TO LEAP OR NOT TOO LEAP
Every week I save "non-urgent" articles from my daily papers to read with more leisure over the weekend.
One of this week's articles is this page one piece from the Wall Street Journal (via the Post Gazette), titled "Why the US wants to end link between time and sun". Not an issue I was familiar with, I read on. Here's a tongue-in-cheek summary via Slashdot:
U.S. Moves to Kill Leap Seconds
Posted by CowboyNeal on Saturday July 30, @09:53AM
from the time-to-kill dept.
blacklite001 writes "Not content with merely extending Daylight Savings Time, the U.S. government now also proposes to eliminate leap seconds, according to a Wall Street Journal story. Their proposal, 'made secretly to a United Nations body,' includes adding a "leap hour" every 500 to 600 years.' Hey, anyone remember the last bunch of people to mess with the calendar?"
I was interested in Slashdot reader reaction to this story because the key reason to tweak leap seconds, involves potentially massive and exponential headaches in programming devices and software apps of all types, going forward. As the journal piece explains:
But adding these ad hoc "leap seconds" -- the last one was tacked on in 1998 -- can be a big hassle for computers operating with software programs that never allowed for a 61-second minute, leading to glitches when the extra second passes. "It's a huge deal," said John Yuzdepski, an executive at Symmetricom Inc., of San Jose, Calif., which makes ultra-precise clocks for telecommunications, space and military use.
On Jan. 1, 1996, the addition of a leap second made computers at Associated Press Radio crash and start broadcasting the wrong taped programs. In 1997, the Russian global positioning system, known as Glonass, was broken for 20 hours after a transmission to the country's satellites to add a leap second went awry. And in 2003, a leap-second bug made GPS receivers from Motorola Inc. briefly show customers the time as half past 62 o'clock.
Sounds like a Y2K type of problem. The main reasons not to do it from the article seemed to be:
- historical pride and vanity of various parties who have a stake in the current way of doing things.
- The cost to adjust today's telescopes, which seems to pale in comparison to the cost to the world at large of not doing it.
- "If it ain`t broke don't fix it" points of view.
The discussion on Slashdot will be interesting to track, as it involves folks who likely will be at the front line of this issue. Recommended article for a Sunday afternoon.