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Technology Science

A Clock That Runs for 10,000 Years 438

Justin Blanton writes "Discover magazine is running an article about a clock designed to run accurately for 10,000 years. It's essentially a "future-proof" clock that blurs the line between art and functionality through advanced engineering. From the article: 'Everything about this clock is deeply unusual. For example, while nearly every mechanical clock made in the last millennium consists of a series of propelled gears, this one uses a stack of mechanical binary computers capable of singling out one moment in 3.65 million days. Like other clocks, this one can track seconds, hours, days, and years. Unlike any other clock, this one is being constructed to keep track of leap centuries, the orbits of the six innermost planets in our solar system, even the ultraslow wobbles of Earth's axis.'"
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A Clock That Runs for 10,000 Years

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    It only lasted 2000 years.

    • by maxwell demon ( 590494 ) on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @08:04AM (#13825348) Journal
      If this one fails in 2000 years as well, where do I get my warranty refund?
      • by macklin01 ( 760841 ) on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @09:22AM (#13825851) Homepage

        Dear Customer,

        It has come to our attention that your Clock of the Long Now (TM) was exposed to a liquid spill 500 years ago. Although it may not have caused the failure, AwesomeClock, Inc. does not cover the repair or exchange of a machine resulting from misuse, accident, modification, unsuitable physical or operating environment, improper maintenance by you, or failure caused by a product for which AwesomeClock is not responsible. The warranty is therefore voided.

        However, you can buy a new mechanical system board for 895 KiloDollars, and your warranty will be extended for 90 days. If you wish to dispute this finding, we can email you pictures that will never actually reach your inbox. Thank you for choosing AwesomeClock, Inc.

        AwesomeClock Warranty Claims Dept.

  • by somersault ( 912633 ) on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @08:01AM (#13825331) Homepage Journal
    *sets alarm to wake himself up in 10,000 years*
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Then you put the snooze mode and it will ring again every century until finally you wake up... Sounds like a nifty accessory for Chtulu.
  • Great, So when humans are all dead and long gone, Aliens will land on Earth and know to the trillionth of the second what time it is on Earth.
  • Outta time (Score:4, Insightful)

    by WiseOwl2001 ( 742135 ) on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @08:03AM (#13825337)
    How will we know it is keeping accurate time if nothing else is as accurate to check it against?
    • If it tells you new year while it has summer temperature outside, you know that either the clock went wrong, or the global warming was real, after all :-)
    • Re:Outta time (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      In the original article, it indicates he planned a sync or reset mechanism attached to a bi-metal strip. The bi-metal strip would be heated by sun and sync the clock up every day there was sunlight.
    • Re:Outta time (Score:3, Informative)

      by ifwm ( 687373 )
      By comparing the positions of the planets on the clock with the actual positions of the planets.

      • Re:Outta time (Score:3, Informative)

        by clbell ( 921567 )
        I wish I had mod points. The question is prominent in the discussion thread list but the answer is buried. The answer is even correct. I have this edition of Discover and read this article with interest the other day. The clock will not contain any precious metals or jewels so there is a reduced chance of it being dismantled in rough times. It will "reward attention" as the author put it by only displaying certain information when someone comes close to it, stepping on a pressure sensitive plate. I im
    • Is it noon? (Score:3, Informative)

      by jmichaelg ( 148257 )
      How will we know it is keeping accurate time if nothing else is as accurate to check it against?

      Local noon is an easy time to measure. When the sun is due south, it's local noon. Due south is halfway between local sunrise and local sunset. If the clock were to drift, it would be saying something like "it's two oclock" whereas the sun would be telling you it was local noon so you'd know the clock was wrong. The clock is designed to reset itself based on the position of the sun using a bimetallic strip so u

      • Re:Is it noon? (Score:4, Informative)

        by dajak ( 662256 ) on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @03:16PM (#13829366)
        The architects in the middle ages trusted their offspring to finish and maintain the cathedrals that the architects laid the foundations for. Seems that turned out ok - most of the cathedrals are still here and don't show signs of being stolen or vandalized. Even the Germans had the good sense to leave Paris alone during both wars and they're the original Vandals.

        You are wrong. Most cathedrals are no longer there. Most cathedrals collapsed within two centuries after being built, and many others will collapse within 50 years because of car traffic.

