Friday, January 20, 2012

It's not only the Earth that's spinning!

Have you caught up with the discussion about whether we should ignore the Earth's speed of rotation on its axis and set our time by the obviously more accurate atomic clocks? If you haven't, pin your ears back because it occasionally has implications for all of us.

If you didn't know it already, the Earth is not an accurate keeper of time because, would you believe it,the damn thing cuts a nick off 24 hours every time it spins. This is because it actually wobbles several degrees on its axis and gets hit by various bits of space debris, solar winds etc.

So if you stuck around a few million years, if you relied on good old Mother Earth to run your life, you'd effectively be robbed of a few weeks or so. In fact, the boffins who work tirelessly to deliver this info to us calculate the loss of about half a day every 6,000 years. It means that once in every few thousand years,  your client's deadline of tomorrow is really closer than you think.

To better focus our minds on this, our boffins have spiced this debate up in a way that should soon have management and IT consultants donning the sandwich boards again declaring 'the end is nigh'.

Remember the Y2K millennium bug? Filled newspaper columns and IT consultant pockets in tandem, as we waited in dread throughout 1999 for the moment when society ground to halt as we ticked over past midnight to enter the 21st Century.

We'll never really know whether the 20th Century habit of encoding the year date as two digits in PCs would have brought down contemporary society because our multi-million dollar investments in IT upgrades were completed in time, but it was probably the biggest ever millennium con we ever fell for! Of course, Apple users were immune from the travails faced by mere PC users - more iTuned into the future as usual.

Now scientists are debating whether we should abandon our current practice of bumping our atomic clocks by a second every few years to compensate for the Earth's wobbly behavior lest it upset our computer systems. The Ghost of Y2K perhaps?  So, if we stick to the atomic clock, some are arguing that we won't have to make the miniscule adjustments that put our computer driven society at risk every few years.

What we really need now is the daylight saving lobby to zoom in on this discussion. What are the implications of moving to atomic clock time? Will this result in extra daylight seconds - those poor farmers having to get up micro-seconds earlier to milk the cows, curtains fading, outdoor decking needing extra oil. The consequences don't bear thinking about.

And what about the nuclear lobby. Where do these atomic clocks derive their power. Where will we dump the nuclear waste? My God, we already have atomic clocks. Is there a waste dump in my backyard? Should I start buying BHP shares to capitalise on the proceeds from the Olympic Dam development? Big social and strategic issues that strike at the heart of my general well-being!

And then there's the Green lobby. How is carbon pollution influencing the timing and rhythm of our existence? Should we go nuclear or keep burning fossil fuels to keep town hall clocks running. Should we re-introduce wind-up watches so we derive health benefits as well as energy savings.

We spend a lot of time talking about this stuff, yet we have all been turning back the clock to help our punctuality for years. Even as I write, I'm betting someone somewhere is adjusting a watch heading into meeting to declare their timepiece had let them down again.

For the most part, knocking a second off a deadline once every few years is not going to resolve my day to day tardiness, especially when the atomic adjustments are most likely to occur on New Year's Eve!

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