Wikipedia talk:Manual of Style (dates and numbers)/Archive 62

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two nine-page letters or two 9-page letters?

Can we add an exception to the spell-out-all-numbers-under-10 rule for hyphenated adjectives with numbers? In other words, include something like this on the project page:

For hyphenated adjectives with numbers, like 2-year contract, 5-story building, use numerals instead of words.

Someone just reverted my change to "7-vowel system" back to "seven vowel system", and they're right according to this page, but they're wrong according to the Technical Editing course I took. --Dblomgren 16:55, 20 December 2006 (UTC)

I would always write "two-year" or "five-story" (well, I'd write "five-storey", but that's a different question). Stephen Turner (Talk) 17:16, 20 December 2006 (UTC)
Could you please also give an opinion on "3-volume", appearing in the Principia Mathematica article? —Gennaro Prota•Talk 22:00, 20 December 2006 (UTC)
Again, I'd consider "three-volume" to be good style, although it seems Dblomgren would disagree. Anyone else? Stephen Turner (Talk) 22:40, 20 December 2006 (UTC)
Stephen's right, so "seven-vowel system" is the widely accepted way. "Two 9-page letters" is a recommended exception in several major style manuals, but there's no universal rule: it makes sense as an exception. The other exception is for units. And I wonder whether the MoS makes the SI distinction between "3 mm" radius and "3-millimetre" radius? That's a widely accepted distinction in hyphen use between abbreviated and spelt out units, where they're part of a double or triple adjectival form. Tony 06:11, 21 December 2006 (UTC)
Yeah, I'd agree with Stephen on that. Neonumbers 08:35, 21 December 2006 (UTC)
I'm a little confused now. Why is ""two 9-page letters" a recommended exception? Because it employs two consecutive numeral adjectives (two and nine)? So one would say, for instance, "three 7-vowel systems"? Thanks, Gennaro Prota•Talk 09:29, 21 December 2006 (UTC)
"five-story", etc. is good style, and the only problem with things like "two nine-page letters" is if you do "2 9-page letters" —Centrxtalk • 08:42, 21 December 2006 (UTC)
Personally, I'd write "two nine-page letters", because in my mind, the hyphen is sufficient to resolve any confusion there. As Tony says, there's no universal rule on that — I guess it could be considered a pedanticism? (excuse the coinage) Probably the two number-words in a row, yeah, though personally I don't quite get it either. Neonumbers 10:18, 21 December 2006 (UTC)
Sure, this is fine too; there are cases where it's not, though: "three three-millimetre bullets" might better as "three 3-millimetre bullets". Up to you. Tony 12:00, 21 December 2006 (UTC)
I see... maybe (just maybe) I could buy that one... :-) interesting, these things are. Neonumbers 04:14, 22 December 2006 (UTC)

I happened to find an example in the literature of this very juxtaposition using words, not numerals; from the OED: 1711 London Gaz. No. 4906/2, I had two Nine pound Shots through my Fore~mast. —Centrxtalk • 10:25, 21 December 2006 (UTC)

It's understandable where Tony is coming from, his last example is one of the same number twice in a row, which might encourage some people to think of it as a typo, when it's not. --Stratadrake 13:52, 21 December 2006 (UTC)
"Two letters, each nine pages long". "Two 9-page letters" is to grammar as a rubber patch is to a bicycle tyre. -Ashley Pomeroy 02:03, 13 January 2007 (UTC)

Usage of m as an abbreviation

I think that the usage of m as an abbreviation should be discouraged, except when it is clear that meters are being talked about or if it is necessary due to space constraints in a table. The reason for this is that m can stand for meters or miles and it is not always clear which is being talked about. For example, an island could easily be 100 meters or 100 miles off the coast. You might say that we can use mi for miles, but that is irrelevant because visitors would not know that and even editors would not know whether the writer of the text is aware of the convention or not. -- Kjkolb 23:55, 20 December 2006 (UTC)

