back to article Developers' timezone fail woke half of New Zealand

A time-zone mixup has resulted in about half of all New Zealanders being woken by civil defence and emergency management authorities sending a test text message overnight. The victims were all subscribers to Vodafone, which has roughly 2.4 million mobile customers. New Zealand's population is just under 4.7 million. Kiwis who …

  1. veti Silver badge

    *Would have been* valuable to residents

    Unfortunately, approximately half of them have now turned the feature off on their phones.

    The other half have older phones and don't get these notifications anyway.

    False alarms cost lives. Just don't do it.


      Re: *Would have been* valuable to residents

      do operators know if the phone is capable or not ?

      1. WayneH-nz

        Re: *Would have been* valuable to residents

        it's just an app. if the phone has the app, it goes off. No operator needed

        1. Dan 55 Silver badge

          Re: *Would have been* valuable to residents

          What's wrong with cell broadcast? Why reinvent the wheel when there's something that already works, can be targeted to the areas that need it, and has practically no cost to battery life.

          Bah, humbug.

        2. Neil Alexander

          Re: *Would have been* valuable to residents

          No, it isn't an app, it's a cell feature.

        3. mcourtney

          Re: *Would have been* valuable to residents

          It's not an app.

          It uses the government alerts feature built in to iOS (and, presumably, the Android equivalent).

    2. katrinab Silver badge

      Re: *Would have been* valuable to residents

      The other half use someone other than Vodafone for their phone service - Spark and 2degrees are the other two big networks in New Zealand.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Cluebat Time

    Somebody deserves a cluebatting over that. It's not like European residents are unfamiliar with the idea of timezones.

    Still - silly mistakes aside - it's worth getting this system right as I recall a great deal of contradictory information flying around various forms of media the last time we had a decent shake in Wellington

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    On shaky ground

    Other people have their own time?

    Who knew?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: On shaky ground

      Actually, their time is the same. But it seems every person has their own personal up and down. It's a radial thing.

  4. GrapeBunch Silver badge

    Aukward moment

    Let me dissent. The NZ authorities did not say that the timing of the test message was a mistake. The time zones excuse was hearsay. Developers in any country could not be that stupid to wake people in the middle of the night. If you can program in BASIC, you can know what time it is. The multi-million claxon was either intentional, or it was the convergence of bad planning and an accident, such as the classic "cat walked across my keyboard".

    1. WayneH-nz

      Re: Aukward moment

      "Let me dissent. The NZ authorities did not say that the timing of the test message was a mistake. The time zones excuse was hearsay."

      Director of the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management Sarah Stuart-Black told Newstalk ZB the test text messages were sent to the public "in error" for which she apologised.

      "A set of three text messages were sent to the public in error when they were supposed to be restricted to a contained testing environment and the result has been that many New Zealanders were woken from their sleep at 1.30am and would have received up to three messages.

      "It is completely unacceptable and I take full responsibility and certainly apologise to every person that was woken by the messages."

      1. DropBear Silver badge

        Re: Aukward moment

        So he's basically right then. The mistake was not the time zone - irrelevant for a contained test - but "having the mike open" while testing...

    2. Adam 1 Silver badge

      Re: Aukward moment

      Sorry, but anyone who thinks timezones are simple doesn't know what they are talking about. Did you know that not all timezones are on the hour. Oh hi Adelaide. In fact not all are even on the half hour (hi Kathmandu). Not all timezones are between -12 and +12 (hi Kiribati with your cheeky +14). Then you have daylight savings transitions on top. Congratulations to our Brazilian contingent for not having midnight on Sunday week. Yes folks, it goes straight from 23:59.9999 to 01:00 and causing problems for any software that gets the current date by truncating the current local time.

      Why attribute malice where incompetence is far more likely. In many languages, the datetime class has a property to indicate whether it is UTC or local. Most of the time (ha!) it won't make a difference but if you send that via any form of serialisation framework it will get auto converted to UTC and back at the other end. If it thinks the time is already UTC, but the recipient is expecting to convert back to local then in the case of NZ you are going to add 12 hours (or subtract if the same problem in reverse). Either way, lunchtime becomes middle of the night.

      Now that's off my chest, I'm going to go and open a new medical practice, providing psychological services to those poor souls who have the misfortune of working with timezones.

