Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Saving Daylight

So have you managed to shake the effects of Daylight Savings Time yet? I totally missed an appointment yesterday, because the clock in my timeshare rental hadn't been set forward. Thinking I had an hour to spare, I went to one of these aqua massage booths to blow off some stress. Have you seen these things out at the mall or airport? They look like a cross between a tanning bed and an George Forman grill. It opens like a clam shell so that they can close the thing down around you, and you pay by the minute for an invigorating, pulsating, full-body massage. Now I know what you are thinking, whose going to take off all of their clothes and get a public water massage? Lot of people, unfortunately. But an aqua massage does not require that you take off anything but your shoes, and you don't get at all wet. In fact, the industry term for it is "dry water massage". I know that is bit like "light beer" or "meatless bacon," but the water jets are behind a thin membrane. So you get all of the benefits of a water massage, without the moisture. Perhaps they should have called it something else, but believe me when I tell you that your worries will just melt away. What was I talking about anyway? Oh yeah, DST.

So you've probably heard that DST was started by Ben Franklin, and that it has something to do with farmers. But that's all nonsense. If you think about it, why would a farmer care what time it is? They are about the last task-oriented group of workers left in the world. They are getting up when the sun (and the rooster) gets up, regardless of what it says on the clock. And as far as Franklin goes, he did write a satirical piece while in France, suggesting that they could save money on candles if they'd get up earlier when the daylight hours start to lengthen. In the same piece, he also suggested taxing window shutters, and waking the public at sunrise by ringing bells and firing cannons. He certainly never suggested changing the clocks by an hour.

No, the blame for that seems to fall squarely upon George Vernon Hudson, an entomologist from New Zealand who proposed the idea in the 1890s. That's right, a Kiwi bug collector wanted more time to search for creepy crawlies after his shift ended, and had the bright idea to move the clock to more closely align the increasing amount of sunlight with his availability. An English builder named William Willett made a similar proposal in 1905, because he was tired of seeing his after work golf game cut short by darkness. Are you seeing a pattern here? These are folks whose jobs required that they work against a clock, unlike a farmer. And if you are above or below the equator, the hours of sunlight shift as the seasons progress, but the time-clock doesn't. So where you used to have an hour or two to go look for bugs or that 7-iron shot that you hooked into the tree-line, you now found yourself in the dark. Literally.

But in the end, it would seem to be energy conservation that led to widespread adoption of DST. Perhaps this is why Franklin is often cited. He was, albeit humorously, suggesting that Parisians could simply get up a little earlier and do what they needed to do during daylight, and save a ton of money lighting the city with candles later on in the day. But it was not until the German WWI war machine instituted it as a way to save coal that the idea really caught on. Adjusting the clocks to maximum sunlight hours greatly reduced coal consumption for home heating, so that it could be used for a massive war effort. Russia, the UK, France, and the United States followed within the next year or two. In fact, European countries and their various colonial interests around the world are pretty much the only places that observe this practice.

On the face of it, it certainly makes sense in terms of saving on both lighting and heating costs, and anything that promotes more outdoor activity can't be all bad. But folks who already make their living outdoors (farmers, landscapers, etc.), and those that benefit from indoor activities (movie houses, theaters, etc.) don't really see it this way. And if you live near the equator, or very far from it, changing the clocks by an hour has little or no effect on the amount of daylight you experience.

So why do we still do it? Who can say. Some places don't. Several provinces in Canada do not participate, and neither does the state of Hawaii, most of Arizona, and parts of Indiana. That can create some real travel headaches. If you are going to Hawaii, it probably doesn't matter too much. You'll be spanning several time zones no matter where you are coming from, and will likely have spent all day in airports and on planes. There's almost no chance you are going to know, or care, what time it is when you finally touch down. But imagine if you are like a friend of mine, and you live in Illinois - 50 minutes from your job in Indiana. During DST, he gets to his job 10 minutes before he left home. Are you kidding me?! And I thought I had it bad with all of the traveling I do.

Well, I have to get to the deli and lay in about 20 lbs. of corned beef if I want to be ready for Sunday's big event. No, I'm not having a St. Patrick's Day party. I am competing in the 3rd Annual TooJay's World Class Corned Beef Eating Championship in Palm Beach Gardens, FL, and I've gotta work out if I want to be on the podium this year. I know, I know, I need to get a new hobby. Maybe I'll look into bug collecting after I recuperate.

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