A history of timezones
October 24, 2009 9:40 AM   Subscribe

These files, I thought, only tracked daylight savings time for all the different timezones & offsets from Greenwich Time. Actually, they have a detailed, fascinating history of timezones scribbled in the margins. (via)
posted by Pronoiac (18 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
I was hoping to say something like "Linux users check directory to see this," but on Ubuntu at least, only the binary versions are around.
posted by Pronoiac at 9:56 AM on October 24, 2009

"A boy lying on skins behind our backs was turning the knobs of a small transistor radio."

Seriously, the tz database and its comments were one of my early Internet discoveries. I know nothing of unix, but I take a look at the files every couple of years to see if any new interesting history has been uncovered. Fun geeky goodness.
posted by gubo at 10:02 AM on October 24, 2009

Fascinating. Thank you!
posted by trip and a half at 11:09 AM on October 24, 2009

I searched for some of the contents, & found places with copies -
RubyForge & OpenSolaris - if you want to see more of the files.
posted by Pronoiac at 11:15 AM on October 24, 2009

For those who haven't dug through the links in the Comments section, Mark Crispin’s "All About Calendars" section in the University of Washington's IMAP server documentation are worth a read. Much more entertaining than the title would have you believe.
posted by oozy rat in a sanitary zoo at 11:16 AM on October 24, 2009 [3 favorites]

Dammit, I have had things to do today.
posted by jquinby at 1:32 PM on October 24, 2009

The article by Benjamin Franklin, linked to in the comments, is absolutely delightful.
posted by Llama-Lime at 1:33 PM on October 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Inexplicably intriguing. Thank you for the nice post.
posted by kjh at 1:41 PM on October 24, 2009

My fellow Hoosiers are still upset about the passage of DST. The implementation was a trainwreck with different counties on different timezones. Indiana's timezones are still a mess.

I think I'm going to find this to see if any interesting comments are made about my state in addition to the one in the article. I've certainly heard enough stupid comments IRL.
posted by double block and bleed at 2:24 PM on October 24, 2009

Wow, I read a few of the timezone files (they're divided by continent) from the links Pronoiac posted above. There's enough material in there for a Neal Stephenson monster article: the maintainers are at first numerate programmers to know when time_t overflows or underflows, then amateur historians to research and judge the time keeping practices of each country/province/area under different governments/rulers and whether or not the civilian population actually followed decree, and finally sensible people keeping up with current affairs and cultural practices to interpret new laws but wise enough to not necessarily immediately accept every declared timezone change.

And yeah, my impression that a lot of countries have had problems with DST since the very beginning.
posted by tksh at 2:42 PM on October 24, 2009

Thanks for this. Posix user since '93, and I had NO IDEA this existed.
posted by butterstick at 4:54 PM on October 24, 2009

And people say Windows is bloated.

(I kid.)
posted by smackfu at 8:26 PM on October 24, 2009

This is fascinating, thanks Pronoiac!
posted by carter at 9:40 PM on October 24, 2009

Another big thank you for that, such an interesting and unusual historical artifact.
posted by protorp at 4:23 AM on October 25, 2009

Eleven. It's ridiculous. It's not even funny.
posted by rifflesby at 4:44 AM on October 25, 2009

For even more awesome history and errata on calendars, the book Calendrical Calculations can't be beat.

It's written by the folks who coded all the date math for emacs.

It taught me that everything you need to know about the Aztecs can be summed up in the fact that one of their months is called Tlacaxipehualiztli, which means MAN FLAYING.
posted by dmd at 6:21 AM on October 25, 2009

Indiana's timezones are still a mess.

Could be worse; we could have individual railroads each using their own timezone, which is one step up from each town using solar noon, but just barely.

After missing a train in 1876 in Ireland because its printed schedule listed p.m. instead of a.m., [Sir Sandford Fleming] proposed a single 24-hour clock for the entire world, located at the centre of the Earth and not linked to any surface meridian.


Time lord: Sir Sandford Fleming and the creation of standard time. By Clark Blaise
posted by sebastienbailard at 10:20 AM on October 25, 2009

This is fascinating stuff, but I really have to wonder about this: [Sir Sandford Fleming] proposed a single 24-hour clock for the entire world, located at the centre of the Earth and not linked to any surface meridian.

How would you get the clock there, and how would anyone read it if you did?
posted by adamrice at 2:15 PM on October 25, 2009

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