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”.


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.

Cause for Alarms

A headline in this morning’s news feed announced , “Flaming Condoms are the Newest Threat to Southern Israel!” Just wanted you to be aware.

Now that I have your attention, let’s turn to a timelier topic. Big Ben, the iconic clock and tower at the north end of London’s Palace of Westminster, has been silent for almost a year now. In case you missed the news, Ben’s Great Bell and Quarter Chimes no longer toll – for another three years in fact – while much-needed repairs are made to the clock mechanics behind his massive face. At least the damage was simply wear-and-tear, and not the result of flaming condoms.

For Londoners, I have to believe the muting of Big Ben took some getting used to. Imagine, heard on miles of city streets, the Great Bell bonging every hour on the hour, and the Quarter Chimes playing every fifteen minutes (a stuck-in-your-head repeating melody of twenty notes). Now take all that away; replaced by uncomfortable silence. I’m sure city-dwellers subconsciously depended on Ben to remind them they had, say, thirty minutes to get to the office, or fifteen minutes left in the lunch hour, or no minutes before church (better start running). How will these people cope for the next three years?

In the absence of Ben, Londoners surely turn to alarm clocks more than they used to.  Not comfortable relying on their own senses (or the sun’s position in the sky), the English probably carry “Baby Ben’s” if you will – whether mobile phones or other portable devices.  I expect the additional chorus of beeps and chimes and other musical bites make a ride on the Tube even more enjoyable, as you’re left to wonder whether your neighbor’s getting a phone call or simply late for an appointment.

Alarms have come a long way since the basic digital LED box-clocks of old.  I wish those old bedside Ben’s were gone forever, but a visit to any Walmart or Radio Shack proves they’re more prevalent than ever.  My wife used to own one of the more potent models – with an enhhh…enhhh…ENHHH screech capable of levitating me out of a deep sleep, my pulse racing faster than an Indy car.  I’ll hear that murderous alarm even after I’m six feet under.

The colorful Beddi

Today – mercifully – we have several alarm clocks designed not so much to levitate but rather to ameliorate your transition into the conscious world.  Beddi – a “designer smart-clock” – is a sleek enough bedside companion.  Along with charging your phone, Beddi controls the dawning of your bedroom lights or the gradual amplification of your favorite playlist or even the pleasing aroma of your coffeemaker.  You choose how you wish to wake up.

The cute Kello

Kello is the spitting image of a toaster, but it’s really a partner for your body clock, with sleep-training modes to wake you a little earlier each day, or guided breathing exercises to help you nod off faster each night.  Kello also offers music in place of an alarm and can restrict the number of times you can whack the snooze button.

The sadistic Pavlok

Some people demand a little more, uh – torture – to get themselves up and out of bed.  Ruggie is exactly what it sounds like – an innocent-looking rug placed just to the side of the bed.  Ruggie is all about blasting music in louder and louder bursts, and the only way to shut the blessed thing up is to stand – full body-weight – atop of its fleeced surface for at least thirty seconds.  Then there’s Pavlok, a wearable alarm clock programmed via smart phone app.  Pavlok begins with a beep or a vibration (my advice – get up NOW) – but left to its own “devices” matures into a pulsing, zapping electric shock when you still don’t respond.  Pavlok is also happy to electrocute for trivial pursuits like biting your nails, smoking, or too much time on the Web.

Don’t know about you, but I have no interest in meeting Pavlok’s inventor.  Mr. Shock Clock is one messed-up sadistic soul, and probably has a host of other torture devices at the ready.  Like flaming condoms.

Let’s Do the Time Warp Again

Here we go again, time-travelers. This Sunday at 2:00am a good portion of the world will effortlessly move backwards one hour as we roll off of Daylight Savings Time (DST). It’ll be dark outside earlier (no more “summer nights”) and it’ll still be dark when most people wake up. Slam the door on summer – our days will feel shorter for the next eighteen weeks.


The rules of DST have changed over time (ha), at least here in the United States.  The concept itself was borrowed from the Germans as a way of conserving fuel, and began in 1918; the same time the U.S. adopted “standard time zones” (Pacific, Mountain, etc.).  At first it was a federal mandate in conjunction with wartime activities.  Several years later DST was abandoned entirely.  Then it was turned over to the individual states to adopt (or not).  Finally, DST was given formal guidelines in 1966 as part of the Uniform Time Act.

DST still feels like an experiment with no satisfactory results.  In 1974-1975 the U.S. tried DST for an entire year, but went back to the on-off approach when concerns were raised about kids heading off to school in the dark.  In 1986 DST was extended from the half-and-half calendar to include the entire month of April.  In 2005 DST was extended again to the first Sunday in November -to accommodate trick-or-treating on Halloween.  That last modification was only eleven years ago, for a concept that has been around for a century.  Any bets the rules of DST will change again?

Arizona (outside of their Navajo lands) and Hawaii may have the last laugh.  Both states leave their clocks untouched while the rest of us move backward and forward year after year after year.

Whether or not DST continues, this much is true.  On Sunday I will be resetting two alarm clocks (my wife’s actually auto-adjusts but doesn’t understand post-2005 DST), three wall clocks, three temperature gauges, two thermostats, two car clocks, and several appliances and watches.  Any of these products could be designed to auto-adjust (like phones and computers) but maybe their creators don’t trust the DST rules won’t change yet again?

A word of advice about Sunday’s change.  Proceed with caution when you head out on Monday.  Not only will it be darker, but your body clock – which can’t be adjusted with a button – will be slightly out of kilter.  Strange things happen the day after clocks adjust, including more accidents between cars and people (if certain Department of Transportation reports are to be believed).


Last thought.  Today’s word is mnemonic, which refers to any means of making the retention of information in the brain easier.  MNEMONIC is also an acronym for “Memory Needs Every Method Of Nurturing Its Capacity” (I like that).  That brings to mind a couple other mnemonics.  The Great Lakes can be remembered with HOMES (Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior).  The bass clef in music (the notes A,C,E,G) can be remembered with “all cars eat gas”.  And of course, DST has its own mnemonic to determine which way the clocks adjust.  Remember: “Spring forward, Fall back!”

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