Wednesday , April 17 2024
As the United States begins its earlier-than-usual shift into springtime, let's take a look at the study of time.

Horology For the Masses

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As the United States begins its earlier-than-usual shift into springtime, we take a look at many things horological around the world. (European Union countries will shift later this month and the shift varies for those countries outside the EU and US that participate in Daylight Saving Time.) While every attempt has been made to spare the reader a pun-laden exposé, try to forgive the occasional transgression.

We are most aware of time when the phone rings in the wee hours of the night. We first look at our bedside clock (as if it were the source of the noise?) and with a sudden sinking feeling we answer the phone, certain it’s bad news. Sometimes all is well but for the future of the loved one in another part of the world who innocently proclaims, “I forgot about the time difference.” In sleepy haste, we scribble a note: Take caller out of will.

He Who Defines the Terms

Lee Smolin, a theoretical physicist, professor of physics, and member of the Center for Gravitational Physics and Geometry at Pennsylvania State University, answers the question “What is time?” He can answer a lot of questions, to be sure, none of which I’m qualified to paraphrase here. If I’ve learned nothing else about horology, it is that the smartest people in the world know way more about it than I do. It’s nice that they share.

Those driven to learn by data alone will no doubt find much to be had with Horology: The Index, as presented by world traveler and all-around very smart man, Fortunat F. Mueller-Maerki. Interested newcomers to horology may take interest in the clepsydra (0), an ancient device for measuring time by the regulated flow of water or mercury through a small aperture.

Who Doesn’t Love a Convert?

Silent Warriors not only displays an easy-to-use visual reference (1) for converting standard time to military time, they’ve also included a brief explanation for those new to the conversion. Intuitor founder Tom Rogers shows us how and why a time of 12:11 converts to 8_1F on a hexclock (2).

Tool Time

Time is noted many times in a day on many a machine, appliance, and accessory. If you want to know the time on someone’s watch in a different country (something our will-banished caller would do well to try), take a look at Steffen Thorsen’s user-friendly World Clock. For visual reference, the different time zones can be seen as mapped out by World Time Zone.

From sundials to the atomic second, Encyclopedia Britannica’s Clockworks offers a most comprehensive horological examination of time tools with easy-to-read passages and eye-catching imagery. Equally intriguing and visually appealing is the Franklin Institute Science Museum Journey in Time. Enthusiasts will likely find the former more interesting, while schoolteachers may find the latter more useful.

History buffs, trivia collectors, and anyone who enjoyed picture books as a child may enjoy the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) presentation of The Evolution of Time. You only thought you didn’t have time to learn about ancient calendars, early clocks, world time scales and time zones, the revolution in timekeeping, the atomic age, and lots of suggested reading in the bibliography.

NIST’s laboratories in Boulder, Colorado, developed NIST-F1, a cesium fountain atomic clock. This clock is about as close as you can get to the end-all-be-all of timekeeping as it is “the nation’s primary time and frequency standard” and “contributes to the international group of atomic clocks that define Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), the official world time.”

Call Your Travel Agent

Everything you wanted to know about time travel is just moments away. For your perusal is PBS’ companion Web site to the NOVA program “Time Travel,” and “Time Travel for Beginners” by John Gribbin, science writer and visiting Fellow in astronomy at the University of Sussex. If you’re thinking about taking that fateful trip, Scientific American presents the schematic-free “How to Build a Time Machine.”

If your horological interest in travel is less about dimension and more about destination, there are a few clocks you may find interesting. The Astronomical Clock (Orloj) (3) of the Old Town Hall in Prague, Czech Republic, continually provides the full range of astronomical data. The clock was installed in 1410 and rebuilt in 1490 by the Master Hanuš. Of its three parts — the procession of Apostles, the astronomical clock, and the calendar — its most popular attraction is the hourly procession of the 12 Apostles. The tower stands about 226 feet (approximately 69 meters).

The 1547 Horloge Astronomique of Strasbourg, Alsace, France (4) offers up four levels of timekeeping activity. Among the most fascinating things this clock does is show the different stages of life. The fourth level shows the Apostles pass by, bow, and receive Christ’s benediction. Also, a rooster spreads its wings and sings. This used to happen when the clock struck twelve noon, but it upset the clergy that many churchgoers were leaving mass before it ended to see the clock at its most active glory. The clergy delayed the passing of the Apostles until half past noon.

Set in 1753, the clock of Independence Hall (5) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was removed in 1828. It was replaced in 1972 by the National Park Service with a 14-foot carved replica. (I’ve been many places in the U.S. and Europe, but never Philadelphia. If someone knows anything more about this clock, please leave information in the comments section below.) The oldest and longest continuously running clock in the United States is said to be the Winnsboro, South Carolina Town Clock, built in 1833. The works for this clock were ordered from Alsace, France (home of the aforementioned Horologe Astronomique). Many public clocks throughout the United States are located, inventoried, and assisted in their preservation and maintenance by Save America’s Clocks.

Timely Tidbits

Every part of the picture (of the Musée d’Orsay clock in Paris) links to something relevant with time. By opening a link in a new window, you will have this page to refer back to for more fun!

The End of Time

Time is a concept limited to the human mind, as it exists nowhere else. Vast, though, are the efforts and attempts made throughout history to measure, keep, save, and track time. This has been but a brief look at a few of these efforts. It’s hoped the horologically inclined among us have learned or learned more for it.

“Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in.” – Henry David Thoreau

About Diana Hartman

Diana is a USMC (ret.) spouse, mother of three and a Wichita, Kansas native. She is back in the United States after 10 years in Germany. She is a contributing author to Holiday Writes. She hates liver & motivational speakers. She loves science & naps.

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