As Bob Dylan reminds us, the times they are a changin’. For us here, that is tonight in the early hours of Sunday morning. And, as usual, it is causing problems. The specific challenge that is relevant to those of us who need to collaborate electronically with multiple groups around the world is coordinating time zones.
Right up front for the TL;DR crowd, I offer this tip (which is just as relevant as when we first cited it in 2005): use this web site – it is so helpful.
There are other similar sites out there. This one has remained useful to us for 15 years.
Now, you might think that, with our clever computers being aware of time zones, and with apps like Outlook etc catering to time zones, this would no longer be a problem. Not so, I’m afraid, as this week has demonstrated. Several conference calls now scheduled for times that almost work but not really.
There are several problems behind this:
- Not all regions switch time zones but those that do tend to assume that everyone does.
- Not everyone switches at the same date/time
- Opposite hemispheres switch in opposite directions which makes sense logically when you think about it… but most people don’t think about it.
- When booking ahead at this time of year, some people use today’s time difference, forgetting that it will be different next week or when the meeting comes.
- Different apps and operating systems handle time zones differently
- There are 3 different time zone tables in operation around the computing world but they don’t agree.
For multinational groups, this is remains a common cause of confusion and disruption. As we noted in our 2005 article, sometimes it gets so bad that we take a trick from the military and quote all times as Zulu. The advantage of this is that Zulu never changes; Universal Time Coordinated (UTC), for our purposes, is pretty much the same thing.
Note that we avoid using Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). While this is similar to UTC and Zulu, it causes confusion amongst UK participants, so many of whom interpret GMT = “current time in the UK”, which is only correct for half the year.
As noted above, you cannot rely on your smart devices to get it right either, or even major information systems. I will relay an odd example of this from our travels. My daughter and I were traveling through Santiago, Chile, on our way to Buenos Aires, a few years ago. Our transit time in Santiago was a shade tight at just under two hours but should have been enough and was approved by the airline booking systems.
Our flight arrival into Santiago was a delayed by about 30 minutes (not bad for a 10 hour flight). When we touched down, I took my phone and watch out of airplane mode so that they could resync with local time etc, and was puzzled to see that my phone and my watch disagreed by an hour.
Because of the delay, we stopped by the transit desk just to let them know that we were here, still heading onwards etc, and they told us we had better run because the flight was closing. We made it with seconds to spare and had no checked bags so things turned out ok. But we were really puzzled by the shift.
It turns out that even Air Canada is “puzzled” by this. The arrival time, given by the Air Canada system and ticketing was wrong by an hour. So our transit time was only about an hour and no wonder we only just made it.
On poking into this a little further, it also explained why my watch and my phone were in disagreement about the current time. Normally the smart watch grabs its time etc from the phone so it was weird that they were synced but exactly an hour apart.
It turns out that there are 3 different time zone lookup tables in common use in the IT world. And they don’t always agree. So my watch was using one table and my phone was using another. I’m not sure which system Air Canada was using but it was also wrong.
It is a particular problem in Santiago at certain times of year. In one time zone table, Santiago does not flip times with daylight savings; in another it does. This problem first cropped up for IT time zone tables 30 years ago but remains a problem.
There are other time zone oddities out there (yes, we are looking at you, Newfoundland), but it pays to be careful around this time of year.
Dubya also changed the dates of when time zones change in USA (and hence Canada since we always have to do what our southern neighbours tell us) a few years ago. This made sense to some, while other cynics generally blame the golfers. It did introduce a wrinkle in coordinating time with Europe because we were more closely aligned prior to that, and many still think we all switch on the same date.
Historically, one justification that has generally been used was that it was for the benefit of the farmers… which then makes it ironic that Saskatchewan, our most agrarian province, does not flip for daylight savings.
Many would point to all the costs, increased road traffic events, etc and state with much logical support that it does not make sense to change times. Ahh, logic… meet politics… you will get along so well together.
Anyway, looking forward to an extra hour of sleep tonight… except I won’t get it because one of cats does not believe in time zone shifts and will still be biting my ear at 05:30 (and at that ungodly hour, it does not matter whether that is MST or MDT) demanding to be fed. Great!
