled. A hard cap prevents usage.

She primarily uses the phone to chat with friends, watch movies, and keep up to the minute with BTS. Most of that activity happens here at home, so in the best of all possible worlds she’d be using our domestic Internet connection provided by Frontier Communications rather than the LTE connection provided by AT&T. However, there’s a mechanical difficulty with either the antenna or the wifi chip in her phone, so she doesn’t connect to the 802.11n network.

YouTube, Netflix, and Amazon Prime Video, nor even BTS, are not the top consumers of bandwidth; they are slightly more than bumps on the long tail. Apple Music and Spotify and Pandora don’t even register. iMessages and SMS chats are miniscule pinpricks. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are so 5th grade; only toddlers use those.

Snapchat was. And the month isn’t over yet.

The internet is NOT television. And no one wants “content.” They never have. They want a connection with other people.

Reach out, and touch someone.

My Sons Build Better Box Forts

My love and I put together the IKEA Billy bookcases for my library last Thursday. They had been occupying the hall, and my books boxes, due to certain logistical issues. Now the books are unpacked and shelved, but awaiting organization. I’ve sorted out the non-fiction and poetry, but I’m not happy with the result. I’m a bit too obsessive with things being symmetrical. The way this room is prevents shelf symmetry. If I didn’t already hate much of contemporary architecture, I’d despise it for this sophomore student’s effort alone.

One really should be able to execute traditional design before attempting something novel. There’s a good reason that roofs join the way they do. Well, at least now I can sit in the library rocking chair, hot tea by my side and cat on my book, while I watch the water damage for signs of a new leak.

And agonize over how to get the subjects to line up. Might have to buy more books.

a picture of the library ceiling

Daylight Saving Time (Revised)

The initial idea for Daylight Saving Time was not, as is commonly thought, to save energy or to give farmers more time to do their work. (Dumbass. Farmers and animals don’t use the clock: They use the sun.)

The initial idea came from a gentleman in the building trades who considered all the lay-abed clerks to be wasting precious daylight sleeping when they should be hard at work (see Seize the Daylight [2005]). The arguments for saving candles, kerosene, and electricity came later. More recently, demand for DST has come from people who like “all the extra time” after school and work.

So, to thumb our noses at the busybody jackass who came up with the idea, and to satisfy demand for more time after work, let’s shorten the “standard” work day.

I think this will be a win-win all around.

A Confederacy of Dunces

One style of fiction I most enjoy is what is known as alternate history or, if presented academically, counterfactual history. This genre asks what might have been if such-and-such had happened. Sometimes the counterfactual is presented as a more pleasant, net positive, outcome than what actually is, but more often than not as less desirable than the present. Or, as Pangloss so sagely put it, "all is for the best in this the best of all possible worlds."

It's a genre with a long, storied tradition.

And some people have never heard of it before this week.

HBO announced the production of a new show, Confederate, whose not entirely novel premise is that the Confederate States of America still exists. The North did not win the War Between the States; the South did not lose. And slavery still exists. The uproar, as I understand it, has been outrage at HBO's conceit that they could make a show celebrating slavery when all know it is horribly wrong. No one has seen a script yet, much less filmed work, and the assumption is that the show glorifies slavery? Because any show with the Confederacy in it would obviously celebrate slavery? Or because slavery when depicted theatrically is always glamorous? Much as it was in Roots or Twelve Years a Slave, right? One can portray slavery without glamorizing it, after all. And it's not like slavery is dead even now.

Tonight I learned that Some Other People are in a similar snit over a planned series for Amazon called Black America, about a black nation, not unlike an Indian reservation, extracted from the United States after the Civil War. Haven't y'all heard of Liberia, the twitterati shriek, completely forgetting that Liberia is in Africa. Here's a map:

They seem to have confused the American Colonization Society with calls by the Nation of Islam for a separate country. One does begin to wonder why anyone pays attention to these sorts of tempests. Is their teapot so large as to scald us when it boils?

You know what kind of alternate history I'd like to watch? One where losers don't blame their mistakes on some other group of people. That would be a novelty.

Who Forged These Chains?

