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Will daylight saving time clean your clock?

Experts say most fixes are in place, but there are too many to account for

Video: Daylight saving time
Are you ready for Daylight Saving?
March 9: Get ready to spring ahead three weeks earlier than normal for Daylight Saving Time. You may be ready for the early change, but your technology could be lagging behind.

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M. Alex Johnson
Reporter

Utilities, governments, airlines and local businesses have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to shield you from the headaches of the early start of daylight saving time this weekend. But as Americans prepare to spring forward Sunday morning — three weeks sooner than usual — experts say they can’t think of everything, and they warn that there could be some serious frustrations.

It’s not on the scale of what computer people predicted ahead of Jan. 1, 2000, when companies and governments burned billions of dollars retrofitting aging systems to understand dates that didn’t start with “19.” But the last time daylight saving time changed was in 1986, and many of the computers and devices that run our lives today are programmed to think it still won’t come until the end of the month.

The whole idea two years ago when Congress changed DST was to give you more daylight when you’re out and about, which should mean fewer evening traffic accidents, less use of light bulbs and a small savings in energy costs.

‘Those can cause huge headaches’
We’ll have to wait to see if that plays out. It’s what’s going to happen Sunday and Monday that we don’t have a good grip on.

“There are a lot of devices in our life that have ‘state,’ if you will — they’re aware of what time it is,” said Brian Cooley, editor at large for the computer publisher CNet Networks. And because they’re hidden inside so many everyday appliances, he said, some won’t be noticed until they bite you out of nowhere.

The tech types in your office have been hard at work for weeks to minimize the impact on the job, but “there’s a whole variety of computers out there we rely on for everything from banking to travel to restaurant reservations that are out of our control,” Cooley said in an interview Friday with MSNBC’s Amy Robach. “We really hope they’re going to get patched, because those can cause huge headaches.”

Some of them won’t be “patched” — which is just tech-speak for “fixed” —  either because they fell through the cracks or because they can’t be, Cooley said.

For example, “I have one of those digital timer light switches on my front porch, and it knows daylight savings, but it won’t anymore,” he said. “It’s going to be turning my lights off at the wrong hour for four weeks out of the year, and I can’t fix it. I have to replace that switch.”

Leaving on a jet plane? Start worrying
Come Monday morning, a whole lot of people will be cooling their heels on hold with customer service operators, Cooley predicted, because all sorts of little glitches will accumulate.

“A whole bunch of other devices have to be fixed, and many of them are computer-ish,” Cooley said, like automatic coffee makers that could give you a cold cup because they started up too soon, or older VCRs that might record an hour of infomercials instead of the first half of that basketball game.

Regular cell phones should be OK, because their networks will update automatically. But if you have a smartphone, a Pocket PC or a Palm, “it needs an update.”

“I don’t see the world ending, but there could be a lot of headaches from this,” Cooley said. And for a relatively small number of others, well, they could have a real mess on their hands, especially if they’re flying.

While there shouldn’t be problems if you’re flying domestically, a lot of “people are already holding tickets that were issued way before this change was made, and the airline computers are struggling to catch up,” said Peter Greenberg, travel editor for NBC’s TODAY show. “The problem is they got caught, because most airlines do connect times of only 90 minutes, so all of a sudden, if you start losing time on either end of that trip, you’ve got a problem.”

More seriously, U.S. airlines will be out of synch with most of the rest of the world for the next three weeks, so “if you land in London, in Frankfurt [Germany], in any other European gateway city and you’re going by the old schedule, you better start running,” he said.

Greenberg warned that “it’s going to be a little crazy,” and he had this advice: “Call ahead — double-check, triple-check. They will be fine next year, but this weekend is going to be the fun weekend if you’re traveling overseas.”


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