Facebook wants to kill the leap second - a scoundrel messing with our lives

Facebook wants to kill the leap second – a scoundrel messing with our lives

Surprise! We’ve been adding leap seconds for 50 years. I bet you have never heard of leap seconds, which are seconds rather than years. We’ve occasionally added a second to the global clock since 1972 to take into account changes in the rotational speed of the globe. We add a second as it slows. We have thus far contributed 27.

You may feel as though this has no bearing on you (or that having an extra second is wonderful), but if you can recall not being able to access Reddit in 2012 or the dozens of Cloudflare-supported websites that went down in 2017, you have already experienced the icy, unforgiving face of a leap second.

It turns out that Meta, a firm that is not usually known for having our best interests at heart, is not a fan of leap seconds. They should be eliminated, and Meta argued as much this week in a lengthy blog article.

Meta asserts that although it may be a little self-serving, this isn’t personal: The issues that arise from this ostensibly unimportant extra tick-tock of the clock affect the company’s global network in the same way they do for all others. A leap second’s successful implementation, which forces the world clock to pause for one second to add that extra beat, is like the precise synchronization of a world dance team that hasn’t been taught all the moves.

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Meta asserts that although it may be a little self-serving, this isn’t personal: The issues that arise from this ostensibly unimportant extra tick-tock of the clock affect the company’s global network in the same way they do for all others. A leap second’s successful implementation, which forces the world clock to pause for one second to add that extra beat, is like the precise synchronization of a world dance team that hasn’t been taught all the moves.

Systems like those mentioned above—systems you rely on—can crash if, as is frequently the case, not all systems are handling the change in the same way or communicating it in a timely, split-second manner.

To be clear, leap seconds are not a yearly or guaranteed occurrence. They’ve happened just over half the years we’ve had the system in place, but they can occur with unpredictable regularity, and the disruption can be incalculably bad.

Similar to how learning about Y2K(opens in new tab) in the late 1990s was confusing, learning about leap seconds can be confusing. Up until that point, we had been living in a digital spring, with personal PCs improving our daily lives for almost 20 years and commercial and mainframe computers improving them for decades.

Then someone observed that most systems hadn’t been programmed for the switchover that would occur when the year 1999 gave way to 2000. The possibility of the Internet and many other services abruptly failing was warned to us. There would be a worldwide panic as companies and banks would fail.

Everyone was a little spooked out until engineers and developers like those who work at Meta now realized the risk and began making adjustments. By the time January 1st, 2000, arrived, the dreaded Armageddon had all but disappeared.

We prepared. And thus we survived.

The existence of the jump second probably does not provide a life-threatening scenario. However, it has the potential to act like a “butterfly beating its wings in Houston and starting a tsunami in Taipei.” As noted by Meta, “Every time a leap second is implemented, our sector has issues. Additionally, every time it occurs, the community is destroyed because it is such a rare occurrence.”

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