Living In A Time-Free Zone

It’s June 21, which means it’s officially summer.  (Those of us in the rainy, cool Midwest may be forgiven for not recognizing that.)  June 21 also means the summer solstice has arrived and therefore, in the northern hemisphere, it’s the longest day and shortest night of the year.

190617165942-watches-on-bridge2-photographer-jran-mikkelsen-jpgSome of the northernmost cities of the globe have already been enjoying days where the sun never sets.  In Sommaroy, a Norwegian island that is north of the Arctic Circle, the sun doesn’t set for more than two months — from May 18 to July 26.  And during that period of constant daylight, the islanders don’t exactly follow conventional concepts of time.  In the early a.m. hours, when most of us are abed, Sommaroy residents are likely to be out doing activities that we associate with late morning or afternoon.  In part, that’s to compensate for the fact that, from November to January, Sommaroy doesn’t get any sunlight at all — but the practices of the islanders during this time period also recognize that standard concepts of time, set by a daily sunrise and sunset, really don’t apply when you have 24 hours of constant daylight.

Now Sommaroy residents want the Norwegian government to recognize their practices officially, and declare Sommaroy a “time-free zone” during the constant daylight period, which would allow businesses and schools to have flexibility in their hours of operation.  Visitors to Sommaroy during this period are encouraged to acknowledge the “time-free” concept by leaving their watches on the bridge that connects the island to the mainland.

Many of us live lives that are governed, to a certain extent, by the clock.  We get up, eat, work, watch TV, and go to bed on a schedule that is derived, in large part, from the rhythms established by the sun.  What would it be like to live in a place where there was constant sun — or for that matter, no sun — and therefore no standard concept of time?  Would you still follow a schedule, or would you simply sleep when you wanted, eat when you wanted, and work when you felt you had to, without regard to the tyrannical clock?

Most of us don’t have to think about that, because we don’t live in places where there is constant sunlight, or constant darkness, for any part of the year.  But if humans venture into space, and take years-long interstellar voyages or live underground on inhospitable planets and moons where sunrise and sunset are not daily occurrences, our prevailing notions of time will be put to the test.  In a way, our time-free friends on Sommaroy may be giving us a peek into what human lives might be like in the future.

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For Whom The Clock Chimes

We have an old clock in the front foyer of our house that we inherited from Kish’s Mom.  It’s a lovely piece of craftsmanship from days gone by, with careful wooden carvings and delicate clockwork mechanisms.  It’s a bit temperamental, too.  It needs to be wound, pursuant to a yellowed set of instructions kept inside the clock cabinet, and only Kish can do it in precisely the right way.  

But what I really like about the clock is its sound.  On a morning when I wake up early and come downstairs, like this morning, the sounds of the clock fill our quiet, darkened home.  The steady ticking, the whirring made when the hour or half hour are ready to be struck, and finally the hollow gong that marks the passage of another 30 minutes — these are reassuring sounds that are good company for the early riser.

Ask not for whom the clock chimes.  Why, it chimes for me!

A True Clockwork Expert

More than two hundred and fifty years ago — so long ago that America was still a collection of diverse, squabbling colonies — a British carpenter and clockmaker named John Harrison made an outlandish claim.  He contended that he had designed a pendulum clock that, if wound properly and in timely fashion, would keep time so accurately that it would lose only one second of time over a 100-day period.

clock_3272964b.jpgYou would think that Harrison’s claim would have had some credibility, because he had just invented a device that had solved one of the knottiest problems confronting the British Empire of that day — namely, allowing sailors to figure out their longitude on long sea voyages.  Latitude could be determined by looking at star charts and comparing constellations to the horizon, but longitude posed a seemingly impossible problem.  Harrison solved it by creating the chronometer, a device that kept remarkably precise time calculated from Greenwich, England.  By determining the local time, such as high noon, and then comparing it to the Greenwich time kept by Harrison’s clock, sailors could calculate how far away they were and determine their longitude.

But even though Harrison had solved the longitude problem, and won a large prize from the British government for his ingenuity, his claim to be able to build such an accurate pendulum clock was met with churlish derision.  Harrison was ridiculed, his claims were said to involve “an incoherence and absurdity that was little short of the symptoms of insanity,” and his clock design was forgotten for centuries.  But Harrison’s achievements became the subject of interest again in the 1970s, and a clockmaker attempted to decipher Harrison’s plans for the clock and build a replica.

Harrison’s design, called simply “Clock B,” then was tested, and the test results confirmed that Harrison was right all along.  During its carefully controlled 100-day trial, Clock B lost only 5/8 of a second when measured against official Greenwich time, and it was declared by Guinness World Records to be the “most accurate mechanical clock with a pendulum swinging in free air.”  Centuries after his death, Harrison was vindicated:  he was right, his critics were wrong, the design of Clock B was an amazing accomplishment for a clockmaker who lived during the mid-18th century,

It just goes to show you — sometimes the conventional wisdom isn’t wisdom at all.

