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Time keeps tickin' away, keeps tickin' away ...
December 10, 2008 8:47 PM   Subscribe

12/31/08 6:59:60 pm (EST).
posted by WCityMike (69 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
Pretty weak for the front page, don't you think?
posted by sunshinesky at 8:49 PM on December 10, 2008 [2 favorites]


Another second of Bush? That's like another 200 points down on the Dow Jones, right?
posted by orthogonality at 8:52 PM on December 10, 2008 [13 favorites]


Hey, just a sec.
posted by Balisong at 8:52 PM on December 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


This year really doesn't need to be a second longer.
posted by gman at 8:56 PM on December 10, 2008 [2 favorites]


When are we going to a metric clock?
10 seconds per minute, 10 minutes per hour, 10 hours per day, 10 days per week, 10 weeks per month, and 10 months per year?

OK, so it wouldn't sync up with old antiquated theories of "day" and "night" or even "year" but it would make it a lot simpler in the long run. No more leap day, or different numbers of days in the month, but you know, once humankind finally leaves this planet for good, we are going to have to re-think this whole time management thing, anyways.

Trust me, it'll be good.
posted by Balisong at 8:58 PM on December 10, 2008


So my late payment will be that much more late.

THANKS! THANKS A LOT, UNIVERSE, YOU FUCKING WHORE!!!
posted by dirigibleman at 9:00 PM on December 10, 2008


Err, wait. It'll be earlier, won't it?

Thanks, Universe?
posted by dirigibleman at 9:02 PM on December 10, 2008


I love these! The official announcement for this was back in July.
posted by gubo at 9:03 PM on December 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


How to fill the time?

Here's one suggestion.
posted by ob at 9:04 PM on December 10, 2008


Listening to Negativland's bit on this on Escape from Noise in college dorm room in 1990, it *freaked my LSD soaked brain out.*

Still does.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 9:05 PM on December 10, 2008 [2 favorites]


My first link didn't work. Try this.
posted by ob at 9:05 PM on December 10, 2008


I can't wait to wake up at 6:59:59 on 12/31, look at my clock, sigh, and then think, "wait a minute, I get an extra second of sleep today."
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:07 PM on December 10, 2008 [7 favorites]


I have big plans for that second.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:09 PM on December 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


Some people take their leap seconds very, very seriously.
posted by enn at 9:10 PM on December 10, 2008 [2 favorites]


10 seconds per minute, 10 minutes per hour, 10 hours per day, 10 days per week, 10 weeks per month, and 10 months per year?

you are all TIMED STUPID!!!
posted by pyramid termite at 9:10 PM on December 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


It's actually possible for a double leap second to be added. This is why the strftime function in C and cognate bindings such as the one in Python, allow seconds to be specified anywhere as an integer between 0 and 61 inclusive.
posted by grouse at 9:14 PM on December 10, 2008


Let's plan to use that second to slow the planet down a notch by having everyone on one side jump at the same time just to screw with the NIST nerds. How's that shrinking kilogram working out for you guys?
posted by loquacious at 9:16 PM on December 10, 2008


Balisong: You could make a metric clock work with day and night; just adjust the length of an hour as needed. You'd also throw out minutes and seconds entirely, and work with millihours, centihours, and decihours. The day would be one decahour, and the week would be one hectohour.

So, a metric hour would be 2.4 Imperial hours (or 144 Imperial minutes). A decihour is 14.4 minutes, centihour is 1.44 minutes (or 86.4 seconds), and the millhour is .144 minutes (or 8.64 seconds).

It also means redefining a week hectohour as 10 days. Unfortunately the universe doesn't really allow for an elegant metric month and year system, as we have 36.525 hectohours in a year. So, maybe the easiest thing to do would be to have 4 seasons of 9 hectohours each, and then have a holiday celebration each year after the winter season for .525 hectohours to make up the difference.
posted by JDHarper at 9:22 PM on December 10, 2008


JDHarper: but then every solar year your decahours will start at a different time of solar day!
posted by aubilenon at 9:29 PM on December 10, 2008


I can't wait to wake up at 6:59:59 on 12/31, look at my clock, sigh, and then think, "wait a minute, I get*beeep!* *beeep!* *beeep!* *beeep!*
posted by wanderingmind at 9:29 PM on December 10, 2008 [2 favorites]


I can live with one more second added to this year. What bothers me is why:
Historically, time was based on the mean rotation of the Earth relative to celestial bodies and the second was defined from this frame of reference. But the invention of atomic clocks brought about a definition of a second that is independent of the Earth's rotation and based on a regular signal emitted by electrons changing energy state within an atom.