        You are also wrong about the Germans. A number of old inner cities and over 200 medieval castles in my country (the Netherlands) were destroyed beyond repair by the Germans in the 4 days we fought them. Paris was saved because it wasn't fought over. Still the Germans are not more destructive than our other neighbours. Overall they are our most peaceful neighbours.

        The town I live in now was for instance razed and flooded by the sea in 1350 in a civil war, and razed again in 1572 by a Spanish army, who also murdered the entire population. It was rebuilt in 1574 with strong city walls and shelled again in the same year by the Spanish. It was shelled by the French in 1672, and by our own army liberating it in 1673. Last time it was shelled was again by our own side in 1814, after Napoleon lost the battle of Leipzig, and the French garrison refused to surrender to Dutch militia claiming the town.

        The town I grew up in was destroyed by the English fleet in 1809. The inner city was largely destroyed again in 1940 and in 1945, when the Allies also flooded it by bombing the dikes. Sources also recount that the town was razed to the ground twice in the middle ages by the Flemish because of our excessive river tolls.

        It is really just a fluke that some buildings survived over the centuries, and generally speaking it is the best buildings that survive.
      • Re:Is it noon? (Score:3, Informative)

        The bigger problem to my eyes is they're planning on tucking it hell and gone inside a mountain so no one will steal or vandalize it. For a monument that is intended as a statement of hope for the future, that strikes me as counter productive. "Umm, we built this thing for you kids whom we've never met but we figure you're not trustworthy enough to let you know where it is."

        The idea, according to the article, is not that people won't know where it is--just that it's hard enough to get to that it won't b

  • lame (Score:5, Funny)

    by LittleGuernica ( 736577 ) on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @08:04AM (#13825350) Homepage
    No wireless. Less space than a nomad. Lame.
  • by aendeuryu ( 844048 ) on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @08:05AM (#13825351)
    I suppose this is a moot point, but there's always the human factor. Different countries' changing stances on daylight savings time, scientists deciding to eliminate a second here or there to gain a minute here or there, etc.
    • The ITU submitted a proposal [ucolick.org] this year that leap seconds be abandoned.

      And if it's tracking UTC, or as the article mentioned, local solar time [bartleby.com], then it doesn't have to deal with stupid things like daylight savings time.
    • 500 years ago amirica was discoved (from the spanjard view), look what is acutally left of those ships.
      2000 years ago the roman empire ended. Most what left of is are some ruins and some idea's
      5000 years the piramids were build, look what is left of that. They are eroded. We have a vague clue of their purpose. (storing mummmies, but mummies were never found in it?)
      10000 years ago? Star-gate might be right about it, maybe man did not exist in it's current form.

      You might enineer it well enough to measure a wo
      • 2000 years ago the roman empire ended. Most what left of is are some ruins and some idea's

        Don't forget the roads!

        • Actually I think it's interesting that you brought this up. I've read in several places that 10,000 years from now, not much of our cities will probably remain (especially if we nuke ourselves, which was the dominant theory when most of what I read was written I think) but the Interstate Highway system will be there for hundreds of generations to come. Obviously at ground level it will eventually get overgrown and might not be easily distinguishable, but from an aircraft or satellite the right-of-ways and g
      • Most what left of is are some ruins and some idea's

        I suppose if you want to include the Latin alphabet and language, and the books that formed the cornerstone of Western civilization until the Renaissance, with deep enough cultural resonance that pretty much every eastern European nation used a mangled form [wikipedia.org] (Kaizer, Czar) of Caesar to describe their rulers, in the set of "some ideas", then you might be right. What would count as the Romans leaving their mark? A centurion on every street corner?
      • by Meostro ( 788797 ) on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @09:33AM (#13825938) Homepage Journal
        The pyramids are still standing. Stonehenge is too. This clock [longnow.com] is made out of stainless steel and monel, a "nickel-copper alloy" that is known to be corrosion resistant. The final version is expected to be made of the same, plus some bronze and other long-wearing substances. The overall design principles [longnow.com] of the Long Now clocks will make them physically durable, it seems like mechanical longevity is going to be the least of their problems.

        The anthropologic aspect of this project is going to be the most difficult, simply because society is a factor. The rise and fall of civilizations happens much more often than the rise and fall of material objects. We can still recover bronze-age artifacts (circa 5000 years old), and even some from the stone age (anywhere from 8,000 to 30,000 years old), but we have very little information on what the societies were like. Most of what we have is just a guess.

