Programming time, dates, timezones, recurring events, leap seconds… everything is pretty terrible. The common refrain in the industry is Just use UTC! Just use UTC! And that’s correct… sort of. But if you’re stuck building software that deals with time, there’s so much more to consider.
Posts tagged time
Just time zones.
“We’re still trying to figure out what time is,” Gleick said. Time travel stories apparently help us. The inventor of the time machine in Wells’s book explains archly that time is merely a fourth dimension. Ten years later in 1905 Albert Einstein made that statement real. In 1941 Jorge Luis Borges wrote the celebrated short story, “The Garden of Forking Paths.” In 1955 physicist Hugh Everett introduced the quantum-based idea of forking universes, which itself has become a staple of science fiction.
“Time,” Richard Feynman once joked, “is what happens when nothing else happens.” Gleick suggests, “Things change, and time is how we keep track.” Virginia Woolf wrote, “What more terrifying revelation can there be than that it is the present moment? That we survive the shock at all is only possible because the past shelters us on one side, the future on another.”
“Enjoy the present. Don’t waste your brain cells agonizing about lost opportunities or worrying about what the future will bring. As I was working on the book I suddenly realized that that’s terrible advice. A potted plant lives in the now. The idea of the ‘long now’ embraces the past and the future and asks us to think about the whole stretch of time. That’s what I think time travel is good for. That’s what makes us human — the ability to live in the past and live in the future at the same time.”
“Dust is everywhere because its source is everything. Its most remote origins in time and space are the Big Bang, collapsing stars, and the dark line across the center of the Milky Way, which, according to astronomer Donald Brownlee,“is a line of dirt perhaps 65,200 light years across, and 3.832 X 1017 miles long.” Here on earth, dust comes from everything under the sun: minerals, seeds, pollen, insects, molds, lichens, and even bacteria. Its sources also include bone, hair, hide, feather, skin, blood, and excrement. And things of human fabrication, too numerous to mention, also cover the earth and all the atmosphere with dust.”
–Joseph A. Amato. Dust.
“The idea that we live life in a straight line, like a story, seems to me to be increasingly absurd and, more than anything, a kind of intellectual convenience […] I feel that the events in our lives are like a series of bells being struck and the vibrations spread outwards, affecting everything, our present, and our futures, of course, but our past as well. Everything is changing and vibrating and in flux.”
“Beaches today are where we turn our backs not just on the world at large but also on our inland selves. They are a sanctuary, groomed to remove all distractions, sometimes including the other creatures that once made them their home. Beaches are thought of as a place where time stands still, devoid of a troubling past but also of an ever pressing future.”
–John R. Gillis, Life and Death of the Beach, New York Times (June 30, 2012)
The allure of the doctrine of time management is that, one day, everything might finally be under control. Yet work in the modern economy is notable for its limitlessness. And if the stream of incoming emails is endless, Inbox Zero can never bring liberation: you’re still Sisyphus, rolling his boulder up that hill for all eternity – you’re just rolling it slightly faster. Two years after his Google talk, Mann released a rambling and slightly manic online video in which he announced that he had signed a contract for an Inbox Zero book. But his career as a productivity guru had begun to stir an inner conflict. “I started making pretty good money from it” – from speaking and consulting – “but I also started to feel terrible,” he told me earlier this year. “This topic of productivity induces the worst kind of procrastination, because it feels like you’re doing work, but I was producing stuff that had the express purpose of saying to people, ‘Look, come and see how to do your work, rather than doing your work!’” The book missed its publication date. Fans started asking questions. Then, after two more years, Mann published a self-lacerating essay in which he abruptly announced that he was jettisoning the project. It was the 3,000-word howl of a man who had suddenly grasped the irony of missing morning after morning with his three-year-old daughter because he was “typing bullshit that I hoped would please my book editor” about how to use time well. He was guilty, he declared, of “abandoning [my] priorities to write about priorities … I’ve unintentionally ignored my own counsel to never let your hard work fuck up the good things.” He hinted that he might write a different kind of book instead – a book about stuff that really mattered – but it never appeared. “I’m mostly out of the productivity racket these days,” Mann told me. “If you’re just using efficiency to jam more and more stuff into your day … well, how would you ever know that that’s working?”
