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Science Government Politics

Vote To Eliminate Leap Seconds 531

Mortimer.CA writes "As discussed on Slashdot previously, there is a proposal to remove leap seconds from UTC (nee 'Greenwich' time). It will be put to a vote to ITU member states during 2008, and if 70% agree, the leap second will be eliminated by 2013. There is some debate as to whether this change is a good or bad idea. The proposal calls for a 'leap-hour' in about 600 years, which nobody seems to believe is a good idea. One philosophical point opponents make is that the 'official' time on Earth should match the time of the sun and heavens."
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Vote To Eliminate Leap Seconds

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  • Re:Metric time? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by daeley ( 126313 ) on Tuesday November 20, 2007 @04:24AM (#21417641) Homepage
    The French tried Decimal time [wikipedia.org] (aka French Revolutionary Time) for a while, although of course the Chinese invented it [wikipedia.org].

    Decimal time always reminds me of the scene in Metropolis with two clocks on the office wall [wikipedia.org] -- a 24-hour clock and a 10-hour clock (the length of the workers' shifts).
  • by drgroove ( 631550 ) on Tuesday November 20, 2007 @04:26AM (#21417655)
    I thought of this issue years ago, and had actually sat down and done the math at one point... basically, to solve the time discrepancy, just slightly lengthen the second. Everything lines up. Of course, every book, piece of software, scientific instrument, medical equipment, ... well, basically everything in human civilization ... would need to be re-build, re-calibrated, re-programmed, re-manufactured, etc. If nothing else, we'd stimulate the living hell out of the world's economy.
  • Other way (Score:5, Interesting)

    by professorfalcon ( 713985 ) on Tuesday November 20, 2007 @04:27AM (#21417659)
    How about going the other way... leap microseconds. Many times during the day. Then nobody will hardly notice.
  • by maroberts ( 15852 ) on Tuesday November 20, 2007 @04:28AM (#21417665) Homepage Journal
    A leap minute every 10 years (or so)?

    One event every 10 years does not cause lots of disruption, and being a minute out of sync with solar time is not large enough to be a problem. You'd notice an hour's difference if you're in a northerly latitude and have Daylight Saving Time...
  • by swamp_ig ( 466489 ) on Tuesday November 20, 2007 @04:57AM (#21417783)
    The leap second is required because the earth's spin is slowing down in a complex, non-linear way.

    Changing the length of the second simply won't work, in a couple of hundred years we'll be right back to where we started again. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leap_second [wikipedia.org] for details.

    The leap hour is a daft idea, why change something that isn't broken, if a tad inconvenient.
  • Leap hour ... WHY? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Karellen ( 104380 ) on Tuesday November 20, 2007 @05:15AM (#21417903) Homepage
    Why have a leap hour in 600 years time? Surely it would be easier for all countries to just change their local time offset to UTC by 1 hour. So, for example, instead of Pacific time being UTC-0800/UTC-0700, it would become UTC-0700/UTC-0600. (Or maybe 0900/0800)
  • Re:Metric time? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by h4rm0ny ( 722443 ) on Tuesday November 20, 2007 @05:21AM (#21417929) Journal

    Decimalisation is over-rated anyway. People think it makes all the sums easier. Does in some ways, but for everyday life, other systems are easier. We used to have 120 pence to the pound in the UK. Much simpler when divvying up the bill at restaurants. Try dividing 100 by three people, four people, six people. Now try it with 120 or multiples thereof. But what about five and ten? Yeah - much harder with 120 (sarcasm).