        The good news is that those same design principles that make it physically longstanding address these problems from a sociologic / anthropologic POV also.

        Maintainability - The clock should be maintainable with bronze-age technology

        Maintainability and transparency:
        • Use familiar materials
        • Allow inspection
        • Rehearse motions
        • Make it easy to build spare parts
        • Expect restarts
        • Include the manual

        (emphasis added)
      • by IAN ( 30 )
        You might enineer it well enough to measure a wobble of the earth, but to actually package it so it can survive 10.000 years and still have a meaning is not only an engineering feat, it must be an antropology feat as well, to make people long after this understand what it is and leave it in pieces.

        The last part of that sentence indeed summarizes the chief obstacle to longevity of any monument.

        Incidentally, this is not the first time that such a time-scale has been deliberately studied. A while ago the U

  • Boring old news... (Score:3, Informative)

    by wsxyz ( 543068 ) on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @08:08AM (#13825362)
    We've known about this since when? Oh yeah, since 1996 [longnow.org]. Yawn...
  • by Dekortage ( 697532 ) on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @08:11AM (#13825375) Homepage

    This is just a bunch of marketing fru-fru. The last 10,000-year clock I bought only lasted 6,738 years (give or take a month). Even if you take into account my time travel, I still should have gotten a good 8,500 years out of it, at least.

    The real question is support. Will the manufacturer still be around in 3,000 years when you need to replace the little rubber feet? Are vendors and repair centers going to stock replacement parts? How much does an extended warranty cost?

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @09:15AM (#13825794)
      How much does an extended warranty cost?

      Does it matter? In 10,005 years, you think you'll find the receipt?

    • by sita ( 71217 )
      The real question is support. Will the manufacturer still be around in 3,000 years when you need to replace the little rubber feet? Are vendors and repair centers going to stock replacement parts? How much does an extended warranty cost?

      This is so ontopic! This is the one overshadowing design criterion. It should be possible to repair with whatever technology is available in 10000 years. And you can't rely on manuals, since you don't even know what languages there will be 10000 years down the road.
  • I want to have one! (Score:5, Informative)

    by Vario ( 120611 ) on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @08:11AM (#13825378)
    The clock looks like ThinkGeek could sell quite a lot of them, it may be a little on the expensive side. A lot of high-tech mechanic combined with a polished look so that any other clock looks childish.

    The article is rather slow to get already so use mirrodot instead: http://www.mirrordot.org/stories/608e5b4931282247b 42f18bb66f3c291/index.html [mirrordot.org]
  • Too Complex (Score:2, Insightful)

    by N8F8 ( 4562 )
    For every variable you introduce, the liklihood of defects rises fivefold.
    • Re:Too Complex (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Itchy Rich ( 818896 ) on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @08:52AM (#13825633)

      For every variable you introduce, the liklihood of defects rises fivefold.

      For every generalised statistic you quote, the likelihood of talking accurately about any specific application decreases fivefold.

      These people seem to have put so much effort into thinking through possible variables that could effect this clock, from the value of the materials to the transparency of the operation, that I'd be very surprised if they didn't stop to consider one of the two most fundamental aspects: reliability.

    • Yep:
      "A sunbeam striking a precisely angled lens at noon triggers a reset by heating, expanding, and buckling a captive band of metal."
      My guess is that this will not last even a century. Certainly this
      device sounds like it won't survive being submerged in sand and mud
      for a while. The pyramids did survive under sand but they had no
      function other than being giant man-made warts.
  • by Alien54 ( 180860 ) on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @08:15AM (#13825400) Journal
    Aside from Natural Disaster and Unusual Weather Events, the one thing I can imagine being a problem is the run of the mill ignorant human being.

    The natives of Cairo stripped the pure white polished casing stones from the great pyramid to build a large number of building in their city. Nothing against the need for public housing, but it is a shame. There are plenty of other examples as well.

    • From Wikipedia, another great building destroyed by stupidity:

      In 1687 the Parthenon suffered its greatest blow when the Venetians attacked Athens, and the Ottomans fortified the Acropolis and used the Parthenon as a powder magazine. On September 26 a Venetian shell exploded the magazine and the building was partly destroyed.
  • by GReaToaK_2000 ( 217386 ) on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @08:19AM (#13825420)
    Anyone remember how "some" people get/got all worked up about the Mayan Calendar? How it "ends" at, oh I don't remember exactly, but it was supposed to end sometime around 2005 or 2006 I believe...


