Tagged: time

When Google Calendar’s Appointment Slots Displays the Wrong Timezone

I’ve been a reluctant user of G Suite for Education—or Google Apps for Education, as it used to be known—for a few years. There have been a few headaches teaching classes with Google over the years, but because I so despise full-service learning management systems, such as Moodle and Blackboard, I’ve integrated G Suite and Google Classroom with my own vanilla HTML website to manage my courses.

About a year ago, I learned that Google Calendar supports self-scheduling appointment slots. It basically works like this:

  1. I create blocks of time in my Google Calendar where I’m available to meet with my students, either in person or through Google Hangouts. For regularly scheduled office hours, I make those slots a repeating event.
  2. I share the appointment slots event page link with my students, both on the course syllabus and on my own website.
  3. Students book an appointment through the link, after signing in with a valid Google account.
  4. I get notified of the appointment date and time, and I see who booked the appointment. Because I configured the appointment slots to alert me in advance of the appointment, I get an alarm at five and ten minutes before the appointment starts.

Yesterday, I learned about a bug in the system. Some students see the wrong appointment time. In one instance, Google Calendar showed a student the available appointment slots in UTC, not New York time. She booked an appointment for 3:00 PM on the appointment slots event page, but inadvertently scheduled it for UTC time. When she showed up for our appointment at 3:00 PM New York time, she had missed it. My calendar app saw that the appointment was made for 3:00 PM UTC and correctly displayed and notified me that it was at 10:00 AM Eastern Time.

Reading through the Google Calendar support forums, it seems to happen to a lot of other users. The conventional wisdom about this problem is that I have my Google Calendar set to GMT-5 (America/New York) while my student may have her Google Calendar set to UTC. However, many people insist that the college, university, or organization sets everyone’s calendar to their local time ( GMT-5 in my case). However, my students will often use their personal Gmail accounts instead of their university issued G Suite for Education account. There’s no guarantee that their calendar is set to their own local time. It might be set to UTC. My intuition says this is what likely causes the timezone display bug and why it’s not consistent.

Good news, though! I did find a workaround that worked for me. I had to override the timezone Google Calendar displays by appending my own timezone to the appointment slot URL. Here’s how I did that:

  1. I created appointment slots in Google Calendar as I normally would.
  2. I copied the appointment page URL that Google Calendar provides to share with my constituents. It should look something like this:
    https://calendar.google.com/calendar/selfsched?sstoken=2AHtwhQ0cknZcpXB1vwH (except perhaps a bit longer).
  3. I pasted that URL to where I could share it with my students.
  4. I added the following text: &ctz= and my timezone. In my case, it’s America/New_York. You can find out your own timezone, organized by country, by browsing this list. Be sure you include the underscore if your location includes a compound name.

This will force the appointment slots event page to display in the timezone you indicated. If you and your students are in the same time zone, then both of you should be scheduling appointment as you would without anyone seeing a timezone in UTC time.

I do however foresee one potential limitation for my workaround: online classes where teachers and students might be scattered across different time zones. In those cases, I might want to indicate that the appointment will be in the timezone of our home institution, regardless of whether the student or I is actually in that particular timezone.

Life Moves Pretty Fast Around Here

If you’ve visited New York or moved here from somewhere else, like I did many years ago, it might seem like things move fast. Indeed, the pace of a big city can seem blinding compared to a small town or country village. When I first moved here, time seemed to pass a lot quicker in New York than it did, where I lived before, in sleepy Santa Barbara, California.

While the frenzy of city life might have something to do with that, I’ve always wondered whether there was an astrological or geological reason that time “felt” faster here, even on days I didn’t leave my apartment. Could it be that being farther north, at a higher latitude, made time pass more quickly?

Seth Kadish, an Oregon-based geologist, has made a simple formula for determining how fast you are rotating around the earth’s axis.

cos (latitude) × 1040 = tangential speed in mph

At the poles, you are basically standing in place, not really rotating at all. But at the equator, Kadish determined, you are whipping around the earth at 1,040 miles per hour, hence why the above formula uses a constant of 1040 mph.

Seth Kadishs Tangential Speed of Earths Surface Due to Rotational Motion

Is this why time seemed to move faster in New York than it did in Santa Barbara?

Location Latitude Rotational Speed Time to rotate 6,000 miles
Santa Barbara 34.417° 857.95 mph 6h 59m 31s
New York 40.783° 787.47 mph 7h 37m 8s

Time may have seemed faster because I experienced time, not as a velocity, but as a distance. For example, in Santa Barbara, it would take me just under seven hours to “travel” 6,000 miles around the earth’s axis. If I woke up at 9:00 AM, it would be about 4:00 PM when I “travelled” that distance at 34° N latitude. In New York, however, traveling that same distance would take more time. Assuming the same 9:00 AM wake-up time, it would be 4:37 PM, closer to 5:00 PM, by the time I travelled that same distance at 40° N latitude. In other words, it would feel like I“lost” 37 minutes. No wonder I’m often late.

To experience time differently due to latitude, you probably need to travel pretty far. That would require traveling by airplane. But then jet lag, traveling across time zones, could disrupt your sense of time anyway. Traveling for a few days, such as leisure or business trip, is also quite disruptive to how you experience time because you’re on a different schedule, often more hectic, than what you’re accustomed. To really get this effect, you probably need to be settled in one place having just left some other place. That probably only happens when you’re relocated across a “tall” country like the US, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, India, or China or between countries at different latitudes, such as UK to India.

Until I saw Kadish’s post, this was all speculation. I didn’t have to scientific tools to approach this problem. But his using basic trigonometry, tools I haven’t used in a long time, compelled to outline my theory here.