Throwback Thursday: Hey mister, got the time?

This law-enforcement agency stores its mainframe data with time stamps on every record. That can be important, especially in court cases, says a database admin pilot fish there.

"In my role as a DBA, I have the chance to educate the rest of the IT staff," fish says. "I was showing some programmers how easy it is to use the 'time zone' information available from the operating system."

Fish tells the crowd that the time-zone setting shows hours and minutes offset from UTC -- what used to be called Greenwich Mean Time.

Hours and minutes? Yes, fish explains, there are places where the official local time is shifted by an extra half-hour or even 45 minutes.

Then fish runs a database query to show the coders how easy it is to get time-zone information. Since he's in the central U.S., he knows the answer is five hours behind UTC.

"The time-zone value returned showed that we are five hours and three minutes behind UTC," says fish. "The five hours is good. But three minutes?"

As soon as he finishes the presentation, fish calls the computer operations supervisor to find out what's going on.

Supervisor tells him that during every reboot -- initial program load, or IPL, in mainframe jargon -- the operators set the time as accurately as they can.

But later in the process, when the operators set the time-zone parameter, they sometimes add in the number of minutes that have passed since they set the time parameter.

"In this case, three minutes must have elapsed between setting the system clock and setting the time-zone parameter, so they added three minutes to the time-zone setting," fish says.

"I was speechless. Apparently, this organization invents new time zones with every IPL, and every time, we spring forward or fall back.

"It makes me wonder just how many time zones we have."

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