20120726

Stupid people: another reason we need metric time

From here, via Images | These images are pretty sweet.  The video is funny, too.  And just under 2 minutes, too.

MJD 56135.076

20120720

Wither Wikipedia?

There has been some buzz for the past few days that Wikipedia is running out of editors.  Actually, the original article was more about the shortage of admins, but whatever.  It's old news to me.  Whenever I make a change on Wikipedia, I always prepare to have to defend it.  It used to be that any change would get immediately challenged and/or reverted, and you would have to spend a lot of time and effort defending it, citing sources and negotiating with other editors over the wording until a consensus was reached.  Each article had its dedicated editors, ready to protect it from spurious changes, while others seemed to scan every change on Wikipedia and swoop in. Now, that rarely happens.  After I make a change, I wait, and wait, expecting a battle, and nothing happens.

I think that a big reason is that Wikipedia is finished.  Obviously it will never actually be finished, but in its early days, there were still lots of major subjects that lacked articles, and lots of articles which lacked much information.  That is not nearly so much the case today, with over four million articles on the English version of Wikipedia, covering the most obscure of subjects.  In fact, I think that many articles have too much information, being cluttered with a lot of insignificant details that can make the more important ones difficult to pick out.  With so much information already there, there is little incentive to add anything.

Another reason that people don't want to edit Wikipedia is what I described above, that it has a reputation of being just too damned difficult.  Anything you edit is likely to get reverted, and you have to be prepared to spend a lot of effort defending it.  There have been plenty of stories about people trying to correct facts about themselves, and not being allowed to.  Amateur editors have a reputation of being actually hostile towards experts trying to set facts straight.  There also has been a slew of rules made that the casual users do not know about, and run afoul of anytime they try to make a correction.  Nowadays, the dedicated editor's role is more that of curator, maintaining the fiercely fought consensus against the hoard of vandals and spammers.  Aside from those with a stake in their personal fiefdoms, there is not much incentive in joining their ranks.

To be honest, sometimes it can be fun to do battle.  I feel disappointed when nobody challenges my edits.  Am I really that good that they cannot dispute me, or is there nobody left minding the store?  I actually depend on other editors to keep me honest, by reviewing my edits and polishing off the rough edges.  But even when they don't, that anticipation forces me to be more thorough, to post my sources and to refine my wording.

And if any n00b tries to change my edits, I put the hammer down on them!

MJD 56128.316

20120711

Star Trek Online

I recently began playing the massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) Star Trek Online (STO), which is now free to play.  Since I am interested in stardates, I checked out how they were used in the game.  You can access them through your logs by hitting "J".  Your milestones in the game are all stamped with the real-life calendar date and a stardate.  This allowed me to determine the basis for their stardate calculations.  There is an STO stardate calculator already, but it's a little off, and does not make the basis clear.

The game is set in the year 2409, about 45 years after the beginning of Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG), and about 30 years after the last TNG movie, Star Trek: Nemesis.  The game was released in February 2, 2010 (55229), but the in-game year has remained 2409 two years later, and presumably was also 2409 during the beta testing in 2009, so it may be that the year was intended to be exactly 400 years in the future.

The current stardate in STO is about 90132.  From archived discussions online, I have determined that the stardates were around 87700 when it was released.  Coincidentally, according to the stardate calculator at TrekGuide.com, these are the stardates exactly 400 years in the future.  At least, according to my recollection of TrekGuide's formula, which counted exactly 1000 stardates per year, starting from May 25, 2322 (169296).

However, when I went to check on TrekGuide.com, the dates did not work out.  Instead of 90131 for this date in 2412, I get 86330.  What's going on, I wondered?  On examining TrekGuide's web page, I found that there are actually 918.23186 stardates per year, counting from July 5, 2318.  Could I have misremembered so badly?  Thanks to the Wayback Machine, I was able to determine that my recollection was, in fact, correct.  Sometime between July 2010 (55399.860509) and July 2011 (55759.40857) the page was changed.  (Update: It looks like it actually happened around April 7, 2011 (55658).)  IMHO, I believe that they're over-thinking it, and should have stuck with the original formula.  I doubt that Star Trek's creators were that accurate.

