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
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
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
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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