Archive for January 2012

The next leap second will be on June 30th, maybe

Leap seconds are the extra seconds inserted every so often to keep precise atomic clocks better synchronized with the rotation of the Earth. Scheduled for June 30th is the extra second 23:59:60 inserted between 23:59:59 and 00:00:00. Or maybe not.

Tomorrow or Friday a vote may be held at the International Telecommuncation Union (ITU) meeting in Geneva to abolish the leap second from the definition of UTC (Coordinated Universial Time). Which would mean StataCorp would not have to post an update to Stata to keep the %tC format working correctly.

As I’ve blogged before — scroll down to “Why Stata has two datetime encodings” in Using dates and times from other software — Stata supports both UTC time (%tC) and constant-86,400-seconds/day time (%tc). Stata does that because some data are collected using leap-second corrected time, and some uncorrected. Stata is unique or nearly unique in providing both time formats.

I read that Google does something very clever: they strech the last second of the year out when a leap second occurs, so the data they collect does not end up with ugly times like 23:59:60, and so that it can be more easily processed by software that assumes a constant 86,400 seconds per day.

The IT industry and a number of others, I gather, are pretty united about the benefits of scrapping the leap second.

The vote is predicted to go against continuing the leap second, according to The Economist magazine. The United States and France are for abolishing the leap second. Britain, Canada, and China are believed to be for continuing it. Some 192 countries will get to vote.

Whichever way the vote goes, I would like to remind readers of advice I previously offered to help alleviate the need for leap seconds: Face west and throw rocks. As I previously noted, the benefit will be transitory if the rocks land back on Earth, so you need to throw the rocks really hard. Having now thought more about this issue, a less strenuous way occurs to me: Push rocks downhill or carry them toward the poles, and preferably do both. These suggestions are designed to attack the real problem, which is that the Earth is currently rotating too slowly.

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