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DOES ANYONE KNOW WHAT TIME IT IS?

Saturday, October 27, 2001

By Mary Mogan Edwards
Dispatch Staff Reporter

If you are among those who think that changing the clocks twice a year to and from daylight-saving time shows disrespect for the immutable progress of the sun, don't sweat it.

Around the globe, time-zone lines are drawn with about the same regularity as election wards in 1890s Chicago.

In the continental United States, as we prepare for the semiannual clock adjustment at 2 a.m. Sunday, we do so in four time zones that are tidy, more- or-less vertical stripes. Except for some nonconformists in Indiana and Arizona, everybody goes to daylight- saving time on the same date.

So, with a rough idea of U.S. geography and the ability to add and subtract, anyone can figure out what time it is most anywhere.

The rest of the world isn't so tidy.

Forget the geography-class wisdom that 24 one-hour time zones circle the globe. The idea is supposed to be that, in each zone, it is noon when the sun crosses the longitudinal midpoint of that zone.

But on every continent except North America and Europe, nations (and states within them) set their clocks according to local desires, political policies or commercial convenience -- in other words, just about anything except where the sun is in the sky.

China, which covers about as much east-west territory as the United States, has decreed that the whole country is on the same time as Beijing, in the east. It must stay dark awfully late in the morning and stay light long into the evening in China's western provinces.

Nor can you count on all the minute hands of the world being in the same place.

India, for example, neatly occupies two time zones. According to global time-zone lines, drawn every 15 degrees from the international date line in the Pacific Ocean, when it's midnight in Columbus, it should be 10 a.m. the next day in the west of India and 11 a.m. in the east.

India, though, splits the difference and calls it 10:30 a.m. nationwide.

Iran and Afghanistan also straddle time zones and also opt for the half-hour solution. When it's midnight in Columbus, it's 8:30 a.m. in Kabul. (That's as of midnight tonight; after our return to EST overnight, the difference will be 9 1/2 hours.)

Pakistan, wedged between Afghanistan and India, also straddles a time-zone line but sticks to one of the standard zones. As a consequence, Pakistan is just 30 minutes ahead of Afghanistan and 30 minutes behind India.

Meanwhile, Kazakhstan -- seemingly due north of India -- is 90 minutes ahead in time.

Lest anyone conclude that confusing clocks are solely a central Asian phenomenon, visit Australia, where the time zones are hopelessly complicated.

The three time zones there aren't three even hours apart. Compared with the time in Columbus, Australia's zones are 13, 14 1/2 and 15 hours ahead, respectively.

Businesses in the central city of Adelaide didn't want to lag east-coast Sydney by an hour so the central zone is just a half-hour later, according to Margaret Turner, who maintains a Web site devoted to figuring out what time it is Down Under.

Layer on the fact that big chunks of the country refuse to observe daylight-saving time and the result is both vertical and horizontal time zones in the summer -- which, of course, is winter to us.

"It's all very confusing,'' Turner said, citing the difficulty of understanding airline schedules and time- sensitive telephone rates between the states.

People around the world find out what time it is by checking worldtimezone.com, a Web site created six years ago by Siberian-born New Yorker Alexander Krivenyshev.

More than 11,000 visitors from 195 countries have praised the site in its "guest book.'' Users range from expatriates wanting to keep in touch with the home country without waking everybody up, to families of recently deployed military personnel, desperate for any scrap of insight into their loved ones' faraway destinations.

Visits to the site have skyrocketed since Sept. 11, Krivenyshev said.

"I'm so happy I created it because I can bring people some better understanding of the world.''

If only he could remind us all to turn back our clocks tonight.






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