[time-nuts] Re: UTC

Chuck Harris cfharris at erols.com
Wed Jul 27 19:08:20 EDT 2005

Hi Poul,

Poul-Henning Kamp wrote:

>>hand.  Seconds are just a frill to civil timekeeping.
> Weeeelll, almost.
> You see, the technocratic part of the population is very busy
> spinning a technological net around the rest of the population, a
> net where seconds can cost you fortunes one example being the mobile
> calling-plan where calling out of the time-window cost $100 a minute.

Not a problem, those same phones always tell you "network" time.  If you
are really that concerned about running out of such a time window, give
yourself a little more slack.  Further, telephones generally have a 15 second
aggregation in their billing functions.... a leap-second hardly applies.
> Also, online communities like various games, virtual worlds and
> eBay tick on seconds and people get very upset if things don't happen
> when they think.

I am a devout believer in sniping on ebay.  To make my snipes work, I sync
my sniping program to ebay's time.  It really doesn't matter to me if ebay is
a little this way, or a little that way of "real" time, as long as I know when they
think the auction will end.  (Ebay isn't a good example to argue your cause
               a) they have a back channel where they can tell you what time they think it is,
and        b) it doesn't matter when you place your bid, only when they receive your bid.

The better examples for your argument would be those where there can be no
regular communication between users of time... nuke submarines for example.)

>>If you have been watching the population in general, you may have noticed
>>that there is a decline in the number of people that have any interest in how
>>things work.  When I was a kid, there wasn't a toy, or appliance that was
>>safe from my curiosity.  I suspect that you were the same.  Now, with the
>>exception of sadistic impulses that remove the heads from dolls, kids don't
>>take their toys apart.  They just want them to work, and when they stop, they
>>throw them away.
> It may not be their fault.  Have you tried taking modern toys apart
> ?  Or a radio ?  A TV-set ?  There is nothing in there our kids can
> learn anything from :-(

I must be very unusual, I fix modern TV's, radios, and other consumer
electronics doo-dads.    It isn't generally economical to do what I do, but
it does keep me in touch with the bleeding edge of consumer manufacturing
> "Doesn't care about leap-seconds" doesn't save your life when some
> visual-basic genius has programmed some piece of hi-tech you have
> no choice in using or not.

Bad design is bad design.  If they didn't botch leap-seconds, it would be
something else.  I like open source because I can fix such things if they
  bother me.  I would never base a product on anything from  microsoft.
(I was fired once for relying on microsoft to do their job properly.  I try
  never to make the same mistake twice.)
> Just because people don't care or notice, doesn't mean not important
> to them.
> Most people don't care about water, sewers, electricity and civil
> order.  That doesn't mean it's not important to them.  They care
> a lot as soon as it doesn't work.

Certainly.  But what's your point?  I don't see these utilities failing
if a second slips here or there.   The one case where time is critical
is the power grid, and they keep their own time (Which, IIRC
approximates UTC).

>>They don't need to understand it, they just need someone to tell them
>>that that is the way it is, and they are happy.  Don't forget, they don't
>>care about the details of how things work.
> Right, fine.  So give me a leap-second formula that works for at
> least 25 but preferably 100 years and I'll have no trouble with it.

You will have to talk to your favorite deity about that one.  We live on
an imperfect planet in an imperfect solar system...  I, for one, like that
fact, because the grand scale of the universe's imperfections makes me
feel a little bit better about my own imperfect ways.

>>Certainly we can.  As I said earlier, 99 and 44/100ths percent of the
>>population has no need for seconds whatsoever.
> Again, your argument is based on the assumption that just because
> people don't now about leap seconds means they won't get harmed
> by one.  It doesn't work that way.
> In fact, they're probably more likely to get in harms way, because
> unlike the people who know about the leapsecond and the lack of
> proper implementation will probably just wait for the next lift,
> just in case.

I doubt that!  The most time knowledgeable function I have ever seen in a lift
is one that sends the idle cars down to the entrance floor during the
morning hours.  I hardly think that this will foul up in a dangerous
way if a  leap second comes along!  You seem to be really stretching to
find some technology that will fail in a way that will vindicate your desire
to kill off leap-seconds.

>>I don't believe that is his position.   I believe his position is more
>>similar to mine, and that is we have defined UTC to be based on
>>solar time at the prime meridian, the definition has worked adequately
>>well for those applications that UTC is intended to handle, and there is
>>no good reason why we need to change the definition at this time.
> No, your position is diffrent from Robs, you just don't recognize
> the potential for harm at all, Rob at least recognizes that.

You may think that, but you would be wrong.  I see things differently
than you.    I don't see a world where the truly critical systems need
to be synced to UTC.  Like all of the foibles engineers make, if time is
truly critical to an application, then the application will contain its own
timekeeping, and perhaps its own timescale.  (Think NASA and mission
time. ) TAI was developed to handle those cases where seconds needed
to be handled in an unambiguous way.

>>No, I don't think so.  The economy doesn't know what a second is.
> Until after a leap-second hands in the unbudgeted expense or if
> we are lucky: the budget request.

You won't see any such budget request.  None happened 7 years ago,
and none will happen this time either.  The time functions where leap seconds
matter will simply get another line added to their tables of anomalies.  The
time functions where leap-seconds don't matter (most), will march along as
if nothing happened.  The truly critical time functions will continue to use TAI,
or some variant as they currently do.... and folks that attempt to predict future events
down to the second using UTC, will fail because of their lack of forsight...
just as seers have done for time immemorial.


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