In 1970, an international agreement established two timescales: one based on the rotation of the Earth and one based on atomic time.

The problem is that the Earth is very gradually slowing down, continually throwing the two timescales out of synch, so every so often, a "leap second" has to be tacked on to the atomic clock.
I knew the Earth was slowing its rotation, to an extent, but is it slowing down that much?

Well, yes, apparently. This graph from the US Navy looks pretty daunting. Fortunately, if you're in San Francisco between December 15 and 19, you might be able to talk to some of the IERS people personally, maybe get one of them do drop in an extra half hour or so, if you have some Christmas shopping left to do.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 9:33 PM on December 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


grouse: Apparently the possibility of a "double leap second" as implied in the POSIX standard was actually just a mistake made by the standard writers, as UTC ("atomic time") is by definition never off by more than one second from UT1 ("sidereal time"). See, e.g., Wikipedia on DUT1 and here.
posted by sappidus at 9:33 PM on December 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


In retrospect, the wording of my previous comment may have given short shrift to the awesomeness of that link. How awesome is it? One of the sections is subtitled "3 kids, 3 cesium clocks, a family road trip to measure relativistic time dilation" ("It was the best extra 22 nanoseconds I've ever spent with the kids"). This is a man who knows what time it is, by god. He's never got to be on time for anything!
Someone else: You're late!
This guy: How many active hydrogen masers have you got at home, motherfucker?
posted by enn at 9:34 PM on December 10, 2008 [5 favorites]


A bit of background:

There are two major "kinds" of time, in essence. The first, original sort is human-based, and is still used by astronomers. It's anchored by sunrise and sunset, tracking time based on the Earth's rotation around its axis. That was the reference point for most of human history. The other is simply "absolute" time, the amount elapsed since some fixed origin point. For absolute time, the Earth's rotation is absolutely irrelevant.

The problem is that the two types of time don't suit each other's purposes very well. The Earth's rotation isn't terribly regular day to day, because there's a lot of liquid on the planet, so it sort of wobbles and sloshes its way around the Sun. The sloshing isn't perceptible to us, but to people measuring time down to the trillionth of a second, each daily rotation is different. It's a tiny, tiny bit slower than 24 hours, but exactly how much changes from day to day.

So, they use absolute time to watch sunrises over long periods, and eventually determine that enough lag has accumulated to add a leap second. International Atomic Time (TAI) is as absolute as we can make it, what's tracked by atomic clocks. Universal Coordinated Time (UTC) adds an offset to TAI, to keep human time systems in sync with the Earth's rotation. Every once in awhile, they need to increase the offset to keep our clocks in proper sync with what actually matters to most of us, the sunrise.

(UTC and TAI, as an aside, are in the wrong letter order because the original terms are in French.)

As of January 1, the offset from TAI will increase to 34 seconds from the current 33. When will we increase to 35? We don't know. It's broadly predictable, but it can be a number of years between adjustments, or we might need leap seconds in successive years. We can't tell until it happens.

Each sunrise is a very tiny surprise.
posted by Malor at 9:35 PM on December 10, 2008 [20 favorites]


When are we going to a metric clock?

My brother had a teacher (I think this was in junior high) who successfully convinced his class that such a thing as metric time already existed and was common practice in some countries. To this day (the kids are in their twenties now) when he sees them he teases them about having fallen for it.
posted by naoko at 9:38 PM on December 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


We should all be working hard so future generations don't need to ever worry about counting seconds.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:39 PM on December 10, 2008


I knew the Earth was slowing its rotation, to an extent, but is it slowing down that much?

Well, the Earth is rotating just a hair slower than 24 hours; it will have accumulated 34 seconds of lag as of January 1. It's rotating at almost exactly the same speed it was, it's just not quite in sync with our calendar.

IIRC, it slows down about 1 second every eighteen months, and it will continue that speed for many millions of years. Very, very gradually it will increase, eventually to seconds or even minutes per year, but that's so far off that we can ignore it completely. The rate of change per year is incredibly tiny.