    Who's to say that the Mayan Calendar creators simply didn't do the SAME thing these people did? That is to make a Clock/Calendar which is accurate for 'n' number of years into the future.

    There is NOTHING cosmic, or "End-of-the-world-doom-and-gloom" about the Mayan calendar either... It was probably something as simple as some Mayan's decided to make their Calendar last for a LONG DAMN TIME!!!

    It is probably just THAT Simple!

    Just a thought.
    • but it was supposed to end sometime around 2005 or 2006 I believe

      2014, I think. There was a difference in opinion between lowland Mayans and highland Mayans but it was only a matter of a year.

      Also, they didn't think it was the end of the world; they thought the Gods would return and judge our progress. If they didn't like what they saw, THEN it would be the end of the world. So, obviously, we're okay...er...where's the exit again?


      • 2014, I think.

        It's actually December 21, 2012.

        Maya Calendar on Wikipedia [wikipedia.org]

  • Surprising (Score:4, Interesting)

    by BronxBomber ( 633404 ) on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @08:19AM (#13825421)
    I am surprised by the questions/comments regarding practicality. Whatever happened to doing something neat simply because "you could"?
  • A clock (Score:4, Insightful)

    by FidelCatsro ( 861135 ) <fidelcatsro@gmail.cOPENBSDom minus bsd> on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @08:22AM (#13825433) Journal
    Which lasts 10,000 years.
    A server which last 10,000 Milliseconds .
    A story about an atomic clock being 9 years out of date has a certain poetry to it .
  • by EchoMirage ( 29419 ) on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @08:22AM (#13825434)
    I'm not usually one to complain about the age of articles on Slashdot, but I first read about the Long Now project in a Wired cover story published in 1998 [wired.com]. Perhaps the article submitter didn't know about it until now, but this is far from a new project.
  • by dreadlocks ( 637491 ) on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @08:28AM (#13825462)
    .. and when it suffers a power loss it will flash
  • by MrDelSarto ( 95771 ) on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @08:29AM (#13825466) Homepage
    With all this fantastic clock technology, where can I get an alarm clock that has technology that wasn't cutting edge in 1969?

    I'd like

    • Ability to set different alarms for Monday-Friday and Sat-Sun
    • Multiple alarms, so I can get up early and my parter can sleep in until the second alarm for her goes off
    • Digital tuning (AM/FM) and volume control
    • Ability to match a station/volume to a function: i.e. go to sleep with quiet AM radio and wake up to loud FM radio

    Clock radios haven't changed at all since I first got one when I was about 5! Someone out there must be able to package up a glorified palm pilot with some big buttons and red led's and make a killing. These days you could put 802.11 in it and get weather/traffic reports on a led ticker ... I'm sure there is a market!
    • by ianscot ( 591483 ) on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @09:06AM (#13825727)
      It isn't necessarily a feature list you're really pining for. If the current makers of alarm clocks added the stuff you want, they'd do so with 12 extra incomprehensible little plastic buttons, all of which would be tucked in back of the clock and all of which would look and feel the same. The volume control would be a wheel exactly like the tuning control on the radio, with one on the left side and one on the right, and you'd always have to re-learn which was which.

      What's needed is some thoughtful design.

      Alarm clocks are a prime example of a product in which the inmates are running the asylum. Each new half-baked feature clock makers add gets appended in the clunkiest possible way. These things aren't designed around the user, they're made according to the specs of the parts.

      The gold standard for our new design will be: I must be able to operate the clock's basic features when I wake up in the morning, blurry-headed and without my contacts in. This basic problem -- that they're used by sleepy people -- seems to have escaped current makers of alarm clocks.

      None of this has anything to do with "long time" though, not any more than with atomic clocks. (One of the obvious, obvious features of a decent alarm clock being that it'll synch with the atomic clocks and get back on track after a power outage or whatever...)

      • The gold standard for our new design will be: I must be able to operate the clock's basic features when I wake up in the morning, blurry-headed and without my contacts in. This basic problem -- that they're used by sleepy people -- seems to have escaped current makers of alarm clocks.

        One could also make a point for a design where it is hard to stop the alarm when you are not completely awake. This would reduce your risk of just falling asleep again after cancelling the alarm.