STO is, in fact, using the original TrekGuide stardate formula, as it was when the game was released, but shifted 400 years.  That means that I can calculate STO stardates for the present era as exactly 1000 per year, beginning from May 25, 1922.  This gives an alternative to the "contemporary" stardates that TrekGuide gives, which are based on air dates from 1987-2001.  Using TrekGuide's (original) TNG stardate calculator with dates exactly 400 years from now gives stardates at most a few hours off, so it just needs a little tweaking.

MJD 56119.713
Stardate 90132.02

20120707

New metric units

I received the following from James Strom, with my comments added:
Hi! I like to dabble in things like you have at your decimal time site. Decimal time is definitely an idea who's time has come.
Whose time has come?  I'd say it already came and went two centuries ago! 
But for it to be practical it must be compatible with any metric system in use. If the second were changed by anything other than by a power of ten then the cost of conversion would be enormous. The definitions of a joule, newton, ampere, volt, etc. would all have to be changed as well. Can you imagine having to multiply your wattage by 0.864 cubed to arrive at the new watts? A simple way around that is to simply keep the second either the same or 10 or times smaller. I would recommend the latter so as to allow a second to be equal to 1/864th of a milliday and for other reasons.
I agree that the metric system (SI) is a serious impediment to introducing new time units.  Redefining the second would be a practically impossible undertaking, regardless of whether it's by a power of ten.  In fact, with today's technology it's just about as easy to convert decimally as otherwise.  And you cannot simply change unit values while keeping the same names, or nobody would ever know if you were talking about the old or new units.  Remember that everything in the world for hundreds of years has been recorded using essentially the same second.  Likewise for other units, although not for as long.  Creating all new units with the same names, even if they're a factor of 10 different, would create chaos.
I have noticed that if Greenwich is used as the prime meridian then 10 time zones can be created which fit very neatly with the continents. So forget Swatch's idea.
You apparently mean Swatch eliminating time zones.  You do not say why we should favor 10 time zones over one, or 24.  We may as well reform everything at once.  Business today is international.  So is my family.  It seems to me that time zones one-tenth day (2.4 hours) wide lack the advantages of smaller one-hour zones, while being only halfway to a single one for the world.
Any modification of our current system should have as a high priority ease of convertibility. The system described below has that in mind. In fact, it could be used by anyone right now without any trouble.
There is nothing that is as easy to convert as no change at all.  You need to have major advantages to outweigh the disadvantage of any conversion, no matter how easy it might be. And I don't really think that your proposal would be as easy as you claim for those who are currently using these units.
It won't be necessary for any international organization to get everyone else to agree to the change for it to work.
Who would use it, then? 
It also assumes that lower case letters will someday be eliminated.
Why?  That would eliminate half the available symbols for units and prefixes.  It would also require everyone on the Internet to SHOUT all the time. 
I've devised a modification of the current metric system that I think would be simpler, more intuitive, and easy to convert to. It would be similar to the change from the old cgs system (centimeter-gram-second) to the mks system (meter-kilogram-second).
These two systems used different names for nonequivalent units.  It was also a big pain in the ass to change, and not everyone has, yet.
As it is now the basic unit of mass requires a prefix (kilo) and doesn't correspond with weight.
The kilogramme was originally defined as a unit of weight.  The definitions of mass and weight were separated after it was realized that an object's mass is relatively constant, but it's weight is not.  My sisters in Colorado gain weight every time they come to visit me on the coast, but their masses remain the same.  (Unless my Mom is cooking.)  Scales do not actually measure mass, but the force of gravity acting on a particular mass.  However, for everyday use we can use our weight to approximate our mass.  To those relatively few professionals who have to use units of force to measure weights, it is advantageous that mass and weight have different values, lest they get confused.
The unit of density is, unlike almost all other measurement systems, is not even close to that of water but, in fact, less than that of air. This makes it difficult to visualize them.
The SI unit of density is kg/m3.  Water is 1000 kg/m3, or 1 t/m3 = 1 g/cm3 = g/ml.  I have no problem visualizing a cubic meter of water, or of a milliliter (cc).
On the other hand, if a system were devised that made the unit of acceleration close to the force of gravity on earth then it would be easy to picture it. Also, weight would become almost synonymous with mass. This would make it easy to imagine force in terms of these units. And if the unit of density were the same as that of water then there would be the obvious benefits.
I don't have a problem "picturing" these things, nor do I see how that is necessary.  I already weigh myself in pounds or kg, not 780 newtons.  I imagine newtons only when measuring small things in a lab.  (Which I have not done in decades.)  The benefits are not obvious to me.
This is what I propose:
1) The new unit of mass would be called a ton but would have the same mass as a kilogram.
We already have several different ton units causing confusion, and you want to add one that is not even close? 
2) The "new" meter would be equal to one tenth of an "old" meter or a decimeter.
Again, I don't see the benefit of changing the value by an order of magnitude. 
3) The day would be divided into 1,000 minutes. Each minute, in turn, would be divided into 864 seconds. Thus the "new" second would be equivalent to one tenth of an "old" second.
A compromise that has all the problems of both, and the benefits of neither! 