And, you know, after a few hundred million years, if we have a leap minute every year, big deal.
posted by Malor at 9:40 PM on December 10, 2008


I can almost see them in times square counting down "10...9...8...7...6...5...4...3...2...1...1???...happy new year" and a drooling, cranky dick clark at home in a wheel chair thinking he could have done it better.
posted by krautland at 9:41 PM on December 10, 2008


Sigh, I didn't make that very clear. What I should have said was that the Earth's CURRENT rotational speed is about 1 second slow every eighteen months. It will continue at 1 second slow per eighteen months for longer than humans can really understand.

Over very, VERY long periods of time, the rotational speed will slow, and we'll need more leap seconds to compensate, to keep human time synced with sunrise. But it's very probable that we'll be extinct or a different species by the time that would matter.
posted by Malor at 9:44 PM on December 10, 2008


Thank god this only happens every so often, as the article so thoroughly explains.
posted by piratebowling at 9:45 PM on December 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


UTC and TAI, as an aside, are in the wrong letter order because the original terms are in French.

TAI, yes, UTC, no. UTC is Coordinated Universal Time, and in French is Temps Universel Coordonné, which would be TUC. It's UTC because it's one of many kinds of UT.

Thanks for that interesting correction, sappidus.
posted by grouse at 9:48 PM on December 10, 2008


It's interesting to me that very few of these comments have been favorited at all. I think there's a reason for this.
posted by A dead Quaker at 9:52 PM on December 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


When are we going to a metric clock?

Srew base ten counting systems. The Sumerians had it right, base 12 is were it is at. What we should do is switch everything else over to Base 12 or base 60 counting systems so that they are in line with time.
posted by afu at 10:15 PM on December 10, 2008 [2 favorites]


The mind boggling thing about all of this really, is the number of people who are clearly making a living out of paying WAY too much attention to what time it is.
posted by paisley henosis at 10:16 PM on December 10, 2008


You bet I'll be watching my computer clock to see it when it hits 5:59:60 PM.
posted by rubah at 10:21 PM on December 10, 2008


It's interesting to me that very few of these comments have been favorited at all. I think there's a reason for this.

This is why I hesitate to riff on "Second City".
posted by Tube at 10:23 PM on December 10, 2008


Afu- at least bases 12 and 60 are divisible by a reasonable number of things. I mean, just 5 and 2? That's so limiting.

In other news, thanks for the link enn, I especially enjoyed this project. When you can show general relativity works with your very own minivan-- that's a pretty damn cool minivan, sir. (or in this case, its contents are, but still.)
posted by nat at 10:25 PM on December 10, 2008


Listening to Negativland's bit on this on Escape from Noise in college dorm room in 1990, it *freaked my LSD soaked brain out.*

Let's do the time warp again:

1977. 1985. 1992. 2005. 2008.
posted by mykescipark at 10:35 PM on December 10, 2008


I too have big plans for that sec--

Oh, I'll just waste it anyway.
posted by Ghidorah at 10:42 PM on December 10, 2008


This year really doesn't need to be a second longer.

Seconded.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 11:10 PM on December 10, 2008 [2 favorites]


Metric clock.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 11:19 PM on December 10, 2008


Sweet. I am going to get so much done.
posted by sourwookie at 11:36 PM on December 10, 2008


Anyone who's interested in metric time should check out Swatch Internet Time which not only went to a metric system (1000 beats of 86.4 seconds in a day) but also dispensed with timezones.

Being a PSO player back in the early 2000s I learnt about it. It was kind of funky at the time.
posted by Talez at 11:36 PM on December 10, 2008


One more second of a Bush Presidency.

Alas.
posted by mazola at 11:44 PM on December 10, 2008


Didn't the French Revolution usher in (briefly) metric time?
posted by maxwelton at 11:58 PM on December 10, 2008


Harper's magazine had an article about this back in 2006. I think I can locate it, it'll just take a second...
posted by Ron Thanagar at 12:21 AM on December 11, 2008


This means at least one extra child called Justin this year.
posted by mandal at 12:53 AM on December 11, 2008


The (wonderful) Harper's article is called Clash of the Time Lords -- it's also available as an mp3 from Assistive Media (great chore listening: struggles between sidereal and atomic orders of time while you try to fish another damn rubber band out of the vacuum cleaner).
posted by finnb at 1:17 AM on December 11, 2008 [2 favorites]


It's UTC because it's one of many kinds of UT.

