Monthly Archives: March 2014

Are we getting too clocky?

By now, most everyone subjected to the “spring ahead” time shift should have almost all of the household clocks set properly. Perhaps a timer, a handheld gadget, a gaming console, or a piece of exercise equipment buried under clothes and boxes remains unset, out of sight, out of mind. The spring ahead part is tougher because of not only losing an hour of sleep, but of needing an extra hour to hunt down every analog or digital contraption with a clock that does not set automatically.

Admittedly, most clocks embedded in devices manufactured since the late 1990s will synchronize either to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) radio transmitter or to a Network Time Protocol (NTP) server. The Internet of Things (IoT) promises to make this chore easier in the future. An individual probably may receive a special certification for complete “Interconnected Devices, Internet of Things” achievement. Heaven knows, we probably know a few people deserving of that certification.

At one point, clocks did not set themselves. Think back 40 years ago when setting the analog clock in the car meant either pulling or pushing a knurled stem while trying to turn the darn thing either clockwise or counterclockwise. The grinding sound meant that the stem needed more force in or out, resulting in a sore wrist or finger blisters. Within a couple of years, car clocks either had broken stems or were left alone. After setting or ignoring the car clock, there might be a wrist watch, kitchen clock, oven clock, and an alarm clock to set. There were maybe a half-dozen timepieces requiring attention.

Sometime in the 1980s, a marketing wonk, whose name is lost to the ages, decided that adding a clock to a gizmo increases its coolness factor, similar to how every electronic thingamabob is better with Bluetooth. During the early years of clock proliferation, many of the clocks would gain or lose many minutes per day. Setting them required feats of digital dexterity and prestidigitation because of pressing multiple tiny buttons. Wristwatches used LED displays rather than LCD displays and required a button push to see what time it was (stream old episodes of “Kojack” to see an LED watch in action). LED watches could not have the display on all the time because the alkaline battery would drain within a week. VCRs had non-intuitive clock controls resulting in an ominous and annoying green blinking “12:00” display. A strip of black electrical tape quickly fixed that problem, though the problem of recording shows at a particular time remained unsolved. That explains how Blockbuster got so huge in a short time. Even after getting the ever multiplying number of clocks set properly, a brief power outage rendered all the effort for naught.

Even computers had issues with time changes. The standard $4,000 personal computer contained a Real Time Clock (RTC) circuit that was poorly named. RTCs slowed down in direct proportion to CPU load. Multimillion dollar mainframes fared worse. Nearly every mainframe operating system before the early 1990s required a system reboot after setting the clock. Reboots were time-consuming and quite boring unless something went wrong. Many of these problems went away after operating system upgrades allowed time resets without a reboot and by using NTP servers for time synchronization. Windows 2000 did have the annoying pop up window proclaiming Daylight Saving Time started or ended. That was as helpful as a cat dropping a dead creature at your feet and giving you the “See what I did for you?” look. It was probably an unused feature from Microsoft Bob.

As battery and electronics technologies improved, clocks began appearing in previously inconceivable places. We now live in an age where clocks get synchronized to within milliseconds of each other, but where weekly status meetings chronically start eight minutes late, and the traditional 5:00 pm quitting time drifts closer to 7:30 pm. The IoT means a future of more devices connected to the Internet, which means these connected devices will have clocks. I am not arguing that a clock controlling auto start on a coffee maker is not sheer genius, even if the clock presently requires manual adjustments twice per year. My Nest thermostat is another example of properly using a clock synchronized to an Internet time server, and it worked with my antiquated thermostat wiring unlike other WiFi enabled thermostats. Modern households have probably three dozen clocks scattered about. But do we really need a time of day clock on the microwave, and the stove, and the coffee maker? Even the wall phone has a clock because of the Caller ID display. I have a kitchen clock that works quite well, thank you. I’m glad my spatula is lacking a clock, though it is possibly conspiring with the ladle to get back room timepiece injections done. Maybe the rolling-pin will keep them in line.

With our obsession for time keeping and with clocks everywhere reminding us that we are late for everything like the rabbit in “Alice of Wonderland”, take a break to spend quality time with your loved ones. It helps lower stress and is quite enjoyable. Good things happen after an attitude adjustment. Who knows, perhaps your mandatory 9:30 meeting will start on time? One can always hope.

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“You’re burning daylight!”

One of the phrases I heard while growing up on a farm, at least one of those phrases repeatable in a family friendly posting, was “You’re burning daylight!” The best time to get tasks done was when you could see what the heck you were doing. Idle time would wait until either the chores completed or it was too dark to safely keep working. Daylight was a precious commodity and wasting it caused problems.

