Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Time Flies:

This is not a post about who likes eating arrows. Rather, it's about a SkyScan Clock. The clock is billed as an "atomic" clock that sets itself to accurate time via a radio signal. The manufacturer's website points to a government web site where we learn that it's not really Atomic. An "Atomic" clock will keep incredibly accurate time based on an oscillating atom, Cesium maybe; such clocks do not need to check a radio time signal. Most radio-driven clocks are not also atomic. But there IS a radio signal that clocks can sync to, and that's what Skyscan does.

Clocks that keep such accurate time are less expensive than ever before, and also less necessary (your cell phone does the same thing, and will usually do it better). But the idea of the Skyscan is appealing, and I had the pleasure of relying on one in a building I often frequent. But I stopped relying on it when I saw another SkyScan clock - the same model - that had a different time, three minutes faster. And I felt like relying on it even less when I noticed that the hour hand pointed to the middle of the hour when the minute hand was on the twelve.

Now the manufacturer can explain all that. Low batteries, or a clock positioned such that it has trouble getting the radio signal, leads to inaccurate time. Unfortunately the clock doesn't TELL you it's having this trouble (I think it should display a bright red warning), so you better check it against (sigh) another clock. And of course the hands can get out of position, that just means they need an adjustment, which the manufacturer will do for you if you don't feel up to it.

Yesterday I glanced at that clock and my brain had a hard time focusing on it. I looked again. Oh no! The minute hand was going round and round the clock very rapdily, faster than a normal second hand (the second hand did not move at all). The hour hand was moving in sync with the minute hand, and the clock appeared to be searching for a moment in time that simply did not exist, the "fifth of never" perhaps. We put the poor clock out of its misery by temporarily removing its batteries. I think I'll rely on my cell phone.

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