I won't go through the rest, since I am not interested in changing the metric system.  That ship sailed a long time ago.  It took a lot of time and trouble to get the entire world to accept the current metric system, and now that it's done, there is no advantage to massively change it now, even if it's not perfect.  We have discussed these issues ad nauseum on this site in the past.
4) The ampere would remain the same and would be defined as the amount of current that would produce a force of 2X10^-8 Newtons between two wires, etc., in terms of the new units. In other words; the ampere would be 1/10,000th of the value that it have if it were defined by the basic three units alone. That's an improvement over the current system that requires division by the square root of ten million.
5) The unit of angle would be 1/1,000th of a circumference. This would align it with the units of time. The earth, in relation to the sun, would rotate one degree per minute.
6) The unit of temperature would be defined as 1/1,000th of the triple point of water. A celsius-like system could be used as well so that water would freeze at 0 and absolute zero would be -1000.
7) The unit for amount of substance would not change except for its name. It shall be called a quant instead of a mole and be represented by a Q instead of mol.
8) The unit of luminosity would be equal to one joule per second per steradian in terms of the new units and be renamed the young (after the scientist, of course).
Each of the units shall be represented by one letter only without regard to upper or lower case status.
The prefixes shall follow this rule as well.
Thus there will be 26 common units and a like number of prefixes.
Ratio refers to the ratio of the size of the "new" units to that of the "old" ones in the mks system.

Unit       Symbol     Quantity          Formula      Ratio  

Ton                T       Mass                     T            1            
Meter             M      Length                  M          0.1
Are                R       Area                 M^2        0.01
Liter               L       Volume             M^3       0.001
Second           S       Time                    S          0.1      
Hertz              Z       Frequency          1/S           10
Einstein          E       Velocity              M/S            1
Gal                 G       Acceleration   M/S^2          10
Bole                B       Momentum     T*M/S           1
Newton           N       Force         T*M/S^2         10
Planck            P        Action         T*M^2/S        0.1
Joule              J        Energy    T*M^2/S^2           1      
Ampere          A       Current                  A            1
Coulomb         C       Charge              A*S         0.1
Weber            W      Flux                    J/A           1
Volt                V       Potential              J/C         10
Henry             H       Inductance          W/A          1
Farad             F       Capacitance         C/V      0.01
Siemens         S       Conductance        A/V        0.1
Ohm               O      Resistance           V/A         10
Gauss             U       Strength             A/M         10
Maxwell          X       Intensity             V/M        100
Degree           D       Angle                     D       0.36
Kelvin             K       Temperature           K  0.27316
Quant             Q      Amount                   Q           1
Young             Y      Luminosity               Y     6,830  


Symbol  Prefix  Multiple    

V                      10^33      
W                     10^30
X                      10^27
Y          Yotta     10^24
Z          Zetta     10^21
E            Exa     10^18
P           Peta     10^15
T          Tera      10^12
G          Giga       10^9
M         Mega      10^6
K            Kilo       10^3
H         Hecto       10^2
D          Deka       10^1
S           Deci      10^-1
C          Centi      10^-2
L           Milli       10^-3
U         Micro      10^-6
N          Nano      10^-9
B           Pico     10^-12
F        Femto     10^-15    
A           Atto     10^-18
O         Zepto     10^-21
J          Yocto     10^-24
Q                      10^-27
I                       10^-30
R                      10^-33

This system is meant to work with decimal time, a reformed calendar, and the eventual elimination of lower case letters.
But that is the subject of another email.
(Don't worry about copyright or anything. I don't care who gets credit for what. I only bring this up because while googling your name I found some idiot who was trying to take credit for coming up with an obvious idea that dated back to the French Revolution. There's all sorts out there.)
MJD 56115.995

20120704

Leap second

On June 30, 2012 (56108.9999884), a leap second was added to Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) at the end of the day, to keep clocks within one second of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).  23:59:59 was followed by 23:59:60.  This caused some computers to crash.  Since the software should have been able to handle this, the fault is clearly a bug in the software, similar to the Y2K bug.  However, it wouldn't matter if leap seconds did not exist.

