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Why is the timestamp off by a few hours on some of the e-mails I receive?

Many computer systems base their clocks on Greenwich Mean Time, to make it easier to handle different time zones and changes in them, such as Daylight Savings Time. Eastern Standard Time is 5 hours behind Greenwich Mean Time. Eastern Daylight Time is 4 hours behind. Look for "GMT", "UTC", "-0500", "-0400", "EST", or "EDT" next to the timestamp; the first two usually indicate that the timestamp hasn't been adjusted to the local time zone.

It's also possible that you, or the person sending you e-mail, simply has their PC's clock -- or time zone -- set wrong. The timestamps are created by the PC sending the message, not the mail server at their ISP... so even though we keep our clocks synchronized with atomic clocks on the Internet, the "Date:" header on the mail won't reflect that accuracy. (The "Received:" header does, but unfortunately many mail programs don't print those...)

Now would be a good time to check the clock on your own computer and make sure it's accurate, by the way. Check the time zone while you're at it -- Windows tends to default to Pacific time, which is of course 3 hours behind Eastern.

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