Is “now” expandable? Why do you seem to experience time in slow motion in a sudden emergency, like an accident? Eagleman’s (terrifying) experiments show that in fact you don’t perceive more densely, the amygdala cuts in and records the experience more densely, so when the brain looks back at that dense record, it thinks that time must have subjectively slowed down, but it didn’t. “Time and memory are inseparable.” This also explains why time seems to speed up as you age. A child experiences endless novelty, and each summer feels like it lasted forever. But you learn to automatize everything as you age, and novelty is reduced accordingly, apparently speeding time up. All you have to do to feel like you‘re living longer, with a life as rich as a child’s, is to never stop introducing novelty in your life.
Last year I turned off all my notifications. I stopped booking meetings. I started living asynchronously. Now instead of being interrupted throughout the day—or rushing from one meeting to the next—I sit down and get work done. I work a lot. I communicate with hundreds of people a day. I collaborate extensively. But I do so on my own terms, at my own tempo. You can live more asynchronously, too. I’ll explain the benefits. I’ll show you how.
“The spatial implications of chronophotography—which visually shatters the passage of time into a series of discrete moments extracted from an event-sequence of otherwise unfixed length and duration—leads to a reference, in a text on Chard’s website, to the fact that criminologists, physicists, and even paranormal investigators all also began to use “the emerging potential of photography to further their research.” In the process, those researchers “developed new sorts of architecture particular to the demands and opportunities of the medium and the way they were using [them]. There are many research institutions that display the emergence of a new architecture with very little typological precedent.””
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Pormpuraawans, we found, arranged time from east to west. That is, seated facing south, time went left to right. When facing north, right to left. When facing east, toward the body, and so on. Of course, we never told any of our participants which direction they faced. The Pormpuraawans not only knew that already, but they also spontaneously used this spatial orientation to construct their representations of time. And many other ways to organize time exist in the world’s languages. In Mandarin, the future can be below and the past above. In Aymara, spoken in South America, the future is behind and the past in front. In addition to space and time, languages also shape how we understand causality.
The ability to remember the past and imagine the future can significantly affect a person’s decisions in life. Scientists refer to the brain’s ability to think about the past, present, and future as “chronesthesia,” or mental time travel, although little is known about which parts of the brain are responsible for these conscious experiences. In a new study, researchers have used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate the neural correlates of mental time travel and better understand the nature of the mental time in which the metaphorical “travel” occurs.
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“I had not only arrived late to a meeting about time measurement; I had got lost on the streets of west London trying to find the Royal Institute of Navigation.”
Eve is designed for live programming. As the user makes changes, the compiler is constantly re-compiling code and incrementally updating the views. The compiler is designed to be resilient and will compile and run as much of the code as possible in the face of errors. The structural editor restricts partially edited code to small sections, rather than rendering entire files unparseable. The pointer-free relational data model and the timeless views make it feasible to incrementally compute the state of the program, rather than starting from scratch on each edit. We arrived at this design to support live programming but these properties also help with collaborative editing.
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IBM, Microsoft, Apple, Other
“Our members do not recoil from the future. We believe that life on earth is embarked on a unique trajectory, one that will not be repeated. We believe that the outward journey has entailed a long and intricate interweaving of the interests of all living things. We believe that the homeward path will entail the systematic unweaving of those threads. We believe we are eminently suited for a role in this process.”
Time is the default sacrifice. It is the measure of sacrifice that underlies our complex economic order, so it is no surprise that it also underlies our ritual order. In religions that have a Sabbath, an entire day of productivity is sacrificed to God every week. Every ceremony involves the sacrifice of the time of participants; often, ceremonies involve the sacrifice of time by high-status persons. An arraignment is a ceremony in which the legitimacy of a person’s incarceration is established; not much information is exchanged, but the ceremony requires sacrifice in the form of a grand courtroom built for the purpose, as well as the time of grand personages such as the judge and two attorneys. Ritual attendants such as court reporters and bailiffs are required as well. The sacred value of “justice” is understood to be the target of these sacrifices.
“It’s 4:24am and I’m in bed watching a documentary about a chimpanzee named Nim.” “It’s 2.19pm and I am pretty sure I am still drunk.” “It’s 11:51pm and all I want is an entire pumpkin pie okay.” “It’s 10:12am and THERE ARE STILL NO BISCUITS. Wtf is this anarchy!? "It’s 9:57am and kyle and I are sobbing while watching cheaper by the dozen 2.” “It’s 1:31pm and he hasn’t texted me back from last night. I give up.” “its 10:29am and i already want pizza.” “It’s 3.11am and I’m sober in Burger King. What’s happening?” “It’s 9:23am and I can’t wait to taste wines tonight!” “it’s 2:32pm and I woke up like 5 minutes ago.” “Its 2:50am and I’m still doing homework.” “It’s 11:29am and I’ve only just realised I’ve had my t-shirt on backwards the whole morning.” “It’s 3.12am and I’m cooking supernoodles. what my life.” “It’s 7:32am and I am listening to R Kelly very loudly. Where did it all go wrong?”
