Monday, November 17, 2014

Living on Russian Time

You may think that time is time -- if you look at your watch 24 hours from now it will be the same time as today.  You might also expect that if the sun is directly overhead, it probably is about noon.

But if you travel frequently to other parts of the world, you will find that time wiggles around from place to place.

Take Russia, for example.  I always had heard that Russia had 11 time zones.  This number was cited often to indicate the enormous east-west stretch of the country, 5,592 miles.

But I was wrong.  Until the end of last month, Russia had nine time zones.  On Oct. 26, the Russian government announced the addition of two new time zones.

Russia now has 11 time zones, just as I always had thought.

Above is a very helpful online map from the website   Each region is marked with a number indicating its distance in hours from a central time called Coordinated Universal Time, or UTC.

This UTC thing looks suspiciously like what used to be called Greenwich Mean Time.  I don't think the change in nomenclature is some kind of anti-Western Russian thing because UTC seems to be used worldwide now.

For some reason, I got to reading about this and learned several interesting things:

     -- In fact, Russia did not simply add two time zones.  It updated seven zones to accommodate a new plan, added three new zones and created a special time zone just for Belarus.  Net effect:  11 time zones.  This information comes from Microsoft, whose programmers have to fiddle with settings worldwide to reflect the vagaries of countries' time specifications.

     -- Up until 2010, Russia actually did have 11 time zones (so I was right, for once.)  In 2010, the country was rezoned into only nine time zones, apparently for the sake of efficiency.  My guess is that several zones on the far reaches were mashed together, but, really, why would it matter?  If you were a senior apparatchik in Vladivostock and Vladimir Putin wanted to schedule a phone call, wouldn't it all be on Moscow time anyway?
     (In fact, some Russian train lines operate exclusively on Moscow time, so be sure to check the next time you visit.)

     -- Russia made another time change at the end of last month.  After a three-year test run and many, many, many public complaints, the Russians abandoned Daylight Savings Time.
    This is not surprising.  Even in the U.S. and after many decades, people have their own points of view about the wisdom of the spring-forward/fall-back procedure.  Daylight savings time was adopted during the big wars as an energy-saving measure; I'm not sure I see how that works.

But back to my first point.  Why shouldn't time be a fixed thing?  The earth's orbit is pretty predictable, and the sun pretty much stays put.  Why is an enormous country fiddling with the sizes and hours of its time regions twice in less than five years?

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