Gentlemen, synchronise your watches

Backwards ClockThe first thing I had to do at work this morning was to change the time on one of our call handling systems after the UK weekend time change from British Summer Time (BST) to Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). Most of our systems handle this automatically via Windows (if set up correctly), but this was a Unix based platform. It wasn’t affecting the handling of calls but it was potentially screwing up the call statistics as well as displaying incorrectly on the phones. (It wasn’t worth connecting in remotely out of hours to make the change although when the clocks go forward in the Spring it is a different matter).

We take accurate time for granted. Apparently there was some confusion at Gatwick airport yesterday morning when a system failed to put the time back and airport lounge display boards were giving duff information. The Register describes it as “Anarchy” and it just shows how overly dependent we are on IT systems.

Why does Britain still bother with Summer Time? that argument is for another occasion and no doubt the EU will make up our minds for us. However, I remember seeing a rather unusual clock once at a military facility with two sets of hands on a common dial. One set showed the local time (with a normal 12 hour face) whilst the other set showed military time (called Zulu time) with a 24 hour face. They told me that Zulu time was always GMT and expressed in 24 hour notation so there was no confusion during exercises. The Airline industry also work on the same principle, although it is known as UCT which stands for Co-ordinated universal time in a delightful bit of International Telecommunications workable compromise.

I had previously wondered why it was called Zulu Time apart from the the obvious thing that Z is Zulu in the phonetic alphabet. Why wasn’t it called Alpha time? The answer is curious. Zulu equates to zero at the Meridian, so Alpha is plus one, Bravo is plus two ans so on all the way around to the opposite side of the world (with one quirk) until we get to the international date line, at which time it counts down again from Yankee to November. So Mike and Yankee mean the same thing, whilst the quirk is that Juliet isn’t used at all. There are also eight half-time zones in use, the only one I was aware of being Newfoundland (Papa*) which is thirty minutes ahead of Atlantic Standard Time. (The Newfies are to Canadians like the Irish are to Brits and the Polish are to yanks). If you are confused, to see a list of time zones, have a look here.

I don’t know if you have twigged, but the picture is of a backwards clock where the dial is labelled backwards and the hands rotate anti-clockwise. I’ve seen one of these before in someone’s house and it is rather unsettling due to the initial familiarity, unlike strange ball or binary clocks where they don’t look like clocks. If you want one, here is a link.