Changing Device Timezones

I spend months at a time in different timezones. However, I often won’t change my clocks. Sometimes someone will see my computer clock is wrong and point it out as if I don’t know how easy it is to change. The problem is it totally messes up my calendar.

I view my calendar on my Android phones, tablet, and laptop. My phones change their clock on their own. I also have cameras and a wrist watch with clocks– but those I always change since there is no calendar issue.

I use Google Calendar, here is how they handle timezones:

The meat and potatoes of that link:
“Whenever you create an event, Calendar converts it from your time zone to UTC time, using currently known conversion rules. By using one universal time for all events, Calendar can keep all of your guests’ calendars consistent regardless of which time zones they’re in. When we display the event on your calendar, it is converted from UTC to appear in your own time zone.

If you have a recurring meeting that spans across different time zones, then its time always remains constant for the organizer, and will shift for guests whenever their time difference with the organizer changes. That’s why if you’re in London and attending a weekly meeting that was created by your New York colleagues at 10am NY time, it will always be at 10am for NY, almost always at 3pm for you, but at 2pm during that particular week in early November.” [“particular week”, reference to US and GB change their clocks for Daylight Savings Time on different dates]

Indeed, Google is trying to solve a complex problem here. That’s cool for the people who work at Google, who use Google Calendar a bit different from people like me. Personally, I don’t have many recurring international meetings. Actually, pretty much all my events are just for myself. But hey, that’s me.

Here is the type of use case I run into. I have a Nexus 7 tablet. This device currently is what plays my morning alarm, because unlike my phone which can get forgotten in a purse on the other side of the room, he lives by my bed so I can read him in the morning. I actually was getting a bit annoyed looking at the time three hours off (I just came from NJ to San Francisco) so I changed his clock from EST to PST. The next morning, I woke up before my alarm and was reading news in bed waiting for my alarm to go off before I got up to get breakfast. I wanted to dismiss it and not wake anyone else up. It never went off, but I had forgotten about changing the clock the day before so just wrote it off and moved on with my day. About three hours later I started hearing chimes. My tablet had changed the time of my alarm from 8:30 to 11:30 (or rather to 8:30 EST, 11:30 PST the same UTC time). Does this seem like it should be the default behavior? Do most people set alarms to notify themselves of some world-wide event (perhaps an space-shuttle launch), so they would need that time to adjust to their local time? Or are most people just looking to wake up around the same time every morning?

Those are alarms, it behaves the same for calendar events. So, if while in Italy, I make a doctors appointment for 3 PM on a Wednesday for when I’m going to be in NJ, I can put it in my calendar while still in Italy and my computer clock is set to Italian time. Then when I come to NJ and change my clock, that 3 PM appointment will jump to 9 AM on my calendar. Confusing, no?

I could have put the event in at 9PM when I was in Italy, as 9PM in Italy is 3PM in NJ, my target time for this event. The problem with this work around is I have to look at it on my calendar with that weird time up until I change the computer clock. That is really confusing for scheduling other events around it.

Fear of this behavior (and that I will not see something scrolled down on my smaller laptop screen) encourages me to put important events in my Calendar as all day events, with the time in the details. But unless this has been fixed since I last saw it, and this behavior I definitely consider a bug, an all day event I create in one time zone will actually change to a 3 AM to 3 AM (for example) event when I change timezones. If an event is July 8th all day, then it is July 8th all day in any timezone, IMHO.

I wish there was a way to opt-out of the time-zone syncing behavior, for my whole calendar, or for non-shared events, or for anything. As far as I can see, it’s not an option. Until then, I just keep everything on EST.

UPDATE 10/24/12
The very smart Marc D responded to this post with

Marc Dougherty ‏@muncus
@kait3210 not sure if it is any better, but “use home time zone” in calendar settings that will always show the same time zone. Maybe?

It took me several days to figure what on earth he was talking about because I manage my Calendar 90% from my laptop and use my devices (phone, tablet) to make sure I’m not forgetting anything. I’m not normally playing with Calendar settings on these Android devices. I use Android because it syncs so easily with my calendar and I don’t have to work to make it work– like setting up Exchange in my iPhone days.

But sure enough, In an ANDROID Calendar, you can go to the three-dot-menu-button, Settings, General settings. Once there, I found a little check box to “Use home time zone” as well as one right below it to set your “Home time zone”. As soon as I did this on my Nexus 7, all my appointments (remember, I changed this device to PST) jumped back to the correct time. Awesome solution.

This is an Android feature, the web version has no such check box. However, looking closer, I can set my Calendar timezone independently from my laptop time zone. It is in gear-shaped-button, Settings, General-tab, “Your current time zone” setting. Here I can set it to always be EST, or even add both EST and PST and both times display in two columns, but no non-US timezones. I can’t believe I missed this feature! I only had to dismiss Google asking me if I wanted it to change my Calendar timezone when I changed my laptop timezone just now– which I’ve never seen before, so maybe this is a newer feature.

It’s nice to have my laptop clock on the right time. Just in time for me to blow out of town in another week.