Clock Time and Solar Time

The widespread availability of synchronized clocks only occurred very recently in human history. Before the widespread availability of synchronized clocks but after the regional availability (when a town may have a single clock) of clocks it was common for regions to have different clock times. This meant that 12:00 could occur at different points during the day in neighboring towns. Before the regional availability of clocks it was common for people to use solar time, which in most parts of the world varies throughout the year.

If you had a time machine and traveled back to Ancient Rome and told somebody that future humans will develop a habit of starting reoccurring events at the exact same point in a 24-hour period throughout the year, they would likely think you were crazy. However, modern humans seem to be incapable of comprehending anything else.

The debate between keeping the current biannual clock adjustments or settling on a single clock time throughout the year is once again raging. I admit that I’m biased towards using a single clock time throughout the year, but not strongly. My main interest in this debate is the arguments. Why? Because the arguments don’t actually address the issue they claim to address.

A big reason for the about-face? Whatever benefits might have been gleaned by giving people more sunlight in the evening during the winter, it also meant longer, darker mornings. Parents were suddenly sending their kids to school in the cold and the dark for months on end. As the Capital Weather Gang noted, such a change means the sun wouldn’t rise before 8 a.m. in Washington for more than two and a half months, between late November and mid-February. The morning darkness would linger even longer farther north.

This seems to be the predominant argument made by those in favor of keeping the biannual adjustment. My first observation is that having two annual one hour adjustments doesn’t fix this problem. I live in the Upper Midwest so I’m used to noticeably shorter days during the winter and longer days during the summer. Right before daylight savings time kicks in I’m beginning to wake up while the sun is rising. Just as I begin to adjust to seeing daylight when I wake up, I’m back to waking up before sunrise because of the adjustment to daylight savings time. It’s a minor annoyance, but school children in this area experience the same annoyance. Even though we adjust clock time twice a year children are still made to wake up and go to school in the cold and the dark.

There are solutions to this problem, but people seem largely unable to even comprehend them. One solution would be to implement more frequent smaller clock time adjustments throughout the year. For example, clock time could be adjusted by half hour increments four times a year or fifteen minute increments eight times a year. With enough granularity school children could always go to school after sunrise. Another solution is to adjust starting times to take sunrise into consideration. Instead of starting school at 08:00 every day, the starting time could be adjusted throughout the year. During one period school could start at 08:00, during another period it could start at 08:15, etc. Because sunrise doesn’t occur at the same time in every region, starting times would need to be region specific.

Let’s look at some other arguments in favor of maintaining the biannual clock time adjustments mentioned in this article and consider whether they actually solve the problem the claim to:

It puts clocks out of sync with Europe, which has standard time between late October and late March, creating problems in the trade and travel sectors.

Doing away with the biannual adjustments would put the United States out of sync with all of Europe. Except for Iceland, Belarus, Turkey, Georgia and Russia. Those European countries don’t observe daylight savings time (known as summer time in Europe). Moreover, no country in East Asia observes daylight savings time so when the United States changes its clocks, it’s out of sync with major trade partners and travel destinations such as China, South Korea, Japan, and Vietnam.

It makes it more difficult for various religions to practice rituals at home, such as sunrise prayers for Jews.

The mere act of living in areas where days shorten and lengthen throughout the year complicates observing such rituals. Jews living in the Barrow, Alaska would have to deal with 67 days of darkness between November 18 and January 23. Daylight savings time isn’t making the lives of Jews throughout the United States easier because daylight savings time doesn’t make sunrise uniform throughout the entire country.

It might actually increase gasoline consumption, given that people will have more time in the evening to go outside.

Quoting the same article:

A Department of Transportation study at the time concluded that the change actually had minimal impact on saving energy and might have actually increased gasoline consumption. As Michael Downing, the author of a book on daylight saving time, wrote in the New York Times in 2005:

This decision did not soften the blow of the OPEC oil embargo, but it did put schoolchildren on pitch-black streets every morning until the plan was scaled back. A Department of Transportation study concluded that Nixon’s experiment yielded no definitive fuel saving. It optimistically speculated, however, that daylight saving might one day help us conserve as many as 100,000 barrels of oil a day.

The same Michael Downing mentioned in the immediately above quote apparently also made the argument that abolishing daylight savings time might (which is the keyboard here because its inclusion ensures Downing doesn’t need to provide evidence in support of his argument) increase gasoline consumption. If he knows something that the Department of Transportation doesn’t about daylight savings time and its impact or lack thereof on gasoline consumption, it wasn’t provided in this article.

Despite the widespread belief that it’s meant to benefit farmers, they actually really dislike it and have consistently lobbied against it since World War I.

Just as “might” was the keyboard in the previous argument, “farmers” is the keyword in this argument because it’s used in such a nebulous way. Which specific farmers? My gut tells me that a farmer in Northern Minnesota may have a different opinion on the matter than a farmer in Southern Texas. I would also like to know the reasons given by “farmers” opposing the abolition of biannual clock time adjustments. Without those arguments it’s impossible to address whether biannual clock time adjustments address them.

If these argument don’t address the issues they claim to address, are the people making them stupid? No. If they’re guilty of anything, it’s being ignorant of the actual problem. Those arguing in favor of abolishing the biannual clock time adjustments also seem to be ignorant of the actual problem since they seldom mention it. The actual problem is that there is no connection between clock and solar time. Establishing such a connection would require either changing our habit of starting reoccurring events at the same point in a 24-hour period or making more frequent finer grained adjustments to clock time.

