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Time Reference

 
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roger.pape
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Joined: 17 Mar 2009
Posts: 386
Location: Liverpool, NY

PostPosted: Wed Feb 01, 2012 3:21 pm    Post subject: Time Reference Reply with quote

How do you set the time on your clocks, like a wristwatch or kitchen clock? At one time the telephone companies would provide a free phone number to call in order to get the time of day. Perhaps you use the radio or television. The National Bureau of Standards (now NIST) has been broadcasting accurate time information on their WWV radio station for many years. As a youngster, I used to tune my shortwave radio to one of the WWV frequencies, wait for the pause in the broadcast to finish, and carefully set my watch to the announced time. Or maybe you are like many people today who use their cellphone to provide time.

Timing signals from GPS satellites are now widely used as an accurate source of time. A few years ago, I designed the time calibration for an air traffic control multilateration system consisting of a number of geographically dispersed ground sites using these timing signals. The synchronization of the time tags from all of these stations had to be accurate to within 10 nanoseconds in order to maintain a 10 foot tracking accuracy of the aircraft position. That was important, particularly when the plane lines up with the runway and bounces to a landing. Such precision is rarely required by most people but one would at least want to be close enough so as not to miss a meeting or other event. As long as people use a common time reference, things move smoothly.

In earlier days, many towns or villages might have had a clock on the tower of a church or town hall that provided a convenient source of time for the inhabitants. I was amused by an anecdote in Loberta Runge’s The Story of Johann Albert and Mathilda Bruns Runge. As the story goes, Johann Runge Sr. had a telescope set up in a room in the Runge homestead. It was pointed across the fields to the clock on the steeple of Bethel Evangelical Church. (That’s the clock that is now on the tower next to the Concordia town hall.) He would regularly check the clock to set his pocketwatch.

That reminded me of the story about a village that had a centrally located church with a large clock on its tower. The local villagers all used that clock to tell the time of day and were proud of how accurate it was. One day a visitor heard about the clock and began to wonder how it kept such good time. He asked the sexton of the church how he maintained the clock’s accuracy. The sexton said “Well, Farmer Meyer has a great pocket watch and when he comes to town he lets me know what the exact time is.” So the curious visitor went out to visit Farmer Meyer. He found the farmer in his barnyard, leaned over the fence, and asked him what time it was. The farmer replied “Just a moment”. He took his milkstool, sat down next to a cow, leaned against the cow and said “It’s 11:42”. The visitor was amazed. He asked the farmer if there were some special vibrations he got from the cow to be able to know the time. The farmer answered “Naw. If you crouch down here and look to the east, you can peer through the trees and see the clock on the church steeple in town. That’s where I get my time from.”
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roger.pape
Site Admin


Joined: 17 Mar 2009
Posts: 386
Location: Liverpool, NY

PostPosted: Wed Feb 01, 2012 3:23 pm    Post subject: How accurate? Reply with quote

How accurate do people need to set their clocks? With all of the clocks one has nowdays (including many appliances), do you bother to set them all precisely? It would seem that the closer they are to each other, the better. But this may not necessarily be the case.

Many years ago there was a king in Germany whose province had a large number of clocks on various church towers. They would faithfully toll the time at midnight. One night as the king lay in bed, tossing about because he couldn’t sleep, the church clocks began to toll the midnight hour. First one to the right of his palace, then one to the left, followed by one off in the distance and so on. This offended his German sense of precision. Why can’t they all be set alike, he thought.

So the next morning he issued a decree that all of the clocks in the kingdom should be set to precisely the same time. That evening he fell off to sleep assured that he had averted a major problem. Then, at midnight, there came a thunderous clang as all the clocks chimed in unison. It woke up everyone in the kingdom.

Can you imagine what it would be like if all the clocks in a clock store were set exactly the same?
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