      1. imanidiot Silver badge

        Re: Aukward moment

        For those who have no idea just what is involved this video from Computerphile will begin to give a clue, and it's by no means exhaustive in explaining all issues.

      2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        Re: Aukward moment

        Adam 1,

        An excellent post. But you didn't answer the question I think we all want to know. What time is it, when an elephant sits on your fence?

        1. Adam 1 Silver badge

          Re: Aukward moment

          African or European?

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Aukward moment

          "What time is it, when an elephant sits on your fence?"

          Time to get a new fence.

    3. handleoclast

      Re: Aukward moment

      I agree that the "time zone" thing was almost certainly an excuse to cover up the real cause.

      Cat on the keyboard is a possibility but not, I think, a strong one.

      Far more likely is setting it to go out at 2am instead of 2pm.

      1. Pedigree-Pete

        Re: Aukward moment

        That's why any device I come into contact with is immediately set to 24hr time.12r is just begging for those kinds of errors. Currently 15:32z. PP

        1. Bronek Kozicki Silver badge

          Re: Aukward moment

          FWIW, Howard Hinnant wrote nice C++ library for parsing timezone database files. It also handles conversion to/from GPS and TAI clock . The size of the thing is good indication that this is not simple at all, for those interested link (it is modern C++ and integrates with std::chrono , do not blame me if you have not been following standardization ...)

  5. Sonny Jim

    Wake In Fright?

    I thought that was an Aussie and film and had nothing to do with New Zealand?

  6. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    "tectonically tenuous"

    Just wanted to see that again.

    1. Muscleguy Silver badge

      Re: "tectonically tenuous"

      New Zealand being the only above sea part of the continent of Zealandia owes its very existence to being tectonically tenuous.

      It is what makes us more resilient than Australia, which sits smack in the middle of its continent and is not only not tectonically active it is eroding into the sea. Though occasionally a big dust storm will drop dust on New Zealand helping to keep Aotearoa above the waves.

      BTW the phrase in NZ is the Shaky Isles.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "tectonically tenuous"

        > New Zealand being the only above sea part of the continent of Zealandia owes its very existence to being tectonically tenuous.

        Strictly speaking Zealandia also encompasses New Caledonia, Norflok Island and the Lord Howe Island group

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "tectonically tenuous"

      I just want to know WTF it means.

  7. SteveCarr

    Only the rubes on Voda got this

    Us sensible folks on other providers slept the sleep of the righteous!

    I do wonder if it would have overridden my "do not disturb" setting, come to that. I like my sleep, very much, so beeping, farting and otherwise annoying things are disabled from 10 pm to 7 am (that's New Zealand Daylight time, BTW, none of your silly GMT or UTC).

    Shouty, because that's what Voda did - to OTHER people!

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: Only the rubes on Voda got this

      Surely you want an emergency warning message to override your do not disturb settings.

      Unless it's a false alarm of course, in which case you want your intelligent doughnut disturber to let you slumber in peace.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    At least you resisted the temptation to add "orc armies" to the list of perils in NZ

  9. Wayneh_nz

    "The nation is famously tectonically tenuous"

    Big countries get their own version of monopoly, we get our own version of Jenga.

    The biggest city in New Zealand sits on >40 extinct volcanoes. What could possibly go wrong.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "The biggest city in New Zealand sits on >40 extinct volcanoes. "

    If they are really extinct then they are no problem - otherwise cities like Edinburgh and Pretoria would get worried about each sitting in an extinct caldera.

    1. DropBear Silver badge

      "If they are really extinct then they are no problem"

      Isn't there an "extinct unless proven active" thing for volcanoes...?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Extinct vs. Dormant

        "Isn't there an "extinct unless proven active" thing for volcanoes...?"

        It's the other way around. Many volcanoes were thought to be extinct until we finally got our heads around the time scales involved and realised that they were just dormant. For example, the average interval between major eruptions of Yellowstone is ~600,000 years, so the last major eruption occurred about 350,000 years before the appearance of modern humans on Earth. Moving down the scale somewhat, it wasn't really until the 1914-17 eruptions of Lassen Peak in the Cascades that it was realised that all the Cascade volcanoes were merely dormant and not extinct.

