Extra ‘Leap Second’ Caused Major Internet Glitches

The alarm rings, you press snooze for five more minutes in your cozy bed. A friend calls when you are running late and you ask him for ten more minutes. The value and idea of time is sometimes so fickle in our lives that five or ten minutes do not even register in our psyche. But when it comes to the internet and digital media, each second counts and there can be no better example of this adage than the leap second and the chaos that ensued this year.

It brought to mind the infamous Y2K bug at the turn of the century that was supposed to bring the entire digital, internet and non-digital universe down to its knees. No such thing happened. But in the case of the leap second this year, we are witnessing scenes of confusion across the globe.

The leap second, introduced in 1971 was meant to synchronize time keeping the world over. This is important because it prevents atomic clocks from getting ahead of solar time. This synchronization takes place over the internet once the time is supplied by defense forces like the U.S. Navy. This year marks the 25th adjustment to the Coordinated Universal Time or UTC and everything seemed like it would go off as planned.

Alas that was not to be and many glitches occurred. Lots of the issues were related to Java and Cassandra programs. For instance, Mozilla reported issues with connectivity and its Java programs needed to be restarted. Reddit which uses Cassandra and Java programs faced multiple failures too. Servers like Debian Linux went offline and were restored only after the official time was temporarily disabled. Qantas Airlines saw its entire reservation system go offline for a second causing confusion and delays.

Considering that almost everything runs on digital systems and supports, countries such as U.S.A and France are seeking the abolishing of the leap second, believing that machines should not be chained to the sunrise and sunset cycle. For instance, navigation systems that rely on satellite like GPS do not use leap seconds and so an addition could mean confusion. If the move goes through, it could mean less confusion across sectors, be it air control, financial institutions, markets, power, internet and telecom networks. On the other side, considering that a full six months’ notice is given before changes are made, all the fuss about the humble leap second might be exaggerated, it is believed.

Who knew that a second packed such a punch? For travelers, traders, users and others, the almost total breakdown of systems is a horror they are not eager to visit. Vigilance and preparation will ensure that, in the future, they will never have to.

This is a guest post by Mark Dwayne of cabletimenyc.com, a site that offers savings and current information on Cable Time NYC. Twc access here to learn more about savings on your cable bill.

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