Time hackers build cesium clocks, live longer than the rest of us

Wired's Quinn Norton has a great feature in today about amateur clock-hackers who build their own super-accurate atomic clocks. These "Time Nuts" pull stunts like taking their kids hiking in the mountains for a couple days, using their cesium clocks to recreate Einstein's time-gravity experiment to prove that the family had gained 22 nanoseconds on their neighbors by rising high above Earth's gravatic center.

This is just part one -- more tomorrow!

With the end of the Cold War, and with telecommunications technology advancing rapidly, surplus stores and eBay have filled up with discarded precision time equipment once beyond the reach of all but governments. Cesium clocks, rubidium clocks and even the occasional hydrogen maser can be had for less than a decent laptop. A recent search on eBay turned up an HP 5061B cesium standard for sale for $2,000, and you can get a telecom surplus rubidium standard for less than $400. Some of this equipment costs upwards of $50,000 new.

Their access to once-forbidden technology lets the time hackers play in a realm of precision that underpins the modern technological world. A select few, like Van Baak, have started exploring the underpinnings of the universe.



  1. From the article:

    John Ackerman, an attorney with a technology company, offers super-accurate time over the internet to anyone who wants it, courtesy of four of the most accurate NTP (network time protocol) servers in the world.

    This is exactly my first thought. I hope the second part includes links for a wiki with HOWTOs, or at least the relevant keywords and proper nouns to break into this hobby.

  2. You know what they say: a day in the library is worth a month in the lab.

    So… uh, catch you guys in the lab.

  3. ZUZU, the best place to start looking is Tom’s site at http://www.leapsecond.com … it’s not the best-organized site around, but he does have the basic links that are needed to see if this particular hobby/obsession is for you.

  4. Someone tell me why we have leapseconds, which are a pain in the butt because they occur so often and won’t be noticed by customers if their software forgets a few. Why not leap minutes 1/60th as often?

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