Time, time, time

Wednesday 3 August 2005

Two random yet related links I came across made a synchronicty in my mind, so I present them to you:

First, a story in the Wall Street Journal about Why the U.S. Wants To End the Link Between Time and Sun. This is a thorny problem: I’ve seen mention in various time libraries to the fact that the seconds component can have a value from 0 to 61 (to accommodate two leap seconds!). Adding them randomly at two points during the year does seem like an inconvenience. And while I wouldn’t usually support changing science to accommodate ill-informed engineers, the other side doesn’t have a very strong argument either: that severing the link between the earth’s orbit and time would be an inconvenience to astronomers. Don’t astronomers have to do all sorts of crazy space-math all the time anyway? They’re the ones that figure out when to add the leap second, so why can’t they just remember that the rest of us didn’t add one, and compensate for themselves?

Second, Streetclock is an art project about turning common street objects into sundials: signposts, building edges, and so on. It’s a nice idea, but it wouldn’t work. Building a real sundial is complicated, and has to take into account the latitude of the dial. There are things like analemmas to take into account. But it’s a cool art project.


Getting rid of leap seconds is a grand idea. They talk about lazy programmers, but that's bullshit. 10 bucks says at least some of Microsoft's libraries don't allow for 61 seconds either. It's a very difficult problem to solve since there are many algorithms that rely on a minute being a set length (god forbid!), and given that I personally don't care if sunset is 5 seconds later in 50 years, I say go for it.

As for the astronomers, what is their problem? No one's saying they have to change their clocks. They can use the old style, and the rest of the world can use the new style. It's not like they're running those things off a wall clock, for goodness sakes.


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