Celebrate the Day Twice

On April 14, 2011 · 4 Comments

As happens frequently here, I noticed an interesting phrase deposited by a search engine in my web traffic logs. The gist of the query, from some unknown but curious user, related to whether it’s possible to celebrate one’s birthday twice by crossing the International Date Line.

It’s absolutely possible. I imagine there must be any number of flights leaving Asia or Australia every single day that cross that imaginary line and arrive at their destination the "previous" day. Take any of one those and someone could experience a birthday twice. It would be a lot cheaper than chartering a boat and doing the same thing but either should be feasible.

Returning from Australia a number of years ago, I recall distinctly arriving at Honolulu, Hawaii late at night (probably 11:00 pm or thereabouts) and being able to see my watch switch to the date I’d left Sydney all over again before I went to bed. It wasn’t my birthday but it was the same basic effect.

Come to think of it, that’s not much different than the Impossible 5K, the race that ends before it begins. We can have all kinds of fun with time changes and time zone differences.

This query reminded me of a true story from a long time ago. Think back to the hoopla around the switch from the year 1999 to 2000. Today Y2K seems so quaint and distant although it was a big concern to those of us in the information technology business as the deadline approached. This story will sound like one of those apocryphal Intertubes stories of dubious origin that happened to a cousin of your friend’s sister. You have a right to be skeptical. However, an organization I managed at the time had responsibility for this project so I can assure you it actually happened. It’s about the coolest thing imaginable to a geo-geek and I can’t believe I haven’t mentioned it before.

We were responsible for upgrading telecommunications switches known as Private Branch Exchanges ("PBX") with new software that would roll into the year 2000 without failure. I’ll let the historians decide whether Y2K was much ado about nothing or an effort where everyone pulled together to avert a crisis. At the time it certainly seemed like a big deal and we spent several hundreds of thousands of dollars upgrading our switches throughout the United States.

This was completed through the personal efforts our field offices, including one in Honolulu that had responsibility for Hawaii and the Pacific territories including Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands. Software patches had been completed and tested prior to Y2K. Nonetheless we also decided to babysit the switches through midnight just to make sure everything worked properly. Dozens of our people sat in computer equipment rooms while the rest of you were partying like it was 1999.

View Larger Map

Here’s the geeky part. Our technician from the Hawaii field office began the final countdown in Hagåtña, Guam on December 31, 1999. She sat with the equipment through midnight, to January 1, 2000, and did not encounter any Y2K issues with the equipment. Next, she hopped a flight back to Honolulu, turning back the clock and landing in Hawaii on December 31, 1999. She entered the Honolulu office, went to the equipment room and sat through midnight a second time, once again experiencing January 1, 2000. She was working so it wasn’t like she was popping bottles of champagne. Nonetheless there can’t be more than a handful of people on the planet who experienced Y2K twice.

Well, I thought it was cool, anyway.

People can still follow this the same path today, albeit without the really great date change. Guam is ten hours past Universal Time (UTC+10). Hawaii recognizes UTC-10. Thus, a clock in Guam is twenty hours ahead of a clock in Hawaii. Continental Airlines offers a direct flight between the two, covering about 3,800 miles in 7.5 hours. Today the flight leaves GUM (what a great airport code) at 6:30 am and arrives at HNL at 5:55 pm the previous day. That’s plenty of birthday partying time!

Maybe another trip like that will be necessary again when UNIX runs out of time in 2038. I really hope I’m retired by then.

On April 14, 2011 · 4 Comments

4 Responses to “Celebrate the Day Twice”

  1. Greg says:

    I thought UNIX time was the same everywhere, irrespective of time zone. That would be much harder to deal with than Y2K, since we wouldn’t have the opportunity to see problems arise in a relatively unpopulated area of the Pacific before they can occur elsewhere. Unlike you, I will be working then (though not likely in a tech field), and I hope that that little issue can get ironed out well in advance.

  2. One of my favorite examples of traveling back in time is the flight north from Kiritimati (Christmas Island) to Honolulu. What I find interesting there is that both locations are in the same time zone but they’re on different days. Thus, if one left Kiritimati at 2 pm on Sunday, flew three hours to Honolulu, one would arrive 5 pm Saturday, the day before (this has to do with the drawing of the International Date Line). Upon landing, the day of the week, but not the time, would need to be reset on one’s watch.

  3. Cool post.

    I missed my birthday when I was a kid — twice. Does that make me two years younger than 44? Thanks to Washington efficiency, my US passport incorrectly has my date of birth in 1962; does that make me 44 in real years, according to my birth certificate and Virginia driver’s license, 42 years old, given that I have missed two birthdays, 48 years old according to the US government passport office, or 46 considering missing two years and the US passport office?

    (The passport has been fixed, but I saved a photocopy of the wrong passport).

Comments are closed.

12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
Don't miss an article -
Subscribe to the feed!

RSS G+ Twitter
RSS Twelve Mile Circle Google Plus Twitter
Monthly Archives
Days with Posts
October 2017
« Sep