No, "mi" stands for miles. Since 96% of the world uses metres, I'm unwilling to dispense with a widely understood and convenient abbreviation. —The preceding unsigned comment was added by Tony1 (talkcontribs).
"m" pretty much universally stands for "metres". I don't think it's ambiguous. Neonumbers 08:39, 21 December 2006 (UTC)
You can always link it the first time it occurs if you consider it necessary: 15 m. Using m for miles is a bad idea though, in my opinion, because most of the world uses m for metres. Stephen Turner (Talk) 08:41, 21 December 2006 (UTC)
First, "m" is a common abbreviation for miles in the United States. I love the metric system and I wish that English/Imperial units could be dispensed with. Unfortunately, the vast majority of people in the United States have virtually no comprehension of the metric system (note: I have lived in the U.S. all of my life and I have an extensive and broad scientific education). The only significant exposure that most young people have to the metric system is in physical science classes, like chemistry (many biology classes below the university level do not deal with a lot of measurement or calculations, even though metric units are nominally used). If he or she does not go to college, a typical young person may have had a couple of science classes that used the metric system and that is it. This is not a good enough exposure to have an good understanding of the metric system, and what little knowledge they do have will soon be forgotten because they never use it again. Worse, older people never even used the metric system in school at all.
Second, as I tried to explain in my original post, using "mi" does not solve the problem. Visitors from the United States who know nothing of Wikipedia policy will not know of a convention to use "m" for meter and "mi" for mile, so there will be a problem when they come across an article that uses the abbreviation "m" in it. I sincerely believe that the vast majority of people from the U.S. will not only believe that "m" stands for "miles" in my example above, but that most of them will not even think of the possibility that it could be "meters" (some may not know that "m" is an abbreviation for meters and/or be unaware of what a meter is).
Third, as I stated in my original post, I am not suggesting that the abbreviation be abandoned, just that when the possibility for misunderstanding exists, it should be stated explicitly what units are being used. -- Kjkolb 16:44, 25 December 2006 (UTC)
I agree with Kjkolb. It's illogical to assume that whatever makes sense to most people in one country must make sense to people in other countries, and it's selfish and unreasonable to disregard evidence to the contrary. Furthermore, while Americans are a minority overall, we also constitute a majority of native English readers.
It's perfectly easy to type "metres" or "meters," which in no way makes the articles less understandable for anyone. In my opinion, this also is vastly preferable from a stylistic standpoint. —David Levy 18:28, 25 December 2006 (UTC)
Admittedly, I'm not American. The current guideline (or my intepretation of it) is that all units are to be spelt out in prose, except when:
  • they are a conversion, e.g. "An NBA basketball court is 96 feet (29 m) long" or "A FIBA basketball court is 28 metres (92 ft) long"
  • it is in a specialist article where it is obvious what unit is being used (in the case of metres, possibly science?)
  • it is in a table or infobox, where space is precious (though I've never actually seen that in practice, except in specialist science/technical articles)
To some extent it means that "metres" has to be spelt out, but not necessarily always. The infobox case might be a borderline one. I must admit, I'm still unsympathetic (they need to learn about the rest of the world, just as the rest of the world learns what an inch is when they never use it, or at least, they'll look it up as necessary, and it's not like a metre and mile are similar in length so it should be fairly obvious something's different) but I want to see where the current guideline stands with respect to this issue. I think, to some extent, it addresses the concerns. So, are the exceptions okay, i.e. are the exceptions cases where it would be obvious enough? Neonumbers 00:23, 26 December 2006 (UTC)
Americans' relative lack of familiarity with meters is a secondary issue. (Many Americans have at least some understanding of the unit, often associating it with the slightly smaller yard). The primary problem is that Americans might misinterpret "m" to mean "miles" (given the fact that this abbreviation sometimes is used in the U.S.). Kjkolb cited an instance in which this application would seem to make sense.
In your conversion examples, no reasonable person would make this mistake, but I still see no harm in using language that more people would understand. (I don't know how recognizable the abbreviation "ft" is to individuals in countries that primarily use the metric system, but I certainly would support spelling out "feet" if this were to help people.)
Regarding "specialist article[s] where it is obvious what unit is being used," this would depend upon the context, but my point regarding the harmlessness of spelling out "metres"/"meters" applies.
As for tables and infoboxes, the context can be clarified in the main prose, so abbreviation here is a legitimate space-saver. —David Levy 00:55, 26 December 2006 (UTC)
Units should always be spelt out in prose, so this is only an issue for the conversions and usages in infoboxes/tables. Always spelling out conversions might be good—it would look more professional—but it would not be relevant to the above matter because any metric conversion would already have the English units spelled out before them. For infoboxes and tables, they are not spelled out because it is necessary to use less space, so there would be no other alternative to "m" except an utterly novel "me". —Centrxtalk • 02:29, 26 December 2006 (UTC)
