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Time Against Time

Glen_Gibbons_INSIDEGNSS.jpgThe editor worries about time, the meaning of life, and printing deadlines.
"Who divided up the days into hours. . . How could they really be that smart?"

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We have an abiding trust, it seems, such naive faith, in the constancy of time.

Years, months, weeks, days. Regular and reliable, measurable, something to count on.

It’s a comfort to have, of course, in a mutable world where walls and regimes fall, jobs disappear from one place and show up 10,000 miles away, entire brands are bought up by anonymous entities, genders bend and transform, authors of religious texts get outted as pseudonyms, and on and on.

Amid this welter of transience it's nice to think about those steady little increments of time, like the gentle susurrus of creation itself.

Too bad it ain’t so.

Too bad those increments aren’t really fractions, but rather fractals — little fragments of intervals between becoming and having been, driven by some pseudorandom organizing principle that sends them spinning to the periphery of consciousness, expanding and contracting willy-nilly.

We all know, for instance, that time elongates. In the dentist’s waiting room. At the back of the line to renew a driver’s license. In the middle of a rainy western Oregon winter.

As American country-blues songwriter Joan Osborne puts it:

Who divided up the days into hours
The hours into minutes
How could they really be that smart?
Who divided up the minutes into seconds?
They must’ve had a broken heart. . . .

But let’s face it, in this modern age we mostly experience time as acceleration and compression. Turning a thousand years into a day might look good in the eyes of God, but it works a little differently for us finite sorts around here.

It doesn’t work so well if you’re trying to be first to market.
Trying to get a GNSS system off the ground and into orbit.
Waiting for an RFP to hit the streets.
Working to make a deadline at the printer.

Deluged by the announcements trumpeting the advent of clever widgets whose proud progenitors hope will grow up to be profitable gadgets.

Pretty soon we’re all looking a bit like Charlie Chaplin lashed to the cogwheel in the 1936 movie classic, Modern Times, going round and round in circles, slaves to purposes too often not our own and certainly out of our control.

And that’s when those events, those activities, those processes which should matter most begin to seem like interference in a signal, noise afflicting the internal dialog we’re having with our tasks and deadlines.

The engagement of a daughter, a relative discovering his cancer, the death of a colleague known 40 years or more, the graduations, births, anniversaries, spring planting, harvest, prayer, the walk into the woods along that road too long not taken.

So, you know what? On this sunny autumn day, I’m cutting everyone some slack:
The GPS Wing and their tardy RFPs for GPS IIIA and OCX.
The Europeans for fielding Galileo late.
Russia for still not making up its mind about CDMA signals.
China for its persistent reserve in the matter of Compass/Beidou.

And me, for getting this darned thing in late again. . . .

Inside GNSS magazine is a media sponsor of Navi Forum 2007 in Shanghai, China on December 5-7. Meet up with Glen Gibbons there.

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