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back to article Boffins quarrel over ridding world of leap seconds

The measurement and regulation of time could start to change this week if an ITU meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, gives the nod. International Telecommunication Union members are discussing whether Co-ordinated Universal Time (UTC) should be set using a system that does not factor in the Earth's imperfect spin – which …

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Silver badge

Minor nit: Actually it is solar time

not sidereal time.

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FAIL

What's the fuss about?

so things that haven't been designed and/or tested properly to work with leap seconds use the time standard which has leap seconds.

well, duh.

those things should use TAI, the time standard without leap seconds.

the changeover may be problematic (adding back in the 34 leap seconds so far in one lump), but it only needs to be done once.

personally i still can't see the point in daylight saving time. fucking do-gooders. I don't wish to get up an hour earlier every day for the whole summer and autumn.

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fucking do-gooders

I don't understand, what do-gooders?

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He means Ben Franklin

...who was hardly a "do-gooder"; more like an unrepentant skinflint with the ear of the Powers That Be

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Anonymous Coward

At the present moment all time zones are defined as UTC plus or minus an offset.

If UTC abandons its synchronisation with the Earth's spin then by 3752 it will be 2 hours ahead which means all the time zones will be incorrect. So in December, for example, it will still be dark at 10am in the morning in the UK.

An alternative is that UTC doesn't add leap seconds, but each and every time zone subtracts a second. So on 30th June British Summer Time (BST) changes from UTC + 1 hour to UTC + 59 minutes 59 seconds. This would have to happen simultaneously in every single time zone, with the co-operation of every single country otherwise when dealing with NY, for example, you would have to adjust your time by 5 hours and a second or by 4 hours 59 minute 59 seconds depending upon who didn't change their time zone.

Personally I think its a lot simpler just to add a leap second to UTC every now and again.

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Gold badge

Re: every now and again

That would be the devil in the details, then. AFAIK, predicting the need for leap seconds is not practical if you want UTC and solar time to be precisely aligned. The Earth wobbles and no-one is quite sure in advance how much it is going to shake next year.

However ... over the very long term it is certainly possible (which is why people are making predictions for the next millennium or two) so a reasonable compromise would appear to be: "Legislate for some Gregorian-style fudge that will work for the next thousand years or so and just accept that you might be several seconds out every now and again.".

This has the enormous benefit that someone who burns the current rules into a ROM for a non-networked, innaccessible device, doesn't get caught short by an earthquake on the other side of the planet.

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Obviously a pressing concern

You mean it'll only be another thirteen hundred years before this becomes a problem? Clearly nothing will do but that we replace our entire timekeeping infrastructure within the next year!

Want a hand grenade? Here's one: One wonders whether somebody's press release generator should've been switched out of climate-change mode before the info on the ITU debate was fed into the input hopper.

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Big Brother

Time for two"times" ;-)

Strikes me the solution is pretty obvious - we need two "times" and one "interval" (the second):

a) a 'scientific' time that is rigorously defined and that increments at the standard interval - the second - forever and does not have leap-seconds - lets call this "epoc time", and

b) a 'practical' time that is is aligned to the scientific standard, i.e. it uses the same interval (the second) but is adjusted via a local "offset" which provides the local time that we see - the yakns call this "wall clock time".

Leap-seconds are applied to "wall clock time" via the local offset as required to keep the time right (within 0.9 seconds) such that sunrise and sunset work and people watches work.

Important systems such as international telecommunications, computer networks, scientific experiments use "epoc time" and simple humans use "wall clock time".

GPS already does this with its difference between GPS time (1st Jan 1986) and UTC with its "UTC offset". We can reuse this idea - all we need to do is to take the existing unix time_t epoc time, extend it to 64-bits (UINT64) and synchronise it to the 300+ atomic clocks in the world and call this the international standard.

The trick here is to have one internal standard that just keeps counting without interruption and a local representation with is adjusted on use/on display, i.e. on output, without resorting to changing the underlying master source.

unix does it already... can't be hard...

Mike

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TAI

Your "scientific" time exists already, and is called TAI.

