Re: [LEAPSECS] An immodest proposal

From: Rob Seaman <>
Date: Tue, 14 Feb 2006 13:58:55 -0700

On Feb 14, 2006, at 12:50 PM, Markus Kuhn wrote:

> You can, of course, define, publish, implement, and promote a new
> version (4?) of NTP that can also diseminate TAI, EOPs, leap-second
> tables, and other good things. I'm all for it.

But why are you for it? Before investing large amounts of time and
money in developing and deploying a large new timekeeping system,
wouldn't one want to invest smaller amounts in exploring the issues
and options? Heck - one has to imagine that a number of successful
grant applications are lurking around here somewhere. Time is an
issue that cuts across every funding agency out there.

> I personally would very much prefer to see a protocol specification
> that clearly indicates on the wire if something other than UTC is
> provided.

Sure. Sounds like a clear requirement for whatever system comes
next. This is equivalent to the central problem with the leap hour
kludge. If it ain't universal time - don't pretend it is. Surely we
could devise some safeguards, starting with limiting the testbed to a
closed network of systems dedicated to timekeeping test applications.

> Anything else sounds as dangerous to me as using the same kind of
> plug in countries that use 115 V and 230 V power.

And yet you can buy dumb little conversion plugs that perform no
function other than allowing US electronic devices to fit straight
into European outlets and vice-versa. It is the devices' power
supplies that are responsible for adapting to the voltage and line
frequency. That you can't safely use the same plug for simple high
current devices like hair driers is just another one of those
inconvenient facts of nature.

What are the classifiable, quantifiable, facts of nature for
timekeeping in the real world today?

> Naive users exist, and if things appear to fit together, they will
> be plugged together by someone.

And that is one of the main points for building such a testbed
system. What are the real risks? What features are required to
mitigate those risks? What level of naivete should be tolerated?
"Users" (meaning everybody, everywhere) are expected to master the
intricacies of sexigesimal notation - in both analog and digital
formats. What is the appropriate level of timekeeping expertise that
can be relied on for various classes of user?

> This is more likely to add to the problem than to the solution.

I'm not advocating a solution. In the absence of additional data, I
expect I will never be moved from my current position of supporting
the UTC status quo. As your comments imply, the alternatives are too
dangerous. If any of us want to convince "the other side" (whichever
side that is) to change their minds, surely assembling hard data is
the first step.

> Usability experiences gained in a testbed run by a small group of
> knowledgeable enthusiasts do not necessarily scale into the real
> world.

No indeed, but what greater folly to suggest that omitting such
testbed runs might somehow build more confidence in proposed
solutions. What is the opposite of "knowledgeable enthusiasts"?
Should these issues rather be left to "ignorant apathetes"?

> Besides, bastardised "NTP" servers that replace UTC with TAI and
> UT1 have been around for quite some some; for instance Patrick
> Wallace (Rutherford Appleton Laboratory) reported at the 2003
> Torino meeting about his "UT1P" server.

Well, yeah - I didn't claim my proposal was either new or rocket
science. Pat has lead a lot of such efforts over his career. The
whole point is to find a simple way to start to actually experiment
with and develop new ideas for timekeeping infrastructure.

Surely I'm not the only one who is dreadfully tired of hypothetical

Received on Tue Feb 14 2006 - 12:59:19 PST

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