A waste of time

On Thursday delegates met in Geneva to decide whether we’d be keeping the leap second. What? Yes, that’s right we have a leap second and apparently we pay delegates to meet and discuss such things as whether or not to abolish or keep it. I was intrigued to learn this and in the build up had been wondering what they’d decide: should we continue to add a second to the day every few years or not?

Technology companies like the precision of a mechanical atomic clock; astronomers want it linked to earth’s gravitational pull, with the issue being the earth seems to be slowing down a bit each year and so it doesn’t run on a mathematically precise schedule, hence adding a second every few years to make the clocks sync.

So, what’s the fuss about?! Why on earth do we have to have meetings about it? Who pays for all the UN delegates who gather? And, who gets to go? Can I? Bored and geeky enough to follow such things, why not? (I was even envisioning my application for the job: personal competencies included punctuality, efficiency, brilliant time management).

One reason I watched this odd debate with interest is that it seemed to be an example of the overwhelming and often unnecessary human desire to meet to discuss things. So, I thought, if we can’t decide whether to keep or abolish one second, how the hell are we going to ever reach decisions on things that matter (human rights, global warming, health care, education, poverty alleviation so on and so on)? Turns out that if this is anything to go by we are screwed. In true UN style, the outcome of the meeting was to defer the decision. Instead, sent to a special study group to think about. Is anyone else thinking what a waste of time (let alone money and emissions)? Oh dear.

You see, the biggest opponents of the leap second fear, in their Y2K esque manner, that technology will have a meltdown if we continue to do this. Proponents seem a little more practical and cite our 40 years of adding the second without major dramas as a reason to continue (last one in 2008, next later this year). Personally, I quite like the idea of an extra second. So I am going to be in favour of it if they should seek a global referendum, and I’m thinking that professional swimmers (down to the wire guys), people who talk too slow (finally you can spit it out), and procrastinators, will back me up.

Link to official press release

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