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Time is relative

2 min read

Happy new year everyone,

during the holidays I did think about my life as well as the past and future of human kindā€¦.just kidding šŸ˜‰ But I went down the rabbit whole in one of the most important topics for computer scientists: Time

More narrow: How we humans define time

Did you know that there is not only an additional day in February every four years, but there are also sometimes leap seconds injected into our time system. For us humans this leap second is trivial to cope with: Just count a second twice. But for computers which rely on time being linear the leap second can become a non-trivial problem.

I had too much time to read so I did dig up several papers around this topic of which I will send you the best in the next weeks. (3 papers total).

To kick of this paper-series we start today with one discussing the past and future of the leap second, next week we will dive in more deeply into how tech handles it.


This paper reviews the theoretical motivation for the leap second in the context of the historical evolution of time measurement. The periodic insertion of a leap second step int o the scale of Coordinated Universal Time(UTC) necessitates frequent changes in complex timekeeping systems an d is currently the subject of discussion in working groups of various international scientiĀŽc organizations. UTC is an atomic time scale that agrees in rate with International Atomic Tim e (T AI) , bu t differs by an integral number of seconds, and is the basis of civil time.In contrast, Universal Tim e (UT1) is an astronomical time scale deĀŽfined by the Earthā€™s rotation an d is used in celestial navigation. UT C is presently maintained to within 0.9 s of UT1 . As the need s of celestial navigation that depend on UT1 can no w be met by satellite systems, such as the Global Positioning System (GPS), options for revising the deĀŽfinition of UTC an d the possible role of leap seconds in the future are consider

Download Link:

It would be awesome if you could help growing our little paper community even more by sharing it with your circles (you can also @eu_frey me on Twitter for retweets :D):

If you have any paper recommendation for me, please do not hesitate to approach me via [email protected] (Please keep the Backend & DevOps topic focus in mind)

With much love,
Simon Frey