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24 October 2014

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What time zone is that?

I have finally solved my inability to calculate international time zones.

We are increasingly becoming more global. Social media allows us to communicate and collaborate with people from all over the world, in real time. This means that we can chat with people and take part in live video-conferences and video-streams from around the world when they actually happen.

An essential requirement is knowing what time something is going to happen. It is no good deciding to watch a video telecast at 6:00 PM US Pacific Time when I have no idea what time that is in Sydney.

I’ve needed to be aware of time zones most of my life. When my Dad moved back to Fiji and I was old enough to call him I needed to know that Fiji is two hours ahead of Sydney, or one hour when we have Daylight Savings Time. If I called too late in the morning he would have left the house, and too late at night he would be in bed. Unfortunately the knowledge wasn’t reciprocated, and he has quite often woken me on Sunday mornings because he’s been up for hours!

Later my good friend moved to the US, and I needed to know when she was likely to be home. She used to tell me that all I had to remember was that Florida was 14 hours behind Sydney. Subtract 24 hours and then add 10. Unless one or other of us had changed to or from Daylight Savings Time this worked, but unless you do it often, as she did because her family is here, it becomes a bit of a nightmare and the easy option is to just not make the call.

More recently I took part in the first ProGen Study Group. A choice of times for group chats was much restricted by most of them being either in the middle of the night or the middle of the day for me, so I began by running the blog-only group. The personal interaction was important, though, and one by one my members left to join other groups, and in the end so did I. I joined a group that met on Wednesday nights, which was the middle of Thursday here in Sydney. No sooner would I have finally worked out that I was was supposed to be there at 1pm than one of us would change to or from Daylight Savings, and I would have to rethink the time. I don’t know why time zone calculations are so much more difficult than the simple addition or subtraction would suggest, but they are.

My Google homepageI use iGoogle as my homepage, which allows me to install gadgets to give me the functionality I need. One of my gadgets was something called ‘World Clocks’, which gave me two analogue clocks showing the time zones of my choice. This worked when I just needed to know Florida time, but now that I need other zones the two zones are not enough, and they are a hassle to change every time I need another time zone. My friend has since moved back to Australia, and I had stopped using the gadget.

My new phone, an HTC Legend, gives me a choice of time zones to display as many as I want and is ideal. I do not need a calculator so much as a display of the current time. Problem solved! But no, my phone is not always at my side, especially at home.

Surely, I thought, a similar gadget must be available on iGoogle?

I tried two and selected one – PolyClock.

PolyClockIt gives a list of cities from around the world that you can choose from. Unfortunately Salt Lake City wasn’t on the list so I had to find a map of US time zones to find a city in the same time zone, and I found Phoenix, which is close enough. I also like that it shows the cities where it is still yesterday in red – this is important in Australia as we are ahead of everyone except New Zealand and Pacific Islands such as Fiji.

Now it’s easy. I hope to attend many more chats and watch more conference streams than I have in the past.

Another, similar problem I have is that a lot of people in the US give the name of the time zone, for example 1pm Mountain Standard Time. When I am trying to find out the current time I am usually presented with a list of cities, and I don’t know which cities are in which time zone.

I don’t think there is a quick solution for this other than to learn the US time zones and some basic US geography. There are only four mainland time zones and once you know that they are, from left to right, Pacific, Mountain, Central and Eastern, you are on your way. I know there are the Rocky Mountains over towards the Pacific coast so I can usually not confuse Mountain and Central.

So on the list I’ve chosen for PolyClock I just have to remember that Los Angeles is on Pacific Time, New York is on Eastern Time, and Phoenix is on Mountain Time, which is easy enough.

See you in cyberspace!

Comments

  1. Good idea. I’m sure I’ve missed out on things that I could have participated in virtually because I haven’t stopped to work out when it was happening. The other thing to remember is that (most of the day) it’s still yesterday in the USA!

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