by Leon Rosenshein

Fly Like An Eagle

I’ve talked about time before. It passes, and there’s not much you can do about that. Even in a simulator, time passes. That adds a lot of complexity. Especially in keeping track of things. And when they happened. And when you found out about them. And when someone asks you about it.

I’ve talked about time and dates being hard to deal with before. Then there’s the winter solstice, which merges time, dates, durations, and the English language. You end up with something that is hard to track, hard to talk about, and, more to the point, hard to reason with and hard to program for.

Even if you go with the standard unidirectional time, there are still a lot of things to keep track of. There’s the very simple side of it. What happened and when. I started working at Aurora in January 2021. That’s straight-forward. I stopped working there in February of 2022. Also straight-forward. It’s pretty easy to keep track of that. That means I worked at Aurora for just over 13 months. Very simple. But it gets more complicated. I also started working at Aurora in May of 2023. So I have 2 start dates. And I’ve worked for Aurora for almost 15 months. It’s also been almost 30 months since I started working for Aurora. So that’s a great example of how knowing a start date isn’t nearly enough to really know what happened.

Another place where time isn’t as simple is time zones and things like daylight savings time. In the United States, Which means twice a year, in most places (but not all) the clocks change, either forward or backward. Outside of those times, it’s easy to tell what time it is, but during those missing/added hours it gets a little odd. Add in time zones and it gets harder.

What makes it even worse, is that the rules for time zones and daylight savings time change. So if you ask when daylight savings time ends for a given year, you first need to find the rules that were in effect on that date, in that location. Which is very likely to be different than what the current rules are for your location. As for asking about the future, you can make a prediction, but you won’t know for sure until it happens.

Another thing you need to keep track of is the difference between when something happens and when you find out about it. One of the more common places where this happens is around payroll. On any given day you have a pay rate. It might be hourly, weekly, monthly, annual, or even a percentage of something else, like sales. That’s simple (except for things like time duration and daylight savings time). But what happens when there’s a change to pay rate? Sometimes it’s forward looking, and that’s not too bad. On some specified future date, the rate changes, so when the date arrives you change the calculation, and all is well.

But what happens when it’s a retroactive change? As of the first of last month, your new rate is 5% higher. Now you need to go back and calculate a new payment, subtract what was paid, then pay the delta. Again, not too bad, as long as you remember to do it. Consider this though. On Aug 1st you’re told that as of June 1st your pay rate has been increased. Great. Congratulations. But you just applied for a new mortgage on July 1st and you told them your pay was X. You were being honest, but on Aug 1st you find out that you were wrong. Does it matter? Maybe. Maybe not. But it’s real, and it happens. So you need to keep track of what happens, when it happens (take effect) and when you found out about it. Because all of those things change the answer you’ll give when asked a question with a temporal component.

As much as we’d like to make Time Stand Still, as Steve Miller said, time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’ Into the future. We’d at least like time to be linear, monotonic, and never go backwards, but that’s not the way things are. At least not as people experience it. To physics, time might always go foward at a constant rate, but to the people who live it, things aren’t as simple. Things happen in their own time. We find out about them in out own time. Sometimes right as it’s happening. Sometimes before so we can plan for it. And sometimes long after things happen. And we need to keep track of all of that.