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Time zones, daylight saving time, tape delays? Keeping
track of when something's happening Down Under is an
Olympian feat.

Getting Ahead of Themselves: The Future Is in Australia


There's no time like the present. Which, in Australia, is the future. Because Down Under is really Up and Over the international dateline, which means the Aussies are 18 hours (more or less) into tomorrow over there. In other words, whatever unknown, unexpected, wildly uproarious victory or upset is about to happen at the Olympic Games has--to put it bluntly--already happened.

More precisely: When it is, say, 9 a.m. Monday in Los Angeles, it's 3 p.m. Tuesday in Sydney. Except that the Australian government has apparently instituted daylight saving time to afford more light for the Olympic frolics, so you need to deduct another hour.

And in a twist out of "The Twilight Zone," you could tune into NBC on a Monday night and watch a tape-delayed broadcast of an event that doesn't actually happen until Tuesday.

Is this all clear?

Even the spokeswoman for the Australian consulate in L.A. gets confused every once in a while, she admits, so she has the clock on her wall permanently set on Australian time. But even this is not totally satisfactory, she says, because Australia is "huge--we've got a whole continent there," and there are many different time zones within the mighty nation. In the state of Queensland, for example, "they don't do a change to daylight saving time because the cows would be confused and it would mess up their milking--and people say their curtains fade too fast." (Don't ask.)

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday September 19, 2000 Home Edition Southern California Living Part E Page 3 View Desk 1 inches; 33 words Type of Material: Correction
Time zones--A story about time confusion between the U.S. and Australia in Monday's Southern California Living was itself confused. With Sydney about 18 hours ahead of us, 9 a.m. on a Monday in Los Angeles would be 3 a.m. Tuesday there.

There are two main ways to determine the time difference between here and Sydney without using a calculator, we are told. Both usually involve fingers and toes. You can either count 18 (or 17) hours ahead--or you can subtract six (or five) hours, and then add one day. Thus: When it is noon on a Monday here in L.A., you subtract six hours and add a day, making it 6 a.m Tuesday in Australia. We believe this is true, but be aware that we required a high-priced tutor to pass high school math.

The International Date Line is the cause of the confusing time differentials between countries. The thing to remember about the International Date Line is that it's imaginary--a make-believe irregular line drawn on the map of the Pacific Ocean, in most places corresponding to the 180th meridian. (A meridian is an imaginary line stretching from pole to pole.) The International Date Line marks the place where navigators change their date by one day on a transpacific voyage. East of the line it is one day earlier than to the West.

According to our virtual encyclopedia: "Any traveler circling the globe in a westward direction lengthens the day by one hour for every 15 degrees of longitude traveled, because the traveler is following the motion of the sun." That should explain it, no?

According to some accounts, the Date Line was the 1870's brainchild of a girls' school principal in Saratoga, N.Y., who was irritated by the different time zones (and resultant chaotic railroad schedules) used across the United States. He wrote a paper proposing a system of national time, based on lines of longitude around the globe. In 1884, this idea was expanded and adopted at the International Meridian Conference in Washington, D.C.

Even at Australia-centric companies, it takes a second or seven to calculate the time.

Sure, he knows the time in Australia right off the top of his head, bluffs Ken Groves, a vice president for Australia's Qantas airline in Los Angeles, who also keeps handy a clock set to Sydney time. But Groves doesn't want Qantas customers to get confused. Fliers tend to think Australia is a way long haul, because if they leave Los Angeles on a Monday night, they don't arrive until Wednesday morning. It's only 7,500 miles, he points out, practically around the corner.

All jokes aside, bi-continental companies face prickly challenges. Airlines must be particularly careful about posting their schedules, especially during daylight saving time. And conference calls take extra planning--no one wants to get into the office an hour early because of time confusion. "We're constantly up against it," Groves says. "There are little hiccups all the time."

But Fridays in the office are good because it's Saturday in Australia and no one Down Under is asking them for a thing.

All this chronometric confusion might also be expected to wreak havoc at NBC Sports, which has broadcast rights to the Games, and which has a large staff in Oz, the nickname Australians have for their country.

The NBC staff is split into day and night shifts, so there are people working 24 hours a day. They must be on duty during the Games, obviously, which take place when America is sleeping. And they must also be on duty when their bosses back home are awake and need to talk to them, which is when Australians are sleeping.

When an NBC night shifter in Sydney was asked if the dusk-to-dawn schedule troubled her, she replied, "No, not a bit." Think about it, she said. "We are working nights here, but it's really daytime back home in New York, which means we are really working on our physically normal schedule. By working at night, we are actually working by day on New York time."

In the end, does anybody really know what time it is?


Staff writer Renee Tawa contributed to this story.

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