        Essentially, the only volcanoes that are definitely extinct are those that no longer have a magma supply due to tectonic drift, which carries the volcanic edifice away from its magma source. These include ancient hot-spot/magma-plume volcanoes, such as those north of Hawaii, along the Hawaiian–Emperor seamount chain, and the Deccan and Siberian Traps. Sea floor spreading, from mid-ocean rifts, also moves volcanoes away from their magma source and include those along the eastern and western boundaries of the Atlantic, such as Glen Coe and the Cuillens in Scotland.

    2. Wayneh_nz

      sitting in an extinct caldera.

      We had one of those too. Lake taupo dropped enough stuff to cover the whole of England 200m deep about 26,000 years ago. In auckland our last big pop was only about 600 years ago, and we are overdue for another one.

  11. Warm Braw Silver badge

    The nation's civil defence agency Tweeted its “sorry”:

    They should have waited an hour and sent another text...

  12. DougS Silver badge

    This kind of crap is why I turned off all alerts in my phone

    Amber alerts (looking for lost kids) were a nice idea but now they're so overused they're a false alarm 99% of the time, at least around here. Severe weather alerts are issued with any thunderstorm that will have hail or winds over 50 mph, which means they happen all the damn time in the summer making them useless as well even though it might be nice to get one if a tornado was bearing down.

    AFAIK the government has never issued a national emergency alert, so hopefully those are reserved for when it really counts (and I'm not sure if that's something the settings in an iPhone can disable) Fortunately Trump is probably unaware he has the ability to do that, otherwise he'd probably send one instead of a tweet some night because he figures if he can't sleep why should anyone else.

    Now if only I could disable the stupid alerts on my TV, but Tivo's software doesn't allow you to...

    1. Jtom

      Re: This kind of crap is why I turned off all alerts in my phone

      It's amazing how many people suffer from Trump derangement syndrome. There is no topic that does not remind them of him, somehow.

  13. imanidiot Silver badge

    Stuff like this

    Shananigans like this is exactly the reason I hate the current plan of the Netherlands to discontinue the alert siren network and go with cell broadcast messages for emergencies. The problem is I sleep straight through alerts like this at night, and in the daytime while busy with stuff it's really easy to miss and alert if one is issued. (Happens for stuff like fires with asbestos or dangerous chemicals released for instance, advising people to stay indoors with windows closed if at all possible). There is currently a perfectly serviceable (air raid) siren network running. Yes it's more expensive, and requires testing once a month, but it works, alerts EVERYBODY in an area without fail as it's very hard to miss and is much less prone to failure because of a simple config cockup on either the network, the phone or the emergency centre sending the alert (cockups like sending an alert message to cells on the other side of the country for instance have already happened).

  14. Valerion

    I know how they feel

    In the early hours of this morning the power went out in my house (ok, more accurately it came back on - I've no idea if it was out for 2 seconds or 4 hours).

    Because the Amazon Echo that sits on my bedside table restarts quicker than the cable modem and router it kindly yelled "SORRY I'M HAVING TROUBLE CONNECTING TO THE INTERNET AT THE MOMENT" into my right ear'ole at a very loud volume at 4am.

    Of course it wasn't alone. It yelled it simultaneously in the kitchen, the dining room, the living room and my son's bedroom (I seem to have accumulated quite a few Echos). A lovely morning chorus to be woken to.

    To add insult to injury when the internet had come back online a few minutes later - as I was drifting off to sleep again - they all shouted "Hello".

  15. JJKing Silver badge
    IT Angle

    Off topic medication induced post.

    I just want to know WTF it means.

    Since the test was accidental, I imagine it was the PFY thinking What's That For?

    Lake Taupo dropped enough stuff to cover the whole of England 200m deep about 26,000 years ago.

    Oh Geez Wayne, that lake is filled with water so 200 feet deep over England should have drowned the buggers.

    Here's Sharleen, the only girl who thinks Mt Albert is a command.

    And my favourite, "What are those big glass jars that beer comes in?" Half Geez Wayne!

    Apologies to Wayneh_nz . Wasn't having a go but your name reminded me of McPhail & Gadsby and I'm in a happy place right now, so it was Geez Wayne time. RIP Wayne.

  16. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

    Re: time zones

    Do NOT feed developers after midnight.

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