That's just a nice story for polite company. In truth, the French and English-speaking factions couldn't come to an agreement. The abbreviation UTC was chosen, specifically because it matched neither language.
posted by ryanrs at 1:42 AM on December 11, 2008


Unfortunately the universe doesn't really allow for an elegant metric month and year system, as we have 36.525 hectohours in a year. So, maybe the easiest thing to do would be to have 4 seasons of 9 hectohours each.

Fours and nines? Too much work, not metric enough.

Let's just move the sun.
posted by rokusan at 2:47 AM on December 11, 2008


Yeah, metric time doesn't solve anything. The biggest problem is that the time it takes the Earth to go around the Sun divided by the time it takes the Earth to rotate on it's axis is not an integer. So there's no way to have N days per year, every year, no matter what you do. 10 metric hours per day? 10 metric months per year? The day and year are still the same length, so you still have leftovers.

Then you throw in the wobbling, the slowing down, the slowly evolving orbital elements, etc, etc.
posted by DU at 4:41 AM on December 11, 2008


I can almost see them in times square counting down "10...9...8...7...6...5...4...3...2...1...1???...happy new year" and a drooling, cranky dick clark at home in a wheel chair thinking he could have done it better

i was thinking this year they would crank it up to 11.
posted by Pollomacho at 5:31 AM on December 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


max welton: Didn't the French Revolution usher in (briefly) metric time?

Kind of -- the “Revolutionary Calendar” was used from October 24, 1793, until it was abolished on January 1, 1806. It was developed by a team of mathematicians, astronomers, artists, poets, and even a gardener, and one of its central ideas was the 10-day week. (The last day of the week was the "weekend.") It also measured time using units of ten -- hours were 100 minutes long, and every day should last exactly 100,000 seconds long. In 1806, Napoleon Bonaparte abolished the calendar; it resurfaced in May 1871, but, luckily, never stuck. I don't think anyone was really digging the 9-day work week.
posted by mothershock at 5:41 AM on December 11, 2008


naoko writes "successfully convinced his class that such a thing as metric time already existed and was common practice in some countries. To this day (the kids are in their twenties now) when he sees them he teases them about having fallen for it."

The Chinese used decimal time keeping for several millennia. Besides, considering the prevalence of whacky things like the Gallon (that varies in size depending on where you are) or the Ounce (that varies in size depending on what you are weighing) metric time really isn't all that far fetched. Especially when coming from a person who is supposed to be teaching.
posted by Mitheral at 5:55 AM on December 11, 2008


we be time travelin'. everyone eat their riboflavin.
posted by Stynxno at 7:03 AM on December 11, 2008


After a whole lot of time-format frustration, I'm all for just throwing out everything but seconds, and just using a single long integer, like Unix. The only thing that needs to be arbitrary is the epoch you start counting from, and the base unit (although you could use some physically-derived quantity: hyperfine state transition time of your favorite atom, for instance). Basically unambiguous, no messing with time zones, and (if you define it properly and make it an absolute count with no connection to sidereal time) no leap-seconds.

Anyway, it's 1229016077, and that means lunch ... so I'll see you all around 1229020200.

Too unwieldy? You could always represent it in hex: 49415C28!
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:25 AM on December 11, 2008


Sweet, I’m going to use my extra second to do som...aww. Too late.
Can I get credit for future years’ seconds?
posted by Smedleyman at 10:12 AM on December 11, 2008


Seriously, the Times Square countdown question is very interesting. What did they do in previous leap-second years, like 2005? Just ignore the problem, and shout happy New Year a second early? Or did they preemptively add the second before starting the countdown, so no one would notice?
posted by ericbop at 11:13 AM on December 11, 2008


To this day (the kids are in their twenties now) when he sees them he teases them about having fallen for it.

I wonder how many things I think I know are actually pranks played by some long lost teacher.
posted by InfidelZombie at 11:54 AM on December 11, 2008


ericbop- if the leap second kicks in at 7 pm EST it won't be an issue for the ball drop at midnight.
posted by InfidelZombie at 11:55 AM on December 11, 2008


Something I forgot to mention is that leap days and leap seconds solve different problems. Leap days keep the calendar aligned with the Earth's yearly orbit around the sun, where leap seconds adjust to match the Earth's daily rotation.

Leap days, in other words, sync your calendar to the seasons, while leap seconds sync your wall clock to the sunrise.
posted by Malor at 12:10 PM on December 11, 2008


Man, this is the kind of shit that is going to totally throw me off when we are counting down to the New Year. I'll have updated my watch and no one else will have paid attention so I'll be a full second out of wack, and look like a total ass.

