The Time of My Life

Yesterday I was sitting at my desk thinking, “Hey Dave, time’s a-ticking. Gotta come up with a topic for tomorrow’s post”. I stared at the clock, considering a few interesting ideas. The slender second-hand edged ever closer to the next minute, to the next hour, time literally passing before my eyes. Suddenly it hit me. My topic. Time.  More to the point, clocks.  To which I lob an interesting question your way: analog or digital?

The Seth Thomas “Promise”

My house is full of inanimate objects screaming for attention. When I’m lost in thought and staring into space, a certain something in the room starts to say, “Pick me! PICK ME!” in a desperate attempt to become a blog post. Today my desk clock actually pulled it off. I was dead set on a couple other topics until my clock somehow ticked its way to the top of the list.  Perhaps today’s title should’ve been, “A Moment in Time”.

We’re not talking about just any desk clock, mind you. The little guy you see here (all of 2.5″ wide by 3″ high) is a Seth Thomas “Travel Carriage Alarm Clock”, a quartz analog model made by the hundreds of thousands in China. You can find one online for $14.99, the affordability belying its simple elegance. I chose this clock as a gift from Hewlett-Packard (HP) on the fifth anniversary of my employment back in 2002.

I had better choices than an analog clock, but the Seth Thomas somehow captivated me. Even twenty years ago when I got it, a desk clock waxed nostalgic, especially with arrow-capped hands and Roman numerals. The “Promise” model also makes a pleasing little tick-tock-tick-tock sound as the second-hand sweeps the minutes away.

German AND Swiss-made…

If my four-year-old granddaughter were reading this post she’d ask her dad what analog means.  Let’s face it; my granddaughter’s growing up in a wholly digital world.  Her watch, her smartphone, her computer, and the clocks she displays in her future house will exhibit squarish lifeless numerals instead of graceful minute and hour hands.  She’ll “tell time” the way McDonald’s cashiers push the hamburger key instead of entering the amount.  No interpretation required.

I took a stroll around my house and counted three analog clocks, each with sentimental value.  Besides my Seth Thomas, we have an intricate cuckoo clock we purchased in Germany (with the mechanics made in Switzerland), and a horse-head clock we’ve had forever (which no longer works but still graces our bedroom wall).  Our digital timepieces are many more in number yet I still prefer the soothing tick-tick of analog hands, as well as the lazy swing of the cuckoo clock pendulum.

When I was a kid, I grew up in the presence of a formal grandfather clock, standing guard in the curve of our entryway staircase.  I can still hear its chimes, with a higher pitch than you’d expect from its heavy-framed stature.  My bedroom was close enough to hear the bells of the hour in the middle of the night, a gentle reminder it was time to get some sleep.  Whenever I wind our cuckoo clock today, I remember my dad doing the same thing with the grandfather all those years ago.

Since we’re talking about analog, I owe my wristwatches a few words.  I have eight of them and most stopped ticking a long time ago.  Two are also from HP anniversaries (What the heck, were timepieces my only choices?) but three others have more significance.  One carries the logo of my father’s seafood restaurant.  I still have the Snoopy watch I believe was my very first timepiece (my granddaughter wouldn’t know Snoopy either, sigh).  I also have my first “big-boy” watch; a gold Pulsar with matching hands on a cream-colored face.  Yes, I may be wearing a sleek digital Fitbit as I type but I always wear one of my analog watches on special occasions.  At least, one that still works.

[Author’s Note: I’m a little unnerved to see each of my wristwatches in the above photos is stopped at the exact… same… time. I didn’t do this! Why would I do this? Either someone’s been playing in my watch drawer or my house is haunted. Maybe both.]

Prague’s Astronomical Clock

I can’t decide if my granddaughter will miss out with the lack of analog in her life.  She’ll take trips where she’ll see quaint clocks high up in the steeples of New England churches.  She’ll take a hop-on-hop-off double-decker bus through London, passing under the shadow of Big Ben.  She may even make it to the Old Town Square in Prague to see the famous Astronomical Clock, still operating since 1410.  But will she know how to tell the time?  Time will tell (ha).  More likely, her grandfather will teach her how.

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

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Lego Grand Piano – Update #5

Last week

I describe this week’s movement as “allegretto”, or “light and cheerful” (read about my hesitant warm-up in Let’s Make Music!).  I completed the build of Bag #5 – of 21 bags of pieces – in a cool 46 minutes.  Maybe I’m finding the rhythm of this piece, though I did have a tense moment where two critical blocks were installed the wrong way and I had to disassemble several steps to get them right.  Whew – that was close!

Dare I say, we’re starting to see hints of the finished product.  Those four circles in the “this week” photo are part of what you’ll see when the piano lid is open.  All those little yellow “grabbers” will cradle the piano strings.  To the rear, we’re seeing some of the graceful curves of the instrument’s black body.

