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  • Writer's pictureDAVID MITLYNG

Weekly Takeaways-March 29,2024

Updated: Apr 1

Theme of the Week

"One Satellite Signal Rules Modern Life"What if someone knocks it out?Imagine you are a commercial airline pilot on a routine flight when all of a sudden your console alarms start blaring "Terrain ahead! Pull up!"Why are you getting a terrain warning while cruising at 37,000 feet?This Airbus A320 pilot had a scare caused by GPS jamming and spoofing.While this is a well-known problem for advanced militaries, commercial airliners stand no chance. And unfortunately for them, jamming has spread across Europe impacting over 1,600 commercial flights, forcing flight crews to "train to use backup instrumentation."But the main value of GPS isn't navigation - it is time.All networks, communications, financial transactions, and power grids rely on timing from GPS, providing the the majority of its trillions of dollars of economic benefit.If GPS ever failed, sure, it would be disruptive for airlines and Uber drivers alike. But that pales next to the total loss of communications and power.That is scary, and "yet, unlike China, the United States does not have a Plan B for civilians should those signals get knocked out in space or on land."But there is some momentum to change this using commercial solutions.

Last Week's Theme: Quantum as a Seven Course Meal


Industry News


The More You Know...

Our concept of time is starting to change as the machines take over.The day, month, and year were originally defined by the position of the sun and moon, which, fortunately, kept a pretty good schedule. Even the "once in a lifetime" April 8 solar eclipse typically happens twice a year - just usually over unpopulated areas.When time doesn't align neatly with celestial events we make corrections. Every four years (except centurials like 1700, 1800, 1900 or those divisible by 400, like 1600, 2000, 2400) we tack on a leap day.And, for the last half century, we have occasionally (18 times since 1972) added a leap second to account for slight changes in the Earth's rotation. More recently, the Earth has been speeding up (possibly caused by the reduction of ice due to climate change), requiring subtracting a leap second.

Chart courtesy National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT)

But the times, they are a-changin'.There is now a recognition that, when it comes to a time standard, our electronics and networks take priority over humans or farmers.These systems don't care about the position of the sun and moon - they need precision and consistency.A jump of even thirteen millionths of a second, much less a whole leap second, has the potential to wreak havoc with networks.So in 2022 timekeeping authorities voted to stop using the temporal tweak, noting that the "introduction of leap seconds creates discontinuities that risk causing serious malfunctions in critical digital infrastructure."



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