On Tuesday, October 22nd, 2019 at the Royal College of Physicians & Surgeons NAC meeting in Ottawa, we will be presenting a workshop on
Artificial Intelligence & Technology in CBCME
As part of this we will be discussing several issues but part of the focus will be on Activity Metrics and process mining. Supplementary materials are at:
Our various servers, supporting OpenLabyrinth and the OLab education research platform, had some hiccups for a while, which resulted in our support of https and SSL being rather patchy.
Most people will find these days that many web browsers have conniptions about visiting unsecured sites, so many of you were getting dire warnings about the site being insecure or having an invalid security certificate.
I think we have all that fixed now and there should be no more warnings.
Just to reassure you, there was no actual compromise of our sites and the data remains secure.
Our first launch and demonstration of what the new OLab4 Designer, the authoring interface for scenario development, is taking place today at the AMEE Conference in Vienna.
The main concept mapping tool will be familiar to OpenLabyrinth v3 authors. We have retained its basic useful functions, made it simpler and more accessible.
To take a look at some of the demonstration scenarios that we have created, go to https://demo.olab.ca/player/olab — login as ‘ltopps‘ (that’s with a small L at the front for Learner) and with a password of ‘learner‘ when asked to sign in.
There are just a few simple demo cases to start with. We will build more to demonstrate OLab4’s new capabilities.
In OLab3, for advanced authors, it was possible to make your scenarios quite complex and interactive. By using combinations of Rules, Counters, Timed Popups etc, you could get quite creative.
These Script Objects can interact with OLab4’s REST API in much greater detail. This allows advanced authors to be more creative in manipulating how their scenarios work.
We have a few taster examples to show at AMEE. See you there.
Even in OLab3, it was possible to reuse some of the objects from one scenario to another, to some extent.
We have greatly extended this concept. You can create objects, such as Questions, that can easily be reused across multiple maps. We found that many authors were using objects over and over again. This is not hard with image files and fixed text. But it was not possible with Questions and Counters.
OLab4 changes that. You can set the scope of a Question or a Counter so that it is limited to a single map (like OLab3) or you can share the scope across multiple maps.
Server-level scope means that an object can be shared by any map on the same server.
Global-level scope will allow us to create a central library of objects that any author can use around the world, on any OLab4 server.
The Scoped Object concept is being extended to a number of items in the OLab4 arsenal:
- Media resources and files
- Constants (aka Elements in OLab3)
In the OLab4 Designer, we continued with the popular concept mapping tool that was first introduced in OLab3.
We have simplified this and made it cleaner. Those who are used to how the OLab3 Visual Editor worked will feel right at home. Simply join the dots to create your pathways.
Yes, it has been quiet over the summer… too quiet.
The good news is that our teams have been beavering away (well, this is Canada) at the authoring interface for OLab4 scenarios. We will be introducing the OLab4 Designer at the AMEE Conference in Vienna.
In the meantime, we hope to release some teasers over the next few days. Watch this space.
For several years, we have been looking at different ways to make OpenLabyrinth scenarios more accessible. We think we have found a solution that meets the needs of both consumers and contributors of scenarios: the OLab Dataverse.
Now at first glance, this looks like Yet Another OER. But we think there are a few things that may help this to be more successful. We are working on ways to make it dead easy for OLab authors to upload their best cases directly to the OLab Dataverse which should help with the tedious task of metadata entry.
Because the materials are given a proper citation and DOI by the DataCite service, it means that the scenario becomes a citable reference that can be added to the authors’ CV and makes it easier for them to get academic credit for publishing their cases.
We have created some short notes on how we currently upload OpenLabyrinth maps to the OLab Dataverse, using a template in the meantime.
When we say ‘Active Repository‘, we also plan to make this process more useful in providing activity metrics, using xAPI and a LRS. At present, we can create simple Guestbooks, which help us to track when the datasets are downloaded. But we feel it is equally important to create some activity metrics around the contributions by faculty members and teachers. Partly, this will be based on the new xAPI Faculty Profile that we are developing and will incorporate into our OLab uploading mechanisms.
It is time we did a better job of looking at how our contributions to open science are used, appreciated and distributed in the world of Precision Education. We just submitted an article to MedEdPublish on why this is so important.
If you are interested in working with us in exploring how we can make these processes more accessible and more rewarding, please contact us.