ISTM the *real* problem is that the ITU doesn't have a proper understanding of computers. Of course, it's obvious to us reading the Reg that anything that needs an unvarying timebase, such as financial transactions, should use TAI, and ordinary people wanting a "civil time" should use something simple that roughly corresponds to the sun's position in the sky. There would be no great technological barrier to that happening, and I can't believe the ITU quite understands that.

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@Grendel: That still doesn't solve the problem.

The underlying problem is that the Earth's speed of rotation is slowing down. At some point we will have a 25 hour day if you use the atomic clock second. But a day will remain 24 hours with 60 minutes per hour and 60 seconds per minute. You can't use an offset to adjust for that. Besides which, the whole concept of time as something which if fixed is much more akin to the now dead concept of the ether than most people realize.

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Coat

Well, we could just infinitesimally lengthen the length of a "second", so we don' no steenkin' leap seconds...

Already got it, on my way out....

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Anonymous Coward

Alternate solution

Alternate solution:

1) Make big rocket engine.

2) Place on equator

3) Turn on.

4) turn off when earth is in sync with TAI.

Simple. Just keep the marketing types away from it, or we will have 60 day months and 700 day years....

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It's all the moon's fault

I vote we blow up the moon!

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Headmaster

That won't work

Unless your rocket engine is on giant pylons that reach into space - the rocket engine will push one way, while the exhaust gasses will push the other way, leaving you with no nett effect.

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This post has been deleted by its author

WTF?

>5000 years of human practice?

Clearly a statement from someone who's never heard of the Egyptian civil calendar (365 days and never mind the astronomical discrepancy because it was easier for bookkeeping), the Mayan calendars (3 of them, none synchronized with the Earth's orbit), the Jewish calendar (Metonic cycle), the Islamic calendar (strictly lunar)...

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Meh

Gee lets see who really cares ...

1. Thermodynamically challenged High Frequency Traders. Mine's the one with the enthalpy in the pocket, and I want it all back.

2. Gregorian Calendar challenged Financiers who want all the Leap Days at the end of time where they belong if their formulas are to work.

Isn't there an empty planet around somewhere ? They'll need cable TV, of course; we're not barbarians.

If the Boffins solve the existential problem of Mondays, please get back to me.

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Anonymous Coward

Would you quit it with all these initials that don't match the words they supposedly stand for? Just pick one order and stick with it people!

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Silver badge

You might not be able to read it

Since it's probably in French (or Latin?)

Or maybe you're the bozo that changed UTC (Universal Co-ordinated Time) to UCT in the Debian docs a few years ago.

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Yag
Trollface

It's in gibberish.

Those initials were choosen BECAUSE they don't refer to neither french (would be TUC) nor english (UCT)

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Stop

Time is an illusion...

... lunchtime doubly so - Douglas Adams

Posted at 4:32, Puckoon time.

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Wow!

"by the year 3752"?

Obviously we have to do something, and quick.

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Happy

Leave it...

Why are the boffins getting all steamed up about it now? Just leave it until 3751 or 3750 if you must. Y2K was fixed in Y2K -1 as I clearly remember the unlimited overtime ££££ :-)

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Anonymous Coward

A comedy like no other

People here absolutely miss the big joke in all this and it is astonishing once a reader gets the big picture with the smallest of effort.There are 1461 days in 4 years and this matches up with 1461 rotations in 4 circuits of the Earth around the Sun.On Feb 29th there will be another sunrise and sunset due to the rotation of the Earth and this day will close out 4 orbital circuits of the Earth that began on March1st 2008.Simple enough given that if you divide 1461 rotations by 4 orbits you are arrive at 365 1/4 rotations for 1 orbital circuit.

You see the dominant view is not the common sense 365 1/4 rotations/days in a year/orbital circuit but a mindnumbing 366 1/4 rotations in a year so how they are going to fit 1465 rotations into a 4 year period is beyond comprehension and this is not some college 'flat earth society' joke,this is actually mainstream policy -

"The Earth spins on its axis about 366 and 1/4 times each year, but there are only 365 and 1/4 days per year." Goddard Space Flight Center

So when everyone here steps into intellectual oblivion after they make a late 17th century error official policy (John Flamsteed came up with that conclusion in 1677) say goodbye to thousands of years of astronomy.

