• Tempus Rerum Imperator (Time is the ruler of all things)

    At The Time Biz, time is our only concern.


The Time Biz is a blog about things concerning time. Clocks, watches, the science of time, and anything at all having to do with time are our focus. We hope you enjoy our site.

It’s a Building and a Clock

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Traditionally, most clocks us the round analog face with 12 numbers and a hand that shows the minutes.  There’s a bit of a skill involved in reading it, as any child who hasn’t yet learned how to do that can tell you.

Digital clocks, which started to become popular in the 1970s, have simplified that, telling us the time using the exact numbers that represent the time.  At three minutes after twelve, a digital clock will read 12:03.  That’s simple enough that most anyone can understand it.

Binary clocks, on the other hand, are a bit more complex.  They have their fans, but admittedly, they’re not that easy to read, even if you do know the secret.

Binary clocks work in base 2, where the only available digits are 0 and 1.  It’s the basis for how computers work, as 0 can mean “off” and 1 can mean “on.”  It’s also the system used by designer Lucas and his fiancee and partner, Claire, who created The City Clock, which is now being offered as a kit on Kickstarter.

This clock, which resembles the sort of four story building that you might see on the streets of Paris, was inspired by that city.  Each of the windows in the building can contribute to showing you the time.

The building has 16 windows in a 4×4 grid.  Each column of windows represents a digit to display minutes and seconds in a 24 hour format.

The lowest row represents a value of 1.  The next row represents a value of 2.  The third row represents a value of 4, and the top row represents a value of 8.

To learn the time, one must look at the value of the lights in each column and add them up.

the city clock

In the image above, the column on the left has one light on the first row, which indicates a value of 1.  There are lights in the second column on the second row (a value of 2) and the third row (a value of 4.)  These are added to 6, which combined with the 1 from the first column, means that the hour of the day is 16 (or 4 PM for Americans.)

A similar process is done with the remaining two columns.  A value of 4 in the third column indicates 40 minutes and a value of 8 in the last column indicates 8 minutes, making the time 16:48.

The clock is sold in kit form, using laser-cut wood panels and easy-to-assemble electronics.  How easy?  According to the Kickstarter page, it takes about 10 minutes to assemble the clock, which comes in complete form starting at about $100.

The clock is powered by a USB cable, so you’ll need to have some sort of computer device handy in order to operate it.

Binary clocks are novel and this one certainly qualifies.  Granted, it takes a bit of getting used to in order to figure out the time and chances are that most owners will never get entirely comfortable with it.

Still, it’s a fun and affordable project that makes for a nice decoration as well as a good conversation piece.

You can learn more about the City Clock at the Kickstarter site.

Video here:

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The Ruggie Revolutionizes Alarm Clocks

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We’re always impressed when someone thinks outside of the box and invents a completely new way of approaching an old problem.  In this case, the problem is the alarm clock.

People do need to get up at different times and we often have to wake up at a time when we’d rather be sleeping.  For that, we need an alarm clock, but if you’re a heavy sleeper, you’ve probably just reached over and shut it off when it rings.

the ruggieOr you’ve simply pressed the snooze button over and over, which has the inevitable result of making you late for work or whatever other appointment you may have that day.

There have been numerous attempts to come up with a solution to this problem, but in the end, the only one that is actually going to work is one that can get you out of bed.

That’s what a new “clock” called The Ruggie attempts to do, and it appears as though it will do it pretty well.  The Ruggie, as the name suggests, is a rug.  But it has a built-in LED alarm clock with a subtle time display in the upper left hand corner.

You set the alarm using a USB cable and any computer device.  The Ruggie operates off of 3 AAA batteries.

It has a built-in alarm that can be set to ring at anywhere from 90-120 decibels, making it quite a loud alarm clock.

In order to turn it off, you must stand on it for a preset amount of time.  It comes from the factory set at 3 seconds, but you can set it for longer or shorter, if you like.  You can also upload motivational or music MP3 files to the Ruggie so that it will play them when you awake.

