Wednesday, December 31, 2008

"One-thousand-one ..."

One second is a breath, a heartbeat, a thought, even a relatively slow Google search. It's also what's been tacked-on to 2008, a leap second to go along with the leap day last February 29th, all to keep time in sync with our perception of the proper day. But how do you observe the leap second, capture and make the most of it? In 20th century analog mode, try digging out a short-wave radio, and tuning in at just before 7p Eastern time. A digital experience turns out to be much more complicated, with multiple time protocols and time scales, software glitches and delays. The most commonly used accurate time source is a GPS, and its internal time is actually ahead of UTC (clock time to you and me) and has no leap seconds. The closer you look the more mysterious it all is, and in truth general relativity provides relativistic incantations that allow GPS to keep time accurately if not find your way home. Einstein's time is knotted up with space and mass and "dark" things we know next to nothing about. Our time is a fairytale and much sleight of hand is needed to keep it that way.

It might be more meaningful to take that moment to reflect on one of three laws by a notable author who passed on in 2008, Arthur C. Clarke: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

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