12 : 00 
The Magickal, Mysterious, Marvellous
59-minute Hour
In these modern times a clock is usually construed to be some sort of time-telling device which, more or less faithfully, visually indicates the passage of the 60 minutes of each hour for the 24 hours of each day. Since earliest times, various devices ranging from the stick-in-the-ground predecessor of the sundial through clepsydræ, graduated candles, graduated oil reservoirs on lamps, and sandglasses, to the monster church and tower clocks of the 13th century, have been invented and then improved upon. Ever since those early days, technology has improved the accuracy of these devices from within several hours, or days (if the sun don't shine) to within billionths of a second. It's all to the well and good that we are today able to measure the durations of our lives in billionths of a second (astrologers specializing in cusps, please take note), but why are we encumbered with so-called digital 'clocks' which don't, and can't, indicate 60 minutes in each hour? Some of them don't even indicate 60 seconds in each minute! Think about this when you send your Patek 'Grand Complication' to the Bureau of Standaards to be "rated" against their cæsium standard. To paraphrase Sam Ervin's comments on a different subject; "...a billion[th] here and a billion[th] there, pretty soon it adds up..."

Technology is said to be the best thing in the world since sliced bread, the which, in turn, is unfortunately an item that has suffered somewhat from technology's meddling. The branch of technology we're discussing---in this case, that involving digital 'clocks'---is reminiscent of the fabled 'Phoux' bird of Far Eastern legend, which flew about in ever-decreasing concentric circles until it disappeared up its own fundament with a metallic 'click'. Technology today is so far advanced that it has managed to give us the 'clock' with the 59-minute hour! The ancient Babylonians thought they had it all figured out with their 60-second minutes and 60-minute hours, but modern pocket protector-adorned engineers have further refined time telling‹and saved us a minute each hour!---with the modern digital 'clock'. These 'clocks' are to be found all over this great country of ours, vainly blinking 12:00 on VCR's (which no one can set correctly without a 50-page-in-very-small-print manual), and on small 'clocks' all over the house after the power grid convulses. And if you follow the instructions for resetting all your digital 'clocks' in the various manuals included in the various boxes, you will find all your 'clocks' cheerfully flashing 12 : 00 at you at noon, but they won't indicate the 'correct' time just one minute later, unless you scurry about doing some sort of resetting action.

Take a good look at your digital 'clock', whether it be a small stick-on on the refrigerator door, the one on the automatic coffee maker, the one embedded in the car dashboard, the monster perched outside the local bank, or your red-eyed nemesis glow[er]ing on the bedside table. Take a good look, and tell me if your clock is set accurately. No fair calling the local time service---which is usually wrong, anyway. As are the radio announcer's pronouncements and those flashing numbers on your goggle box---they all depend on digital 'clocks'.

As a for instance, when, precisely, does the transition from the sixth hour of the day to the seventh hour of the day occur? And when is it exactly seven o'clock? It's rather easy to tell with a mechanical clock's hands as they make their daily peregrination around the numbered and marked dial to accurately (within reason) indicate the time. With a mechanical clock, it's perfectly obvious to even the most casual observer that we are in the 60th minute of the sixth hour of the day, and that when that 60th minute passes on into eternity---for a mere instant it will be exactly 7 o'clock---as the clock segues into the first minute of the seventh hour.

The digital 'clock'? No such refinement, even though the engineering boffins have brought us "astounding accuracy" for mere pennies---an accuracy in search of which John "Longitude" Harrison spent a lifetime, yet never really achieved. However, Johnny Boy had 60 minutes in his hours, but not us! To wit, start your digital 'clock' at exactly 6 : 00. It will count up the minutes; 6 : 01, then 6 : 02, and so on, steadily and with boringly great precision up through 6 : 59 as the crystal oscillates, the flip-flops flop, the hex decoders decode and the multiplexed LED drivers strut their stuff. "Watch very carefully, and you will note that at no time do my fingers leave my hands.", as the magician said. Something similar is going to happen here, but, you are interested in saving time---accurately---aren't you? You're just about to save a minute!

Wonder of wonders! It's now 7 : 00! Proof, before your very own eyes, of the 59 minute hour! And you thought that Daylight Savings time was a great step forward. Think about it: you only have to work seven hours and 52 minutes (51 minutes if you take a 59-minute hour for lunch) each day for your daily bread! (Don't let the boss know. Then again, maybe he already knows, and figures the plebes who work for him won't notice if they're only paid with a computer-printed check for seven hours and 52 minutes!) Modern computers (very close relatives in concept and sometimes, accuracy, of digital 'clocks') will deduct the pennies from your paycheck if you open your mouth about this. 'Tis better to keep thy mouth shut, and be thought a fool, than to open it and remove all doubt. Remember that the world's financial markets depend on literal thousandths in value differentials in the coins of various realms for their profits. I once did business with a company on the East Coast which paid its debts with checks drawn on a West Coast bank. This is another interesting phenomenon created by computers. The East Coast company was earning interest on the money in the West Coast bank while the Postal Service wafted the invoice across the country to be processed and while the check loitered back in the other direction. An electronic transfer would have 'lost' money---for them, not for me. It's called the 'float'. If you have to hire Dewey, Cheatham, & Howe to resolve a legal tangle, take a long hard look at their 'Billable Hours' entry. Time is money---did you get your hour's worth? They did. Ponder.

Regardless, no 60th minute! Reflect on this, if you will, and then gently wonder why it is that after several days of saving a minute each hour you don't find yourself going to bed at an indicated 2 : 00 PM (the 'clock' will probably have an indicator ---AM or PM ---so you can discern whether it's morning or afternoon---ain't technology grand?) instead of a more logical 9 o'clock. If you are lying awake and restless some night close to the 'witching hour', carefully watch the numbers on your 'clock'. It is alleged that at about midnight, the little numbers cycle through a teeny bit faster, the 24 missing minutes are surreptitiously added, and, Voila!, you manage to arise within a minute or so of the correct time---if the power grid didn't have a seizure overnight.

Several theories have been advanced to account for the above apparent anomaly. The first is that there is a scurrilous worldwide conspiracy afoot in the scientific community to discredit the proponents of the Entropy Theory. (Entropy is the alleged 'running down' of the universe, which theory in turn has a remarkable resemblance to the legendary 'Phoux' bird mentioned above.) The second is that Eugene Fitch, who patented the 'Plato' clock 7 July, 1903, became somewhat overwrought over the possibility that he'd been shorted on his overtime, and came up with the 59-minute hour in bitter revenge. The third is that there is a Third World conspiracy to apparently set new and marvelous world records in athletic competition---a minute less per marathon, a second less in the 100-yard dash---it all adds up. Records have fallen all over the world since digital timing took over the Olympics and various other sporting venues. The fourth is that the pocket-protector types figured it would just confuse the great unwashed if the numbers 6 : 60 were used to indicate that particular minute; 7 : 00 flashed on for mere milliseconds, and then jumped immediately to 7 : 01. They therefore decided to show us their version of 'time', with the first minute of the new hour as; 6 : 01, up through 6 : 59, and instead of actually indicating the 60th minute, they would design this digital marvel to indicate 7 : 00 throughout what they would have us believe is the 60th minute of the present hour. Precise it might be, this digital and magickal off-shoot of the race to the moon, but it's off by a minute once each hour. Try explaining to your family that there are indeed 60 minutes in each hour. They will look at you warily, as though you were speaking in tongues; 0 equals zero---nothing---no minutes at all, and 59 is still one less than 60 in their minds. If you attempt to gibber your way through the lame 'explanation' that the ­ :00 minute is actually the first minute of the hour, and that ­ : 59 is actually the 60th minute of that hour, your wife may quietly collect the children and casually saunter next door so she can call the boys in white coats---well out of your hearing. Watch a modern 'sporting event' some time. Note the clock at the countdown to the end of the game; when it has counted down to 0: 00, that's it---it's zero, nothing, zip, the end! How can ­ :00 simultaneously indicate nothing and the first minute of the hour? Take my word for it, don't even try to explain---technology has got you right where it wants you! The old adage, "Figures do not lie, but liars do figure" needs to be re-written.

I really hope you don't have one of these 'precise' little marvels over your workbench to use in rating mechanical clocks over which you've slaved for hours. If you do, your clocks will be as accurate as this one: "The older inhabitants of Springfield, Vermont, will remember Isaac Wiswell, but few may know of his sundial. For many years [its] iron standard was fastened to a rock just where the water to run the shop poured from the raceway into the shop. Isaac cared for the clock in the Methodist church, and as there was no way in those days of getting the time from Washington, he set the town clock from that sundial, watching each day very carefully for the noon mark that the clock might always be exact." Just about as exact as that electronic beat counter advertised as the ne plus ultra in rating mechanical clocks.