The issue of spelling out conversions would have to be considered for all units, not just metres; and in my opinion it would be more of an issue of "is it stylistically better" (i.e. more professional), and if it is found that it is stylisically better to spell out conversions (which, in order for conversions to take up less space and therefore reduce impact on the flow of the article, I disagree with, but anyway) then that of course will work fine. For specialist articles, in the case of metres, the only instance I can think of is in science (probably the physical sciences?), and it'd probably just about always be preceded by a rather long number in scientific form, and surrounded by a sea of metric/SI units in the rest of the article which should make it obvious that it's metres not miles (right? you tell me, keeping in mind that readers of those articles are likely to have at least some background in the subject (otherwise they'll understand nothing))...
What I'm trying to say is, the current guideline effectively encourages spelling out of the word "metres". It is only in cases where the symbol is recommended (which are relatively few) that "m" is preferred. Neonumbers 09:30, 26 December 2006 (UTC)
To the original question of m being confused with miles instead of meters: I've never seen an instance where m was used to mean miles—nither wikipedia or elsewhere. Most of us Americans who are on Wikipedia for one reason or another are smart enough to know what a meter is. I think it is safe to keep m as an abbreviation for meters per some of the great reasons given above. —MJCdetroit 21:46, 26 December 2006 (UTC)
While this isn't a error that you or I would commit, I have seen such an abbreviation used informally. Furthermore, even smart people make mistakes—such as your ironic use of the phrase "us Americans" (no offense intended).
Wikipedia is an encyclopedia for the masses. If a tiny amount of effort can assist some of out readers (without causing any harm), I see no reason not to expend it. —David Levy 22:07, 26 December 2006 (UTC)
MJCdetroit, you just haven't paid any attention. There are a great many Wikipedia articles which have at one time had "m" used for miles, primarily for one reason: that (well, actually "m.") is what the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica used. They should always be converted to "mi" or spelled out. Furthermore, there have been many Wikipedia articles using "mile" as a symbol for miles. They should also be converted to "mi" or spelled out (the spelled-out word, unlike the symbol, adds an "s" in the plural).
Just for you, I went out and found one that is still that way: see Blaye (no, you cannot jump over the Gironde Estuary there!). It isn't the only one. Gene Nygaard 18:00, 19 January 2007 (UTC)
Furthermore, I take issue with the User:Centrx claim that "Units should always be spelt out in prose". This has been discussed here before. It is quite the opposite in the recommendations of standards organizationss dealing with measurement, as in NIST Special Publication 811, Guide for the Use of the International System of Units, Section 7.6 Symbols for numbers and units versus spelled-out name of numers and units[1]
This Guide takes the position that the key elements of a scientific or technical paper, particularly the results of measurements and the values of quantities that influence the measurements, should be presented in a way that is as independent of language as possible. This will allow the paper to be understood by as broad an audience as possible, including readers with limited knowledge of English. Thus, to promote the comprehension of quantitative information in general and its broad understandability in particular, values of quantities should be expressed in acceptable units using
  • the Arabic symbols for numbers, that is, the Arabic numerals, not the spelled-out names of the Arabic numerals; and
  • the symbols for the units, not the spelled-out names of the units.
The same reasoning about international recognition including "readers with limited knowledge of English" apply to Wikipedia. Gene Nygaard 18:00, 19 January 2007 (UTC)
  • Let me add that I think it's crass to insist on the spelling out of units, whether metric or imperials, after the first occurence in an article. I won't do it, whether within parentheses as "equivalent" units or not. Tony 08:52, 20 January 2007 (UTC)
I agree with you, and furthermore, it is often the ones within parentheses that would be best spelled out on first occurrence. Gene Nygaard 14:03, 20 January 2007 (UTC)
I find Gene Nygaard's comment odd: If a user doesn't know enough English to be able to read the word "metre", how on earth are they going to read the rest of the article? This is the English Wikipedia, after all. If the goal is to make it more readable by people with limited English skills, there are plenty of more complex bits of English we should start cutting out before we resort to cutting out the word "metre". --Delirium 09:27, 20 January 2007 (UTC)
The only thing I can read at ko:인천광역시 is "986.980 Km2", even though they didn't quite get the right symbol, improperly using "Km" rather than "km". With that, I might even be able to go somewhere else and figure out what those strange characters refer to.
But in any of the other Wikipedias I might visit (the two Norwegian ones, the German one, etc.) any measurements are easier to read if they are in Arabic numerals and SI symbols. It is just one little thing you don't need to worry about, one thing you don't need to bother translating in your head. If you run across something saying "sju dekar" on one of them, you might not know what in the world they are talking about, but if it is instead "7 da" you might even figure out that this is 0.7 ha or 7,000 m². Gene Nygaard 17:27, 23 January 2007 (UTC)