cost of thing / (wow) vs time
Overwhelmed is a book about time pressure and modern life. It is a deeply reported and researched, honest and often hilarious journey from feeling that, as one character in the book said, time is like a “rabid lunatic” running naked and screaming as your life flies past you, to understanding the historical and cultural roots of the overwhelm, how worrying about all there is to do and the pressure of feeling like we’re never have enough time to do it all, or do it well, is “contaminating” our experience of time, how time pressure and stress is resculpting our brains and shaping our workplaces, our relationships and squeezing the space that the Greeks said was the point of living a Good Life: that elusive moment of peace called leisure.
Brent Coker, who studies online behavior at the University of Melbourne in Australia, found that people who engage in “workplace Internet leisure browsing” are about 9 percent more productive than those who don’t. Last year, Jonathan Schooler, a psychology professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara published with his doctoral student Benjamin Baird a study called Inspired by Distraction. It concluded that “engaging in simple external tasks that allow the mind to wander may facilitate creative problem solving.”
What can we learn by mapping pace against panarchy? Picture a stack of adaptive cycles, with frantic fashion at the bottom, and nature’s biophysical processes, broad and slow, at the top. Reaching from each cyclic layer down to the next is an arrow labeled “remember,” for memory is an important influence that slower cycles exert on faster ones. And stretching from each cycle up to the next is the arrow “revolt,” representing the actions that, in the time of the back loop – of release and subsequent renewal – can enact structural shifts in the cycles above.
Photography does not lend itself to defamiliarization easily, thus making it the unlikeliest of all art forms. As it happens, the challenge plays out on both sides of the process, for photographers and viewers. What happened to be in front of a camera lens can be found depicted in the resulting photograph. However, given the process itself and its myriad of choices, the photograph is little more than a manipulated two-dimensional representation of what previously existed in four dimensions (three spatial, one – often forgotten – time).
Shinichi Maruyama - Nude #1
The human brain, we have learned, adjusts and recalibrates temporal perception. Our ability to encode and decode sequential information, to integrate and segregate simultaneous signals, is fundamental to human survival. It allows us to find our place in, and navigate, our physical world. But music also demonstrates that time perception is inherently subjective—and an integral part of our lives. “For the time element in music is single,” wrote Thomas Mann in his novel, The Magic Mountain. “Into a section of mortal time music pours itself, thereby inexpressibly enhancing and ennobling what it fills.”
As with so much else in quantum mechanics, this concept of retrocausality is limited in scope. Only in certain circumstances can we see the future influence the past. Although individual particle processes can move backward or forward in time, the universe as a whole is skewed in the forward direction, because its past endpoint was highly ordered, and its future endpoint is highly disordered. Our mortality is this asymmetry in microcosm.
This is the first part of a few blog posts on this topic. Apologies ahead of time if you don’t find the topic of visualizing the 24 hours of the day as fascinating as I do, but I’m going to take the time to fully geek out and focus in on this very specific problem in depth. This is Part 1: Explaining the Challenge and Reviewing the Status Quo. This is sort of like a lit review; it’s my attempt to consolidate everything I can find about how people are currently representing 24-hour cyclical data.
Over the centuries, the illusion of mastering time through obedience to it came into acceptance. Across Europe, the medieval monastery’s bell tolled as a reminder to eat, sleep and pray. But while there must have been some soul’s release in relinquishing earthly sovereignty to that sound, as the clock’s authority spread, we sealed all the gaps through which curiosity might seep into our days. Curiosity, after all, could lure the susceptible way off track, as the Italian poet Petrarch learned in the spring of 1336, when he famously climbed Mont Ventoux, motivated by “nothing but the desire to see its conspicuous height.” One of the texts he carried along was Saint Augustine’s “Confessions,” detailing the moral dangers of such expeditions, when men “go out to admire the mountains,” or the course of the stars, and therein forget themselves. Chastened, Petrarch made his descent in silence.
The central, unifying theme of the institute was time. Not physical time, but biological and psychological time. How does our brain perceive physical time? What is the structure of perceived time? What regulates biological oscillations in humans, animals and even algae? Can environmental cues modify temporal perception? The close proximity of so many disciplines made for fascinating coffee-break discussions, forcing us to re-evaluate our own research findings in the light of the discoveries made in neighboring labs and inspired us to become more creative in our experimental design.
