I am not a nerd – I just happen to have a very nerdy hobby: amateur radio! I have been playing with radios from the age of 13 or 14. I am still excited about building my own gear and antennas and making two-way Morse-code contacts with fellow nutters on the other side of the world.
Time permitting, on Wednesday night I attended club meeting at Terrey Hills where I get together with my nerd friends.
However last Wednesday was a bit different than the usual ‘radio talk’: the show-and-tell presentation was ‘bring along your favourite timepiece’. Of course, that was be an opportunity not to be missed – an opportunity to talk about my two favourite subjects: watches and radios. The most popular clock would win the prestigious ‘piece of the night’
award, and a bottle of red.
My only problem was which timepiece to bring along: these guys are SERIOUS nerds so I anticipated serious competition.
Eventually, I narrowed down my choice to two remarkable clocks which would leave any engineer speechless: a Jaeger LeCoultre Atmos clock (a mechanical clock which works on air and needs no winding), and an 1841 Dent marine chronometer which was the GPS of the era.
After considering the bumpy 2 hours bus ride, I settled for Dent- a piece designed to be transported.
The moment I walked into the club, I realized that I stood no chance: the room was filled with Nixi tube clocks, back from the future replicas, vintage military ‘bomb-proof’ clocks, all sorts of radio controlled clocks, and coffers full of wrist watches ranging from Seiko to Rolex.
A treasure trove of items which tick, glow, work, tell time and entertain. Not to mention the fact that my nerd friends were seriously ‘into it’- these guys are not amateur watch collectors or watch enthusiasts- they actually KNOW what make each timepiece tick, regardless of how diverse the driving principle or science behind the clock. Think of the bunch from the Big Bang Theory, minus the humour.
A piece on display which blow me away was a Cuckoo clock: an ordinary mass produced German clock which its owner brought back from a trip to Germany. The owner (a seasoned robotics engineer) wasn’t really impressed with the timekeeping so he decided to improve it a bit: he turned it into an Atomic Cuckoo clock! He built the control synchro unit employing a rubidium source and a GPS unit which was then attached to secondary pendulum, which swung at the rate of accuracy of 0.0000000001 sec per day. That is something (roughly!) around one second per 300,000 years or thereabouts. The cuckoo’s pendulum and atomic pendulum were not even connected – due to their proximity, cuckoo will simply ‘pick’ the motion rhythm of the larger pendulum and keep perfect time. During his brief presentation, he mentioned that he is already working on another clock design: a free pendulum enclosed in vacuum tube which would be kept in motion with two laser beams shooting at it. The mere “force of the light” will keep it in perpetual motion. At the moment, he is learning how to blow the glass tube (buying one would be too easy!).
At the end of the night, the Atomic Cuckoo and my Dent shared the first prize. I was proud of Dent – and I guess Dent would be proud of me for giving him a chance to compete with atomic technology.
Back in Dent’s day, watchmakers and clockmakers were the true nerds, working at the cutting edge of mechanical engineering; the true inventors, scientists and thinkers.
No wonder their timepieces still make us all ‘tick’.
– Nick VK2DX