Leap second coming, will we be ready?

Friday, January 9, 2015

Three years ago, Qantas' reservation system broke down, leaving passengers stranded for hours and the planes that never crash lined up on the tarmac.

Reddit, Foursquare, Yelp and LinkedIn all bogged down, as did systems using Java and Linux -- the operating system underlying all of those Android phones and tablets.

The problem was the folks who keep track of such things -- the International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service -- know that the Earth's spin slows down about two thousandths of a second per day, but atomic clocks are constant.

Over time, the difference builds up to a full second, and the clocks need to be reset to keep the two in sync.

Computers, meanwhile, expect to have 86,400 seconds in a day, and don't know what to do when the network server adds a second.

That's just what's going to happen on June 30, when a second will be added.

That wasn't such a big deal in 1972, when an electronic calculator costs hundreds of dollars, sat on a desk and performed four functions.

Today, we all carry computers in our pockets and depend on complex binary code to text love notes, check our schedules and find out what's for supper.

As the 2012 leap second approached, Google announced a "leap smear," which would add a little bit of time every time its servers were updated.

Have Google, and other Internet companies, large and small, learned their lesson?

We'll know on the first of July

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: