THE ALARM CLOCK

The earliest form of alarm clock was probably a big guy standing by a sundial waiting to shout: Oi - wake up!

Alarm is defined as a state of fear or heightened anxiety and comes from old Italian
all arme - all arm - a call to arms. Nature makes wide use of alarm calls. The raucous shriek of angry birds echoes through every jungle alerting of danger. In any back garden a stalking cat can be thwarted by the shrill cries of a startled worm-puller. The cowboy guiding his wary pony across the prairie pulls up short at the warning quiver of a deadly rattlesnake - carrying its own alarm in its tail.

Humans have adopted and adapted many ways of providing alarms. Early man kept barking dogs to alert of approaching danger. Through the centuries guards blew horns, lit hill top beacons, sent smoke signals, flashed mirrors, fired gunshots, rang church bells and shot rockets to alert the tribe or army. Or just danced up and down.

Awareness of time and the need for a predictable alarm combines to produce the alarm clock. The farmyard cockerel with its regular, dawn-welcoming cock-a-doodle-doo is nature's man-adopted alarm. Good enough if you are a peasant farmer living in harmony with the seasons but what if you need more accuracy? The big guy shouting probably gained promotion to the more genteel brass gong and hammer, but try carrying your portable beacon or church bells around whilst squinting up at the sun. You'll soon see the need for precise, practicable, portable devices.

To get your alarm at the right time it is necessary to measure time's passing. Early awareness of time comes from the rising and setting of the sun and the passing of the seasons. The sun's arc in the sky can be subdivided into hours, minutes and seconds, and clocks mimic and measure this using the available technology.

First came the simple shadow clock that refined into the sundial in 1500 BC Egypt. The importance of the regular flooding of the Nile must have heightened the Egyptian's awareness of time and the clepsydra water clock developed around 1400 BC. This is an impressive device using the steady rate of flow of water out of a cistern. The sand clock, 1500 BC, and still in use today in the form of an egg timer, used the flow properties of sand. The simple candle clock relied on the reasonably steady burn rate of wax to show the passing of time. But a bit of a problem on windy days. And not much use when guarding the pass in a storm!

The first mechanical clocks, using a system of gears for escapement, originated from the robed and pigtailed people of 8th century China. Falling-weight-system clocks were used in pious, praying, 14th century Europe; and the mid-15th century saw spring-driven mechanisms develop. The structural style was greatly influenced by church architecture. In the 16th century the efficient Germans emerged as leading makers of spring and weight-driven clocks. Enter the egg. The Nuremberg egg that is. Had a German inventor finally cracked it? It was the expensive and exclusive "must have" till someone succeeded in flattening it with coiled-spring drive and balance-spring regulator. Thus emerged the "fob watch and chain" of your great-grandfather's heyday.

Victorian pomposity and chains across the beer belly prompted the nickname for some quaffers of foaming-tankards of "chains and slavery". They might have looked impressive but by the 1880's fashionable wristwatches had developed. Tired of the wind-up era, the 20th century electronic watches caused a buzz in the early 1960's. By '69 the vibrating quartz crystal provided the accuracy, and liquid crystal display the digital output, for mass-produced fashionable watches and clocks. Tickling a quartz crystal with an electric current makes it vibrate at a precise, steady, high frequency that can be passed through an integrated circuit and used to drive the watch or clock.

The development of the pendulum clock by the Dutch in the 17th century had enabled accuracy to be increased which became important for finding longitude. Sixties' swingers proclaiming free love and ban the bomb organized their day with ultra-accurate atomic-regulated time. Atomic bombs were definitely alarming but the idea was to wake up before they went off. Developed in the UK in 1955 and accurate to one second every 3 million years they use the fixed oscillation rate of the nucleus of a caesium atom. Wow!

You couldn't plan a trip to the moon with granddad's best wind-up watch but Armstrong's hop on the green cheese involved the fantastic accuracy and timing of the computer age. Computer clocks have an oscillator to determine the timing of activities inside its central processing unit. Microprocessor clocks operate in MHz with one MHz equaling 100 million oscillations per second. Impress your granny with that!

And so we arrive at the all-singing all-dancing PC alarm clock - keen and eager to start your PC, stop your PC, schedule your uploads, downloads, file launches and order the tea. The very last word in timekeeping excellence... But you can still see big blokes by their screens shouting: OI -- WAKE UP!


 

Alarm Clock

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AlarmBelle - The PC Alarm Clock

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