Your questions: It’s time to “Fall Back” again in North America. What’s the point of DST?

Late tonight in much of North America, people will turn their clocks back an hour as Daylight Saving Time ends in 2018.

Today on Twitter, I saw a great question from Ken, quoting the Seattle Times reprinted article by Frank Kummer on the point of Daylight Saving Time:

IMHO, it’s all about the economics and politics.

Mr. Kummer notes that 84 percent of European citizens were in favor of doing away with it, but that there’s no similar movement in the U.S. Well, maybe not today at the Federal level. Actually there’s plenty of activity at the State level in the States: over the last couple of years we’ve spoken with many different representatives who’ve proposed or opined on making moves for a number of different reasons.

Generally, politicians propose legislation that generally follow one of two model proposals with different supporting facts: 1) to move their state to perpetual daylight saving time, or 2) to move to permanent standard time (effectively abolishing DST). (…)

States like Florida, Mississippi and New Mexico considered the former, while Alaska, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Washington looked at permanent standard time. On the worldwide stage, we often see similar considerations from countries and sovereign states, to perpetually embrace or abandon DST, often hitting the news this time of year for early in the spring. Some of these efforts had reasonably long lead times. Back in 2011, I wrote on the @Microsoft corporate blog about the end of daylight saving time in the Russian Federation. (…)

But like the immortal title of the famed Thunderball sequel “Never Say Never Again”, the government considered a return to seasonal or perpetual Winter Time a year later, depending upon whom you were speaking at the time. But I digress. In the States, this was last addressed at the Federal level in 2005 with the amendments to Energy Policy Act of 1992. Specifically, the changes were to the start and daylight saving time to amend the Uniform Time Act of 1966. (IIRC, some of our own folks even participated in the discussions and submissions.)

In supporting such amendments to what would become the Energy Policy Act of 2005, you can understand why lobbyists for this change would include the Foundation to @FightBlindness. But you also saw the National Association of Convenience Stores support the changes (think a lighter Halloween) joined by the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association. (Couple those with the lobbyists from oil and gas supporting other provisions of the Act)

You can learn more in this piece by NPR, which is covered in Michael Downing’s book “Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight Saving Time.” (…)

So it seems that like much of the legislation we see in state and national politics, such moves to change DST are driven by business interests rather than health and goodwill. In 2006 when working on the effort in Windows and across Microsoft, I heard how candy manufacturers had long lobbied their desire to see the Halloween holiday be included in the summertime Daylight Saving Time change. Imagine: if kids were able to spend more time trick-or-treating, home bound chocolate and candy corn benefactors would need even greater stores of candy. (And this all to the often repeated call of “Halloween Apples” in my hometown, tho’ we rarely received any.)

Lobbyists against the changes in 2005 included the National PTA, and of course the Calendaring and Scheduling Consortium and the Air Transport Association. Remember a time when Airlines used to print those small voluminous books of the schedules for departure and arrival times for all their flights?

Now please pardon me while I take a break to refresh my memory and make a fresh cup of ☕️ to mull on a few topics particularly around the areas where different studies supported or detracted DST.

It’s all coming back to me, like the time we watched closely back in late 2007 as Venezuela moved to a newly created time zone, shifting by 30 minutes to -4:30h UTC (…)

For some changes, the notification comes challenging late, as we saw with Morocco and Pakistan in 2008, switching from one traditionally used GMT offset to a new one. Such changes impact customers and partners in the regions who use local time zones, as well as others entities engaged in business in or with the region. (Remember those flight guides?)

Unfortunately, due to the short notice provided for these late breaking changes with short runways, companies can’t always provide updates incorporating these changes. So when Morocco admirably decoded recently to stop the “fall back” (at least in the northern hemisphere) to Daylight Saving Time, it was only decided and announced days before the country was scheduled to turn clocks back. It may save “an hour of natural light” () but it creates a maelstrom of activity around the world as people speculate on whether or not the changes will be locked perpetually. (…)

That’s why Microsoft created and published a policy in response to Daylight Saving Time and Time Zone changes around the world. (…) It includes some simple recommendations to provide, first, ample advance notice (12 months or more) before a change to DST or alignment with a particular time zone,

Second, an official confirmation of the changes, and third, a yeoman’s effort to promote the change – locally and on the worldwide stage (as often such changes have far-reaching implications). So as more and more states and countries consider such changes, these guidelines become increasingly important. (…)

