International Conference on Civil Timekeeping (was Re: [LEAPSECS] WP7A press release)

From: Rob Seaman <>
Date: Fri, 18 Nov 2005 06:52:38 -0700

On Nov 18, 2005, at 5:21 AM, Poul-Henning Kamp wrote:

> I don't think there is even anything in the WP7A rules that would
> allow them to bar new proposals, provided these were submitted
> properly.

Indeed - I was trying to read the tea leaves to predict their
behavior, not a legally binding referendum. Here was the quote I
forwarded to the Observatory staff to bring them up to date:

>>> From BBC News (
>>> 4420084.stm):
>>> "Consideration of a proposal to redefine everyday timekeeping
>>> by scrapping leap seconds - small changes made to clock
>>> time - has been postponed. A working party weighing the
>>> proposed change to Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) has
>>> decided more time is needed to build a consensus on the
>>> issue."

And here is the inference drawn by a colleague far removed from the
front line of the leap second wars:

>> I like the "more time is needed to build a consensus,'' meaning
>> more time to build one that we want.

> But I think you read their message wrong.

Quite possibly - but it's also possible I read their message right.
I would welcome a clarification from the WP7A.

> I don't think they said "We'll try to build concensus".
> As I read it, they more or less told USA that their proposal was
> nice and all that, but that since it did not come with a concensus
> or majority, they ain't going to touch it.
> The to weight, as I understand it, is therefore on USA and the
> leap-second aware computer people.

As with any consensus-building, the weight is on whoever would like
to see such emerge. For instance, just by debating the issue, the
ITU is asserting that they "own" the UTC standard. Is this actually
the case? I suspect that a squadron of lawyers would likely find
that the International Telecommunications Union is the appropriate
international body to transport time signals relating to, well,
international telecommunications - but what exactly is that? Clearly
other time signal providers exist, e.g., GPS and NTP. But who owns
the underlying concept of Universal Time or the UTC flavor of same?
Perhaps this is the first consensus position to identify.

One might assert, for instance, that the IERS (or one of its parent
bodies) is the caretaker of UTC, and that the ITU is merely a
middleman. In that analysis, the ITU can provide any signal it wants
to the world as long as it claims - or doesn't claim - appropriate
conformance to underlying standards. And by that token, the "world"
could ignore the ITU time signals in favor of GPS or NTP or some new
UTC provider who would continue to adhere to a popular underlying
standard ("the rotation of the Earth") that people might understand
better than the ITU's choice.

So, who wants to build consensus on UTC? I'll bet that all together
we represent several organizations who would be willing to cosponsor
an "International Conference on Civil Timekeeping" - at least, if the
costs were kept reasonable. Suggestions for venues and dates? How
about a return to Washington, D.C. after 121 years (11 squared, very
auspicious)? I'm very fond of Victoria, B.C. - the hushed but
roughhewn elegance of the Empress would be perfect for continuing a
conversation started under Victoria herself. Greenwich would be an
obvious choice, of course. Or Santa Cruz is very nice...

> With respect to the secrecy and lack of awareness of the ITU standards
> I can only agree: IETF proved that standards work a lot better
> when anyone easily can get hold of them and everybody can afford
> to read them.

Finally! Something we can all agree on!

Rob Seaman
National Optical Astronomy Observatory
Received on Fri Nov 18 2005 - 05:53:29 PST

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