Time: Is It Worth a ‘Second’ Glance?

X-lander

X-lander

A relatively small number of people believe punctuality to be an admirable quality; I have to admit that I’m happy to be one of the few, much to the annoyance of many others around me. We take great pride in being punctual; arriving no more than a minute early and never late (perish the thought).

It’s all down to planning; from a prospective employer’s viewpoint, often, if a person is late it only serves to highlight their inability to work to a schedule along with their poor planning skills. I know from experience that the immense annoyance is shared equally on both sides, but is punctuality really that important?  The ‘Punctuals’ will answer with a resounding ‘Yes’ and the ‘Unpunctuals’ will answer with an equally resounding ‘No’; unfortunately, allowing for a small tolerance there is no middle ground, you’re either punctual or you’re not.

Punctuality and Our Lives

Almost everything around us is time-based to some extent. We rely on trains, ’planes, buses, ferries and taxis to get about; all have timetables and endeavour to stick to them (I’m sure many will dispute that statement). Many of our work times are fixed and a vast number of services are charged on a time-taken basis, our television programmes run on a schedule and if we need to record something we normally have to specify a ‘time’ in order to provide a schedule location. Even if we use our own transport we have to make time/distance calculations based on a number of things. Whether we like it or not, time plays a very large part in our lives.

How Punctual is Punctual?

I think the best way to answer that is to say that it’s ‘relative’. If you have an interview at 11am and you arrive 1 second early, you would be extremely punctual, in fact, impressively punctual. But what if one of the ‘Navstar’ navigational satellites developed a timing error of 1 second? I’m sure that when I say that a timing error of 1 millisecond (1000 times less) would result in a positional error of more than 300km, you will understand why I’ve said it’s ‘relative’. The latest clock, based on a single aluminium atom is said to be accurate to less than 1 second in 3.7 billion years (I’m rubbing my thighs already! I’m sure Citizen will try to have it in the shops for next Christmas).

Where’s All This Taking Us?

Well, I’m not quite sure really as I’m making it up as I go along (I’m only joking). So far, apart from the satellite, our association with time is very local; in fact, everything is based upon the time zone that you’re in. To be strictly correct the time can’t be the same throughout a time zone, indeed, if you take a step either East or West from your position you will technically be working on a different time. This of course would be very impractical, although Bristol, along with other major cities in the U.K., worked on their own time at one point based on their own local meridian. If we take Bristol as being 002 degrees 35.000 minutes West of the prime meridian (Greenwich) it would be around 10 minutes and 20 seconds behind London; there is even a clock in Bristol with two minute hands, one for Bristol time and one for London time!

Right then! GMT… Is That It?

Unfortunately not. On 1st November 1884, Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) was officially adopted at the International Meridian Conference in Washington DC, USA where an International Date Line along with 24 time zones were devised; GMT is used as the reference datum for all other time zones in the world and is based upon the Earth’s rotation. GMT was replaced as the ‘world standard’ in 1986 by UTC (Universal Time Coordinated) whose accuracy is atomic based. This is by no means the full story due to the Earth’s slowing rotation that has to be allowed for; as always, the quest for increased accuracy in any field is burdened with many complications. In real terms GMT does not exist anymore as it’s now UTC. For all but the most technical, GMT and UTC are the same thing.

Zulu Time

I’m sure that many of you have heard the term ‘Zulu Time’, our GPS systems run on Zulu time as do many other things; in fact everything runs either directly or indirectly on Zulu Time. So, what exactly is it? Zulu Time is UTC; ‘Z’ is the designated time zone ‘letter’ at the prime meridian and as such, phonetically, it becomes ‘Zulu’. It is normally only used with the 24hr system, so, 0650hrs. Zulu is just 6:50am UTC.

Daylight Saving

As things are obviously not complicated enough we have devised a method to make it so; this comes in the form of ‘Daylight Saving’. In the UK it’s known as ‘British Summer Time’ (BST) and on occasion, ‘British Double Summer Time’ (BDST); BST being UTC+1 hour and BDST being +2 hours. This is said to have beneficial effects concerning road accidents and various other things, I can’t say that I’m an avid supporter of the scheme but at the same time I’m not dead against it either. When you’re navigating with your watch and the sun, just be aware that if you’re navigating in a country that supports ‘daylight saving’ that you make the appropriate adjustment in your calculations. Of course, everywhere on Earth gets an average of 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness throughout the year, it’s just not constant due to our planet’s changing tilt. The place where this is least noticeable is on the Equator but even there the Earth’s total tilt displacement of 046.90000 degrees (023.45000 degrees North and 023.45000 degrees South), as it was in 1917, is still noticeable. From a navigational point of view, to go further would now involve amplitude calculations for sunrise and sunset positions, taking us away from the initial subject.

So, with that in mind, I think it may now be time to ‘Call Time’ on this particular article!

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