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Special episode

Tue, 30th Jun 2015

Just give me a second...

An old style alarm clock (c) Jorge Barrios

Rejoice because at midnight tonight, a second will be added to clocks across the world. Seeing as you now have all of this extra time, here's Tom Crawford with everything you need to know about the leap second...

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There is room for compromise.  Different people have to do different things.  The length of a second must remain constant for engineers and scientists.  (Experts in relativity might refer to that as the "Earth second".)  Astronomers need to keep track of planetary wobbles and will use leap seconds - even if they do not call them that.  Programmers desperately want something predictable.  Such a scheme already exists!  It is TAI (whatever the French for International Atomic Time is).  The problem is that some programmers used UTC (Universal Time Co-ordinate) thinking that it had superseded TAI, when they should have used TAI.  That is a programming bug.  A HUGE programming bug, and should be treated as such.  The net needs "number of seconds since the beginning of time".  Unfortunately there is a massive amount of mis-labeled data.  Possibly people could move to GPS time, which is TAI plus a fixed offset.  It has the advantage that anybody can access it anywhere anytime (and it does not have leap seconds).  Official time should be "number of seconds" which is displayed as GPS, UTC or some other time zone, depending on who is asking. blind Pete, Mon, 6th Jul 2015

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