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Anonymous Coward

Post is clear as mud

Which is the error? Which is the policy? Which is proposed?

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Boffin

Warning, science content

The error is in counting days as rotations, and ignoring the fact that if we orbit the sun, but have zero days (i.e. it's always noon at greenwich) then we'll have rotated once, not zero times.

So if we've observed the rotation (by the sun apparently traversing the sky) 365.25 times in an orbit then we've actually rotated one more than that (of course if we rotated the other way then it would be 1 less, but we don't)

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Holmes

Keep it relative...

Every day the sun should rise at 6:00, and set at 18:00, everywhere in the world.

There is no need to pretend that time elapses at some fixed period.

For people in the northern climates, this means that winter day-time clock would tick-tock faster during the day than the night, in order to fit a consistent number of tick-tocks into a significantly shorter time.

We can leave it to the pointy heads to make sure our little devices co-ordinate properly so buses will be on time, and planes won't bump into one another.

I prefer Pink Floyd to marching music....

ps: sherlock for his 7% solution

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Anonymous Coward

Bugger the French

and go back to GMT measured at Greenwich?

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Holmes

While we are at it...

If we're going to mess about with the time, can we - please oh please! - get rid of daylight saving time?

DST must be some penny pincher's idea to mess with payroll twice a year (yes, I know WWII, blah, blah)...

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Anonymous Coward

Russians

The Russian Federation did away with DST last year. The went to permanent Summer Time. Belarus was thinking about it.

St. Petersburg has both White Nights and No DST Foolishness. Makes you want to drink Vodka. A lot of things do.

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Yeah, DST can byte the big one

DST typically does little to save money, but it is a political thing so politicians look like they've done something. The spots in Indiana that started observing DST ended up using more electricity rather than less due to using more electricity for air conditioning in their homes. If they weren't in the homes for an extra hour of daylight in the evening, they'd need less AC. For an example, for much of the northern US, "Daylight Wastage" (an term I invented for an hour subtracted from the evening) makes more sense due to AC consuming more electricity than light bulbs. In a good chunk of the Southern US it doesn't matter. If you turn off the AC during the day to save power, it'll take most of the night to catch back up. Summertime 100F+ degree heat and sunshine makes for easy solar power and wind (in West Texas), unlike the UK which has problems with consistent power from either, but it means you have to keep the AC on all the time during the summer sucking down a lot more power which is a problem the UK doesn't have.

Regardless, artificially jacking with the clock for DST is nuts. If a government is going to do something that crazy, just legislate *suggested* "Standard" Business hours instead. Much less destructive than switching clocks around willy nilly.

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Joke

Leap Seconds

The proper solution to leap seconds is to arrest the Moon from its current escape trajectory and move it back closer to Earth. Kinda like "Space: 1999" in reverse

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When are we all switching to Swatch Beat?

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Mushroom

Leap Minute?

Why not just split the difference, in 32719381274 years when a leap hour is required the adjustment of one hour will be pretty significant, but today, leap seconds every few years is a bit much. Why not just do leap minutes every few centuries or however long it works out to be, not as big a hit as a leap hour, but less of a nuisance than leap seconds (so what if the bus is a minute late, it's already bloody late an extra minute won't matter)

*Nuke: Oh, so that's why the button on the atomic clock was labelled 'Do Not Push This Button' !!

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Facepalm

"..GPS and space missions."

Why is it that whenever this topic comes up in the press, some hack puts in "Oh noes, is b0rk GPS yes?"?

GPS and other satellites, spacecraft, space stations, probes and such, already live with the fact that their clocks run faster than ours, being further up or out of the gravity well. Synchronisation between spacecraft and ground stations already has to cater for clock drift due to relativistic effects and the odd leap second here and there to account for the Earth's rotation is a trivial adjustment by comparison.

Thus while this one is often presented as the headline argument, it isn't. At all.

