New Daylight Savings Time Tech Headaches

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When the U.S. Congress decided to change the start of daylight-saving tme (DST) to March 11, it may not have known the many little aggravations it could create -- especially for people with older electronic products in their homes and offices.

Once the clock springs forward, your automated coffee maker may still be sleeping when you wake up, and your VCR may miss taping the latest episode of Lost. Older electronics with embedded systems that are programmed to reset time under the old Daylight Saving Time rules will likely have to be manually reset -- assuming the user manuals can be found. And then there's the problem of older operating systems still in use but no longer supported by their vendors.

These are problems that will take some finesse, creativity -- and people such as Frank Perricone.

Perricone is the IT manager of the Vermont Department of Liquor Control and is running some business systems on an unsupported version of the Tru64, a Unix-based operating system. There's no patch for correcting resetting DST to March 11. What do to?

Unix systems share a common legacy, so Perricone turned to Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Solaris operating system for help. He verified that a file in Solaris for managing time was in the same format used by Tru64 and then went to work. After two hours, Perricone believed he had devised a fix, although, as he pointed out, "there's no realistic way for me to test that beforehand."

But once Perricone's system is fixed, it's fixed. That might not be the case for many electronic consumer and office products with embedded systems programmed to change dates on the first Sunday of April, not March 11.

For these older products, "consumers may not have an other option but to manually reset the time four times this year: once when DST starts on March 11; three weeks later, when the device thinks DST is supposed to start; and again in the fall, when DST ends and the date when the device thinks it's supposed to end [arrives]," according to Steven Ostrowksi, the spokesman for The Computer Technology Industry Association Inc. (CompTIA), an Oakbrook Terrace, Ill.-based IT training and industry group.

While the big vendors are issuing patches for their systems, DST poses management challenges for businesses that have to make sure their systems can handle the time change. A home VCR user can fiddle with the remote and hope for the best, but IT users will not only have to patch systems, but also test to ensure that everything will run as it should, said Matt Zito, chief scientist at GridApp Systems Inc., a database management vendor in New York.

All systems will have to be checked, and if something goes wrong -- such as if the time of a financial transaction isn't recorded correctly -- then workers will have to go through the entire stack of applications and systems to find the source of the problem. If anything is unpatched on March 11, "you are going to spend huge amounts of time trying to figure out where it went wrong," he said.

Vendor patches notwithstanding, users on mailing lists and newsgroup discussions are also popping up to discuss what fixes are needed. The Hewlett-Packard e3000 mailing list has seen some postings on the topic, including comments on the list from Shawn Gordon, president of The Kompany, a software development firm in Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.

Gordon has previously written code to help e3000 users ensure that their software and hardware are running in sync, and he isn't worried about that system adapting to the time change. But Gordon wonders about consumer electronics.

As Gordon wrote in an e-mail, "The VCR is a real problem, maybe not catastrophic but look at how much trouble people already have with programming their VCRs (I'm not one of them)."

This story, "New Daylight Savings Time Tech Headaches" was originally published by Computerworld.

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