Re: [LEAPSECS] a system that fails spectacularly

From: Rob Seaman <>
Date: Wed, 7 Dec 2005 18:20:10 -0700

On Dec 7, 2005, at 2:17 PM, Poul-Henning Kamp wrote:

> Some of us have been trying to drive this point though for some time:
> 99.99% of all programmers have no idea what a leap-second is.

100.00% of everybody live on a planet whose rotation is slowing by a
couple of milliseconds per day per century.

I'm sure we could identify a wealth of other issues upon which some
large majority of programmers, engineers, system designers and other
agents for technological change share a lack of vision. The question
remains whether a leap second (or other obscure fact of the universe
like - say - general relativity) is (a) physically necessary and is
(b) pregnant in implications for humankind.

All proposals being entertained agree that leap seconds (or 3600
packaged as a leap hour) are physically necessary. The question is
whether the implications can be ignored. I assert not. "Some of us"
- that is, you - assert that no possible harm can come to billions of
people and millions of intertwined technological systems from
allowing leap seconds to pile up over the course of centuries. Your
position isn't a point to be driven home, it is a complex topology of
ramifications that we would be far closer to understanding if we
actually pursued the obvious risk and cost/benefit analyses.

> And these are the people who program the technology that runs our
> civilization.

Might not education be a more appropriate cure for ignorance? Start
by making the ITU document public.

> Think about it next time you press a button.

Think about general relativity and big blobby terrestrial planets the
next time you're zipping along at a couple hundred meters/second, 10
kilometers up in a metallurgist's realization of an aerodynamicist's
dream. Shall we seek ways for the metallurgist to ignore solid state
physics or the airframe designer, fluid dynamics?

The Earth rotates. For some purposes, some people can ignore this.
For other purposes, other people can't. Deciding the implications
requires actual thought and planning. Is this really a radical notion?

Rob Seaman
National Optical Astronomy Observatory
Received on Wed Dec 07 2005 - 17:20:39 PST

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