Colby Magazine - Winter 1998 We've Got the Time
When that magic and dreaded instant--"Y2K"--finally rolls around next winter, not only will computer users on Colby's local area network be among the first to know, network servers around the eastern United States will be consulting Colby to synchronize their timekeeping.
    Sure, the clock on Miller Library may say 9:05 when the carillon in Lorimer Chapel marks the hour with "Hail, Colby, Hail." But thanks to Jeff Earickson (information technology services), Colby's local computer network now is synchronized to about one one-thousandth of a second, and Colby is part of a network that helps determine precisely what time it is in the surreal province of cyberspace. Earickson signed Colby up as the 13th site in the U.S. Naval Observatory's Network Time Protocol (NTP) system in February. Now an unassuming computer console in the basement of the Lovejoy building is among the busiest NTP servers in the world, according to the Naval Observatory's time service department.
    An antenna the size of a hockey puck on the Lovejoy roof reads signals from up to eight global positioning satellites and sends official GPS time data down a cable exactly 100-feet long ("do not cut or splice") to a plain-looking computer in the climate-controlled bowels of Lovejoy. Internet servers throughout the eastern U.S. consult Colby's NTS server simultaneously with servers at MIT, Columbia University and the Naval Observatory to get a consensus of the time. The result is within a few microseconds (millionths of a second) of the U.S. Naval Observatory's master clock. While computers on Colby's local area network will synchronize to about one millisecond, distant clients (5,000 kilometers away) can be as much as 10-20 milliseconds off.
    Is there any meaningful application for this sort of precise timekeeping at Colby? Not really, says Earickson. But it's extremely cool if you're technologically minded and appreciate real precision. And other than the time that Earickson and the Physical Plant Department employees who erected and wired the antenna invested in the project, "it didn't cost a dime," he said.

To check Colby's GPS time, visit us online at http://www.colby.edu/info.tech/time/
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