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The DST Debacle – are you ready?

It goes by many names – I use “Y2K7” and “The DST Debacle”. If you don’t know what it is, you are certain to be affected. Last year the U.S. Government passed a law to change Daylight Savings Time to start earlier and end later each year. This year it starts on March 11 (this Sunday). And all hell may break loose…

I work with computers. I managed hundreds of them. So I know what’s coming.

Back for “Y2K”, a.k.a. “The Big Fizzle”, I worked all night babysitting systems in case anything happened. Nothing did because people thought about it and prepared for it LONG in advance.

This time was a surprise. Congress actually wanted to change things last year, but many companies piped up and said there wasn’t time. So they silently pushed it back a year, and companies began to fix things…but they didn’t really tell customers that they had to do things until recently. Major computer OS vendors sent out announcements last month – a little over a month before the change, letting you know you needed to patch your systems. Microsoft had a patch for XP available, but it wasn’t marked “critical” so it would get installed automatically until a few weeks ago. And what about those who don’t have automatic updates turned on? All those spambots will be an hour late sending me the latest stock about to take off, and it will be too late to buy it…

I saw in one case a vendor told you how to patch your system – but forgot to tell you that for it to take effect, you had to reboot (or at least restart everything that needed to use timezone data, but if you don’t know what that is, you reboot). A later update added that.

What about all the ubiquitous electronics you have scattered around your house? Some of them keep track of time.

I’ve got a VCR that can handle DST changes. But it won’t work this year because there is no way to update it. So my VCR clock will be an hour off for three weeks. And then again in the fall…and next year. Fortunately for me, I’ve grown past VCRs – they are only there to play tape I haven’t re-bought as or converted to DVD.

I’ve got TiVos. Four to be precise – one original “Series 1” unit, and two DirecTV dual-tuner “Series 2” units. For quite a while people wondered what would happen. They run Linux, after all – and Linux needed to be patched. But the Linux installed doesn’t have the typical zoneinfo files. The application actually runs in GMT, so it isn’t affected by DST – but it displays the guide data in your local time zone, so it must be affected somehow. (Technically, only the display of the guide will be off an hour, and manual time recordings will be off – everything else would function normally).

The three DirecTV units are hacked, which means they have networking capabilities they don’t normally have and I can log into them. There is an update from TiVo/DirecTV to fix the DST problem, which is fixed in the application, not the OS – but none of my units received it. It could be because they are hacked – but others with hacked units (and hacked in funkier ways no less) got the update. Not everyone has though. I’ve manually updated my units through other means.

I JUST received e-mail from TiVo regarding my original Series 1 (which still works great). They can’t fix it. No explanation, just that the problem is “cosmetic”. Why they can’t update the application in it I have no idea, unless DST is somehow embedded in hardware – and that would just be plain silly.

What about your digital watch? Most now have the date in it, and can handle DST. Well, that’s not going to work unless it was made in the last year, AND the manufacturer thought to fix DST…

So, be prepared. I’m sure I will be losing more than one hour of sleep Sunday as I get paged about some customer’s system not reporting the time correctly…

Update 3/14: TiVo has a fix for the Series 1s. The thing is, it wasn’t their engineers who came up with it (they said there was no fix) – it was a customer with a hacked unit. So with egg on their face TiVo has taken the fix, reworked it a bit, and will begin sending out an update.