July 29, 2005
Save the leap second!

It's a programmer versus astronomer smackdown over the nature of time! How can you not love a story like that?

I can't do it justice with an excerpt, so go read the whole thing. I actually don't have any strong feelings either way, but I'm sufficiently fascinated by the topic that I want to hear more about the debate. More info on leap seconds can be found here, and an overview of the problem and the proposed US solution is here.

My favorite bit from the whole article:

Ending leap seconds would make the sun start rising later and later by the clock -- a few seconds later each decade. To compensate, the U.S. has proposed adding in a "leap hour" every 500 to 600 years, which also accounts for the fact that the Earth's rotation is expected to slow down even further. That would be no more disruptive than the annual switch to daylight-saving time, said Ronald Beard of the Naval Research Laboratory, who chairs the ITU's special committee on leap seconds and favors their abolishment. "It's not like someone's going to be going to school at four in the afternoon or something," he said.

If only we could put off all of our problems for another 500 years! Of course, since this is likely to cause a Y2K-style panic in many places when it happens, perhaps we ought to cryogenically freeze a few COBOL programmers before we implement this, so that when the problem appears on the horizon we'll have some people with previous experience in dealing with it.

Thanks to Kevin Drum for the awesome link.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on July 29, 2005 to Technology, science, and math | TrackBack

Somehow, the "Y2.5K plus one hour bug" doesn't have quite the same ring as the original. :-)

On the other hand, I can only imagine the cottage industry that will be created for this in 494 years.

Posted by: William Hughes on July 29, 2005 11:49 AM

"A lot of people encounter problems with their software going over a leap second," said Dennis D. McCarthy, who drafted the U.S. leap-second proposal while serving as the Navy's "Director of Time."

"Director of Time" -- now that's a job title!

(BTW - where do I sign up to get frozen as a COBOL programmer who's been through Y2K? Don't think there won't still be COBOL programs running in 500 years...)

Posted by: CrispyShot on July 29, 2005 1:17 PM

Thanks Kuff, we actually use this at work.

Posted by: Grant Davis on July 29, 2005 2:28 PM

Looks like we are headed for two more time systems now, the digital standard eliminating leap seconds and the astro standard used to plot astronomical surveys.

A guy could probably make a few extra bucks selling a simple converter plug-in before MS includes it in mswinetcetcetc ...

Posted by: ttyler5 on July 29, 2005 5:21 PM