Friday, September 28, 2012

International Economics

International econ is an important extension of economics, one of the more important subjects we learn about in business. I'm not quite sure I got everything I could have out of this particular course, due to some peculiarities of its delivery.

The first peculiarity is simply that it was a summer course. Of course, I love summer courses for their intense, focused nature and then how quickly it's over. The second peculiarity was related, kind of. The related part was that it was summer, very hot, and the cooling system in the Natural Resources building where we were meeting went out.

At least one day class was cancelled due to the heat and probably HVAC technicians working on the problem. One day we met outside. We just sat around on the ground - grass, cement, whatever - and talked as other people walked by and our voices floated off to nowhere instead of bouncing back off the wall in the strangely shaped auditorium (extra steep and building support pillars blocking the view from some seats. Several days were spent with industrial strength fans blowing on us, drowning out part of the conversation. If it wasn't a compressed summer course, missing a day wouldn't have put us behind so far, plus it probably wouldn't have been as hot, and there would have been more days in between to get it fixed before the next time we met.

Getting to the actual content of the course, I think we would be better off as a country if more of us really understood these concepts. We hear about issues with other countries like Greece not being able to pay their debts but don't really understand how that affects us. We talk about manufacturing jobs being sent to China, but what does that do other than send some of our jobs there?

As interconnected as the world market is, everything we do affects others. Our stock exchange may close but another one on the other side of the world is opening. Arbitragers are constantly trolling for pennies of difference in exchange rates in different markets in order to run a pile of money through both markets and capitalize on the difference. We want free trade, yet some tariffs help protect jobs in our country in order to ensure we don't lose critical skills and become dependent on others.

Listening to the political debates currently going on, there are expectations that the president or other political leaders have much more control over world events than they actually do. You can't instantly create millions of jobs like Obama claims he can do. Romney's claim that he can stabilize our economy by helping people in other countries start businesses likewise sounds nice, but is a fairly unmeasurable long term plan that depends on a lot of factors to come together.

We listen to statements from everyone running for office, and it's hard to separate what's realistic or not without a firm understanding of the principles that affect international trade. The real improvements in worldwide economies can only come through many sides working together in the long term, following sound economic principles. No one is really interested in that as they focus instead on squeezing a couple cents profit times thousands or millions of dollars or shares of stock traded while markets are synching.

photo by carderel

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Time Zones and Daylight Savings

Years ago, the vice president over the department I worked for had a Blackberry. Based on a strange way about how the Blackberry interfaced with the Exchange server (and how he put in his appointments), when he set up appointments on his phone, they would end up being an hour off sometimes. When he was traveling to the west coast, for example, if he put in appointment for the next week at 10 a.m., that would be 10 Pacific, and when he returned to the office it would show at 11 Mountain, and by the time he realized what happened, he'd missed his meeting.

The part that took longer to figure out was that if he went down into the basement of the building we worked in, his regular signal would get lost, but he would catch some stray roaming signal that was not adjusted for Daylight Savings Time, his phone would change times, he'd enter an appointment, walk back upstairs, and his appointments were wrong. Training him to pay attention to whether his phone had changed times was not an option that he seemed to have the capacity to deal with. I ended up fixing the problem by changing a setting in his phone to not adjust time automatically to the local network time.

Working at a school now where the students and staff are spread out all over the country or further, this is a common issue. I had one coworker who repeatedly set up appointments with me in Outlook two hours off. She would look at my calendar and not realize it was showing her times based on her own time zone. She thought that since it was my calendar, it was my time zone, so she didn't need to adjust for the difference. Finally when I showed her how to specify the time zone, too, they started coming in right.

I had some major confusion with a student in one of my courses. His problem is that he's from Arizona. Arizona doesn't use Daylight Savings Time. Great for them. They have their reasons, largely due to the extreme heat. That's fine, but if you live in Arizona, you become the anomaly and thus the person who I believe needs to pay closer attention to time differences. If I was living in the U.S. and working for a company based in China, it would be my job to keep track of time differences.

So this is how the conversation went.

AZ: I am on Arizona time and do work during the day. I am available after 4:00pm on Wednesday.

Me: I work until 9 on Wednesdays and Thursdays. This Wednesday is pretty full. Would sometime Thursday night work?

AZ: 5:30pm-6:30pm AZ time, that would be 5:30-6:30 your time?

[Thursday morning, before I had a chance to respond to the previous email...]
AZ: Are we set for a call today at 5:30 pm MST?

Me: I am planning on calling tonight. I just want to make sure we’ve got the right time, since you had said 5:30 AZ time, but during the summer we’re off by an hour due to daylight savings up here in Utah, so 5:30 MST, 6:30 MDT.

AZ: 5:30MST / 4:30PST
AZ is currently on PST
So 5:30MST (if I am correct you are on MST) will be 4:30 for me.

The breakdown started when he mistakenly listed 5:30-6:30 for both our time zones, when I think he meant to change one of them. I responded looking for clarification, because I wasn't sure what he meant, since 5:30 in AZ is not the same as 5:30 in UT.

His response to my request for clarification was telling of the general lack of understanding of time zones and daylight savings time. I live in Utah, which is Mountain Time. From Spring to Fall, we are on Mountain Daylight Time. From Fall to Spring, we are on Mountain Standard Time. Since Arizona does not change for DST, it is on Mountain Standard Time all year long. Arizona is never on Pacific Standard Time. Never. During the summer, Pacific Daylight Time springs forward and is the same as Mountain Standard Time, but Pacific Standard Time doesn't change. It's still an hour behind Mountain Standard Time. If I'd have called at 4:30 PST, it would have been an hour later than he expected.

There is some argument to be made that daylight savings should perhaps be changed to be the standard, seeing how we are on DST approximately two-thirds of the year since President Bush kicked out the start and end dates back in 2007. If daylight time becomes the standard, maybe we could still fall back in the winter, but call it Morning Commute Daylight Time. I wouldn't have a problem with keeping it forward all year long, though, so there is a few minutes of daylight after getting off work in the evening, even if that meant the sun wouldn't rise until 9 a.m.

So, Fall and Winter are the standard. In the Spring and Summer (technically starting the last two weeks of Winter, thanks to President Bush), the time changes to DST. That means don't send out invitations to your beach party and tell them you'll start at 4 p.m. EST. Assuming it's a beach party because it's summer and warm enough to have a party on the beach, you'll want to say 4 p.m. EDT, otherwise people who know the difference might show up an hour late (4 EST = 5 EDT). Of course, those who know the difference also know that nobody else knows the difference and always says it wrong.

The trick if you know anyone south of the equator is that their seasons are opposite us northerners, but they still spring forward and fall back. I learned this when in Paraguay. Calling home on Christmas morning, I asked someone what the time difference was. They had remembered that before the time changed, it was a two hour difference between Utah and Paraguay. The only problem was that when Utah fell back an hour, Paraguay sprung forward an hour, and the two hour difference in the summer became a four hour difference in the winter and a 5 a.m. wake-up call for my family. Oops. And it was my fault, because it was my responsibility to know the difference as the one in another country.