In my day job, we still have regular discussions on the topic as a group of resident “time lords” keep time and our systems on track. (…) (Although I’d like to think of myself more in line with the sharp wit and sarcasm of the Fourth incarnation of the Doctor, I’m more in line with the Third)

Having worked across all of our product groups (originally the majority was on-premises products) for the last few years on things like DST, it‘s fitting that much of my time is now spent on how we retire many of those same products in our corporate-wide end of support efforts. We dedicated several cycles with our online services to the topic of time and date management, and you see that reflected in the increased attention to the topic across the company. So, back to the initial question: What exactly is the point of daylight saving time? The not so easy answer: It depends. The initial benefits often touted more daylight hours during the day when more people were active, provide greater energy savings, lower incidents of crime, heart attacks and crime. (Mom and apple pie sentiments)

Increasingly, it seems to gain legislative momentum when specific commercial interests see material benefits as a result of making a change.

The @PBS @NewsHour said it well, capturing the absurdity of how “opponents and supporters of daylight saving are still not sure exactly what it does.“ (…)

And how, a century after Congress first passed the inaugural daylight saving legislation in the States, are there still questions and debates as to why DST is still a thing. Without planning, it will continue to be challenge to track future changes in a timely fashion.




Your questions on the upcoming leap second

Just back in the office from a trip, I found several questions in my email box in regard to the upcoming leap second. I thought that I’d take a moment or three to answer several of the questions there, some not covered in past posts.

The first question on everyone’s mind could be summarized best as…

“Is there anything special I need to do to my computer or tablet?” (related questions included: Is there a hotfix for this leap second? When will I see the update applied? Will most average computer users notice the leap second? Is there anything they should do to prepare?)

Generally, as a Windows computer user, there’s nothing in particular to do – no special updates or hotfixes to apply. As I covered in this earlier post (and also summarized here), current supported versions of the Windows OS are plumbed to deal with such additional leap second. It’s recommended that you set your PC to sync with an Internet time server via the Control Panel in Windows 7 (as noted here), or in the PC Settings for “Time and Language” on Windows 8.1 (as shown here). With that done, you should be good to go. (If you’re device is part of a domain – such as PC provided by your company for business – then your clock sync is likely managed by your IT administrator.)

As called out on the Windows site with instructions on How to Set the Clock, you can sync your device clock with an Internet time server of your choice to help ensure your device’s clock is accurate. Typically time is updated once a week when your device is connected to the Internet, or the clock sync may be managed by your administrator (with domain joined devices). As a user, you probably won’t notice the extra second nor see any impact to your Windows devices.

Next was on the impact of the leap second on devices…

“Will this leap second cause any problems on my system?”

Generally, no, as my associate Matt Johnson noted. Usually leap seconds don’t cause a problem unless you are timing things less than a second in duration, or if you are re-sorting events that occur in high frequency. As Matt called out, most software applications and services have to cope with minute time adjustments to the system clock for a variety of other reasons anyway, and leap seconds are no different. I say “generally” as folks who need highly accurate time sources should refer to the detailed post on high accuracy W32time requirements on how to configure the Windows Time service for high accuracy environments and Kerberos standards. (NIST’s Physical Measurement Laboratory provides a list of several high accuracy manufacturers of time and frequency hardware receivers and software providers.)

Next was on the hype around this new leap second contributing to a Y2K event…

“I heard that the last time we had a leap second, the Internet melted down.” (Related: [Some have] compared this to the Y2K problem. Is that an accurate comparison? Will there be a massive disruption of computers and services? )

First, that’s not really a question but a statement I have heard a number of times, and not a true statement at that, as I noted in this appropriately titled post. Some reports (like this one in USA Today) were quick to associate the addition of a leap second in 2012 to the bug that “took down much of the Internet.” Generally, consumers have nothing to worry about when it comes to this non Y2K event: the timing of the 2012 leap second happened to unfortunately coincide with a power outage that impacted their service provider (as noted by the BBC). Yes, there were some reported impacts as noted by Robert McMillan at Wired in his post “The Leap Second Is About to Rattle the Internet. But There’s a Plot to Kill It”. But when the last leap second adjustment was made (back on June 30, 2012), I don’t believe we at Microsoft had any reports of leap second related issues for any of our products including Windows and Azure (or any customer applications running on Azure).

