12/03/2011

When I am King: Time to Go

When I am King...

There will be no time like the present.

Tick, tick, tick...

We have an atomic clock. Or, rather, as Wikipedia corrects me, a radio clock, receiving radio signals from an atomic clock system somewhere else. This is a comforting distinction, as I’d rather not have an atomic device directly in my house. Much better to have it in the neighbors’ house, where we can derive benefits such as accurate time while foisting the potential for a core meltdown on them. They’re nice people, I’m sure, but they’re not us.

Centrally located in our kitchen, the clock is in the perfect place for a timepiece that always shows the correct time. Even amidst the uncertainties of as many as two (2) time changes per year, due to the incomprehensible and hopelessly outdated “Daylight Savings Time” tradition, our clock will always tell us what time it is right … now.

Or at least that was the theory when we bought it.

In practice, our atomic clock is just a clock. It either doesn’t talk to the atomic clock server, or it doesn’t bother to listen to the conversation. I think that it must be a teenage clock, knowing with deadly certainty in its acne-covered head that it is right, and that the atomic time server is an old fool.

So when the Daylight Savings Time change occurred a few weeks ago, we gave it a couple of days to get its act together. After that waiting period, we took the thing down and changed the time manually, as usual. Honestly, I don’t know how we manage it twice a year: reaching up, taking it down, spinning the little minute-hand wheel, and then hanging it back up on the wall. It’s all a bit too much and we have to take the next several months to recoup the energy to do it again in reverse. It’s a good thing that the time change doesn’t occur more often.

My wife called me yesterday to inform me that the clock had just adjusted itself. So now it’s an hour early, since we’d already, at great personal energy expense, set it back an hour. Again, I detect adolescent behavior at work, with a petulant, “You want me to change my time, Fine! There, I did it! Happy?!?!” [followed by the slamming of a virtual bedroom door and the boosting of heavy metal stereo volume to tsunami levels somewhere in the house of time]

I liked the idea of the atomic clock - no more worry about whether the time was incorrect; it would just work. But between its relationship difficulties with the time pulse, the draining of its batteries, and the fact that it doesn’t actually keep time that well to begin with, it’s worse than a normal clock without the fancy atomic-clock feature.

With a normal clock, I’d know to keep an eye on it and would never completely trust its information without checking some backup source. But with this kind of device, you feel like it must be right, making its mistakes a continuous surprise. It’s like having an untrained dog versus one that is mostly trained. With the untrained dog, you keep him confined to areas he can’t destroy and can mostly keep things from going off the rails. But with a dog that is mostly trained, you trust him enough to have the run of the house, and eventually come home to find your leather shoes in his mouth and a steaming pile on your bed.

Even a broken clock would be more dependable - at least it would be correct twice a day. The atomic clock runs constantly slower than the real time, guaranteeing that it will only be correct when we bother to reset it, which happens twice a year.

I thought the clock on my phone would serve the same purpose - it’s talking to some time server out in the ether (probably costing me serious airtime minutes in the process - after all, time is money). So its time is always correct. Until you go out of service, like on a plane or in a sub under the Antarctic, or in a great coverage area when the mobile network is feeling despondent. Then you look at this dependable time piece and it says nothing, because you told it to get the time from some service that it’s not on speaking terms with at the moment. So now you have to set the time manually, but the only time you know is the one from your phone, which isn’t very helpful at the moment.

When I am King, there will be no more time. It’s so difficult, never quite knowing what the real time is, or whether your clocks are lying to you. Moreover, it’s stressful having appointments scheduled at exact times, trying to figure out what time it really is, being late because you had to get a coffee on the way and then had to go to the bathroom because of the coffee and then you met someone outside the restroom that you hadn’t talked to for a while and grabbed a coffee with them, and had to go to the restroom again where you met someone else and had a conversation with them. By the time you get to the meeting, it’s over and everyone is upset just because your clocks weren’t giving you the correct time. So no more: time will be a thing of the past.

That’s all for now - it's time to go.
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