Friday, January 9, 2009

As I Was Walking Down The Street One Day

I went to the Fairchild Clinic yesterday and while sitting in the room with the doctor I noticed the clock on the wall had "Radio Controlled" printed on its face. I've never seen that before--I know, I know, I don't get out much--so I had to ask, "Why does the clock have 'radio controlled' on it?" He explained that the clocks have a receiver and at 4:00 pm every day they sync up to the atomic clock in Denver. I assume he meant the National Institute of Standards and Technology cesium clock in Boulder, CO.

He said that if the clock is incorrect then it kicks into high gear. The hands spin around and the clock cycles forward until it reaches the correct time. What's funny is that the Fairchild Clinic (formerly known as a hospital) is three stories of cinderblock construction and the radio signal doesn't reach some of the inner rooms. In those cases someone moves the clock to where it can receive the signal and returns it after it's correctly set. How crazy is that? I wonder how this precision timing has affected the quality and quantity of medical care they provide.

Where I work we have those cheap wall clocks that take one AA battery every year. Twice a year we have to adjust them for Daylight Savings/Wasting Time. Those types of clocks have served us well for many years. Never in my life have I required a clock that was accurate within a second at all times.

Digression time. When I was stationed on Guam back in '94, I had a super-anal-retentive guy working for me who set his watch every morning to the exact time. When you asked him the time he would give it to you to the second, something like, "It's 1314 and twenty-five seconds." I would look at my watch and say something like, "Are you sure? Because I have 1314 and twenty-three seconds." He would vehemently insist he had the right time because he had synchronized his watch that very morning and his watch was never ever off by more than a tenth of a second. Pulling his chain was so easy. Once I put the password "obvious" on his screensaver and changed the screensaver to say, "The password is obvious." After two hours of guessing he called me. I said, "The password is 'obvious', Scott." And he would reply,"I KNOW, Sergeant Greer, but I just can't figure it out." Dang! My digression time is up.

Now I can understand having the exact time if you're running trains, launching satellites, docking space stations, flying planes, etc. But for the vast majority of us we hardly need the sort of accuracy where we need to be within a second. Of course, I've been wrong before. Yeah, I know, lots.

If you find it necessary to have the exact time at all times, feel free to check out the clocks available for your precision chronological needs.

Does anybody really know what time it is?


Pat S said...

Even though it sounds highly radioactive and therefore seriously dangerous, I would gladly volunteer for the daily job of liberating the atomic clock from its cinder cell, just to be able to see the hands speed up for a few seconds.

Of course, I would have to set my intrinsically safe non-atomic alarm clock to remind me it was danger time.

Jacque Hendrix said...

Um, I believe it's time for a bike ride and a beer with my friends.