Time is the raw material of creation. Wipe away the magic and myth of creating and all that remains is work: the work of becoming expert through study and practice, the work of finding solutions to problems and problems with those solutions, the work of trial and error, the work of thinking and perfecting, the work of creating. Creating consumes. It is all day, every day. It knows neither weekends nor vacations. It is not when we feel like it. It is habit, compulsion, obsession, vocation. The common thread that links creators is how they spend their time. No matter what you read, no matter what they claim, nearly all creators spend nearly all their time on the work of creation. There are few overnight successes and many up-all-night successes.
One important step towards a more systematic approach to online update is to make the dimension of interaction explicit. This is one of the things I’ve focused on in my own research, which I call interactive programming, although that term has probably already been laid claim to. I allow the user to step sideways in time, into a “counterfactual” execution where it is “as though” the program had been written differently from the outset. Inspired by Demaine etal‘s retroactive data structures, which are imperative data structures which permit modifications to the historical sequence of operations performed on them, I’ll refer to this notion of online update as retroactive update. Retroactive update allows the “computational past” to be changed. Self-adjusting computation (SAC) is another system based on retroactive update. SAC explores another crucial aspect of online update: efficient update, via an algorithm called change propagation. SAC’s commitment to retroactivity appears in the correctness of change propagation, which is defined as consistency with a from-scratch run under the modified code.
I was biasing the results by using full-text search to explore my email. I would look for the things I found interesting that day—searching on terms like “Google” or “literature” or “e-reader”—and see a chronological list of exactly what I said about those very terms. The pattern-seeking engine in my brain would fire on all cylinders and make a story of the searches, creating an unintentional email-chrestomathy, a greatest-hits collection of ideas I’d had around a single word or phrase. The results seemed weirdly definitive. I thought I was doing history in a mirror, but because the emails were pure matches for key terms, devoid of all but a little context, I fell for the historical fallacy
Joseph T. Goodman successfully deciphered the complicated system of the Maya calendar. He published his results in 1897, describing a “Long Count” system of a “count of days” based on several units or periods of increasingly larger size: the k'in (1 day), winal (20 days), tun (360 days), k'atun (7200 days), and bak'tun (144,000 days). The ancient Maya kept track of time using this system, which was combined with additional counts of 260 days (the tzolk'in) and 365 days (the haab) to produce Long Count dates. Goodman believed there was also a larger “Great Cycle” of 13 bak'tuns (1,872,000 days) and determined that the start of the present Great Cycle was on 126.96.36.199.0 4 Ajaw 8 Cumk'u (that is 13 bak'tunob, 0 k'atunob, 0 tunob, 0 winalob, and 0 k'inob, followed by counts on the tzolk'in and haab). Later scholarship showed that this was a sacred “Creation” date for the ancient Maya, who referred to it in their mythology as a kind of “birth” of the present world. The Gregorian equivalent of this date is August 11, 3114 BCE. The next day was 0.0.0.0.1, with each day clicking another unit in the count. According to scholars who support Goodman’s idea of a 13-bak'tun Great Cycle, the current period will conclude on 188.8.131.52.0 4 Ajaw 3 K'ank'in, the Gregorian equivalent of which is December 21, 2012 (or possibly December 23, or yet something else…)
The Last Pictures Artifact (via http://www.galeriezander.com/de/artist/trevor_paglen/works)
“I have repeatedly been confounded to discover just how many mistakes in both test and application code stem from misunderstandings or misconceptions about time. By this I mean both the interesting way in which computers handle time, and the fundamental gotchas inherent in how we humans have constructed our calendar — daylight savings being just the tip of the iceberg.”
Driven by their optimism bias, people use the clearly huge opportunity of technology to reassure themselves we won’t face a crisis. They believe any serious limits in the system will be avoided because technology will intervene and we’ll adapt. There are two reasons I think this is wrong and may actually be dangerous. Firstly, while technology has huge potential to address the issues we face, without strong price signals and other government support, large-scale technology change takes a very long time. We see this today where, though there are many programs supporting clean technology around the world, it is taking a long time – many decades – for this technology to have scale impact. This is the second reason the techno-optimists view is wrong, the science says we simply don’t have a long time. In fact we’re completely out of time, with the evidence clear that the ecosystem limits have already been breached. This is no longer forecasts but rather the measurement of today’s reality.
The German photography artist Michael Wesely has created even longer exposures using a self-built pinhole camera. He captured the light of his objects for up to 3 years.