For someone who works with computers, I have very little respect for them. Perhaps that’s left over from a programming class where the teacher reminded us that the computer only does what we tell it to do. It’s mindless. Or more likely it has been experience reinforcing this: the computer program is only as good as its author, and I’ve seen so many that aren’t. What this results in, however, is prejudicial treatment of the machines. I simply assume that my experiences with them will be even worse than experiences with human, so I despise voice mail jail (Press 0 for an operator.), interactive voice response systems (Hi, Siri!), time-sheets, and resume sifting by keyword. This disrespect is misplaced; it’s no fault of the computer’s own that it is incompetent and hard to deal with. It’s the fault of those humans who designed it. But they are anonymous and the computer sits there, refusing to take what I give it until I alter my behavior to suit its inflexibility. I’m not the one wrong; it is. Why? Because I am not the computer’s accessory. It is doing a task for me. Why does it end up being the other way ’round?

Against Full-Day Kindergarten

The Common Core State Standards website asks,

Q: Why do we need educational standards?

A: We need standards to ensure that all students, no matter where they live, are prepared for success in postsecondary education and the workforce.

Let’s assume for a moment that that is the goal of primary and secondary education. (Let’s also ignore the missing hyphen between post and secondary.) Will full-day Kindergarten help in achieving this goal?

No.

Why not?

Because extreme differences in academic ability collapse by the fourth grade. All of us, including children, learn at different rates. In general, those differences disappear on average by the time we are about ten years old, or fourth grade. I understand the difficulty of scientific experiments on humans, but we do what we can; and what we can do shows that there’s no evidence that learning a subject earlier makes a difference.

So, what exactly is the point of full-day Kindergarten?

You’re Dead. Stop Kicking Me.

Interactive Television has always failed, and will always fail.

A lesson from the early days of telephony is significant. Early on it was thought that telephony would provide a subscriber with a way to listen to opera in the convenience of his own living room. And while that was sold for a while, it turns out that humans are social animals, and that the profit lies in enabling communication, not in delivering content. We want to talk to each other.

The ONLY reason that television has been around so long is that the cost of communicating with video was beyond the reach of all of us.

That is no longer the case.

Television as we’ve known it is dead. But like a chicken with its head cut off, it’s still running around.

Daylight Saving Tricks

Now that we’ve returned to Standard Time, let us pause for my annual rant on Daylight Saving Time (DST). Calling the boiling point of water 100 instead of 212 does not mean the water boils when it is colder.

We’re talking about a unit of measurement here, so people can agree to meet at a certain point in time, or so factory shifts can start precisely and predictably, or so polls can have a known start and end. My work hours are variable and cross all timezones, and have since I graduated college. I wake well after dawn and work well after dark, or wake well before dawn and work well after dark. I work generally apart from others; they are in Tokyo, Manila, Bangalore, Sarajevo, New York, St. Louis, Dallas, Sao Paolo, San Ramon. The people I must have real-time meetings live one to three hours west of me, and consistently schedule meetings during lunch or dinner.

What benefit does DST have? Most of the stores I visit are open all the time, because they are online or groceries. If I want to attend my daughter’s softball game, I don’t need the whole factory shift to let out earlier; I need the assholes in California to stop scheduling meetings when they’ve just returned from lunch.

The DST switch only coordinates activities with people local to me (e.g. the school district’s bus schedule), and only for people shoved into a tight schedule, and that could be just as easily done without bothering the rest of the world, or me for that matter. And the easiest way to do that would be to pick Daylight Time or Standard Time, or anything else for that matter, and stick to it.

How Stupid is the Mass Media?

Check out the headline on this article: CNN Poll: Still no front-runner in the battle for the GOP nomination.

Of course not, you stupid shit. They just started campaigning. It’s a [expletive and a half] horse race. Did you see the 137th Kentucky Derby last weekend? That was a fun two minutes. Shackleford started off well in front of the pack and led into the final stretch. But he didn’t win, did he? The favorite? He lost too. Animal Kingdom came up from 13th place to win.

Who the fuck cares who the front-runner is? It means nothing except bullshit headlines and cheap stories for the likes of you.

