Tracking Alien Time Travelers

In the world of science fiction movies and television, it seems as if aliens are constantly dropping in from all parts of the universe. Sometimes they come in peace. More often, the reason for the visit is more sinister.

Then there are all the people for whom jumping back and forth through time seems to be more of a local trip.

Fortunately, there are a couple of fun resources to help keep track of all that traffic.

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The Saving Is An Illusion

First frame of Non-Sequetur comic

Please excuse me while I rant.

Part of my crankiness this morning is due to the abrupt shift forward of the clock, a misguided and arrogant attempt by our lawmakers to “save” time. Time, of course, is a very human invention. Daylight Saving Time is a very stupid, human invention.

It’s time to dump it.

I’ve seen a number of posts on Twitter and elsewhere claiming that this month is the 100th anniversary of the national application of this concept. It’s true that the Standard Time Act, the bill which made Daylight Saving Time the law everywhere in the country, was passed in March 1918.1

It was also repealed the following year because DST was universally hated.

The idea was brought back nationally during World War II, but was applied inconsistently during other periods. Which is why the transportation industry lobbied for a permanent national law.

However, instead of doing the sensible thing, telling everyone to cut out the practice altogether and let nature do it’s thing with regard to sunrise and sunset, Congress passed the Uniform Time Act in 1966.

Anyway, I’ve ranted about this several times in the past and you can read those entries for more reasons why this concept needs to die. A few years ago the Washington Post also published 5 Myths About Daylight Saving Time, which includes this little additional bit of nomenclature stupidity to add to the mix.

Guess what time we’re on for eight months of the year? Daylight saving time. In what universe is something that happens for only one-third of the time the “standard”? Even before the 2007 change, DST ran for seven months out of 12.

In fact, some opponents of DST aren’t against daylight saving time per se: They think it should be adopted as the year-round standard time. Because it basically already is.

So, there’s the solution. Next November, just leave the damn clocks where they are and forget the whole illusion of “saving” time. I don’t care whether you choose to call it “permanent daylight saving time”, which sounds stupid, or “standard” time, which it would be.

After one cycle, most people will just call it normal. Just like nature intended.

Thank you for indulging my sleep deprived rant.

Oh, and one more thing: the term is Daylight Saving, not savingS. At least get that part right.

The cartoon is the first panel from the Sunday edition of Wiley Miller’s wonderful Non Sequitur. The rest of his story makes about as much sense as any justification for DST I’ve heard. The Sunday Fox Trot take on DST is also amusing. I think using a part of the comic in this context would be considered Fair Use.

1. Wikipedia, as you might expect, has a very complete telling of Daylight Saving Time’s history in the US and the general controversy surrounding the concept.

More Let’s Blame the Technology

Time Magazine, which I was surprised to discover still sells around 3 million paper copies each week in the US, recently featured a promotional article for a new book (“Glow Kids”) in which the writer is sharply critical of technology used for instruction: Screens In Schools Are a $60 Billion Hoax.

Ok, I’m not immune to that kind of click bait. Let’s jump in and see what he has to say.

He starts by stating that any acceptance of tech in the classroom as “a necessary and beneficial evolution” is not only a lie, but worse.

Tech in the classroom not only leads to worse educational outcomes for kids, which I will explain shortly, it can also clinically hurt them. I’ve worked with over a thousand teens in the past 15 years and have observed that students who have been raised on a high-tech diet not only appear to struggle more with attention and focus, but also seem to suffer from an adolescent malaise that appears to be a direct byproduct of their digital immersion. Indeed, over two hundred peer-reviewed studies point to screen time correlating to increased ADHD, screen addiction, increased aggression, depression, anxiety and even psychosis.

Attention and focus to what? What is “adolescent malaise”? Is “screen addiction” a real psychological condition?

cracked screen

Ok, what evidence do you have to suggest that the correlation supposedly conclusively established in those studies is causation for any of those diverse afflictions? And justification for the hyperbolic headline?

Well, first he spends a few paragraphs on the fact that selling technology into schools has become big business, attracting evil people like Rupert Murdoch. And on the billion dollar Pearson/iPad project mess in Los Angeles, which was the result of poor planning and possible corruption, not the technology itself.

Yes, we know Finland’s school system is magical without lots of screens. And that there are some academics who “once believed” and now say that there is no “technological fix” for the problems of American education.

But where is the evidence that the technology itself is harmful to children? Or a “hoax”? Maybe you have to buy the book to learn the answers but this particular article does little to substantiate the provocative claims in the first few paragraphs.

He does cite some research: the high-profile paper by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) from last year that relied entirely on data from their testing program. A 2012 British meta study of research that largely predates the iPhone. Another analysis of 50 studies that concluded “reading for pleasure among young people has decreased in recent decades”. Plus Jane Healy, who has made a career of blaming screens for all kinds of societal issues.

Bottom line for this writer, the existence of computers is to blame for any and all problems observed in classrooms.

But I have a question: Is it possible that those student struggles with attention in school and lack of progress in “learning” come not from the screens per se but from the way those devices are used in the classroom?

