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Notes from a Clock-Watcher

Guest Column
Erik Snowberg

I am a senior here, where I enjoy taking classes in math and anthropology. I am involved in extra-curricular activities and dabble a bit in politics. All of this stuff is fun, but my real passion is my hobby: clock-watching.

What’s clock-watching, you say? I am not surprised that you haven’t heard of this sport - well, I call it a sport; others might refer to it as a “game,” but that really seems to trivialize it to me. It is actually quite straightforward. I enjoy watching clocks -- digital clocks, to be precise -- in all their glorious forms.

Many people at first seem to think that this would be a very dull thing to do indeed. “After all,” they say, “it is so predictable.” Well, predictable it may be, but it has more ups and downs than any other sport I can think of. Surely there is something exciting about watching your team come from behind to win the day, or watching them hold off an attack to stay with the lead in a contest such as baseball or football. How often does that happen? A couple of times a season? Mostly one team starts off in the lead and that’s all there is to it. But in clock-watching, there is never a dull minute, although there are dull moments.

Let me demonstrate. Say we were to begin watching just after a minute has been completed. Although the end of a minute is very exciting, as I shall explain later, it is really far more convenient to start just after that moment. Focus in on the seconds category. As the seconds flip from zero to one there is a very pleasant feeling -- not terribly exciting, but the reassuring glow that another minute has just started. This feeling will usually persist through the two and three, both pleasant numbers. As we move on to four, you may feel a little letdown, but this is all part of the game. Just as the unsettling feeling of “what the heck is so special about four” begins to set in, it is immediately followed by the five! The glorious five!

Five is the base unit for all future measurements. When your friend asks you what time it is, you will usually answer in some multiple of five. Unless, of course, you have some reason to be very specific. Moving on to six, you are still feeling the elation of the five, with the added knowledge that the minute is one-tenth over. The seven has its own significance, but does not bring the same reaction in everyone. The eight is a bit of a bummer, and not even the fact that it can be easily reduced to two-fifteenths of a minute can save it. The nine likewise, although you start to build up towards the ten, the base of our numeral system and an exciting number even before you realize that you are now one-sixth of the way done.

The 11, and all future multiples of 11, are quite nice as they allow for things like November 11, 1911, at 11:11 and 11 seconds. This when written out in concise notation would look like 11/11/11 at 11:11:11. Quite stunning, wouldn’t you agree? There are other special numbers such as 14, which when coupled with a 3 in the minutes place begins to look a bit like pi. I will leave the others to your imagination, as discovering these special little numerical treats is half the fun.

So now you can see some of the wonders of the sport of clock watching -- the dreadful highs and fantastic lows. But let me titillate you further with some applications of this wonderful sport. Many of our undergraduates enjoy drinking games. These could be played with movies or sports, but often times, after a full game, you may not even feel the least bit tipsy. With all the special seconds in a minute, however, you could be passed out on the floor before a full two minutes has passed. I can’t even begin to cover all of the different ways in which clock-watching can enliven a party!

The best part is that clock-watching as a sport is quickly rising in popularity. If you could pick one phenomenon of this last year, even bigger than Pokemon, it would be clock-watching. A lot of it was because of this whole Y2K business. They sold special clocks which ran backwards (although I am a traditionalist myself, there is nothing to say that watching a clock move backwards should be any less exciting), and as the year 2000 approached people got more and more excited. They began to notice that the last odd second (a second in which all the digits of the date and time are odd) until 1/1/3111 at 1:11:11 would be on 11/11/1999 at 19:59:59 (or 11:59:59, if you don’t use military time.)

When the year 2000 arrived, throngs of people had gathered all over the world to watch the clock tick away those fateful seconds. In fact, people got so excited that they watched other people in other parts of the world watching their clocks. (Clock-watching as a spectator sport -- even I did not dream of that, dear reader!) Where I was, in Boston, the jubilation was tremendous. A woman I never met before grabbed me and kissed me -- another thing I never expected to happen. I finally felt at home among millions of my kin who had just discovered this beautiful passion. Since then I have not slept; I have not wanted to miss a single second of this gem of a year, the year 2000.

Now that we are comfortably in the year 2000, I have huge hopes for this to become our national pastime. I am even working out a deal with ESPN to become their official clock-watching commentator. Whenever there are a few seconds to fill, there will always be something exciting happening on the clock so they can cut to me. I just hope we can close the deal before the first even second since 8/28/888 -- on 2/2/2000 at midnight, 00:00:00. I don’t want the whole world to miss that one!