  • Sundials (Score:2, Insightful)

    by zenst ( 558964 )
    Sure there many old ones about that still work without needing there battery changing or winding up ;).
    • Indeed, there's the one clock known as "solar system" which already works quite fine since millions of years. Indeed, it worked great for such a long time that on one of its hands life evolved ...
  • by ScentCone ( 795499 ) on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @08:30AM (#13825476)
    Yes, we could spend all day talking about the technicalities of the clock, the politicization of human calendars, and what the odds are of the thing not getting blown up by someone who thinks that only Allah Knows What Time It Is, etc... but the whole point of the project is cultural/philoshopical. It (as the finished project is conceived) is a conversation piece designed to make observers actually think past what they're going to have for lunch, and whether or not Battlestar Galactica is a re-run or not tonight.

    By checking the clock to see what time it is, in the context of a 10,000-year swath of time (still a geological/evolutionary blink of an eye), one is at least encouraged to keep that larger context in mind. It's intended to dimish the long-term weight of petty squabbles, perhaps remind people that 10,000 years back we were in an ice age, that sort of thing. Might even make you think about your 401k contribution (or forget about it!).
    • whether or not Battlestar Galactica is a re-run or not tonight.

      Since the current season of BSG has ended the answer to that question is yes so you need not bother to wonder.

    • indeedy - read the long now website - they are aware that for it to last 10,000 years it will need to be woven into the social/ ritual fabric of culture.

      As you rightly point out, it just takes one group of people to trash it, hey in the UK lots of people got upset about the Taleban blowing up the Buddha statues in Afghanistan, but then remembered we also destroyed most of our own religious heritage through a series of political /religious fundamentalist purges - Richard Lionheart [wikipedia.org] (lets sell gold and relics

  • ...what it said
  • oh great! (Score:2, Funny)

    by Vyol8tor29 ( 672356 )
    My employer will probably implement this as a timeclock...
  • Reminds me of this (Score:4, Informative)

    by MikeHunt69 ( 695265 ) on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @08:39AM (#13825528) Journal
    The most complicated portable watch ever made is the Patek Philippe Calibre 89 [fortunecity.com] pocket watch. Although it doesn't keep track of the wobble of the earth, it does keep track of things like sunrise/sunset, the position of the stars, moon phases, leap year, etc.

    I don't know the price but since their wristwatches start at around USD$8,000 and go up to over $200k, I suspect you could buy a very nice car for the price. Patek make rolex look like cheap crap (which is mostly true).

  • What a beautiful concept. It reminds me of the kinds of things that I sometimes come across in fantasy and sci-fi stories. They don't have to be integral to the plot, but they illustrate the world the author has conceived - think of the statues at the Falls of Rauros in LoTR.

    The references in other comments to atomic clocks miss the point entirely. Atomic clocks are about precision and accuracy. This clock is concerned with accuracy, but only at long scales. A mechanism to re-set to local noon, as des

  • Lunchtime doubly so
  • Applied Minds (Score:2, Informative)

    by hoshino ( 790390 )
    I believe that this is the same clock that was mentioned by Time a few weeks ago in an article on Danny Hillis, the co-founder of Applied Minds [appliedminds.com].

    These guys are geniuses, the kind you see in movies. Danny Hillis himself thought up the idea of parallel processing for his doctaral thesis while he was a grad student. They don't specialize in any fields, they apply their creativity to R&Ds in almost any field, be it medical, defence or engineering.

    They are the ones who created that voicebox [prnewswire.com] which replies inc

  • by standards ( 461431 ) on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @08:51AM (#13825615)
    This clock is designed to be more of a monument than a useful timepiece - something that will help people understand their short time on earth, versus a science instrument.

    However the engineering effort to make this clock as accurate and as long-lasting as promised is truly impressive. Few things built today are designed to last that long (exception: perhaps long-term nuclear waste storage?) The materials : stone, steel, tungsten - and the size of the parts, and the mechanics of the thing that allows for 10,000 years of wear, along with easy maintenance - man, these are not things that even your top-notch mechanical engineer does.

    Interestingly enough, this guy is working on a long term clock, while others can't even get little clocks to work right. Some public clocks [blogspot.com] can be grossly imprecise. It's funny how someone running a time service can't get their own time right. Hopefully the telcos will hook up their time services to this clock - or NTP services. Whichever is easier.
  • From TFA:

    ``As an MIT undergrad in 1975, Hillis and his friends built a binary computer out of 10,000 Tinkertoy pieces. It could beat all comers at tic-tac-toe.''