This week

Simple math tells us we’re approaching 25% completion of the build.  To put it another way, our concerto is about to wrap up the first of its four movements.

Running Build Time: 5.0 hours.  Musical accompaniment: Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. Leftover pieces: ZERO! (Holy cow – how did that happen?)

Conductor’s Note: I’m about 700 pieces into the build and this instrument is getting heavy.  Now I understand why you need special movers to relocate a piano.

Watch Your Steps!

The punk rock duo The Proclaimers are Scottish twins Craig and Charlie Reid. Now 58, the Reid’s were born just a month after I was, back in 1962. Even though The Proclaimers produced eleven albums and sold five million copies, I only know them for their 1988 chart-topper, “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)”. It’s the song thrumming in my head every time I’m close to getting my 10,000 steps for the day.

5,514.  Good Lord, I’m only halfway to my 10,000 steps today and it’s already two in the afternoon.  I need to get moving.  I even worked out this morning (lifting doesn’t get you many steps).  As usual, I strapped on my (Fitbit) tracker immediately after waking up but I’m usually further along by now.  I’m gonna have to go long with the dog tonight if I have any shot at making the magic number.

Magic number?  10,000 steps?  Who made this the “minimum for good health”?  A Japanese pedometer company; that’s who.  In 1965, they nicknamed one of their trackers the “10,000 step meter” and the number stuck all these years later.  Not that 10,000 steps has any significance when it comes to health benefits.  It’s all relative to whatever number you normally walk.  For that reason, we Americans can go less than half the 10,000 and still lower our mortality rate in a big way.

If you’re reading this post and you’re Amish, you’re already pooh-poohing 10,000 steps.  You and your people average 14,000-18,000/day just by removing motor vehicles from your world.  If you’re Australian or Swiss, 10,000 is just another day in the outback or the Alps (yodelayheehoo!).  Even the Japanese find a way to average 7,500 steps/day inside a small island nation.  Bringing up the rear?  The Americans, of course (drum roll, please…).  We clock an average of 4,800 steps a day – downright pathetic for residents of the fourth largest land-mass country in the world.  Is it any coincidence the U.S. makes and sells more vehicles than any other country besides China?

Source: Pedro F. Saint-Maurice, National Cancer Institute

Back to the “magical” 10,000 steps.  Let’s diminish the facts, shall we?  A recent collaborative five-year study of 15,000+ participants determined as few as 4,400 steps a day associates to a 40% reduction in mortality rate (when the norm is more like 2,700 steps).  Make it to 7,500 steps and the mortality rate drops by 65%.  In other words, you’re doing your body good well below 10,000 steps.  Unless you’re Amish, Australian, or Swiss.  Sorry, you people have to keep going.

Alas, no collaborative study nor determined blog post is going to change the world’s obsession with 10,000 steps.  The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services instead recommends five hours of moderate exercise a week (or half that much in “vigorous” exercise).  Doctors prefer a rather vague recommendation of “about 2,000 steps more than you normally walk”.  But none of that shuts down tracker production: 33 million devices shipped in the first quarter of this year alone.  You know who you are; doing mindless laps in the kitchen late at night just to “close your rings”.  10,000 steps remains the benchmark no matter the expert advice.

Close those rings!

Speaking for Americans at least, the magic number really is burned into our culture.  We’ve switched out our most glam watches for fitness trackers (because even a Rolex can’t count steps).  We download apps, print out weekly results, and obsess over “rings”, consecutive days, and “personal bests”.  We get cheap thrills when our tracker vibrates 10,000 and those little digital fireworks shower the screen.  Companies offer employees financial incentives if they can demonstrate extended habits of 10,000+/day.  We are beguiled of time and money for this fairly arbitrary number.

[Side note: The other day I woke up and checked my Fitbit history, only to discover I’d hit 9,999 steps the day before.  Didn’t bum me out; still strapped on the tracker and started a new day.  Kinda proud of that.  On the other hand, one time I strapped my tracker to my ankle to try to get “steps” out of a cycle class.  Didn’t work.  Not so proud of that.]

The pertinent lyrics of The Proclaimers’ “I’m Gonna Be” go like this:  But I would walk 500 miles, And I would walk 500 more, Just to be the man who walks a thousand miles, To fall down at your door.  No wonder I’ve got that song on the brain.  I don’t think I’d walk a thousand miles, even for my girl.  But I would walk five miles (about 10,000 steps) to hit my daily tracker goal.

Some content sourced from the 6/12/2020 Wall Street Journal article, “10,000 Steps a Day Is A Myth.  The Number to Stay Healthy Is Far Lower”, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.