When Tradition Watch Manufacturers Treat Smartwatches Like Traditional Watches

There has been some buzz (at least in horology circles) about Tag Heuer’s smartwatch. It is, after all, the first serious attempt by a traditional watch manufacturer to release a smartwatch. But things weren’t off to a good start when the initial price of $1,400 was announced and things only looked worse when Tag Heuer announced a price increase. While there are a few models of the Apple Watch that exceed that price range most smartwatches come in far under what Tag Heuer is asking.

Now the price is settled at $1,500. What does $1,500 get you? You’d think it would get you some of the most cutting edge technology a company could cram into a smartwatch. Instead if gets you the same internals you would get for $150:

There was always a question of how much technology you would get for this $1,500, and unfortunately, it seems that the device has mostly normal smartwatch guts. There’s a 1.5-inch, circular 360×360 (240 PPI) LCD, 1GB of RAM, 4GB of storage, Bluetooth 4.1, Wi-Fi (802.11n) and a 410mAh battery. The one unique item is the processor: a 1.6Ghz dual-core Intel Atom Z34XX. It’s hard to not be disappointed by the LCD when the $350 Huawei Watch clocks in at a superior 286 PPI.

Here’s the problem I see with traditional watch manufacturers trying to enter the smartwatch market. Traditional watch manufacturers are used to selling a luxury product that can last a lifetime. $1,500 can get you a really nice mechanical watch that you will probably pass down to your children. Smartwatches aren’t mechanical watches. Whereas you still have a functional mechanical watch after five years a smartwatch after the same period of time is likely to be little more than a pile of outdated circuits connected to a dead battery. You may pass it down to your children but only because you don’t want to give them something valuable until they’re old enough not to break it by falling off of a jungle gym.

I think it’s going to be difficult for traditional watch manufacturers to enter the smartwatch market without changing up their business model a bit. Why would somebody want to fork out $1,500 to Tag Heuer instead of 1/10th of that to Motorola for basically the same thing? With the exception of people who have brand loyalty to Tag Heuer they’re not. That’s because they’re going to dump their smartwatch in a year or two for the newer model with more powerful and power efficient hardware.

There’s certainly room for a premium product but what qualifies something as a premium electronic device is different than a mechanical watch. When people pay a premium for an electronic device they tend to expect more power, features, and attention to details. Graphics cards are a great example of this. You can spend a lot of money on a graphics card but when you reach that premium top tier you’re getting some cutting edge hardware that you can reasonably expect to run the latest games at ridiculously high resolutions with all of the fancy features turned on. Apple products are an example where users will pay a premium for attention to detail. Making a laptop body out of a solid brick of aluminum, designing a professional workstation in the footprint of a cylinder, and releasing an all-in-one computer that’s almost thin enough to cut paper is appreciated by enough people to command a premium.

So what can a traditional watch manufacturer offer the smartwatch market? To start with their bread and butter: attention to detail. Let’s consider the watch face, which is arguably what most smartwatch users will be looking at throughout the day. Tag Heuer decided recreating watch faces from its mechanical lines was the way to go. But, in my opinion, it was done in a half-assed manner. The watch faces look like a Dashboard (because it’s all but forgotten, Dashboard is a layer in OS X where users can add small widgets) clock widget. For $1,500 Tag Heuer could have included motion sensors sensitive enough to know the wearer’s exact orientation. Combining that with location and time information obtained form the phone and you could add in realistic outdoor shadows under the watch hands and from the side of the case to create the illusion of depth. Assuming the user is inside the watch could use light sensors to detect where light is coming from and provide a similar illusion. Another idea would be to use a series of backlight LEDs instead of a single LED. Theoretically they could allow the watch to only turn on the LEDs behind the parts of the watch with lume to provide a similar night lighting to an actual watch. Of course all of this would look much better on a high resolution screen, which should be doable at that price point.

Traditional watch manufacturers can play in the smartwatch market but doing so seriously will require more than releasing the same product as everybody else with a different name attached to it.

Random Neat Historical Fact: Pay Phones and Chronographs Edition

It always amazes me how technologies intermingle with one another. Consider the average automobile, which almost always have a cigarette lighter. This simple almost universal inclusion actually says a lot about the popularity of cigarettes in our society (at least the historical popularity). Most of these intermingling technologies go unnoticed by us because they’re just so common.

One of those technological minglings that I never noticed, even though I’m a bit of a horological nerd, specific markings on old chronographs. Oftentimes the minute subdail for the chronograph function will emphasize the markers for three, six, and nine. I always assumed this was merely an aesthetic thing and never questioned it further but as it turns out there was a functional reason for this:

It all comes down to the telephone. According to a watchmaker and enthusiast, I was informed that back in the 40s, 50s and early 60s when these watches were being produced, people used payphones regurarly. Cell phones obviously didn’t exist and many people didn’t have landline in their home yet. When using a payphone at the time, the money you put in got you three minutes of talk time, and you were cut off abruptly when your time was up.

The lines on the chronograph simply help you keep track of your telephone call. You’d start the chronograph, put in your money, and easily be able to know when to put more money in or to finish your conversation. Most calls were likely under 10 minutes, which is why only the first three-minute markers look like this.

I would have never guess that. After all pay phones were already in rare use when I was a kid. This makes me wonder if the next generation of children, who will likely have much more limited exposure to cigarettes, will be confused about what the removable button in the car that gets hot when pressed is for.