Dear Amtrak: Learn How to Price Your Service

Apparently you neglected to read my last letter, but with the fast approach of National Train Day and the increase in oil prices making your services slightly more competitive, I thought it might be helpful to bring up the topic again.

Your pricing skills suck. Are you intentionally trying to lose money and ridership?

Suppose that a family of four — or six — wanted to travel to Disney World from New York. This is a not uncommon occurrence, and provides the basis for over 250 flights per day by many airlines from more than five airports in the New York metropolitan area. The cost of air travel is currently going up, up, up due to some small upset over in the oil-producing regions, so where a seat on JetBlue from JFK to MCO would once have cost $50, it’s now between $100 and $150. This is an opportunity! And you’re missing it!

And you’re missing it in a big way. Look, I understand that it takes capital to improve infrastructure, and that you’re hobbled by riding on tracks owned by others, but it’s almost like you’ve intentionally set your prices to encourage folks to drive. For me to take a family of six to Disney World by plane costs almost as much as staying in one of Disney’s “moderate” resorts and going to all of the parks every day of my visit, so I, and many others, might be looking for a slightly less wallet-reducing option. And the first thing that comes to mind is driving. But who wants to drive the first 24 hours of their vacation? Or, who wants to spend three days driving, two days there, and three days driving back? No one. But the other option is too expensive. Buses? Ha! That’s worse than driving, especially with little kids. How about the train?

This is where you’re completely missing the opportunity. The cost per seat from, for example, New York Penn Station to Orlando is $106 per person for a 21 hour trip. That’s slightly cheaper than the more expensive JetBlue seat, but you forget the time differential. Time is, after all, money, which is why travelers choose to fly on JetBlue for 2 hours for $150 instead of suffer on Amtrak for 21 hours for $106. You need to take your utter inability to get anywhere fast into account when pricing your service. And when you’re more expensive, even if only by $7, than the cheapest option, you completely lose. No one wants to pay more money for the privilege of getting somewhere slower.

Yet the cost of airfare gets worse as one moves away from hub airports. This is where you have an advantage. It costs less to feed from Poughkeepsie to New York and thence to Orlando than it does for JetBlue to fly direct from Newburgh to Orlando. In terms of convenience for me, I’d much rather leave from Poughkeepsie than from JFK. If you can get your prices down to something approaching the cost of gasoline plus a hotel room, you might have a fighting chance in earning my dollar. But then you totally destroy any opportunity you had with the sleeper options. $358 for a room for two people? $658 for a slightly larger one? What? You think you’re a hotel on Times Square? I’m just looking for a contained, flat place for my kids to lie down so that they don’t spend the night in the bar car.

You have two options: lower your prices, or build faster trains. Because we’re sure as Hell not going to pay $658 for two cots or $640 for uncomfortable seats when we could pay less than that on gas and a swank room at the Holiday Inn Express.

Dear Amtrak

You disappoint me.

You don’t understand pricing. Or perhaps you simply have no experience of buying things with your own money. In any case, what are you thinking?

I know that you stop in both cities, so I was hoping to take my family from Poughkeepsie to Montreal by train instead of by car. But then I checked your prices.

According to Google Maps, the trip is 5 hours 12 minutes by car, to travel 309 miles. Our van gets 25 miles per gallon on average, or 12 1/3 gallons from here to there. Let’s call it 13 gallons for imprecision. Gasoline currently costs roughly $3.00 per gallon. One way, the trip would cost, out of pocket, $39 plus lunch and dinner for six. If we eat at a restaurant, lunch or dinner tends to run between $50 and $60. Thus far, from here to there would be $159 by car.

But you? You want $241.50 to make the trip in 9 hours 30 minutes? Taking the train might be more relaxing than driving for six hours with four kids strapped into car seats, but trying to keep them in the same train car, much less the same seats, for ten hours would be well nigh impossible. They will have gone stir crazy before we reach Albany. And you and I both know that your timetables are a rough approximation: The last time I rode Amtrak you said the trip would take 8 hours; it took 12. For this you want me to pay almost six times as much as driving?

That was weekend pricing. Let’s look at the weekdays. Apparently there’s a deal if I take The Adirondack over the weekend, but I didn’t notice that in the price. Weekday prices drop the fare considerably, once this discount takes effect: $148.