Just for that, I'm going to completely refuse to even acknowledge this extra second for a full week after the new year. Yeah that'll show them. What are they gonna do? Sue me? Make me recognize that it's a second later? I don't think so.

Bitches.
posted by quin at 12:57 PM on December 11, 2008


The Dick Clark countdown standard of timekeeping is just a horrible idea. Unless they prerecorded it (which would be dumb), there'd be at least a second of lag in getting it across the US due to hardware issues - HD encoding, affiliate decoding & re-encoding, & relaying.

I wonder if they've actually worked on minimizing the delay.

I can't believe this hasn't been quantified on Wikipedia. Come on! We might want to consider this before we have a Mars colony!
posted by Pronoiac at 12:59 PM on December 11, 2008


There was some brief concern a couple years ago that the earth was starting to speed up and that we might have to actually skip a second. That was going to break all sorts of embedded software that was capable of dealing with 61 second minutes, but not 59 second minutes. Fortunately it's not happening.
posted by Nelson at 1:26 PM on December 11, 2008


Unless they prerecorded it

Those of us in CST rely on Conan O'Brien to tell us when the year rolls over.
posted by gimonca at 2:47 PM on December 11, 2008


Hm. I was also ignoring the West Coast tape delay there, for Mountain & Pacific peeps. I wonder exactly how synchronized their broadcast is.

What about satellite providers who take affiliates & re-broadcast them? What about digital television & its buffers (related AskMe question)? I'm standing by my "Don't set your clock by Dick Clark" stance.
posted by Pronoiac at 5:07 PM on December 11, 2008


We know that Earth's rotation is slowing at a rate of about one millisecond per year. That's not much, but about 70 million years ago, when the dinosaurs roamed Earth, a day was about 22 hours long. And millions of years in Earth's future, our day will be longer, around 26 hours per day, finally granting that wish to those folks who plead for more hours in a day! But it's not the Sun slowing Earth's spin down, but rather the interaction between Earth and Moon.

The Moon's gravity causes the ocean's tides to rise and fall The Sun also affects the tides, but because it is so much farther from us than the Moon, the Sun has less of an effect. While the Moon's gravity is pulling at us, it causes friction between the changing tides and the spinning Earth. The result is that the Earth's rotation slows down ever so much.

An interesting side note to this spin business is that the Moon's tidal pull, besides slowing Earth's rotation, is causing the Moon to move away from the Earth at a rate of one millimeter per year. In Earth's past – the Moon was closer and therefore appeared much larger in our skies, and far into our future the Moon will be much smaller in our skies. How nice that we live in a time when the Moon appears the same size as the Sun in our skies, making for great solar eclipses!

The thought of Earth's rotation slowing down begs the question of what will happen in the really far future of the Earth and Moon. Well billions of years from now the Moon will have moved much farther away and that constant pull of the Sun and Moon on the Earth will have ceased it's affect on the Earth's spin. It's quite likely that the Earth's rotation will slow to one rotation every 365 days, a condition we call synchronous rotation with the Sun. When this happens each half of the Earth will have permanent day or night all year.

If the Earth stopped spinning altogether, each half of the Earth would have half a year of daytime and half a year of night. This six months of day or night would cause temperatures to be far hotter or colder than they are now. Wind circulation would also change, circulating from the equator towards the poles rather than parallel to the equator. That might not sound too horrible, but the worst effect is the Van Allen radiation belts would likely disappear and that would mean no more protection from cosmic rays and other particles. That effect would be a dire threat to life on Earth.

posted by ZenMasterThis at 6:20 PM on December 11, 2008


The mind boggling thing about all of this really, is the number of people who are clearly making a living out of paying WAY too much attention to what time it is.

They're relatively normal. I spent a few days in Denver / Boulder at a network synchronization conference a few years ago (you may have no idea how important this stuff is to making your wireless toys work, for example). The NIST guys had by far the coolest papers to present; ridiculously accurate clocks based on some fairly arcane physics. (Eg. did you know that under certain conditions you can actually COOL atoms by hitting them with a laser beam?) There was an NIST lab tour at the end of the conference; I'm still kicking myself for taking the early flight home.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 6:36 PM on December 11, 2008


my new year's eve party will last a second longer! w00t! i'll drink to that...
posted by kuppajava at 8:56 PM on December 11, 2008


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