Re: two world clocks AND Time after Time

From: Steve Allen <>
Date: Sun, 23 Jan 2005 22:09:09 -0800

On Thu 2005-01-20T14:59:18 -0700, Rob Seaman hath writ:
> Leap seconds are a perfectly workable mechanism. Systems
> that don't need time-of-day should use TAI. Systems that do need
> time-of-day often benefit from the 0.9s approximation to UT1 that UTC
> currently provides. Let's stop pretending that *both* atomic time and
> time-of-day are not needed. Instead, let's direct our efforts toward
> implementing improved systems for conveying both of these fundamental
> timescales to users of both precision and civil time.

On Sat 2005-01-22T20:43:51 -0500, Daniel R. Tobias hath writ:
> Now, if a time standard is to be defined based solely on constant SI
> seconds, with no reference to astronomy, then why even include all
> the irregularities of the Gregorian Calendar, with its leap year
> schedule designed to keep in sync with the Earth's revolutions? It
> really makes no sense that TAI includes days, years, and so on at
> all, and this will seem particularly senseless when the current date
> by TAI is a day or more removed from Earth-rotational time, as will
> happen in a few millennia.
> What is really needed is two different time standards: a fixed-
> interval standard consisting solely of a count of SI seconds since an
> epoch (no need for minutes, hours, days, months, and years), and a
> civil-time standard that attempts, as best as is practical, to track
> the (slightly uneven) motions of the Earth.

Of course there are other units of "time" in civil history which have
been converted from actual representations into conventional ones.

Sailors have no qualms about calling out the next high tide
in terms of local civil time (now practically based on UTC).
They all know that the times shift by around an hour every day.

The month lost its connection with the moon early in the Roman era.
Everybody knows, and in general nobody cares, that the moon is not new
at the beginning of a month in the Gregorian calendar.

The Gregorian year is pretty good, but three millenia hence the vernal
equinox will have drifted discernably from the original intent. In
general nobody cares about the date of Easter that much, and (as seen
in Duncan Steel's book) even some of the best astronomers have not
understood the distinction between the tropical year (as popularly
defined by Newcomb) and the "Vernal Equinox Year" that Pope Gregory's
calendar actually aimed to match.

Above Rob Seaman and Danial Tobias have echoed some of the issues
discussed by Essen himself in his autobiographical work "Time for
Reflection" which his son-in-law has reproduced at

In particular, this footnote

(and the entire chapter containing it) reveals that the tension
between the physicists and the astronomers (notably Stoyko, who has
largely been written out of history) was great enough that there
almost became two SI units for "time", one being the second based on
the day, and one being the "Essen" based on the cesium resonance.

But Essen claims for himself (in both this autobiography and in
) the credit for recognizing that the existing systems of time
distribution (and now presumably extended to time computation)
basically cannot be expected to tolerate the existence of two kinds of
time. I don't think this is really true anymore, but it is admittedly

It was the astronomers who first made the mistake of counting a truly
uniform time scale using the calendrical/sexagesimal notation
originally based on earth rotations (and now concisely communicated
using ISO 8601). It was the physicists who pushed to continue the

Knowing the tides is a specialist operation, and has always been.
Knowing the phase of the moon is a specialist operation, and has been
in western culture for over two millenia.
What we are being told by the Time Lords is that, starting from a date
in the near future, knowing when noon is will also be a specialist

"Month" is entirely conventional in its meaning.
"Year" is entirely conventional in its meaning.
So soon "day" will be entirely conventional in its meaning.

All of them become predictable, albeit upon examination silly,
extensions of things which originally meant something else.

The priesthood of astronomy has become irrelevant to the general
populace, and the priesthood of the physicists has taken precedence.

The trick will be to educate the general public that 12:00 means
slightly less about where the sun is in longitude than the Gregorian
calendar date means about where the sun is in latitude. Both of these
schemes fail, it's just that atomic time fails by a full hour within
1000 or so years whereas the Gregorian calendar fails by a full day
only after another 2000 or so years.

I really like sundials, mean solar time, and the analemma.
I think it is disingenuous to use the methods we see being used by the
atomic clock keepers to accomplish this change.

Realistically, anything worth wearing to accomplish the function
of a wristwatch will soon have far more computational capability than
is required to tell when noon will really be, if anyone cares.

But the current strategy of retaining the name UTC creates one real
and unresolvable problem that will persist indefinitely. It is very
bad policy to corrupt the historical meaning of anything called
"Universal Time" by redefining UTC to be something that has no
relation to the rotation of the earth.

This list has discussed mitigations for astronomers to use with legacy
systems which amount to re-creating UTC with leap seconds. The effect
of that is to create "old UTC" and "new UTC". It also leaves
confusion over which form should be interpreted when reading
historical documents and comments in software systems.

We have already seen the chaos of such ambiguity when the British
Admiralty demanded that the term GMT continue to be used when
the beginning of the day was switched from noon to midnight.
The 2003 conference in Torino made it quite clear that a new name
should be used.

Yes, there is extreme cost required to change the name of the most
practically available civil time scale, but that cost is temporary.
As seen with GMT, the cost of not changing the name of a time scale is
also large. That cost is eternal, and eventually ends up demanding a
name change anyway.

The belief that a precisely-defined time scale can have a basic
characteristic changed without eventually incurring the cost of also
changing the name is a fantasy.

Steve Allen          UCO/Lick Observatory       Santa Cruz, CA 95064      Voice: +1 831 459 3046
PGP: 1024/E46978C5   F6 78 D1 10 62 94 8F 2E    49 89 0E FE 26 B4 14 93
Received on Sun Jan 23 2005 - 22:09:40 PST

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