    Anyway, this ignoring the leap second is sounds like the usual case of wishful thinking you get between engineers and the customer when the customer has some niggling little requirement that spoils the engineer's elegant little solution. I'm sorry, but if I have to have some special case code because my client wants the search tool to work differently on the news page than it does on the rest of the pages (the bastard), then the world's scientists and engineers can bloody well have to model their customer requirements correctly. Especially when the specs have come directly from Reality. That's a pretty important customer.
  • by Colin Smith ( 2679 ) on Tuesday November 20, 2007 @05:37AM (#21418003)
    Before trains, nobody cared. Very few people care now.
  • by Qbertino ( 265505 ) <moiraNO@SPAMmodparlor.com> on Tuesday November 20, 2007 @05:43AM (#21418039)
    Honestly, this is ridiculous. First of all, if you time allways is shorter and we're constantly adding seconds, why not introduce a new measurement of time entirely and use that for precision needs while we're at it? Something like 'beats' comes to mind, or a centi-minute linked to max. sun height, which would give a more granular measurement of time at the same time. Take that new technical measurement and sync that to whatever you want.

    As far as I understand, nature is so "irregular" that the need for leap-seconds can't really be predicted that precisely. What we need then is some signal to announce leap seconds that is stored in every TAI linked clock. That way we can system-internally look up if some timing problem occurs what may have caused it. On second though, everybody can just have his system do some double checks whenever his clock jumps from 24:00 to 00:00 (that's the way leap seconds are allways filled in).

    And coming to think of it, given that PCs to date have timing systems that aren't worth squat I think this really isn't that much of an issue for most admins. Hail to Apple for integrating a quartz clock into their systems - others appear to dumb to do that. Finally I can read the time on my Computer and trust it too.

    Bottom line:
    The Sun will allways be "out of sync" with whatever measurements of time we come up with. Honestly folks, she really doesn't give a f*ck. If you need precise timing, pick one. Unix Era, UTC, TAI, ... it isn't that there aren't enough. Otherwise get over the fact that nature isn't a model, it's reality. And your clocks should represent thatas closely as possible. My 2 cents.
  • by PMBjornerud ( 947233 ) on Tuesday November 20, 2007 @06:47AM (#21418285)

    But the main thrust of your post was correct with regards to dividing sums of money easily. Or at least it was until the education system decided that mathematics and mental arithmetic were not the most important subjects in life. I'm not sure how some of today's young people could cope with such problems.
    12 is a nice number, but I will not support it for a standard until we grow another pair opposable thumbs.

    Young people today are nothing compared to what is to come. e-ink restuatant bills that calculate the price for everyone, and even takes into account if you had 2 drinks or 3.

    Give another 50 years, and what we call basic math will be indistinguishable from magic for large parts of the population.
  • Re:How about DST (Score:5, Interesting)

    by julesh ( 229690 ) on Tuesday November 20, 2007 @06:51AM (#21418315)
    DST is set by local governments. This is an entirely different thing, an international standards body messing around with time, instead.

    BTW: I'm of the opinion that it's not DST that should be abolished, but non-DST. Non-DST time is a good mathematical division of the day, centred equally around 12:00 (+- 30mins). Unfortunately, as a society, we seem to have decided to centre our actual lives around 13:00 instead. Switching permanently to DST would fix this.
  • Re:Other way (Score:5, Interesting)

    by 4D6963 ( 933028 ) on Tuesday November 20, 2007 @06:57AM (#21418343)

    How about going the other way... leap microseconds. Many times during the day. Then nobody will hardly notice.

    Actually it sounds like a good idea. As someone else suggested, the difference due to leap seconds is so small that only atomic clocks are precise enough to need to take them into account. And since we're all synced on atomic clocks anyways we could just make that happen transparently upstream.

  • Corollary... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by evilviper ( 135110 ) on Tuesday November 20, 2007 @07:23AM (#21418491) Journal
    Inherently, those who want to get rid of leap seconds also want to get rid of time zones (at least they indirectly do).

    Having our clocks NOT agreeing with astronomical time, completely eliminates all the benefits of time zones.

    Whether you actively think about it or not, our sense of direction is substantially driven by the combination of our clocks, and the Sun. We use it as a reference all the time (why do you think it's harder to find your way in a new area, when it's dark?). Even if there's no other defining features, there's still the Sun to tell us which way is North (or South), and our clocks give us a reference to relatively where the Sun should be. Subtly change someone's clocks, and you'll see them having a slightly more difficultly with their (otherwise good) sense of direction.

