Are you sure you're when & where you think you are?

In the early days of computers they didn't know their time or their location.

Without getting too technical, they did have a clock and they could kind-of keep track of time.

Computer "clocks" were really the Central Processing Unit (CPU) just doing its thing. Proper timekeeping was not the goal.

You probably remember at how bad they were at keeping time.

I know my early computers constantly drifted further away from the actual time than even my cheapest watch.

As computers started interacting with the outside world more and more, so they, like humans, needed a way to stay in sync' with each other.

Due to limited capacities our mechanisms for storing the date and time were very frugal. I am sure you remember, or have heard of, the Y2K bug?!

Y2K was all about the problem caused by storing the year as a 2 digit instead of 4 digit number i.e. 76 as opposed to 1976.

Fast forwarding to today our computers are more connected and dependent on accurate date, time and location than ever before.

And when I say computers I am including almost every bit of technology you have in your house and about your person. From PCs to fitness trackers to TVs to smart phones...all of them need to accurately know where they are to do even their basic job properly.

Fortunately with the advent of the Internet and the Global Positioning System (GPS) this is pretty easy.

Computers and related technology need to know the date, time and location for many reasons. A couple of quick and simple reasons include:

  • Delivering the right content to you on the internet

  • Making sure your computer is up to date (and therefore sending you the correct subset of updates)

  • Keeping you secure i.e. should someone from the other side of the world really have access to your Australian stuff?

  • Knowing what language you speak (at least making a good guess at it)

  • Managing appointments, calendars etc.

  • Helping people find your business

  • Keeping your clock and calendar exactly right

  • Properly targeted advertising - both by you and to you. There's no point in your Facebook and Google ad's showing up on the other side of the planet (unless you want them to).

  • and much, much more besides.

When setting up a new computer we are still asked to tell it our location.

If you lie about this then your chosen time zone will be incorrect and you may experience weird problems with all of the example actions listed above (and more).

Another thing we are asked when setting up our new PCs is what language and/or keyboard we use.

For us Australians we can be sorely tempted to chose UK English and keyboards over American/US ones.

We tend to associate oursleves with the UK more than the USA i.e. we speak proper English, not American English.

However, the keyboards we get on computers in Australia are US format. You won't find any "£" or "€" on our keyboards and many other familiar keys are in unfamiliar locations.

You'll struggle to use your computer if your keyboard is set to the wrong type.

You may wonder why it is possible to set the wrong keyboard, especially in the times of COVID 19 and restricted travel, but there are many international travellers and relocated people who bring their home computer to a new country i.e. it needs to know the new time zone but it still has the original "foreign" keyboard attached.

When we connect our new computer to the Internet it will normally and automatically check the date and time based on your previos choices.

If you've lied or made a mistake then your computer will automatically set and keep the wrong time for you.

Your computer talks to a thing called a "time server" and adjusts your computers data and time automatically.

However, I have seen glitches with this where it says it is doing this, but your date and time are still wrong. Usually just turning this option off and then back on again (yes, really) will fix that.

With Google Earth and other global mapping and location services, it is pretty easy to locate yourself accurately and tell your computer that information.

One of the more interesting and unambiguous ways of locating yourself is using a tool called "What 3 Words".

It uses 3 unique words to identify every location on Earth down to 3m square.

So where there may be about a million "Main streets" in the world, there is only one

Three unique words can combine to unique identify every place on the planet.

But I digress, it is still possible to experience errors with your location that aren't your computer's fault.

I recently had a customer using Facebook for their business.

Their business hours were correct, their address was correct but when you went to their page during "business hours" it was shown as CLOSED.

I immediately suspected a location issue even though the address shown in Facebook appeared to be correct.

When I clicked on the link that took me to a Google Earth location, it landed smack bang in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

There was no apparent reason for this, but deleting the invalid entry and adding the correct one was enough to sort out the business hours issue...and point customers to the store instead of drowning.

The lesson here is that the very things we take for granted, when and where we are, can still be wrong and cause us weird problems.

It may not be Y2K in scale, but it can certainly be very confusing.

Have fun.


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