Maybe handing a computer to every student so they can complete the same activities and fill-in-the-blank worksheets assigned long before the internet arrived is turning them off from learning.

Could it be that sticking students in front of computers to work their way through “personalized” lessons is not the magic solution promised by the vendors? Not to mention boring.

Is it possible that constantly using the screens for kids to take meaningless-to-them standardized tests is one cause of that “malaise”?

Although this particular piece of crap article is little more than the usual attempt to blame devices for human failings, I do completely agree with the basic premise of the headline.

For most of the past two decade, we have spent a huge amount of money to put computers, software, and networks into US classrooms, and that a large chunk of that has been wasted on devices that should never have been purchased in the first place (I’m looking at you interactive whiteboards!). We have been throwing devices into classrooms with the expectation that their presence would lead directly to a significant increase in teacher proficiency and student learning. Even when many districts, like the one I used to work for, also put significant resources into providing training and technical support for teachers the results were far less than transformational.


Well, the screens certainly made schools look different to the administrators and politicians dropping in for photo ops. But anyone who bothered to look past the shiny objects found little difference from classrooms of ten, twenty, fifty years ago.

The curriculum, pedagogy, instructional materials, assignments, the fundamental teacher-directed structure of American education, all it changed very little. We did, of course, add an expensive, regressive standardized testing requirement, and in many places, used it to justify the continued purchase of computers. But that testing only served to narrow the focus of instruction to the few tested subjects and made automating the process of preparing for the exams even more attractive.

In other words, we spent that $60 billion from the headline buying devices with the power to connect classrooms, teachers and kids to the world’s information, and to each other. Machines that offered students incredible potential for developing and demonstrating their creative skills. Then we worked overtime using them to maintain a traditional concept of learning that this writer, and the academics he cites, fondly remember from their time in school.

At one point later in the article, the writer cites a line from a 16 year-old report from the Alliance for Children: “School reform is a social challenge, not a technological problem.”. That is the key point completely missed by this writer and many education reformers.

However, our administrators and political leaders find it much easier, not to mention cheaper, to buy the technology rather than address those social challenges, including poverty, nutrition, and a tremendous inequity of access to learning resources of all kinds.

You can call the $60 billion spent on technology for the classroom a “hoax” if you like, but don’t blame “screens” for the many educational and social maladies this writer and other observe. The fault lies in a lack of willingness by all of us to address and solve the real problems.

Time to Stop Playing With Time

Daylight Saving Time is a pretty stupid idea, although I wouldn’t go to the way over-the-top level of this writer who calls the system “America’s greatest shame” and “the greatest continuing fraud ever perpetuated on American people”.*

Still, once you get past the hyperbole of the headline and opening paragraph, he does provide plenty of evidence that there is “no benefit or rhyme or reason” for continuing this plan for “maximizing daylight”.

Like multiple studies showing that energy conservation benefits, one of the primary reasons for the US keeping (and in 2007 expanding) the practice of changing the clocks twice a year, are statistically irrelevant at best.

On the other side, he also cites research suggesting that shifting the time is bad for worker productivity and may even negatively affect health by disrupting sleep patterns. Not sure about any of that but it sure is annoying having to readjust for days following the change.

And then there are the farmers, for whom we were told in elementary school, this system was beneficial.

“That’s the complete inverse of what’s true,” Tufts University professor Michael Downing, told National Geographic. “The farmers were the only organized lobby against daylight saving in the history of the country.” The reason, Downing explains, is that DST left them with less sunlight to get crops to market.

Certainly their farm animals aren’t stupid enough to buy into DST and I doubt cows will be shifting their regular routines by an hour today.

Bottom line? There is no good reason to hang on to this crappy idea.

And on the subject of tinkering with time, another writer offers a proposal to cut the continental US back to two time zones instead of four, in addition to her five more reasons to kill Daylight Saving Time.

An interesting idea. Unlike DST, I understand the need for time zones, although having lived in the mountain zone, I’m not sure anyone would miss it.

*I could be persuaded to apply those labels to the Tea Party movement but that’s another post.

Our Website is Broken and We Apologize

I always keep some news feeds from the BBC in my RSS aggregator, both because they offer a non-American slant on the news and because of the occasional odd story that is just so very British.

From a recent example of the later comes the revelation that “The BBC Trust has upheld a complaint that the clock on the BBC homepage was “inaccurate and misleading”.”

The BBC Trust is the governing body that oversees the operations of the British Broadcasting Corporation and is supposed to represent the interests of the people who pay licensing fees to own a television set, aka the viewers.

In this case one of those viewers was upset that “although readers assume the clock is correct, it merely reproduces the time on the user’s computer” and thus may not be accurate if the computer itself has the wrong time.

The Trust ruled in the complainant’s favor saying that “having a clock which does not state it derives its time from a user’s computer is not consistent with BBC guidelines on accuracy”, and that the clock will be removed in the next update.

And the BBC management offers a very British apology, probably not unlike this wonderful example from John Cleese…