BUT, it’s TEN HOURS.

And only a snack car on the train?

No, thank you.

Suppose that I were to travel alone. For that you ask $69. I could have a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes and a pair of sunglasses, and make it there by morning for less than that.

I like trains; I do. But at the rates you charge, your only customers are those with time to spare, those without travel options, the price-insensitive, or die-hard railfans such as Vice President Biden. That’s no way to make a profit.

Oh, I think I just realized how you’ve determined the prices. You’re charging by the hour. OK. Let’s see how that compares.

$148.5 divided by 9.5 hours is $15.63 per hour. That sounds cheap. How does my driving compare? $159 divided by 5.25 is $30.28 per hour. Wait, I forgot to factor in bathroom breaks and time for casual dining: $159/8.25 = $19.27/hour. Ah, I see now. That makes perfect sense. The trip length is also almost the same. Let’s stop at a park for some running around and exercise: $159/9.5 = $16.73/hour.

Are you going to throw in dinner while we’re on the train? I didn’t think so. Let’s remove that from the equation: $39/9.5 = $4.10/hour.

I suggest perusal of this article at Wikipedia. Meanwhile, I’ll enter the Toot & Puddle Read & Ride Sweepstakes.

DirecTiVo, your return can not be too soon

Our DirecTiVo was dying. Every now and again, frequently at times, it stopped, hung. Maybe it waiting on a bad block on disk. Maybe it was just the heat. But the only option offered by DirecTV was a replacement with their dreaded DVR.

My first impression was positive. The guide responded quickly. The on-screen display is unobtrusive.

But on closer inspection, this was designed by a committee of retarded monkeys with no sense for how the ability to control the television changes how we use it.

The remote is cluttered. Do I really need three power buttons?

Why are you starting from sleep at the Game Lobby? I have never willingly selected that, so don’t even bother showing it to me.

Speaking of sleep, what’s the deal with the screen saver? Trying to keep my cathode ray tube from burning in the Game Lobby?

But now that I have a chance to sit down and completely reprogram all of the shows I’ve chosen to record over the past eight years when there is absolutely no reason why I should have to do that, I wonder WHY THE FUCK DirecTV can’t make a searchable version of the TV guide so that I can find the shows I want to record you fucking incompetent pieces of shit.

How about making one that displays the show that’s actually playing on my TV?

This is why all efforts at interactive television have failed miserably.

Against the Time Change

Really it’s not the shift in noon that I’m against — though there is a certain rightness to being able to look up at the sun and say, “ah, yes, it’s mid-day” — but that there’s a change at all. Just pick one and stick with it. This business of switching the clock around in order to alter behavior has been driving me nuts since 1971.

The Impact of the Daylight Saving Time Change on Traffic Accidents

It seems to me that accidents would increase during the transitional period surrounding the switch between Standard Time and Daylight Saving Time. And apparently others have asked this question, and looked at the data to see if what effect the transition has. The paper Daylight Savings Time and Traffic Accidents, with related discussion of the results, is, unfortunately, behind the New England Journal of Medicine‘s paywall. Fortunately, Stanley Coren presented on the subject at INABIS 98, and so the work is available online at McMaster University.

Other studies argue that, overall, DST reduces traffic fatalities because more driving is done in daylight. No shit, Sherlock; the day is longer because of the Earth’s orbit around the Sun, not because the clock changed. However, it just boggles the mind why the arguments proffered for DST are considered sufficient. Why not impose a curfew and forbid driving at night, then? Or remove headlamps from cars so that night driving becomes more hazardous and is thus avoided?

Worried about energy consumption and think it saves energy? Why not increase the price of candles, or kerosene, or whale oil, or electricity? Or, if you must compel the rest of us to do something, then forbid the use of electricity when it is dark. That will surely reduce consumption.

You want to use more of the daylight? Wake up when the sun rises, or leave the office earlier. Hell, work from home or live closer to your work location. But don’t move the clocks back and forth and pretend that you have more time. We may as well as call an inch a foot and pretend like penis enlargement pills work.