Then there’s a question about services…

“What about online services?”

Similar to connected devices that rely on NTP, various cloud systems also obtain NTP sync in similar ways, keeping in mind that cloud services aren’t just fluffy concentrations of water vapour but (in our case) more than 100 global datacenters supported by a multi-terabit global network. How leap seconds are applied to and appears on a local machine clock may be different from an online service but share many of the same traits as documented and understood in Windows, upon which Microsoft Azure has its origins. In speaking with the Azure team, I learned the service has been designed to be resilient to clock discrepancies across our numerous infrastructure components and regions. Azure has proven application compatibility for handling leap seconds given it uses the Windows time-synchronization protocol, which is used by all Windows systems.

And then this question about when to adjust your watch…

“Should I set my watch at midnight?” (related: Is this similar to New Year’s or the adjustment for daylight saving time?)

Unless your watch is accurate to the second, or you happen to live in an area like Casablanca, Morocco, no. Contrary to some media reports, the change does not happen at midnight local time in each time zone, unless that time zone currently has a zero offset from Coordinated Universal Time or UTC (en Francais, temps universel coordonné) meaning the country uses the UTC+0 offset (like Morocco). For me and my compatriots in Redmond (which is UTC -7:00), the leap second will be added on June 30, 2015 at what essentially will be 4:59:60PM local time. And it doesn’t hit everywhere on June 30: some time zones will see the leap second added on July 1: folks in London will see a leap second added on July 1, 2015 at 12:59:60AM, and Paris (to which my watch is still set) at just before 2:00AM local time.

Further, unless you’re managing a satellite or a space mission, leave the update to your system: there’s no need to ping the time server manually. If everyone in the world called the Internet time servers at the same time, there could be a strain on the server. 

[063015: I saw another example of the above error on NBC’s “Today Show“, whereas their competitor over on ABC got it right.]

I also received questions on the various approaches of how system providers plan to accommodate the a leap second. Aside from how Microsoft syncs the system clock to the accurate time, I’ll leave the explanations of the benefits and potential drawbacks of the approach to those companies.


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The story around Leap Seconds and Windows: It’s likely not Y2K

Today I woke to a number of hair-on-fire press articles decrying the coming and dreaded Leap Second… with the mainstream USA Today calling out…

“But last time it happened, in 2012, it took down much of the Internet. Reddit, Foursquare, Yelp and LinkedIn all reported problems, and so did the Linux operating system and programs using Java.”

Not quite correct: IIRC, although some may’ve succumbed to bugs noted in Wired, several popular Internet services (including some of those mentioned) went off line due to a serendipitous and unfortunately timed power outage that impacted their service provider as chronicled by the BBC.

So, why isn’t Windows mentioned?

Glad you asked.

As I noted a couple of years ago, you’ll find more documenting the impact of a leap second in heartwarming Knowledge Base article “How the Windows Time service treats a leap second” and (excerpted) for everyman by the well-read and  Michael Kaplan. Essentially, after the leap second occurs, the NTP client that is running Windows Time service is one second faster than the actual time. This time difference is resolved at the next time synchronization.

“In short, W32Time does not account for a leap second being dependent on the NTP server. Most applications and services may be unaffected, but sysadmins and IT professionals should know that the leap second is not addressed until the next time sync following the official addition/ subtraction of the leap second.

KB 816042, How to configure an authoritative time server in Windows Server 2003, and KB 884776, How to configure the Windows Time service against a large time offset.

As The Telegraph noted, “Many computing systems use the Network Time Protocol, or NTP, to keep themselves in sync with the world’s atomic clocks.” As called out on the Windows site with instructions on How to Set the Clock, you can sync your device clock with an Internet time server of your choice to help ensure your device’s clock is accurate. Typically time is updated once a week (when connected to the Internet – who isn’t?), or the clock sync may be managed by your administrator (with domain joined devices). As a user, you probably won’t notice the extra second nor see any impact to your Windows devices.

In addition to the historical blog record in the Windows Time Service blog, more articles/ information in which you may be interested:

Generally, consumers have nothing to worry about when it comes to this non Y2K event. IIRC, the concept of a leap second is actually in question, and an ITU working group has debated whether or not adding/subtracting leap seconds should be discontinued (as noted here). We’ll see what 2015 brings. Or January, 2038 for that matter.

