Two items in the news recently caused me to think about seconds – that is the interval of time to which we usually give so little thought. The first was the announcement that scientists have succeeded in coming up with an even more precise way of demarcating the second than the one that is being currently used. I’d bet that you were perfectly satisfied the way things stand -- or move – with the second, and didn’t think that it was necessary to find a new way of determining its passage. Some of you may recall that the second has been calculated according to an atomic clock, specifically the frequency of the vibration of extremely cold cesium atoms. Once these frigid atoms are blasted with microwaves they vibrate at a frequency of 9,192,631,770 Hz – and that translates to a single second. But apparently that isn’t good enough for scientists. Now they are developing new optical atomic clocks using laser light (which because it has a much higher frequency is 100 times more precise). The new optical lattice clock, as it’s known, will be three times more accurate than an atomic clock that’s based on laggard cesium atoms, so accurate that it will lose only one second every 300 million years. This isn’t a theoretical matter since technology like GPS depends on the accuracy of the clock; an error of one nanosecond, or a billionth of a second, would mean the location pinpointed by the GPS is about 12 inches (30 centimeters) off. Figuring out where you’re supposed to be isn’t the only thing that is contingent on making sure that those seconds are accurately calculated. There’s a lot of money to be made – or lost – in the blink of an eye or tick and tock of a clock, too. Which brings me to the second item. A couple of weeks ago Thomson Reuters announced that under pressure it was temporarily suspending an arrangement with a select group of clients that allowed them to receive the release of biweekly University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index two seconds before other clients. (They get the data five minutes before the public does – an eternity on Wall Street.) For those two seconds extra, privileged investors have to pay $6000, but it can be well worth it: high frequency programs can trade up to 200,000 shares within the first 10 milliseconds of that two second window. Think of it: you still have all those milliseconds remaining. You can make a small fortune in less time than it takes to yawn or sip your coffee. The New York attorney general demanded that Reuters Thompson put a stop to the practice because of the unfair advantage it gave to the clients, claiming that heads up gave them a chance to effectively game the system. When I first heard that old saying – “time is money” – I didn’t realize just how much money they were talking about or how much – or little -- time.