    Seems to me, the only argument here is that there are a few groups who _really_ just happen to need TAI time, but they see that it's just much easier to access sources of UTC time, and so want to redefine UTC (eliminating leap seconds) so that it is monotonic, and strictly corresponds with TAI at all times. Did I miss anything?

  • by LingNoi ( 1066278 ) on Tuesday November 20, 2007 @07:58AM (#21418709)

    Give another 50 years, and what we call basic math will be indistinguishable from magic for large parts of the population.
    50 years? Wait no longer! [theregister.co.uk]

    From the article..

    Among these was Levenshulme's Tina Farrel, a 23-year-old who admitted "she had left school without a maths GCSE". She explained: "On one of my cards it said I had to find temperatures lower than -8. The numbers I uncovered were -6 and -7 so I thought I had won, and so did the woman in the shop. But when she scanned the card the machine said I hadn't.
    There are two people, Tina Farrel and a sales assistant that need to be darwinised.
  • Go For It (Score:3, Interesting)

    by tidewaterblues ( 784797 ) on Tuesday November 20, 2007 @08:06AM (#21418743)
    As much as we play around with daylight savings time, more often then not local earth time and the relative position of the sun overhead don't match anyway. More importantly, it has been even longer since most people cared. The philosophical questions are now moot, the scientific and engineering questions have workarounds (no one measures anything serious in local time, they just convert to it), and all that is left is the question of whether or not we need to expend the effort to adjust our clocks every time they are just one second off from some fully imaginary standard.
  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna ( 970587 ) on Tuesday November 20, 2007 @08:47AM (#21418981) Journal
    The basic idea is not to demand that the year be an integral number of days. The New Year will be "born" at varying times of the day. I clearly remember my mom cooking up the New Years feast and then waiting patiently for the new Year to be born, which would shift by about 6 hours every year. The Hindu calender will state the next new year, "Sowmiyan" or "Sadharanan" (there are 60 named years) will be born at 1:06 PM or 7:36AM or whatever. Typical South Indian New Year will begin on April 14 for about three years (like 7AM, 1PM, 7PM) and on April 15 (1AM) for a year and then the leap year in western calender will bring it back to April 14.
  • Re:How about DST (Score:4, Interesting)

    by imsabbel ( 611519 ) on Tuesday November 20, 2007 @09:08AM (#21419127)
    Its actually even worse.
    You might think of the "9-5" workday when saying that the center is 13:00.
    But in reality, its more like 15:00 (most people wont be a lot of time awake _before_ going to work, but lots of time after...

  • by squidfood ( 149212 ) on Tuesday November 20, 2007 @11:34AM (#21420787)

    But the main thrust of your post was correct with regards to dividing sums of money easily.

    Back on topic, why do you think the Babylonians used Base 60 [wikipedia.org] for things like minutes, seconds? Some cultures knew what they were doing...

  • by ultranova ( 717540 ) on Tuesday November 20, 2007 @11:58AM (#21421177)

    There are two people, Tina Farrel and a sales assistant that need to be darwinised.

    Personally, I think the people who judge other people fit to be "darwinised" - especially based on a page-long Web article - are the ones we could do without, rather than the people who's worst known flaw is that they can't count below zero.

  • by p3d0 ( 42270 ) on Tuesday November 20, 2007 @01:10PM (#21422395)
    If leap seconds come too often, and leap hours allow the time to diverge too much, how about leap minutes? Official time doesn't deviate from solar time by much, and yet we only need one every hundred years or so.

    Of course, this doesn't fix the real problem: that the Earth's rotation is gradually slowing, so any system based on a foundation with a fixed number of fixed-length seconds will always become gradually more unwieldy.

An elephant is a mouse with an operating system.