June 25, 2024


Epicurean computer & technology

It’s time for a new approach to saving daylight

3 min read


If you hate daylight saving time, which resumes Sunday, be assured a much better alternative is now possible.

Using computer technology, we can make clocks that continuously adjust their speed so that sunrise always occurs at the same time, year round. I call this sunrise standard time. These clocks would permanently eliminate the need to set our clocks forward in the spring and backward in the fall.

The new clocks would run slightly faster in the spring. By doing so, they would keep up with the earlier sunrises so that dawn would always arrive at an agreed upon clock time, say 6 a.m. In the fall, the clocks would run a bit slower so they matched the later sunrises.

The amount of adjustment would be tiny, about one part in 1,000 or 0.1 percent. There would still be 24 hours in a day, 60 minutes in an hour, 60 seconds in a minute. The seconds would simply be imperceptibly shorter or longer depending on the time of year. Each day would be at most a minute or two longer or shorter than before.

Sunrise standard time clocks would achieve what we are currently trying to achieve in a clumsy way with daylight saving time — namely to make sunrise nearly consistent throughout the year.

In the days before technology, human beings rose with the sun. This is the most natural and healthy way to live. Then we invented clocks, which made it easier to synchronize activities with other people. Unfortunately, we became enslaved to our crude mechanical clocks. This forced us to get up long before or long after sunrise at different times of year if we wanted to coordinate our activities with other people using the same sort of clocks.

What we really needed were clocks that automatically kept pace with sunrise. It would have been difficult to build self-adjusting mechanical clocks, but with today’s computer-controlled clocks it’s easy.

Before I retired as a computer programmer, I wrote a program that displayed sunrise standard time. It took only three lines of code.

There are a few complications, but I believe they would be easy to deal with. Some applications (for example, scientific instruments and athletic events) require extremely accurate timekeeping. These would continue to use constant-speed clocks.

It might be difficult to vary the frequency of alternating electrical current. This would cause the old-fashioned synchronous clocks and timers to disagree with sunrise standard time. Some household appliances might need to be adjusted or replaced.

Not all countries would be likely to adopt sunrise standard time. Near the equator there is little variation in sunrise time through the year and so no need for either daylight saving time or any other time adjustment. A “perfect” sunrise standard time adjustment would vary with distance from the equator. Locations farther north or south would require a larger adjustment. To avoid confusion, I think it would be best to adopt one international standard time system.

Of course, people would be upset that their existing timepieces became obsolete. But really, is the cost of replacing clocks and watches a significant burden? You could stick a little sunrise standard time display onto the face of your beloved grandfather clock.

More sunlight at the beginning of the day means less sunlight at the end. In Minnesota the shortest day of the year lasts only about nine hours from sunrise to sunset, so if the sun rose at 6 a.m., it would set at 3 p.m. All we can do is make the best use of the daylight hours that we have. I would argue that daylight is most useful in the morning, when it triggers the release of hormones that help us get out of bed.

With sunrise standard time, we will finally be free of the tyranny of mechanical clocks. No more early morning sunlight in the summer to interfere with our sleep. No more dragging ourselves out of bed in the dark in midwinter. Children will never again need to wait for the school bus in the dark. Finally, a permanent end to the “spring forward, fall back” routine that upsets our body clocks.

We’ll get all of the benefits of daylight saving time and more, with none of the hassle.

H. Richard Jacobson lives in Cottage Grove.


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