Second Thoughts About a One-Hour Time Change

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Twice a year, because of daylight saving time, I change nine clocks. More or less. I say more or less because the clock on the microwave stopped when the microwave quit. Right after I changed the time. Was it happier being frozen in an earlier time frame - like women with penciled eyebrows or men who wear bow ties?

And the clock in my car was obviously programmed in Japan and is on Asian time. Trying to convert it to one of the two times it might be (depending on the season) is a little like trying to translate from English to Japanese - neither of which I understand. I've figured out what to do about my car clock. I don't fool with it anymore. I just leave it on whatever time it says and listen carefully to the radio to find out how late I am.

On March 31, 1918, the nation's clocks were set ahead one hour, marking the start of daylight saving time. I wasn't around in 1918, but I'm fairly certain of two things: They said it would be temporary, and they didn't have digital clocks. If they had, they would have known that manipulating all those little buttons is more than most non-engineer types can manage.

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And those clocks are all different. Just when you think you've mastered the one on the VCR and pat yourself on the back for being in the 21st century, you come face to face with a clock radio with a whole different set of rules.

I spring forward and fall back with the appropriate high-tech implements, either a bottle opener or (since that fell behind the refrigerator three years ago) a corkscrew. I press the metal tip into one of the two holes on my digital watch, the corkscrew slips, and, right on time, I jab myself.

IN 1784, Ben Franklin figured out a way to save on candles. He suggested a plan that would waste not daylight, but it was found wanting.

It wasn't until World War I that Great Britain enacted a "war measure" to save fuel by extending evening daylight. Two years later, Congress passed the act on this side of the pond or, as we bravely call it, our time zone.

Farmers objected. They argued that cows wouldn't be able to adjust to the new milking hours, and the law was repealed in 1919.

But on Feb. 6, 1942, "war time" went into effect and continued to the fall of '45. Then it became a matter of local option - like blue laws - in about half the states, raising havoc with train schedules. As if that weren't confusing enough, parts of some states were on daylight saving time and other parts were not.

Finally, in 1966, Congress decided we were one nation: We should all be confused. They passed the Uniform Time Act, which decreed that every state would go on daylight saving time the last Sunday in April and return to standard time the last Sunday in October.

Is it a good thing? Depends on whether you ask a cow or a commuter

I, for one, am not qualified to discuss the pros and cons of solar time versus sidereal, let alone the advantages of ephemeris versus atomic. It's all I can do to jiggle those little knobs and come up with something resembling the same time on each of my various timepieces. I never quite make it. When it's 1:27 in the kitchen, it's 1:29 in the bedroom, 1:31 in my study, and anybody's guess in the car.

I don't imagine Ben Franklin would have any problem. He'd rise (early) to the challenge and get right to the heart of it as he always did. After all, it was old Ben who wrote:

Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that's the stuff life is made of.

Way to go, Ben.

The United States returns to standard time this Sunday, Oct. 27, at 2 a.m.. All clocks should be set back one hour.

To find out the atomically correct time, you can call the United States' official timekeeper on the Internet. The US Naval Observatory, located in Washington D.C., maintains a home page on the World Wide Web at:

http://tycho.usno.navy.mil/what.html

If you have a Java-compatible browser, you can have a mini version of the Master Clock tick away on your computer screen.

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