Tuesday, 6 May 2008

The Lost Hour

“We’re already late by an hour” Rennick told me. I looked at my watch, it was still 5:45 PM and we had another 15 minutes more.
“Are you still drunk?” I mockingly asked him; he didn’t talk gibberish earlier in the day.
“Today is the last Sunday of March…” that was some fact he was telling me, so he’s not completely knocked out, I thought, but still could not figure out how does the last Sunday have an impact on us getting late, when we are 15 minutes ahead of schedule.
“Daylight saving Sourav… we moved ahead by one hour last night”.
“Daylight saving?” I thought to myself, yes that is something I had heard about, but what is it? Rather why do we do it? Is it enough to move the hour hand by one? Not to be bogged down by some phenomenon, I had decided to spend some time to understand this, as I got into the bus.

My quest took me not only to medieval times, but made me read a bit about the earth’s revolution around the sun and the impact that it has on the changing times. Having been in India which is quite close to the equator than other European nations, I never had undergone a need for the daylight saving. But as the latitudes increase, the reason becomes more and more resilient as to why the concept of daylight saving came into existence. The culprit is the earth’s axis.

As kids we had been taught that the earth’s axis has a slight tilt. Due to this the far regions away from the equator will have an impact on the duration for how long the sunlight is available; more during summer and less during winter for the countries close to the North Pole and the vice-versa for countries close to the South Pole. The deviation in the sunlight availability is quite high and this requires for adjustment in our time as well. For the regions closer to the Equator there would be equal day and night hours all year around.

Daylight saving is not new. In the ancient times, a water clock with a series of gears rotated a cylinder to display hour lengths appropriately for each day. Our ancient civilizations adjusted daily schedules to the sun more flexibly than modern Daylight Saving Time does, often dividing daylight into twelve equal hours regardless of day-length, so that each daylight hour was longer during summer than during winter. After ancient times, equal-length civil hours eventually supplanted unequal; so civil time no longer did vary by the season.

It was Benjamin Franklin, who had suggested that Parisians [citizens of Paris] economize on candles by rising earlier to use morning sunlight. Later in the year 1905 Daylight Saving Time was invented by William Willett during one of his pre-breakfast rides when he observed how many Londoners [citizens of London] slept through the best part of a summer day. An avid golfer, he also disliked cutting short his round at dusk. His solution was to advance the clock during the summer months, a proposal he published two years later.

Willett’s 1907 proposal argued that DST increases opportunity for outdoor leisure activities during afternoon sunlight hours. Obviously it does not change the length of the day; the longer days nearer the summer solstice in high altitudes merely offer more room to shift apparent daylight from morning to evening so that early morning daylight is not wasted.

There is a saying that wealth is the root cause of all changes. An earlier goal of DST was to reduce evening usage of incandescent lighting, formerly a primary use of electricity and thereby utilize the energy judiciously. This would only be possible if the evening reduction would outweigh the morning increase, as in high-latitude summer where most people wake up well after sunrise. Moreover the retailers, sporting goods makers and other businesses benefit from the extra afternoon sunlight, as it induces customers to shop and participate in outdoor afternoon sports. Conversely, DST can adversely affect farmers and others whose hours are set by the sun. For example, grain harvesting is best done after dew evaporates, so when field hands arrive and leave earlier in summer their labor is less valuable.

I would not be going into the depths to explain how it is done, since different countries have different times of doing it and not all nations do it together. Since 1996 European Summer Time has been observed from the last Sunday in March to the last Sunday in October across the European Union.

In reality we don’t lose an hour in March and gain an extra one in October, rather we tweak the clock to make life more enjoyable. That was a short description on how I found my peace of mind back after coming in terms with the lost one hour. The change in the schedule is so systematic that you just go ahead as if that hour was non existent. But for me… well, I’m waiting for October to gain my lost hour.


senthil said...

Never knew that an "HOUR" meant so much to you !!!

LostinDreams said...

Baap re baap.... tum to research articles likhna shuru kar diya