Unlike many other creatures, humans are diurnal (or at least most of us are) and our eyes are better suited for daylight rather than moonlight. Farming as an occupation involves using machinery that can cause serious injury or death. Harvest time was especially tough because the daylight hours were several hours shorter than during the summer. My family would hear accounts of someone damaging a piece of harvesting equipment by hitting a rock or culvert at night that would have been visible during the day. I know I had a few close calls back in the early 1970s pulling gravity boxes filled with grain in the wee hours of the morning including the one time and only I dozed off and nearly ended driving into the creek (sorry, Dad!). I would not have been able to blame it on texting.

Today most of the United States went on Daylight Saving Time (DST). Please notice it is NOT Daylight Savings Time, since according to Wikipedia “The form daylight saving time uses the present participle saving as an adjective, as in labour saving device“. As a city dweller, I do enjoy having an hour of extra daylight at the end of my day to enjoy outdoors. Society has migrated from agrarian rural to industrial metropolitan since the Industrial Revolution in the 1750s. One of the premises for implementing Daylight Saving Time is energy conservation with a benefit of extra time for a round of golf after work. The Wikipedia article mentions that there is no conclusive proof that DST saves energy. Most of Arizona does not participate because of the extra energy required to cool houses during the summer. Indeed, the biggest winners of DST are sports teams and the leisure industry. The United States tried year-around DST in 1973 and has not attempted it since. It was more dangerous for children waiting for school buses in the northern states because of the later sunrise. Every year there is a hue and cry to abolish DST and yet it remains. There is one immediate DST benefit in my neighborhood. If my imbibing neighbor feels compelled to yell at the hoot owl, he’ll have an extra hour of sleep before the hooting starts. It also means the feathered alarm clocks start their pleasant morning serenades an hour later.

Keeping track of time zones and time changes is a daunting task. My web server runs a UNIX variant called FreeBSD. UNIX and Linux systems use a file containing all the time zones and the start and end dates for DST, Summer Time, or whatever the locals call the clock chicanery. As part of my systems updates, I receive notifications when the master time zone file changes along with a change synopsis. There were fourteen changes in 2011, ten changes in 2012, and nine changes in 2013; no changes for 2014 yet, but the year is still young. A global economy complicates time keeping.

Farm critters don’t use a time clock. They stick with “God’s time” or solar time. Animals can perceive time but in a qualitative form (“it’s not as light out, I must find shelter!”) rather than quantitative (“it’s 7:05 pm, I must find the baseball game on TV!”). Dairy cows don’t like their schedules changed. I can imagine a farmer stumbling into the barn after DST with the cows giving him the “What the hell are you doing here so early? I still need my beauty sleep!” look. Chickens are not going to “spring forward” with egg production to accommodate the farmer tied to city time. We won’t discuss the pigs, since George Orwell correctly theorized in “Animal Farm” that pigs will take over the world and institute equality for all…except for that pesky “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” clause.

One of the local coffee shop chains is offering a free extra shot of espresso in any coffee drink today. People residing in areas participating in semi-annual “spring ahead/fall back” time manipulations experience a form of jet lag. In my case, it is similar to leaving the Central Tome zone and waking up in the Eastern Time zone. One of my stops today will include picking up a medium turtle mocha with skim milk, dark chocolate, and low-calorie whip “moosed”. That combination saves 125 calories, mostly in fat, and still provides a needed caffeine jolt. The Orwell quote in the previous paragraph may inspire me to have a ham sandwich, too. It would honor the mock Latin motto found on the crest of the Addams Family from the mid 1960s eponymous TV show: “sic gorgiamus allos subjectatos nunc” (“we gladly feast on those who would subdue us”).

My area is finally seeing temperatures closer to normal, and the crowded stores and car washes, along with the later sunset, offer unique people watching opportunities. It is easy to pick a bicyclist or motorcycle rider out in a crowd because of the brown pyramidal tire spray water stain on his or her back from the snow melt and wet roads. Some people will have open windows or sunroofs and no doubt, a few will show off a several kilowatt sub-woofer shaking the glass in buildings half a block away. Temperatures in the 40s mean some people will venture out winter coats with shorts and flip-flops. Perhaps sleep deprivation is a contributing factor.

Try to get out and enjoy the day after fully waking up, and I do hope this posting does not lull you back to sleep. Be sure to give your special someone a meaningful hug and try to find quality time with those closest to you. Time spent with loved ones is never considered burning daylight.

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