Note to Earth, Choose Your Standards Wisely!

Clock in the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, UK.
Image via Wikipedia

As the year rolls over I am a bit preoccupied with standards, especially that with regard to the measurement of time. There is this amazing Scientific American article that goes through why we have 60 minutes to the hour based on the Egyptian and Sumerian use of bases 12 and 60 respectively.

The point is that some standards do last for a long time. Even those that are ephemeral  get to influence other newer standards due to backward compatibility issues and economies of scale. The recent standards war between Blu-ray and HD DVD shows the politics and economic importance of choices of standards has not changed much since the days of VHS and Betamax. VHS (the poorer standard) won the earlier challenge. Blu-ray (which is more expensive but packs more data on disk than HD DVD) won the more recent battle.

So while we wait for the additional  leap second to usher in 2009, remember that the mechanics of time measurement, as well as a lot of other technical endeavors are based on standards whose choice might not be the most expedient. Such standards will however influence the technologies we use down the road.

Happy New Year folks!

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