The atomic clocks of the world will stop for a second on June 30th at 23:59:59. They will change to the unfamiliar time of 23:59:60 before changing to 00:00:00 on the first morning of July, 2015. This leap second is being added to adjust earthy clocks according to the fluctuation in the planetary time. This week Paris Observatory made the announcement while explaining why this decrease in Earth’s rotation is a problem for computer engineers.
Leap seconds are similar to the Y2K bug; both effect synchronization between the times of atomic clocks and computers. However, there is one big difference. Y2K was a single incident while leap seconds will regularly take place. In 1972, the first ever leap second was added, and it will be the 26th one this year; more will be coming too. They are very unpredictable. Various factors like weather, tidal drag and earthquakes affect Earth’s rotation. The team of scientists at International Earth Rotation Service monitors and calls the changes as they occur.
In 2012, some websites faced problems keeping pace when the last leap second was added. According to Phys.org, major websites like LinkedIn, Foursquare, StumbledUpon and Reddit crashed when suddenly the leap second ticked on the clock. Reddit’s case was traced back quickly; it was about a confusion of an extra second that occurred when Linux’s subsystem checked the Network Time Protocol. Linus Torvalds, the creator of Linux was talking to Wired about the problem in 2012. He mentioned about finding something new every time there is a leap second which is quite annoying as the code never runs in this case, and users do not test it normally.
Google has come up with a smart way to solve this problem. Google’s “leap smear” is the best possible solution rather than companies forcing themselves to work it out. Christopher Pascoe, Google’s site reliability engineer, elucidated in his blog post that it is about turning the clocks one second back at the end of the day by repeating that second. He further said that there are problems related with it too especially to write operations that occur during that specific second. One such example is of the storage of emails that arrive at that second. Google’s idea is to divide that second into milliseconds, and gradually adjust them with 24 hours of the day. According to him, the clocks misrepresent time throughout the day for adding that extra second till midnight.
Now the question arises whether people can isolate themselves from the concept of time taken from solar day or not. It is not possible for every company or website to have technical backing to try something like “leap smear”. One should be ready to see a few outages when the day of June 30th ends. There is not much that can be done on this issue except some tricky engineering. According to The Telegraph, some blocs in the US are planning to exclude the leap second unanimously. That is not something very ordinary. It means deviating from the concept of time taken from the most important basic timescales which is the solar day. Introducing the new concept of civil time will be a never ending journey that will take away people from the planetary time. It is too earlier to say whether it will be a right decision or not. From June 30th 2015, people will start getting their answers.