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Pint

Why don't we

Just lump all those "Leap Seconds" together sometime this year and call it a public holiday or even better provide an extra hour each day for pub time

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Stop

Oh bugger!

I have a real birthday on 29th Feb this year (the grand old age of ELEVEN!).

Don't bugger this up before I cut my cake......

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M7S
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Coat

The (measurement and) regulation of time

It's all a sinister plot.

Gallifrey RISES.

The one with the high backed neck and the skull cap, thank you

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French farmers, well, not very busy but quids in

Shirley that's Francs in, or Euros in if you want to be moderne, temporary though it may be

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TRT
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Well, before it becomes a problem...

we'll have to re-write the whole damned book anyway because of those pesky neutrinos that seem to have no regard for the length of a second anyway.

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"We must not give up the >5,000 years old human practice of defining time through Earth's rotation because of unfounded worries of some air traffic control engineers,"

Right so even if something is technically incorrect and wrong as long as we have been doing it long enough we will say its correct, oh well good news for religious people.... another 3000 years and well have to agree there is a god.

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Mushroom

Year 4000

We'll have even more problems come the year 4000 (ye olde Y4K problem) when we realise that we should have adopted John Herschel's 4000-year leap year rule because we'll end up a whole day ahead when we add a leap day that we shouldn't.

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Silver badge

Can't we just switch systems gradually to different timescales?

I mean there is no reason why the number stored on my computer needs to be easily translatable into a hh:mm:ss time. In fact looking at the timezone databases it isn't anyhow.

Not every system which needs time needs a wall clock. So why not just run those systems which don't on some other timescale like GPS? And whenever we have some human time interface, we can just adapt the time in a suitable way. In the meanwhile, we'll just add a "timescale" attribute to times, just like we already do for timezones.

This has been done in the past when railways came along. Before that every place had its local solar time. Timezones are a deviation of the idea that time is kept by the position of the stars.

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Black Helicopters

The Obvious Answer

If Earth stood still, it would have mid-day, mid-night, sun-up and sun-down as 4 corners. Each rotation of earth has 4 mid-days, 4 mid-nights, 4 sun-ups and 4 sun-downs.

The sixteen(16) space times demonstrates cube proof of 4 full days simultaneously on earth within one (1) rotation. The academia created 1 day greenwich time is bastardly queer and dooms future youth and nature to a hell.

Ignorance of 4 day harmonic cubic nature indicts humans as unfit to live on earth

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FAIL

This is utterly stupid. I can't believe that scientists can't figure out a simple solution to the problem. But then, they never have been able to solve the worlds problems, only create more of them. For those that can't deal with leap seconds, have a universal clock that is simply the number of seconds from a set period of time, rather than the awkward 24/60/60/1000 breakdown that we currently have. Then it can all be in decimal. It could be counted from the beginning of the millenium, the new year in 2001. We could then add leap seconds to our hearts content, and programmers for scientific systems and in spaceflight could use a period of time called a kilosecond, which would equate to 16 2/3 minutes, and a mega second which would be about 11 1/2 days. A gigasecond would be 31.7 years. And then everyone would finally be happy.

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Silver badge

I run three clocks.

The first is TheWife's monthly cycle. If you are married, you'll grok.

The second is the seasonal clock handily provided by the Solar Year & the Earth's axial tilt with respect to its orbit. It is totally out of my control, but I plant my fields & breed my critters by it, as humans have since time immemorial. Trying to change this is a fool's errand.

The third is the clock provided by the Master clock on my network, which syncs up to an atomic clock once per day (ntp.org works for most purposes ... I use something else), which all of my machines adhere to. This is for computer record keeping more than anything else.

Context is the key. There is no "SingleTimeStandard[tm]", and never will be. With the exception of TheWife's, of course ;-)

As a side-note, I don't wear a wristwatch ... and haven't in over a third of a century (since my HP-01, back in 1977, in fact). In my mind, they are completely pointless. Everywhere you look these days you can see something giving you a pretty good approximation of "local time". Humans living life to the second or minute (or even ten minutes!) is counter productive. Even when baking bread ... Relax, be patient, learn to make homebrewed beer :-)

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