Re: [LEAPSECS] system design?

From: Rob Seaman <>
Date: Mon, 28 Apr 2003 17:53:22 -0700 (MST)

Demetrios Matsakis says:

> the formal decision making will be far more sensitive to contributions
> made at the coming conference

At this point I am aware of exactly one astronomer (that is, one
astronomer not directly connected to some arm of the precision
timing community) who will be attending. It may only be coincidence,
but note that the UTC Colloquium is being held at exactly the same
time as the American Astronomical Society meeting in Nashville.

This Colloquium is under advertised, occurring with too little lead
time, has produced no documents for review in advance, and will be
attended by a very narrow group of technically inbred individuals.
It is unacceptable that *any* decision making will take place under
such conditions - let alone that any attempt will be made to reach
"formal" decisions.

> and through the relevant committees of the international bodies that
> the ITU/R has contacted.

Again - under what distorted world view does the ITU/R claim to have
jurisdiction over the very definition of the phrase "Universal Time"?
If the international telecommunications community has a need to
disseminate some other timescale (TAI springs to mind), more power
to them. But don't try to call some bastardized offset from TAI
"universal" - and don't pretend that obscure closed door discussions
are sufficient to resolve fundamental legal issues involving the need
for legislation in every country on Earth.

> I suppose I would count as an "insider", and I remember hearing no
> discussion on alternative names for a UTC with leap-hours or without
> new leap seconds.

Well, actually - I presume that's because the whole gimmick here is to
try to convince folks to blindly adopt this peculiar new stationary
offset-from-TAI timescale as UTC and only as UTC. At the point that
it becomes clear that this is only sane and reasonable if it's called
something else (TAC, for Coordinated Atomic Time, or what have you) the
no-new-leap-second faction will have lost.

Why? Because the whole idea is to pander to projects and organizations
who are too lazy to choose and manage an appropriate timescale themselves.
If they would be happy with TAC, they would certainly be happy with TAI.
They aren't happy with TAI, however, either because they designed and
built a Frankenstein clock for their project that has a UTC head grafted
onto a TAI body - or alternately, because they simply don't want to pay
the additional cost needed to disseminate TAI within their project. By
convincing everybody else in the entire world to change their clocks,
they save a few bucks.

> It may well be that here or there someone has made an off-hand comment
> about a new name, but right now the committees and working groups are
> more concerned with studying the real-world consequences of a change
> than giving it a name.

After three and a half years would it be asking too much to have some
slight evidence that these individuals were actually studying real-world
consequences? What legal and historical authorities have been consulted?
What detailed studies of the effects of this change on - say - the
ground-based optical/IR community have been made? What focus groups
of amateur astronomers and commercial astronomy vendors have been
consulted? Is there even a baseline proposal that has been made
available for comment?

Here is my alternative baseline proposal:

It requires minimal discussion since it's already the standard. Pair
this with an improved infrastructure for disseminating *both* UTC and
TAI. Many folks have expressed the need for such improvements - and
many folks have suggested fruitful directions to consider. Invest in
education at both the technical and civilian level. And finally,
begin a reasonable discourse to attempt to reach a consensus on a
future direction for civil timekeeping - over, say - the next twenty
or thirty years. That is a discussion that I think we could all sink
our teeth into - especially without the artificial pressure for a
quick fix for a system that ain't broken.

Don't like leap seconds? Fine - grow up and use TAI!

Rob Seaman
National Optical Astronomy Observatory.
Received on Mon Apr 28 2003 - 17:53:32 PDT

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