ISO 8601 dates again

I just removed examples of ISO 8601 dates from the section "Dates containing a month and a day".

When we rewrote that section in April, there was a consensus to remove those dates. And their presence there contradicts the later section "ISO date formats" (which had consensus although with a small amount of dissent), which explains that linking such dates is magical too but recommends not to use them in most contexts.

I have been back through the history, and discovered that the examples were reinserted by User:Docu on June 15 (GMT). The edit summary says "as per talk", and indeed there was a short discussion here. However, it doesn't seem to me to show a consensus for restoring them, and the previous discussion did show a consensus for removing them. I note that it was added at the same time as another edit of Docu's which also said "as per talk" but which hadn't achieved consensus and was quickly reverted.

So I've removed it again. We can discuss it here if people want. But my understanding is that there are a couple of people who think it should be allowed because it's an unambiguous standard, but a clear majority think it's bad style in normal prose.

Stephen Turner (Talk) 11:26, 21 December 2006 (UTC)

As usual, the majority is wrong. Unambiguous dates should be the standard and enforced as a rule, not merely a guideline). Lacking that, ISO 8601 format should at the very least be a documented option for people with the good sense to use it. Aside from that, the example you deleted was a useful example of a perfectly valid Wikipedia feature, and as such it serves a useful purpose in that place in the article. I have therefore reverted your deletion. -- -- BBlackmoor (talk) 19:31, 28 December 2006 (UTC)
As it happens, the firm views of a clear majority is what determines these guidelines. Most of us agreed that they were not standard practice in modern English prose. Anyway, I never really understood how 29 December 2006 could be ambiguous... Neonumbers 00:11, 29 December 2006 (UTC)
2006-12-29 isn't ambiguous. That's exactly what I am saying. -- BBlackmoor (talk) • 2007-01-03
Bblackmoor, I'm surprised to find an experienced editor justifying an edit to the Manual of Style with the phrase "As usual, the majority is wrong", especially after you talk so much about consensus on your page. For all its faults, consensus is the way we determine our guidelines.
I still maintain that ISO 8601 dates should never be linked. There may be occasional circumstances where use of ISO 8601 dates is appropriate, but there is never a time when you want established users to see "29 December 2006" or "December 29, 2006", and new or anonymous users to see "2006-12-29".
Stephen Turner (Talk) 08:38, 29 December 2006 (UTC)
There is never a time I want any user to see "29 December 2006" or "December 29, 2006" -- not in a reference work. Like Roman numerals and archaic measurements like "stone" and "cubit" (and some would say "pounds" and "yards"), that's suitable for prose and poetry, but not for a reference work. It annoys me that an editor can enter a valid, unambiguous date in an article and Wikipedia will senselessly reformat it. I suppose the alternative is typing dates like this: [[2006-12-31|2006-12-31]]. I may start doing that from now on to avoid this problem. -- BBlackmoor (talk) • 2007-01-03
Shouldn't have linked that date above. My sentence was "I never really understood how 29 December 2006 could be ambiguous", not 2006-12-29.
Is 29 December 2006 ambiguous? Neonumbers 08:42, 5 January 2007 (UTC)

"Numbers in letters" (for two-word or less) or "Consistency" comes first?

