Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Time Machine

Well, the clocks went forward this weekend in the goodole Yoowessuv-Ay.

Weeks out of whack with the world+dog, just like last winter (and wasn't that a stunning success that didn't cost a fortune in tech cock-ups and expensive computer software fixes?), all so we can perpetuate this medieval practice "better" than before.

I have to say I think the whole thing is a massive, massive waste of energy1 and resources and that we would be better off just fixing the clock at one goshdarn time. The argument against is that offices have to spend too much on heat and light if people come to work in the dark in winter. The fact that even with the bloody clock twiddling those of us in the Northern latitudes go to work in the dark and come home in the stuff regardless of farting about with the clocks doesn't seem to register. Well, they don't get to work before mid-morning snack time in Washington DC, when they bother to turn up at all. It's unreasonable to expect the politicians to grasp how the rest of the country works.

If businesses genuinely think they have an energy problem with the dark of winter, they should alter the working day at their affected sites to reflect that rather than insist that everyone change their clocks twice a year, especially when it comes to changing the clocks out of step with everyone else caught up in this stupid practice. International business is conducted in GMT anyway, at least if it's the sort of business that cannot afford to bank on people synchronising clocks set to wildy arbitrary local times.

This year something very rare happened - I didn't know the weekend the clocks changed and so didn't plan on losing an hour in the middle of the night. I've been sick for several days and less than observant as a result, but also Congress has moved the date of the clock change forward some weeks from the traditional place it used to happen. I've also been sleeping poorly thanks to the post-nasal drip the illness has left me with, which has in turn infected the back of my throat and made of it a slab of raw meat. The result was that I was still tired and exhausted when I woke up on Monday and I woke up late thanks to my alarm still thinking it was an hour ago.

It is typical that humans, having solved the really big problem of keeping track of time by finally inventing the clock, then had to go and improve matters until they broke by adding in the twice yearly clock twiddle ritual. It sort of made sense when clocks were rare, people illiterate and largely land-workers and the wonder of electric light had yet to be invented. In these days of sodium vapour, atomic clocks and general illiteracy it makes no sense whatsoever. You want your people to come in an hour later during winter, just write that into the contract of employment and leave my clock alone.

Speaking of atomic clocks, I have one that provided a fine highlight to the whole sorry mess.

My parents sent us a 70s-style round digital clock, basically a huge version of the chipset they put in the first digital watches, the same one they now use in disposable watches and stopwatch innards2 but upgraded so that it links with a satelite and synchronises with an atomic clock baseline. In all the time we've had it, it has only synched twice - the first New Year's eve we had it (I'd told it to do so on Christmas Day but I guess the signal wasn't all it might have been that week) and Monday. I was adjusting another clock when I noticed that the atomic clock of timekeeping had resynched. There appeared to be a small discrepancy in the atomic time with respect to EST as per Congress though. Everyone else thought it was 8:15 am. Atom time was 5:15 am.

Another triumph for science then.

I picked it up and poked a couple of buttons attempting to intuit "emergency manual time override" mode, but like all modern things, it is now impossible to figure out what should be an easy operation without recourse to a 1/8th inch thick user manual.

There was also some subsidence of crap on the top of the entertainment unit which made replacing the awsome clock of not-telling-the-right-time impossible without missing a train, so I bunged it up on top of Mrs Stevie's hideous china cabinet (a legacy from some relative or other, probably cursed4) and left for work.

This apparently was fortuitous, for when I returned home it was showing the right time5 along with a little icon demonstrating total 5-by-5 lock-on to the satelite-o-time, something it has never done before.

Someone seems to have done some science while I wasn't looking. Good for them!

  1. paradoxically, the reason the bold visionaries of Congress wanted to shift the clock twiddling agenda around was allegedly to save energy. This makes sense in some alternate universe where politicians themselves make sense
  2. You know: Shows the time and date, press the button to get a three second display of the month and day, press again to get seconds. You see this everywhere. It must be the longest serving chipset in the history of LSI 3 bar none
  3. Large Scale Integration
  4. To judge from the appearance of the damned thing
  5. Defined as "The same time all the other clocks in the house were showing" rather than any absolute declaration of universal correctness

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