Bad Timing

In case you forgot, here’s a friendly Webner House reminder:  daylight saving time ended at 2 a.m. this morning.

6360638997895923221214868310_1575252Unless you are one of those nerdy Daylight Saving Time fans who actually stays up on Saturday night until 2 a.m. so you can change your clocks in complete compliance with the time change, the shift back to standard time means you will need to walk around your home, changing every clock that hasn’t already changed by virtue of its connection to a network.  So, make sure you get to that clock radio next to your bed, the clocks on the microwave and the oven, and the clock that is pretty much completely hidden by the books in your TV room.  And don’t forget the clock in your car, either!

This year it seems that the change back to standard time has come later than ever.  That’s because, about 10 years ago, the federal government shifted the change to standard time back a week, from the last Sunday of October to the first Sunday of November, and in 2016 the first Sunday of November falls on November 6.

The time change has two unfortunate consequences this year.  First, it’s going to get dark a lot earlier at night, which means we’re heading into the grim period when it’s dark when we head to work in the morning and dark when we come home at night.  Second, it means we get an extra hour of time to hear about the presidential campaign before Election Day finally arrives.

Just this once, couldn’t we have banked that extra hour until the Sunday after Election Day?

Mean Trick

IMG_20160303_043331I’m in  Atlanta for meetings today.  During the wee hours I got up to use the hotel room bathroom, and after I was finished I decided to check the time on the clock radio next to the bed.

It read:  6:20.

Wait, 6:20?  Crap, I’ve overslept!

So I got up and turned on the lights and began doing the work I needed to do before my meetings started, dealing with that jagged surge of adrenalin that you feel when you realize you’ve overslept.  I started reading and answering emails on my iPhone, and then I noticed the time indicated on my phone — which was 4:20.  Huh?  I then went to my tablet as the tiebreaker, and it read 4:20, too.

So somebody had messed with the hotel room clock, moving it two hours ahead.  Why would somebody do that?  The only thing I can think of is that they thought it would be a funny, mean prank to give an unpleasant jolt to an unsuspecting traveler who was checking the time in the morning — because that’s the only time you look at a clock in a hotel room.

What kind of stupid, inconsiderate jerk would do such a thing?  I’m guessing it was a Trump voter.

Losing Track Of Time

I long ago stopped wearing a wristwatch, and when I arrived in Paris my smartphone — which has been my primary time-telling device for some years now — was out of network and not working.

007As a result, I’ve spent the last few days wandering this lovely city, happily oblivious to the time. Richard has a wristwatch, and there are clocks in the apartment we’re renting that we can check if we absolutely have to be somewhere by a specific time. There are even occasional clocks along the routes of our travels, like this beautiful clock found on one of the government buildings on the Ile de la Cite.

For the most part, however, we’ve been moving in response to our own internal rhythms, not the dictates of some infernal machine. We’re eating when we’re hungry, drinking when we’re thirsty, and resting when we’re tired. We know the sun goes down around 5 p.m. (We don’t really know what time the sun rises, because we’ve been sleeping late.) And we know when, after a long day of sightseeing, strolling, and eating some fine meals, it’s time to go to bed.

One of the real pleasures about this kind of trip is not being slave to a clock.

Fall Back, The Clocks Are Attacking!

You never fully realize how many clocks you have in the house until it’s a “time change” Sunday and you have to patrol the household and make sure that every time-keeping instrument is set to the correct hour.

IMG_5298It’s a day that shows how beholden we are to time.  We’ve got clocks on our phones, on our computers, on our stoves, on our microwaves, and on our TVs.  There’s a clock on the dashboard of my car.  We’ve got standalone clocks and alarm clocks and clock radios.  We have more than a dozen clocks in our two-person, two-dog household — and that’s without any wristwatches, because I stopped wearing one years ago.  It’s hard to believe that our ancestors lived for generations without having any kind of timepiece telling them it’s 6:56 a.m.

When it’s time to actually change the time, I develop a special appreciation for computers and smartphones that automatically adjust to Standard Time.  The Sunbeam alarm clocks are next on the simplicity appreciation meter, because you can quickly change the position of the hands on the clock with a twist of a knob on the back.  The clock radio and the microwave are a little bit tougher, because you have to hold down a button and hit another button until the time adjusts to the new normal.

And then there is the clock on the oven, which was designed by some sadistic engineer who wanted to torment sleepy people on a Sunday morning in November.  I can never figure out how to change the clock, so after a few half-hearted attempts and some well-chosen epithets I give up.  After all, it’s only a few months until Daylight Savings Time rolls around again.