    Okay, I _must_ know this secret --- I've taught my kids to play, and while I can still beat my son (age 5), my daughter and I _always_ wind up with a tie. I even saw a movie once where this nifty supercomputer called Joshua couldn't win a game....

    • Its actually not possible to "always" win at tic tac toe if the second player always plays perfectly.

      If player one and player two are both perfect players the game will always be a tie.
      I know this is true as my major was AI and my final project was investigating reinforcement learning where I designed agents to learn how to play tic tac toe and connect 4.
  • Is this more precise than a Cesium atomic clock? When it comes down to it, all the leap calculations, etc. are programmatic and are not related to super-accurate timekeeping. What you really want is a really stable timing signal, which is pretty much what you get out of a Cesium atomic clock.

    I don't know if this is done in the civilian industry, but back in my military satellite communication days, we used to keep no less than two Cesium clocks on site at all time. These produced insanely accurate 10 MHZ an
  • This will be good...when the apes inherit the earth, at least they'll know the correct date and time.
  • by kalirion ( 728907 ) on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @09:01AM (#13825688)
    As an MIT undergrad in 1975, Hillis and his friends built a binary computer out of 10,000 Tinkertoy pieces. It could beat all comers at tic-tac-toe.

    Damn, think it could win a thermo-nuclear war against itself?
  • by Nova Express ( 100383 ) <lawrenceperson @ g mail.com> on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @09:01AM (#13825691) Homepage Journal
    Brian Eno did an album for this project: January 07003 | Bell Studies For The Clock Of The Long Now [longnow.org]. I heard this at Bruce Sterling's house a couple of years ago, then went out and bought a copy. It's interesting in the usual, low-key Brian Eno way. And the proceeds benefit the project.

  • While the clock's designed to theoretically keep 10,000 years worth of time accurately, will it actually last that long? If the large version could be engineered well enough to still be running in 10,000 years time with minimal maintanance, it would be an excellent momument to future generations.

    In 10,000 years time there will probably be little else left of our era, and something like this could make the difference between this period being known for war and polution or being known for amazing increases in
  • For some reason you have to press 'Execute' on an attached terminal every 108 minutes or... something catasrophic will happen.
  • by lcde ( 575627 ) on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @10:11AM (#13826229) Homepage
    That John Titor [johntitor.com] will need for time travel. :)
  • Interesting Stuff (Score:5, Informative)

    by Ezmate ( 641054 ) on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @10:59AM (#13826674)
    I stumbled across this project 5 years ago & was immediately in love. The scope of the project is amazing, the engineering that went into some of the pieces is incredible, and the final product (the first prototype) was gorgeous. I read everything I could about it & even had it as my wallpaper for a while. If you like mechanical devices, take some time to look at this project - it's well worth it!

    Currently, you can find the project's web page at http://www.longnow.org/projects/clock/ [longnow.org]

    The mechanical computer, the solar synchronizer, and the power mechanism are all very cool pieces of engineering. However, the most fascinating part of the entire clock is the "Equation of Time Cam". A bit more information about the cam follows.

    The proposed clock not only keeps accurate solar time (it resets itself every day at noon via the solar synchronizer), it also keeps accurate "clock time". How it does this is pretty amazing:

    In general, when the sun reaches its highest point ("solar noon"), you can look at your watch & find that it's not really noon. On any given day, the variation between "solar noon" & "clock noon" is +/- 15 minutes. Of course, this variation chanages through out the year, following a well defined curve known as the "equation of time" (http://www.sundials.co.uk/equation.htm [sundials.co.uk]) (it looks like a 5th order polynomial equation).

    So, when the mechanical clock resets itself at "solar noon", it's needs to account for this variation to determine "clock noon". One way to do this is to make a disc that is not perfectly round; it has a wider diameter at portions & a narrower diameter at other parts (something like a cross between a circle & an ameoba). This "disc" makes one revolution per year, and the variations in its diameter represent the difference between "solar noon" & "clock noon". So, at "solar noon", the clock resets itself & uses a feeler gauge on the disc to figure out how much variation to add or subtract to display "clock noon". So, assuming you have a sunny day every once & a while, you have a clock that will always have accurate clock time. Ingenious!