I do not think that leap seconds are necessary.  They only are if you want to keep UTC within one second of GMT (UT1).  However, few use GMT today.  In the first place, it is the true solar time only for those exactly on the meridian of Greenwich.  Everywhere else has a mean solar time that differs as you go east or west of Greenwich, so before railroads every town had its own time.  But today we use unified time zones, which are (mostly) one-hour offsets from UTC.  The time in these zones in theory may be a half-hour more or less than actual local mean solar time, and in practice it is in many places much more than that.  Plus, many places practice daylight saving time for part of the year, adding another hour.  Even Great Britain is not always on GMT, and is considering advancing their clocks another hour to be in sync with the Continent.  Nobody actually follows solar time anymore.  So why should we care about GMT?

What would happen if we simply abandoned leap seconds is that UTC would start to drift away from Greenwich.  Every few years the difference would grow by one second.  Eventually, hundreds of years from now, the difference would add up to a whole hour.  But so what?  Local times today are already arbitrary and decided by governments.  If a particular region felt that the change had progressed too much, they could simply adjust their time zone when they chose.  This already happens all the time.

UT is not the only existing time scale.  Various other scales have been defined based up on the same atomic second.  The atomic second is based upon the ephemeris second of 1820.  Since the mean solar day is gradually getting longer, and varies from year to year, the day is slightly longer now than 86,400 atomic seconds, which is why leap years are added.  International Atomic Time (TAI) was synchronized with UTC in 1958 and is now 35 seconds ahead of UTC.  Terrestrial [Dynamical] Time (TT) is 32.184 seconds behind TAI and was introduced in 1984 to replace and be continuous with Ephemeris Time (ET) back to 1900, so it is currently 67.184 seconds ahead of UTC.  GPS time is 19 seconds ahead of TAI, and therefore currently 16 seconds ahead of UTC.  These time scales do not use leap seconds, so the difference between them is constant, but the difference between each with UTC is variable.  Simply eliminating leap seconds would fix UTC in relation to these time scales.

There has been discussion for the past few years about eliminating leap seconds, and this incident will likely increase pressure to do so.

MJD 56112.435

The Higgs boson has been found

I have been watching the live video from CERN in Switzerland and there is a 4.9 sigma signal around 125-126 GeV.  It's being couched in conditional qualifiers, and still needs to be followed up, but they really think that this is it.  You can read more at BBC News.

MJD 56112.382

20120702

Mouvement souverainiste du Québec


I received the following:
I was thinking, as you know I live in Canada, and interestingly I now live in Montreal, Quebec. As you may or may not know, this has always been a hot spot of cultural debate (i.e Anglos vs Francos) and quite frankly the Francos are winning. In fact it wouldn't be to much a stretch of the imagination to say Quebec may form an independent country by next year. Whether I stay or not is another question, but I was thinking, if Quebec goes rouge (sic), why don't they re-install La calendrier Française Révolutionnaire as well as Temps FR (20hrs per day!) it would truly make Quebec a distinct society.
My answer is that Quebec was a British territory at the time of the Revolution, so it never used the Republican Calendar nor decimal time (10 hours, not 20).  France, itself, has not used the calendar in two centuries (except for a few radicals briefly in Paris in 1871) and never really accepted decimal time.  Given that 24/60/60 time is universal in every country on earth, not just Anglo ones, and the Gregorian calendar nearly so, especially in Catholic countries, it is highly improbable that there would be any interest whatsoever.

However, I am not Québécois and have only been there once, so I do not wish to presume to speak for them.  Please feel free to comment below.

Quartidi 14 Messidor an CCXX à 6 heures 82 minutes décimales t.m.P.
MJD 56111.676