Clocks, Ballots, and A Big Test

(Updated Friday, Nov. 4)

We have an interesting week ahead.  Really.  Three major events in one week.  And the odds are, you probably know about two and plan to do something about one.

Sunday, 2:00 AM – Fall Back
Yes, it’s time to set the clocks back to Standard Time.  That means you get to party an extra hour Saturday night – and, if you are steadfast enough, you’ll get to see 2:00 AM twice. Legally.

But did you know that time zones aren’t nearly as neat and orderly as one might like?

You probably know about the Newfies.  No, not “roofies”, get your mind out of that party on Saturday night.  The Newfies – Newfoundlanders – have North America’s oddest time zone.  They are 30 minutes off-kilter from any other time zone, for reasons that would bore you.  This isn’t the main reason Canadians make all their jokes about Newfies, but it helps.

There’s more about oddball time zones (including the one that a dictator may have changed because he doesn’t like the USA, and Australia’s 45-minute offset time zone, for 200 people) at this link.

For me, it probably means an early day at the radio station, as we’ve never had good luck with all of our equipment synching to the time change, and I get to go in and be smarter than the computers again…

Tuesday, 6:00 AM to 7:00 PM – Vote (or be like most people, and don’t, it’s up to you)
The off-year elections are coming up on Tuesday.  The year before Presidential elections, however, bring major elections to Virginia.  We get to elect our entire General Assembly (House of Delegates and Senate), plus there are varied local elections.  The counties get to elect Boards of Supervisors, School Boards, Sheriffs, and Commonwealth’s Attorneys.

Sounds good, right?  Now the bad news.  Most of those elections are uncontested.  You get as much choice as your average Soviet voter did in the 1960’s.

In my district, for example… the House of Delegates seat is technically contested, but it’s a popular Democratic disbarred lawyer (who’s spent time in jail for contempt of court) against an underfunded independent.  The Senate seat is truly uncontested, as a popular Democratic ambulance chaser (who heavily advertises his law firm during election campaigns, even though he’s unopposed) is anointed for a second term.  My School Board and Supervisor elections?  Uncontested, as are 4 of the 5 elections for each Board.  We do have a three-way Commonwealth’s Attorney race – because the previously-unopposed favorite, Republican Matt Geary, got caught sharing his expertise (ahem) with a woman other than the one he was married to.  The Republicans, horrified (ahem) that their candidate – who announced in 2009 in hopes of heading off competition – did something so immoral (getting caught, I mean, not the act itself), have sponsored an (unqualified) local defense attorney in his independent run.  The Democrats smelled blood and actually took the unique approach of nominating a qualified candidate, Shannon Taylor, who probably has no chance in this heavily-Republican county.

I’m still going to vote.  Over the years, it’s become less clear that voting makes a difference… but I’ve been doing it every election for 30 years, so I don’t mind investing the few minutes to go to the high school a couple of blocks from my apartment to vote again this year.

Wednesday, 2:00 PM – THE SKY IS FALLING – er – the National EAS Test
Oh, man, has this caused angst – mostly among the tinfoil-hat crowd, who believe this is somehow the means via which the Obama Administration is going to take over the world, or some other crap like that.

The real angst is among radio and TV people, and government officials, who aren’t sure this test is going to work.

Did you know that, for all of the time we’ve had “THIS IS A TEST” announcements with that (intentionally) incredibly-irritating screech/tone, there has never been a full national test of either the old Emergency Broadcast System or the newer Emergency Alert System?  We have a system that is designed to alert everyone in the country in the event of a massive disaster – and we have no idea if it’ll work on that scale.  Well, that’s the reason for Wednesday’s national test.  This is a test that is years, if not decades, overdue.  I’m surprised this test didn’t happen 10 years ago, in the wake of the events of 9/11/01 (and if it had, the same people yelling about it now would have congratulated the Bush Administration for doing it then, so that’s why I’m ignoring their yelping).

What’s supposed to happen, you say?  At 2:00 PM Eastern, the White House is going to issue the national test notification.  That notification will run for 3 minutes and will go to National Primary stations around the country.  One of those is WRXL-FM (“102.1 the X”) in Richmond.  They will air the notification within a few minutes.  Once they air it, every EAS station in the Richmond area should pick it up – off-the-air (either from WRXL, or its sister stations, WRVQ/94.5, WRVA/1140, and WRNL/910) – and re-air it.  That will not necessarily happen at 2:00:00 PM.  Depending on the EAS equipment in use, the notification may not fire until at least 2:03 PM (as the original message is supposed to be a 3-minute test loop stating “THIS IS A TEST”).  At the least, the notification won’t air until at least part of the message buffers.  So there’ll be a slow cascade of EAS alerts between 2:00:00 PM and about 2:10:00 PM.  You’ll hear it on the radio, see it on TV, and also see it on your cable system as most cable providers also air EAS alerts.  Outside Richmond, there’ll be an extra level or two of delay, as the test has to go from Richmond to its immediate neighboring regions, who then feed it to the next set of neighbors.  Those areas far afield from Richmond may hear the test much later in the hour.  I suspect that time range is part of what is being tested.

Update: The test has been shortened to 60 seconds.  That should ensure that the entire test sequence concludes within a few minutes of 2:00 PM on Wednesday.

So the bottom line is this – when you hear or see the NATIONAL EAS TEST notification on Wednesday afternoon, it is not the End of the World.  It is, indeed, only a test.  There will be future tests.  Let’s just hope that the only national activations are tests.  I don’t want to know what could cause a real activation…

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Author: Rob Hoffmann

Occasional blogger, full-time computer techie, radio producer (basketball, mostly), improv tech guy, generally nice person (if you ask me).

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