BTW, a few additional notes today from my associate and venerable time lord Matt Johnson

“It may be worth noting a couple of things from a developer’s perspective:

  • Most applications do not handle leap seconds, as their time structures only allow seconds numbered to 59 – not to 60.
  • Most applications do not care about this, as they will never receive a leap second from the system clock – even when one occurs.
  • Most applications have to cope with minute time adjustments to the system clock for a variety of other reasons anyway – so leap seconds are no different.  Consider that clock drift does occur, and is often corrected by NTP sync – so it’s not abnormal for an app to receive timestamps out of sequence.
  • Depending on implementation, sometimes a system just won’t observe the leap second at all, but that just means its clock will be off by one second until the next NTP sync.
  • Even when the leap second is observed perfectly, it only affects code that needs to be precise to sub-second accuracy.  Consider how the clock will tick over an observed leap second when you observer it by tenths of a second: 23:59:59.8, 23:59:59.9, 00:00:00.0, 00:00:00.1

“So, it usually doesn’t cause a problem unless you are timing things less than a second in duration, or if you are re-sorting events that occur in high frequency.”

[Note: Part two of the story around Leap Seconds and Windows: #NotY2K]

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What I do at Microsoft: It’s all about the customer

I was asked yesterday, “what the heck do you do at Microsoft these days?” That was a follow up to a friend seeing a post in Computerworld that I’d missed, which was interesting as I was calling out the importance of numbers in names… as I have one in mine (hence the emoticon, which Gregg Keizer neglected to note in his post).

But back to what I do.

As I wrote here, many people in our offices focus on the work to make and keep customer satisfaction a top priority, especially important now more than ever. That’s a positive. Steve Ballmer said previously that Microsoft has more work to do to please our customers and partners, noting that “we’ve only begun to tap the real potential of computers to help you communicate, find answers, solve problems and be more productive.”

At Microsoft, I have the privilege to coordinate and support the work our product and services teams do (our business groups, aka BGs) as they focus on improving satisfaction with our customers and partners. We call this “CPE” at the company, and you can read a little more about it here.

Along with a small group focused on the BGs, and with a great team of people in our worldwide Sales & Marketing team, we help frame and prioritize issues, make connections across teams (challenging when you have as many people around the world as we do, serving so many customers) and improve upon the customer’s experience with Microsoft. This isn’t done in a vacuum, and I get to work with our talented and dedicated product and services teams to provide guidance and work with teams when needed, and sometimes actively engaging on issues. For me, that includes evangelizing best practices, identifying and resolving broad issues, and working on broad, cross company efforts (most often technical in nature, as I’ve documented on this blog).

In short, rule #1 about my job in CPE is about making our customers happy, and for ones that are happy, keeping them happy. For ones who run into an issue or have a problem with products and services, it’s about referring to rule #1 and working with teams to make them happy.

As I wrote here, fools may find fault with ease. It takes the persistent to note that the customer experience isn’t a commodity, and to course correct when we find fault…

Benjamin Franklin and Dale Carnegie both said that “any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain – and most fools do.” But if you listen to the criticism and respond to it — take the criticism and do something positive with it — then you can course correct and improve the customer experience.

With that, I’m off to course correct. And offer some advice.

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RSS feed reader blues? Get your feed in Microsoft Outlook and Office 365

ICYMI, Google Reader, Google Voice App for Blackberry, Google Cloud Connect, and Snapseed Desktop are shutting down. Hilarity ensued on the Internet with the melt down on social media over the change. As Danny Sullivan noted here, “Google should have done better by Google Reader & Google users than to bury its closure in a “spring cleaning” post.”

All the talk about RSS Readers reminded me of how important it is to listen and respond (this from 2011 via TechCrunch).

But I digress.

If you’re impacted by this announcement, have no fear: there are options, many great options.

First off, Good advice from Sara Hevans (@prsarahevans) on how to backup your Google Reader account

Once you’ve backed up, you’ll need a new reader.

With all these options, you may already have an option on your desktop: you can also use Outlook in Microsoft Office to subscribe to an RSS feed as noted here.

So if you’re looking for RSS subscription and management? our own Office 365 Home Premium has that:

Quick links:

Tags: Microsoft, RSS, Outlook

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