World time zones, anyone know why?

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Guess I have too much time on my hand :). What with all the rumors about Apple's WWDC starting at 10AM PST today.

Just wondering, why is China on only a single time zone, when and why did they decide to do that? Does that cause any problems/confusion?

Greenland is mostly an ice covered wasteland (well maybe I shouldn't call it a wasteland ;-) ). But there are 2 small parts of the country at the most eastern and western points where they are on different time zones... why?

Then we have the oddest of them all Oz land (figures ;-) ). Looks like the central part of Australia is not only broken up into differing latitudinal zones, but also not hourly times zones.

What is the reasoning for 1/2hr or 1/4hr time-zones, doesn't that drive people crazy trying to keep time???

jtr1962 is the resident train buff here on SR, maybe he knows these esoteric (but important?) schemes of 'logic'?



Then there are a few places on this pdf map where there is no legal standard time, Antartica and central Greenland which is solid ice, must not be important there :)


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Well all that would drive me crazy. Time zones here in the US drive me crazy as it is. One thing I really hate is daylight savings time, there is no point to it, why do we have to make it seem like its always light the same hours of the day. I would consider a move to that wonderful part of Indiana where they do not have daylight savings time, but my job does not allow for that. :(

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Hey udaman - several of the major cities in India (New Dehli, Chennai, etc.) are on a HALF HOUR off time zone as well - like they are 10:30 off from New York. Drove me crazy when I was there...

AFIAK, timezones are unfortunately the providence of the local governments, within reason. They jimmny those zones for the following reasons:

1) To line the timezones up with the need for agricultural work (hence the real reason for daylight savings time)

2) To unify a country within one timezone to promote better communication and sense of community

3) Some countries are very much "by the book", using the exact lines of longitude as perscribed off Greenwich Mean Time. These countries are simply unimaginiative :-). However, this can lead to a country in high latitudes divided up into small little chunks...



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jtr1962 is the resident train buff here on SR, maybe he knows these esoteric (but important?) schemes of 'logic'?

Well since you asked, I do in fact know the reason why we have time zones, and it does indeed have to do with railroads.

Let's go all the way back to the days when mechanical clocks either didn't exist, were too expensive for the average person, or were simply too inaccurate. The time-keeping method of choice here was the good old sundial. Not accurate to the minute, of course, but then again nothing in the preindustrial age really required keeping time to the minute. Most people woke with the sun, and stopped work at sunset.

Enter the age of exploration. Navigation on the high seas required an accurate method of keeping time in order to determine your position. Basically, the methodology involved using the difference between local time and Greenwich mean time to determine your longitude. If your clock was only 1 minute off then it would mean that you miscalculated your position by about 17 miles. Since necessity is the mother of invention, highly accurate clocks were made. However, there was still no need for uniform time zones. Local time prevailed, both on the high seas and on dry land. This was because it was easily calculated and didn't depend upon having an accurate clock (which was still too expensive for the average person). You simply observed the sun until it reached its zenith. That was high noon.

Things pretty much remained that way until the age of the iron horse. The first railroads were laid in the 1820s. By today's standards they were crude, slow, and dangerous. Even so, they were much faster and more reliable that the horse-drawn carriages of the day so they spread like wildfire. By the time of the civil war railroads crisscrossed the entire United States. It was also by then they started to realize that they had a big problem on their hands, and it had to do with the custom of using local time. Some years earlier, in order to have some uniformity in their schedules, many railroads adopted some sort of standard time. This was usually called "railroad time", and it was based on the local time of whatever place that particular railroad choose to use as their reference. Therein lied the problem. One railroad might choose to use local time in New York City while another might have chosen local time in Albany. Not a good idea as I'll explain in the next paragraph.

Standardizing on different "railroad times" presented many practical problems. First of all, except at the reference city, the train would arrive at a different local time than was stated on the schedule. In theory, this could be as much as a few hours off for a country as vast as the United States if, say, a railroad using New York time went to California. In practice, no single railroad operated over that vast a territory. Even so, differences of some tens of minutes were all too common place. This caused confusion of course. Try explaining to (mostly) illiterate locals that they needed to adjust the train schedules by whatever the difference between local time and railroad time was. Or better yet, try printing up schedules for each town on the route based on local time. To say it was a mess understates the problem.

After the purely annoying problem mentioned above you had a real safety issue. Now if only one railroad using its own railroad time operated on a given section of track you wouldn't have a problem. However, part of the beauty of railroads, and the reason for standardizing on the 4' 8.5" gauge which is still used today, was to permit one railroad's trains to operate on another railroad's tracks (for a fee, of course). There was the problem. Keep in mind that the railroads of the 1860s didn't have the safety devices which exist today like ATC, ACSES, CTC, Westinghouse air brakes, etc. Many lines didn't even have signals. Rather, the locomotive engineer was issued a warrant by the dispatcher saying that such and such section of track would be clear during some window of time. Many lines of the time were single track with passing sidings at intevals to allow two trains running in opposite directions to pass each other. This of course required that one train be safely in the siding at the time the other one was supposed to come thorough. I think now its fairly obvious what the problem was. Two meeting trains running on different railroad times would obviously not be able to coordinate their meets properly. Since brakes of the time were extremely poor (the so-called brakeman literally had to walk along the roofs of the cars and turn the brake wheels to put the brakes on each car) the result was predictably a lot of bent metal, splintered wood, and dead bodies. Obviously something needed to be done since the industrial revolution depended upon the cheap transport of people and goods offered by the railroads.

In the late 1870s Sir Sandford Fleming, a Canadian railway planner and engineer, devised a plan for dividing the world into 24 time zones of roughly 15° longitude each. Although these zones theoretically should be straight lines, in practice where they crossed near existing national boundaries they would simply follow these boundaries. Within each time zone all places would use the same time. Of course, this meant that high noon was no longer at exactly 12:00 unless you happened to be in the center of a time zone, but it was a small price to pay for the added convenience and safety. Also, as the world moved further away from an agricultural society the local time became less important. In 1884 it was agreed upon at the Meridian Conference in Washington, DC to basically use the system we have today. Some places choose to adopt 1/4 hour or 1/2 hour time zones, probably in order to keep local time closer to official time, but most settled on the standardized zones. Daylight savings time was an (IMHO pointless) enhancement added in the 1960s I think.

So there you are-a history of time zones. Believe it or not, the only paragraph where I needed to Google was the last one. I vaguely remembered the adoption of standard time in the 1880s, but none of the particulars. Here was the reference I used.

I henceforth propose that we put the entire world on local Flushing, NY time in order to end the confusion brought about by time zones. We'll call it JTR time. :lol:

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I vaguely remembered the adoption of standard time in the 1880s, but none of the particulars.

Ah, yes....you were 12 at the time? :P

Honestly, a very nice essay.

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