You really have to feel sorry for people like Hipp, Riefler, Irk, Leroy, Shortt, and Fedchenko, who all obviously wasted so much time, beginning back in 1869, in attempting to produce a precision clock---one that actually showed 60 minutes on the dial, and measured an actual 60 seconds in each minute. If they'd had digital 'clocks', they would have had several extra months in their lifetimes to spend on other, more logical projects. Webb Ball would have gone ballistic (sorry) if Lee De Forest had invented the transistor in the '20's, rather than the vacuum tube.

No one, to my knowledge, has yet advertised in the various trade journals that they specialize in the restoration of digital dials. (At the least the age-old controversy over IIII and IV will no longer keep us awake nights.) To the dismay of several of my acquaintances, no one has yet written a learnéd tome on the makers, materials, art work, or the design of digital dials. Chris Bailey and Brian Loomes, where are you when we need you?

Digital 'clocks' merely indicate that is now "8 : 40" or 10 / 2 / 95. That's the big problem with so-called digital 'clocks', they can only tell us how much time has elapsed, not how much is left, unless we engage in some mental gymnastics. Ever try to plan out your week with a digital 'calendar'? According to various pundits, who severally claim that "Johnny can't read" , and "Johnny can't write", and "Johnny can't tell time", there will come a time when the majority of us will no longer be capable of those mental gymnastics. That's why some watches and clocks already announce the time and the date in a tinny---HAL, where are you when we need you?---voice, and the old mechanical clocks will only be valued for the soothing effects of their chimes, and their hourly strikes. (Do not be deceived by the efforts of engineering nerds who would have us believe that digital 'clocks' can strike the quarters and the hours in tones that "exactly" duplicate those of a Durfee nine-tube tallcase clock. They lie.) Right back to the 11th century, aren't we? Can't read the hands, but, "Ah kin count!" Must be the reason most modern television shows are aimed at an eleven (or is it now eight?) year-old mentality.

Traditional clocks with dials and hands will fall out of favor, simply because the majority of the world will not be able to read clock dials any longer---take that, all you collectors of Willards and pseudo-Willards. D. J. Gale calendar clocks? Ithacas? Juvet globes? Timbys? Absolute trash!

Regardless that I've gotten rid of all of those digital monsters that once glow[er]ed at me from the bedside table, the refrigerator door, the automatic coffee maker, and the car dashboard, and that I haven't had to worry about the 'digital' clock on the boob tube since 1974 (my television set died a horrible death---but it had signed an organ donor card, and a lot of its parts went into other electronic projects which helped me avoid someone else's idea of how I should be 'entertained'). Actually, the most entertainment derived from a small electronic project which generated around 3500 volts and was connected to my car and the driveway. The neighborhood dogs suddenly no longer considered it at all wise to use the wheels as scent marking posts. (Don't try this on a modern car---you will boggle its little computer mind. Don't ask, either.)

An impressively mentally well-endowed acquaintance recently told me rather breathlessly: "I'm gonna to get in on the ground floor of collecting digital clocks. I know where there are several clocks made by the Far East Division of RCA---the Who Flung Poo Clock Company, and the dials are really neat! Y'know, they don't got them funny lookin' Roman numbers? An' you know, you punch this little button? An' it tells you what the time is? an' what the date is? And this Englishman---what's 'is name---Loomis? Dorna Loone? Loomes?---he's gonna do a real book, with words, on digital dials?"

Better yet, according to him, digital clocks are all signed. Turn them upside down, and there's the maker's name, permanently stamped in biodegradable plastic! Cheap, too. He got two signed GE's at a yard sale for a quarter each! The lower the patent number, the more valuable they are. Go for it!

Me?---I use a wind-up alarm clock that will wake me up at an honest 5 : 60 ---mean time---if I want to get up at that time. No worries about brown- or black-outs, nor batteries running down; nor whether AM or PM was set correctly; nor am I removed from the arms of Morpheus by a soul-shriveling electronic shriek. There's a pride of accomplishment, too---I made that clock run correctly, and I remembered to wind it and set it. I've had as many as 85 mechanical clocks running and striking in the shop and the house at once, in all their varying degrees of accuracy. To this day, much to my chagrin, both of my children, born to a household filled with mechanical clocks, will still look for the flashing numbers of a digital 'clock'. For them, it's always 8 : 55 PM---eight fifty five, not 'five minutes until nine'---when bedtime rolls around. I'm sorely tempted to manually flash a different digit (but I can't for the life of me figure out whether that digit should be :00 or : 01?) at the two (Now, is that the :01 or the : 02 ?) of them!


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