    There's a problem, though: each year, the equation of time changes slightly. So, in order to keep accurate clock time for 10,000 years, you need 10,000 of these discs, each representing the distinct equation of time for each year. The Long Now foundation solves this problem by making an "Equation of Time Cam" - a continous stack of these cylinders. In my mind it is a thing of beauty - engineering at its best - well thought out and so simple. Here's a picture of the cam - it's the cylinder that looks like it melted a bit:

    http://www.longnow.org/projects/clock/prototype1/i mages/general-EqOfTimeDtl1_00Lo.jpg [longnow.org]

    The Long Now's explanation can be found here (complete with Cad drawings!):

    http://emsh.calarts.edu/~mathart/Clock_Cam.html [calarts.edu]

    I hope everyone enjoys this project as much as I have - Have fun!
  • by antispam_ben ( 591349 ) on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @11:42AM (#13827035) Journal
    IIRC it was a small blurb in Scientific American a few years back (perhaps even pre-Y2K) where I first read of the LongNow Clock [longnow.org], and it got me interested in other long-term projects and ideas as well (which there aren't many).

    There's a HUGE time capsule at Oglethorpe University [oglethorpe.edu] called "The Crypt of Civilization". Most time capsules you may have read about are small things about the size of a shoebox meant to be opened 50 to 100 years after they are sealed. The "Crypt" was a (indoor, apparently) swimming pool (emptied of water, of course) loaded up with many artifacts and sealed in 1930, and scheduled to be opened in about 6,000 years.

    Oglethorpe is also the home of The International Time Capsule Society [oglethorpe.edu]. Notable pages on the website are Tips on Building a Time Capsule [oglethorpe.edu] and The Nine Most Wanted Time Capsules [oglethorpe.edu].

    As I discussed on the forum at that site, it would be interesting to couple one or more time capsules to such a clock, to have each capsule be opened at a pre-programmed time.

    Disclaimer: I have no connection to Oglethorpe, just a fan of the site, and the "most prolific" contributor to the site's time capsule forum (three of the six posts).

    The clock is certainly a "Next-Generation" design, bring the very first Y10K-compliant device.
  • Now Then (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Doc Ruby ( 173196 ) on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @12:42PM (#13827678) Homepage Journal
    I've been a member of Bruce Sterling's Viridian Movement [viridiandesign.org] since before it started, which featured the Long Now's "Long Clock" project when it kicked off. I've even been to international design conferences where Sterling and Long Now people have presented, talking about the Clock. But they've obviously learned nothing from their own intriguing proposition.

    How can they possibly be sure that anything they make will be readable as a "clock" 10,000 years from now? That's the biggest problem: if humans even remain on Earth after 3x our current civilization's lifetime has passed, how will they read the clocks? The Egyptian Pyramids are increasingly clearly "clocks", like Stonehenge, for telling "what time it is" in the sky, among the constellations. That revelation only appeared to one guy, about 10 years ago, and is still known only to a few interested people. We still don't know how to tell when the "alarm" goes off, beyond some basics (which could be wrong). Even Stonehenge, recognized as a clock for longer and by more people, isn't really readable. And those clocks are only maybe 5-7,000 years old, mostly millennia where humans didn't change nearly as much as we have in the past millennium, or (likely) as much as we'll change in the next century or so.

    We've already built "long now" clocks, that haven't quite worked. They probably did achieve the same goals of the Long Now Foundation: giving society a way to learn to think about long periods of time with the same immediacy and importance as we think about the present moment. We should learn from the long experience in that project by solving the fundamental problem: communicating with our descendents 10,000 years from now. We can probably rely, like our ancestors, on celestial mechanics remaining readable by humans in such an (astronomically) brief time. A real Long Now Clock would merely promote human synchronization with those movements. Maybe a new stone megalith that points at decade/century/millennium markers in the sky. No moving parts, just pictures of humans reading the skies (showing the actual celestial mechanics and how the person decodes them).

    Baby Boomers, like the Long Now Foundation people, always think they're the first to invent or do anything, especially if it's fun. And they're great at reinventing the mistakes of history as they ignore it. They do get people motivated to do something as if it were new and exciting, though. So the best thing that this new toy clock they're building could do would be to perish, and pronto. Then we'd get a "second chance" (puns intended) to use the clocks we've already got, and change ourselves to use them. That change would also make us better people, with a longer view of "now", the future, and our place in it.

Matter cannot be created or destroyed, nor can it be returned without a receipt.