The International Telecommunication Union, an arm of the United Nations, recently announced with great fanfare that it intended to settle the "problem" of leap seconds once and for all. At their meeting on January 19th, the committee decided to kick the decision down the road for another three years. Procrastination — what could be more appropriate for an official international committee on time?
Truth be told, this choice was as good as any other. Leap seconds have been added periodically to keep the official time in sync with Earth's uneven, unpredictable rotation, most recently at the beginning of 2009.These leap seconds upset techies, because they mean that the internal clocks inside devices can't run autonomously. Instead, somebody has to go in there every few years and set the clock back a second. So people who run computer networks would be much happier if leap seconds were abolished.
However, abolishing leap seconds would just kick the problem down the road for a millennium or two, by which time local noon (the Sun being at its highest) would occur several hours late. People seem (strangely enough) to be willing to put up with daylight saving time, but I doubt anybody would be happy having the Sun highest at 11 p.m.!
What's my opinion? It's a thorny problem without any good long-term solution. But I object on principle to bending people's behavior to suit the convenience of computer techies. Machines were meant to serve us, not the other way around!
For more information, see our online article on time.