The Ruggie is made from a variety of materials.  The bottom layer is high quality anti-slip rubber, so it will stay where you put it on any floor surface.  The upper layers are made from fleece covering memory foam.

The Ruggie was started through a Kickstarter program that generated nearly $500,000 in pledges before it came to market.  Apparently, there’s quite a market for some new way to get people out of bed.

We’ve never really had any problem using a traditional alarm clock or a cell phone to wake up in the morning, and if we need to make sure that we get out of bed, we just move the alarm to somewhere where we can’t reach it while in bed.  That works for some people, but for others, the Ruggie looks like a good way to get them going.

It’s worth noting that it takes a fair amount of weight to turn off this alarm, too.  That’s great if you have pets, because the Ruggie is quite comfortable and cats apparently like to sleep on them.  Unless you have an exceptionally heavy cat, we doubt that they’ll set it off.

As a clock, the Ruggie is pretty unusual.  We’ve never seen a clock embedded in a rug before.  For that alone, we think it’s a pretty cool gadget.

You can buy the Ruggie at a number of places, including Amazon and the company’s Kickstarter page.

Clocks, Trains, and Greenwich Mean Time

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These days, we assume that the time we have on our clocks is roughly the same as that of our neighbors, and when you ask someone for the time, you can be reasonably certain that the answer they’ll give you will be fairly accurate.

That wasn’t always the case, and back in the mid-19th century, when clocks were fairly commonplace, accurate and consistent timekeeping was not.  Each town had their own idea of what time it should be, and most people just set their clocks to the time of the clock in the town square.

Bristol clockThat worked most of the time; after all, there’s no reason for most people to be overly precise about the time.  That changed with the introduction of railways.  Trains not only have to run on time, but trains in different parts of a country that might encounter one another on the tracks need to know what time it is and they need to agree on what time it is so that they can avoid collisions.

Trains still have issues with the time in the United States on the two days each year when we advance and retreat from Daylight Saving Time.  That’s just two days per year, however.  It’s not something that needs to be dealt with 365 days per year.

People riding those trains also need to have an accurate idea as to when the train will leave and arrive so that they don’t miss it.

In the latter part of the 19th century in Britain, the entire country attempted to adopt Greenwich Mean Time as the national standard.  That would seem to be a relatively easy thing to adopt, as Britain isn’t all that large.  It isn’t like the United States or Russia, both of which have a number of time zones and a reason for having them.

Still, in Britain, there were a number of small towns that struggled with the idea of adopting a national time when they felt that they time to which they were adhering locally was good enough.  That led to the creation of some odd clocks, some of which are still seen around Britain today, that had more than one minute hand.

At the Corn Exchange in Bristol, England, there is a large clock on display that has two minute hands.  One is red, and that red matches the hour hand and the hour markers.  That red hand indicates Greenwich Mean Time.

The other hand is a black one, and it’s about ten minutes slower than the red one.  What does that hand represent?  it represents “Bristol time,” which is the time that the local community observed before GMT became the recognized standard.

Britain passed a law in 1880 mandating that the entire country would use GMT as the “standard,” and they have done so.  But not everyone was willing to give up their local time, and some of those relics still exist today in the form of some rather unusual clocks.

It’s interesting to see such artifacts surviving in the 21st century, especially in a period when we have no doubt or serious disagreement regarding exactly what the time happens to be.


Omega Does More Than Make Watches

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For many people, the name Omega evokes wristwatches.  That’s not surprising; the company, based in Switzerland, was founded in 1848 and has been making quality timepieces ever since.  They’re part of the Swatch group today and they continue to make high quality mechanical and electronic wristwatches.

They’re also responsible for keeping time at the Olympics, where timekeeping is of vital importance for the many events that are not judged, measured, or weighed.  For swimming, skiing, track and field events and more, it’s essential that the time be kept, and that it be kept accurately.

That’s not as easy as it sounds, though it’s a lot better than it used to be.  When Omega first arrived at the Los Angeles Olympic games in 1932, their team arrived with stopwatches, and they’d continue using stopwatches for the next three decades.  It wasn’t until 1968 that all Olympic events were electronically timed.

