Prefatory note number one: this post, unlike most of the Technology Hall of Shame series, is not about the infliction of pain and suffering by technologists, but rather about aggravation caused by the confluence of brittle technology and excessive lawmaking.
Prefatory note number two: Doctors have to take an oath before they’re allowed to practice. So do legislators. I think this world would be a better place if the legislators’ pledge borrowed this phrase from the doctors’ one: “First do no harm.”
In 2005, Congress passed a law to extend daylight savings time by one month, starting three weeks earlier, and ending three weeks later. This law, the purpose of which was ostensibly to save energy, took effect in March, 2007. There is serious question about whether any energy at all was saved, but very little question about the inconvenience introduced. In the 19th century, when time keeping technology revolved around temperature compensated pendulums and mechanical balance wheels, changing the time was accomplished manually and was usually a minor inconvenience. In the early 20th century, when the timekeeper for most became the electric power company and electric clock technology was based on synchronous electric motors, changing to and from daylight savings time was equally inconsequential.
That’s not the case anymore. I remember the morning of March 11, 2007. I had prepared as best I could by patching the operating systems of all the computers for which patches were available. It didn’t help much. Backups failed because the time stamps indicated that the old files were newer than the files that should replace them. Network protocols got out of whack because of differences in the clocks of network attached computers. But the biggest problems had to do with the synchronization of my Exchange server to its clients, which included PDAs. Appointments moved crazily about like teatime at the Mad Hatter’s whim. It took a few days before I learned appropriate lies for each of the PDAs and nonpatchable laptops and I could get everything synced again.
Three weeks later, there were minor aftershocks as some of the PDAs and laptops sprung ahead on the old schedule. I dealt with those and figured out modifications to the lies to minimize, but not eliminate, the manual intervention.
Gradually over the years updates to the operating systems and discarding of old devices have made things better. This morning I got up with hardly anything extra to do. However, there are still echoes of the 2005 law: in three weeks, my wife’s bedside clock is going to advance itself an hour and wake us up too early.