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March 8, 2007

Help your computer spring forward

“Does anybody really know what time it is? Does anybody really care? If so, I can’t imagine why. …”

It’s a safe bet that songwriter Robert Lamm didn’t pen the words to his band Chicago’s 1971 hit on a personal computer. If so, he might have imagined why, as computer users may find to their chagrin this weekend.

Thanks to the Energy Policy Act of 2005, Daylight Saving Time is arriving early in the United States this year. Instead of springing forward on the first Sunday in April, as has been the case since 1986, clocks will be set ahead on the second Sunday in March. This year the change comes on March 11, just as Pitt’s spring break is coming to an end.

The change may cause confusion for unwary computer users. Many computer programs and consumer electronics are programmed to make the DST change automatically — according to the former schedule.

Unless all users install a patch or update their computers and electronics manually ahead of time, come 2 a.m. March 11 their computer desktops and scheduling software will be an hour behind. Concerns aren’t rivaling Y2K fears, but there’s plenty of potential for annoyance if the glitch is ignored.

“Worst case, appointments are going to be off by an hour,” said Jay Graham, Computing Services and Systems Development lead technologist, who labeled the issue a minor inconvenience. “As long as the right patches are applied and procedures are followed, there should be no problem,” he said.

University-wide enterprise systems such as PeopleSoft, IMAP and Enterprise Exchange email all will be patched, Graham said. However, individual users must be responsible for updating their own computers. CSSD system architecture team member Dan Menicucci said users will have at least one fix to perform themselves: updating the computer’s operating system time.

CSSD already has sent a brochure with step-by-step instructions to University computer users. Information also is available online at

CSSD is working with information technology professionals in other areas of the University to ensure their departments and areas are supported.

Graham said CSSD has been aware of the DST problem for some time, but had to wait for software vendors to provide patches before action could be taken. “It didn’t happen as quickly as we would have liked,” Graham said, noting that many vendors didn’t make patches available until January.

Menicucci said CSSD had to list all the various operating systems and programs affected and came up with about 20 vendors to keep tabs on in order to stay on top of the issue.

CSSD is offering suggestions in order to minimize the chance of missing appointments or other time-related snafus. Users are advised to include meeting times in the subject field for all appointments scheduled between March 11 and April 1 so that regardless of what the scheduling software might interpret, there’s a reference for the intended time of the appointment. Graham also urged users to check and double check appointments. “Make sure they’re scheduled for the time you think they’re scheduled for,” he said.

CSSD also suggests printing a hard copy of your calendar as a backup and updating both home and office computers.

While CSSD is expecting all to go smoothly with regard to the system-wide patches, they are expecting calls to the help desk from individual users, Graham said. “We’re going to be prepared for whatever needs to be done.”

In addition to computer systems, other electronics may need some attention: Some TiVo systems, VCRs, watches, iPods, Blackberry devices, programmable theromostats and wireless phones may need an update to their software or a simple manual change of their clock.

Some vigilance may be in order again this fall because DST has been extended by a week. Rather than end on the last Sunday in October, DST will end on the first Sunday in November — good news for trick-or-treaters who will get some extra daylight, but a delay for those who look forward to the extra hour of sleep that comes with the “fall back” part of changing the clocks.

While many Americans have grown accustomed to the existing DST schedule, changing the clocks is a relatively new convention.

According to, the earliest American observance of DST followed a trend that took hold in Europe during World War I. In 1918, DST was set to begin on the last Sunday in March and end on the last Sunday in October, but was unpopular and was repealed in 1919.

During World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt instituted a year-round DST from February 1942 to September 1945 “to promote national security and defense.” DST was reinstated in 1966, running from the last Sunday in April to the last Sunday in October. An emergency DST act signed by President Richard M. Nixon in January 1974 implemented year-round DST for a 15-month period through April 27, 1975.

The extended DST, part of a new bid to save energy, is the first change to the DST system in more than two decades. Under the law, the Secretary of Energy must report to Congress on how the change has impacted energy consumption within nine months. Congress has reserved the right to return to the previous schedule after the study is reviewed.

For those who remain confused, offers the official U.S. time for any zone. Just click to really know what time it is.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

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