Manual timing was understandably problematic; you had to rely on both the timepiece, which was fairly accurate, but you also had to rely on the person charged with operating the timepiece to ensure that the timing was done to match the starting and ending of the event.  There were also limitations to mechanical timepieces, which were reasonably accurate but only to the nearest 1/10th of a second.  Obviously, all sorts of problems arose from this, but as mechanical timing was all that was available in the mid-20th century, they had to make do.

As time went on, the ability to time to the hundredths and thousandths of a second became possible and these timings are critical in certain events, such as the luge, where thousandths of a second can sometimes separate the winners from the losers.

A major breakthrough came about in 1968 with the introduction of the end-of-lane touchpad in swimming, which allowed for accurate timing of the completion of swimming events in the Summer Games.  Previously, it was difficult to gauge when a swimmer touched the wall to complete the race, but now it was possible to know for certain when the race was over, and to get an accurate time for each swimmer.

Omega’s current cutting-edge timing equipment now allows them to accurately time any event to within one millionth of a second.  We have yet to see an event where the finishers were so close to one another that such accurate timing was necessary, but that day may eventually come, and it will be nice to see the officials prepared for such an event.

In the meantime, the Olympics provide Omega with great visibility and a reminder that while they may only be providing the time for the Olympics every two years, they can provide it for anyone every day via one of their classic and accurate timepieces.


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Unusual Clocks

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Most people have an idea of what the word “clock” means and when they hear the word, they usually think of a round face with a pair of hands.  Granted, most clocks these days are digital ones, but the centuries-old analog clock image remains with us.

Traditionally, clocks were built with sets of gears and moving hands, with readable numbers placed at 12 positions around the face.  This became the universal way of doing things hundreds of years ago, and aside from the minor variations of using Arabic or Roman numerals to indicate the hours, most clocks fall into pretty much the same form factor.

They’re going to be round. They’re going to have numbers.  They’re going to have hands.  And that is that.

Or so it would seem.  Below are a few examples we’ve found of some interesting clocks that do not conform to the standard design in one way or another, and in some cases, several ways.

The Handless Clock

We might as well start off with something that defies multiple conventions.  This clock shows the time via beams of light that represent the hands.  There are no physical hands on the clock, and for that matter, no numbers on the face.  Really, there isn’t much of a face, either, since the “face” is transparent glass.

handless clockModern-Retro Clock

This “modern” clock has no face, but the balls on arms around the design aren’t really new, as they strongly resemble the popular George Nelson designed “Ball Clock” that was built by Howard Miller in the 1940s and 1950s.  It evokes “modern” in the mid-century sense, but not on the 21st century sense.

modern clockGear Clock

This clock rather inverts the very idea of a traditional clock.  It only has one “hand,” and it’s really just a pointer.  The “face” is a gear with numbers around the perimeter, and the gear rotates, so the time is always determined by looking at the pointer at what would ordinarily be the 12 o’clock position.

gear clockRedundant Clock

The Redundant Clock is clearly redundant, as the “numbers” surrounding the face are actually just depictions of what the hands on a clock should show at that time of day.  But you knew that.

redundant clockColor Blind Clock

Are you color blind?  A lot of people are, especially men.  If you are, then you may not be able to see the numbers at 3,6,9, and 12 o’clock, but they’re there.  Really.  This one might make your head hurt after a while.

color blind clockMelting Clock

This clock was inspired by Salvador Dali’s well-known work “The Persistence of Memory,” and it was undoubtedly quite a feat to actually make it work, which it does.  Good luck finding a place to put it.

melting clockThe Domino Clock

The Domino Clock looks, at first glance, like three dominoes hanging on the wall.  If you look carefully, however, you’ll see that they’re actually displaying the time.

domino clockThe video below will give a demonstration of the Domino Clock in action:

We’ve actually seen hundreds of unusual clocks that bend the very idea of what a “clock” should be.  Perhaps we’ll share a few more in future posts.

As long as it works and you can tell the time of day from it, it’s pretty much “anything goes” when it comes to clock design.

We’re all for it.

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