Saturday, November 9, 2002

How hard is it to keep accurate time?

I find it quite annoying when an otherwise excellent product just completely blows a particular feature. In this case, I have two devices that do an abysmal job of telling the time and a third device tha exhibits the occasionally bit of annoying time loss. None have a good excuse.

First, my Sony-Ericsson t68i phone (bluetooth phone + USB adaptor + OS X == one killer bit o' telecommunications integration) requires the user to manually set the date and time.

That's just stupid.

It's a freakin' digital phone on a digital network. How bloody hard is it to sync the time off the net every now and then?

The most irritating detail is that the phone can be configured to automatically track the timezone the user is in and adjust the clock accordingly. That's cool and all, but why can't it use an extra-- what-- 10 or so bytes to grab the stupid date and time when it is figuring out if I'm in EST, CST, GMT, etc...

I'm not 100% certain it is the fault of the phone. It could just as easily be the fault of T-Mobile / VoiceStream. Update: David Nanian relayed that it is definitely a problem with T-Mobile / VoiceStream. When his phone roams on Cingular's GSM network, it picks up time zone changes and the current date / time automatically. Makes me wonder if the 'auto timzone' feature does anything at all on T-Mobile / VoiceStream.

The second device that completely hoses the whole concept of "timekeeping" is my iPod.

The silly thing loses time worse than the $10 Rolex my uncle picked up on Canal street.

I noticed because I went to check the time and my cell phone battery was dead. So, I pulled out the iPod -- it said 4:45pm (it was more like 12:25pm). I was thinking that it was odd that it is running fast as most digital clocks lose time because something interrupts a tick every now and then.

Then I checked the date.

The damned thing had already lost 2 days! 2 whole days lost on a digital timekeeping device over whatever period of time has elapsed since the software version that first allowed the date/time to be set seems a bit over the top!

Of course, why doesn't the iPod just sync its damned internal clock to the clock on my Mac every time it is plugged into the machine? It would seem both obvious and relatively easy to do!

Update: David also mentioned that the iPod's date/time is synchronized if you use iSync to push non-music data onto the iPod. That is good to know, but is inconvenient [for me, at least]. My primary iSync computer is a portable that doesn't have any music on it. If I hook my iPod up to it, iTunes constantly wants to "own" it. Looks like it is time to try out iSync's n-way syncronization capabilities!

Finally, my Titanium PowerBook loses the time whenever it loses all power sources (it is unplugged and the battery completely drains or is removed).

OK- I can live with that and it doesn't particularly bother me.

However, why the hell doesn't the machine give me an in-my-face warning that the system clock is now set to a preposterous time??!

It would seem safe to assume that, yes, in fact, the system clock being set to early January 1970 is, quite likely, completely and totally wrong.

If Apple wanted to be totally anal about it, they could just ship a 'barf before this date' timestamp in a file that is updated with every installation of a system patch. Not that it is necessary given that the clock always reverts to 1970 [epoch] when power is removed.

This is actually quite easy to fix/workaround. I wrote a little AppleScript that I compiled into an application that simply launches the date/time preferences panel any time I log into the machine and the date is before 2000. It can be downloaded on a disk image that includes instructions.

(I wrote Bad Clock Detector a long time ago, actually.)
5:34:14 PM