Apparently, I could not agree with Epeefleche's opinion about the numbers in numeral/letter form (in this case it is mostly about order numbers. I think). The problem was started in Mike Mussina about this edit. There is a small discussion about this in here, although I felt the need to have more opinions from different people. There is also a change in number style under this page (I had it on watchlist, so I noticed that). Any thoughts about this issue? Replying in either here or on Mussina's talk page are fine, although keeping this discussion in the other talk page might be preferred. Regards, Vic226(chat) 16:50, 27 December 2006 (UTC)

Date formats related to topics

We've had a couple of looks at this before. I reverted the addition of France to this list because the change, in my opinion, is significant enough to require prior discussion and, if necessary, the gaining of consensus.

My view is that no date format should be recommended for any country that is not English-speaking. Learning how to write the date is part of learning the language, so non-English speakers will learn about how we write our dates. After all, we wouldn't expect articles about China to use 2006 December 30 for its purposes, would we? The British-American difference is not unique to dates, but the division is unique to English. That's my view, anyway. Neonumbers 12:34, 30 December 2006 (UTC)

I can't follow this logic. Every country has a preferred format for dates, whether it is 1-23-1945 or 23-1-2000. The name of the month is the only part of it that is English: the format applies to the country, not the language. 14 Juilliet is Bastille Day in France, and of course we translate the French month name as July - a thoroughly noncontroversial usage. I note that several countries in the Commonwealth of Nations don't use English as their primary language. Exampleas are India (Hindi), Pakistatn (Urdu), Bangladesh (Bengali), Cameroon (French), Mozambique (Portugese), Maldives (Dhivehi), Brunei (Malay), Cyprus (Greek) etc. etc. Rather than make an illogical and inconsistent choice on language, I suggest that we continue to use date format actually used in the country as the criterion for date format in the article. This is consistent with other usages, such as metric/Imperial units. --Pete 17:20, 30 December 2006 (UTC)
I'm sure I've said this before (although I can't be bothered to search through the archives now) but I strongly believe we shouldn't have a list of example countries there at all. It just invites people to add more and more. I don't believe the list of countries adds anything to the guidance. Let's just remove them. Stephen Turner (Talk) 20:26, 30 December 2006 (UTC)
Left to my own devices, I would tend to agree that we shouldn't have a list at all. Historically, however, the problem has been that certain editors mostly in the US have taken the view that in the absence of instructions to the contrary it's OK to use month-day-year format for all countries even when normal practice in those countries' languages is day-month-year, thus rubbing everyone else up the wrong way and creating the perception that all countries should be named in the example countries, even though countries which use month-day-year format are a very small minority in the world (and ignoring East Asian languages which use year-month-day format). Personally, I would prefer the statement to be changed to read "use month-day-year format in articles relating to North America and a few countries very heavily influenced by the US, such as the Philippines and Micronesia, and day-month-year format everywhere else." -- Arwel (talk) 14:50, 31 December 2006 (UTC)
I would leave the instructions, but without the list. In other words:
If the topic itself concerns a specific country, editors may choose to use the date format used in that country. This is useful even if the dates are linked, because new users and users without a Wikipedia account do not have any date preferences set, and so they see whatever format was typed. See Wikipedia:Manual of Style#National varieties of English for more guidance.
This seems to me to be just as definite and more concise. If, as in your example, a U.S. editor were to change a British or a French article to American dates, it's just as good to cite this guideline as the existing one when changing it back.
Stephen Turner (Talk) 17:35, 31 December 2006 (UTC)

A change to the project page must be supported by a prior discussion. I reverted the change because of a lack of this discussion (what is above is still insufficient, you must give everyone some time).

To emphasise this, I am deliberately not commenting on my opinion on this change. All I want to press on in this post is that this is not a minor change, and agreement (or lack of opposition within a reasonable time) must be found here first. I will leave further comment on the change itself to other users and may comment on it in one or two days, to emphasise that I reverted not because of my opposition, but because of process. Neonumbers 03:02, 31 December 2006 (UTC)

Adding another nation to an existing list of nations is a minor change, when they are united in date format. The debate is whether there should be a list at all. --Pete 20:27, 31 December 2006 (UTC)
Looking back, it seems there was no problem with adding other nations such as Ireland and Palau. I cannot see why France should require special treatment. --Pete 08:11, 1 January 2007 (UTC)
I've reverted it again. It's clear from the discussion here that there is no consensus for this change. Neonumbers is right — you need to wait until the discussion has concluded. Stephen Turner (Talk) 08:45, 1 January 2007 (UTC)
My point is that prior consensus was not found for other additions such as this one. Adding to a list where the criteria for membership are known should require no discussion. Ireland uses day-month-year format, as does France. --Pete 09:31, 1 January 2007 (UTC)
So do you think we should add all two hundred or so countries in the world? Stephen Turner (Talk) 13:13, 1 January 2007 (UTC)
No, but if process is as important as some insist, then building on past process is the way to go. Once again, I point out that adding countries to a list has needed no prior discussion in the past. I'm happy to dispense with a list entirely, but that is exactly the sort of change that requires consensus. --Pete 17:35, 1 January 2007 (UTC)
Adding an English-speaking country seems a bit different, perhaps. But in any case you shouldn't assume that because one edit didn't get reverted that a precedent has thereby been established. Stephen Turner (Talk) 08:41, 2 January 2007 (UTC)
Again I make the point that the list contains several nations that do not have English as a primary or official language, in that they are members of the British Commonwealth. In fact, most of the citizens of the totality of countries belonging to the Commonwealth do not speak English. Speaking English is quite irrelevant to whether a nation uses one date format or another - I need only point out that the U.S. and the U.K. both speak English, yet use different formats.
And no, it's not just one addition to the list. The last half-dozen additions have been added with no objection or prior consensus. That looks like a pretty good precedent right there, which is why I simply added France to the list. --Pete 17:28, 2 January 2007 (UTC)

Would anyone like to comment on my proposal above that the list of countries be deleted entirely? Stephen Turner (Talk) 08:41, 2 January 2007 (UTC)

You've convinced me, Stephen. I support it. Neonumbers 11:11, 2 January 2007 (UTC)
I'm happy to lose it, but I make the point that we still need to know which countries use which date format. Who knows what format Wallis uses? Or Burkino Faso? --Pete 17:28, 2 January 2007 (UTC)
I'm assuming that someone writing the article is likely to know. In any case, I don't think we should maintain a list to tell people which format Burkino Faso uses. Stephen Turner (Talk) 18:21, 2 January 2007 (UTC)
Looking back at the history of date formats, it seems that a lot of editors imagine that all nations use the same date format. For example, look at Gerald Ford, an article which has had a lot of attention recently, yet still contains at least one day-month-year date, in the third paragraph of the "childhood" section. This was added in the past week. This format is incorrect according to the bulk of dates in the article, the subject matter, and these guidelines. I think that even if someone knows the date of independence of Burkina Faso, or when the explosion at Vol-au-vent occurred, we have no guarantee that they know what format to put that date in. They will probably guess. --Pete 01:01, 3 January 2007 (UTC)
Yes, you're probably right actually. But I still don't think we should have a list of 200 countries with their date formats, and therefore we shouldn't have a list at all. At least, not on this page — it would be a good idea as a proper article. Stephen Turner (Talk) 10:43, 3 January 2007 (UTC)
I agree that the list of countries should be deleted, because I also think that all Wikipedia articles should use international standard date format. However, I also think that a list of date formats used by various countries would be a worthwhile Wikipedia article. -- BBlackmoor (talk) • 2007-01-03
I think both the decision and publication of which format to use should be left to the Wikiproject for each respective country. I think editors involved with those projects have the right to determine that for theirselves, and post their guideline on their page, if and only if they wish to do so (and some countries may not). If there is no Wikiproject for a given country (or a given non-country Wikiproject), then leave it to the article's editors to decide.
Keep in mind that an editor might enter the wrong date format from mistake, ignorance or newbieness: in this event, all that needs to happen is for another editor to correct it. Editors are not expected to be familiar with the manual (it's too big); it exists for articles to adhere to, not editors. As long as one person can stop by and correct it, it's not big deal (that's what a wiki's about). Neonumbers 09:48, 4 January 2007 (UTC)

I've removed the list now, since the few people who commented seemed to approve, and no-one objected. I notice, by the way, that there is some guidance about individual countries in the article calendar date (which the paragraph links to through the redirect page date format). Stephen Turner (Talk) 11:19, 5 January 2007 (UTC)

I have no problems with removing the list, and I especially like the idea of letting WikiProject editors decide how to handle nation-specific dates. Some date formats (such as year-month-day) used in Asia might require special treatment, at least until we find a solution to the date linking/user preferences thing. --Pete 00:40, 6 January 2007 (UTC)