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Tech History Behind New York's New Year's Eve Ball 106

Toe, The writes "A perennial icon of New Year's Eve is the geodesic ball which first dropped in Times Square in 1907. Over the past century, there have been seven iterations of this ball. The first one, made out of iron and wood, weighed 400 pounds and sported one hundred 25-watt bulbs. The current ball weighs almost six tons and uses 32,256 Philips Luxeon Rebel LEDs. The designers expect there to be more tech improvements to the ball soon. What do you think of the ball and the bizarre status it holds in our culture? How would you change it for years to come?"
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Tech History Behind New York's New Year's Eve Ball

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  • 32256 LEDs? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Kazymyr ( 190114 ) on Friday December 31, 2010 @04:22PM (#34724178) Journal

    So what happened to the other 512?

    Are they on a private network?

  • by crow ( 16139 ) on Friday December 31, 2010 @04:25PM (#34724198) Homepage Journal

    Growing up in Idaho, nobody particularly cared about the ball. Is this just an East Coast thing?

    • I live on the east coast and I would probably have to say yes. Over here we love to watch the countdown and ball drop.
      • I live in NYC and couldn't care less about the New Year's ball or the whole wasted, drunken night of partying. It's a boon to the liquor industry though.
        • by eyeball ( 17206 )

          When I lived in NY I wasn't into the New Years Eve thing either. It was fun however to stick my head out the window right before midnight and hear the background noise of the city get a little louder.

      • by Threni ( 635302 )

        It's a little gaudy, isn't it? Perhaps an improvement would be one which was a little less tacky. Also, why is it dropping? What's that symbolic of? Wouldn't one which rose from the floor to some maximum height, combined with a light show/fireworks etc be a little more interesting?

        • by oldspewey ( 1303305 ) on Friday December 31, 2010 @05:08PM (#34724482)

          Also, why is it dropping? What's that symbolic of?

          The US dollar?

        • I'm not familiar with the history, and just guessing, but... here in Britain, back before GPS, we had a big ball at Greenwich which dropped at precisely noon every day. Ships on the river could watch it through their telescopes and set their clocks by it, thus providing the most accurate possible time reference for navigation. Maybe the annual ball-drop is inspired by that?
    • i grew up on the east coast and never gave a shit. Probably a new york city thing.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        I was born in New York City. I like watching it come down, but don't care if it's ten 100 watt light bulbs or 32,000 LED's, as long as it's visible on TV. (which means even a 40 watt bulb would be sufficient given the TV technology.) I prefer not to have the flashing lights, just a lit ball.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Does anyone in Idaho care about anything? Seems like living there is a good reason to give up on life.

    • by Kazymyr ( 190114 ) on Friday December 31, 2010 @04:36PM (#34724282) Journal

      I lived in NYC for about 10 years, and not many people I know did. It's mostly a Big Media thing.

    • by twrake ( 168507 ) on Friday December 31, 2010 @04:57PM (#34724400)

      Watching a dropped ball was a historical way of setting a marine chronometer up and until the advent of radio signals. Pre 1920 watching a dropping ball was essential tech.

      from :
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marine_chronometer [wikipedia.org]

      It was common for ships at the time to observe a time ball, such as the one at Greenwich, to check their chronometers before departing on a long voyage. Every day, ships would anchor briefly in the River Thames at Greenwich, waiting for the ball at the observatory to drop at precisely 1pm.

      • In the late 1800's, several cities in the Northeastern US had balls that were dropped at noon as defined by the electric time service. Time standards were distributed by a special telegraph line from an observatory in the Alleghenies.
    • Being from the Midwest, I had heard of the ball on occasion, but it wasn't until I was about 35 that I saw what the deal was. I pretty sick one New Years Eve, and I stayed in. And, Boy, was I disappointed.

      I thought they dropped a glass ball on Times Square. All they do is lower the damn thing. Whoopie. No shards of glass. No mess. What a disappointment.

    • by Rallion ( 711805 )

      Well, if you're not in EST, the timing isn't even right, so I would imagine that it would have to be more than a little region-specific.

      Still, I can't bring myself to care. It's nice to be at a party with people who do care, though, because it really boosts the energy level.

      • by socsoc ( 1116769 )
        They just delay the broadcast for other time zones.
    • "Care about" is probably too strong (though it has been sad to see Dick Clark slurring in his brief propping up on the show the last year or two).. but it is/was something to watch, sometimes had interesting musical guests (and sometimes not just lip syncing). Nowadays, just like everything else, I record it and FF through for the few interesting bits. For pure entertainment value, the one on CNN with Anderson Cooper & Kathy Griffin is funnier.

    • Growing up in Idaho, nobody particularly cared about the ball. Is this just an East Coast thing?

      It's covered by several major TV networks as the centerpiece of the New Year's Eve programming, and it's even repeated (and watched) in the Pacific Time Zone. So no, it's not just an East Coast thing.

  • In the future, the ball should float in the air just like my hover car.
  • by Zouden ( 232738 ) on Friday December 31, 2010 @04:34PM (#34724266)

    What do you think of the ball and the bizarre status it holds in our culture?

    Very little. Are there really no better stories to post at the moment?

    The first one, made out of iron and wood, weighed 400 pounds ... The current ball weighs almost six tons

    So the current ball is... much lighter? Or is it heavier? If you're not going to use the metric system, at least use consistent units.

    Yes yes, get off my lawn. Happy new year.

  • Zerglings. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Octopuscabbage ( 1932234 ) on Friday December 31, 2010 @04:35PM (#34724278)
    It should drop and explode and 500 zerglings should pop out. It would be cool, because I live far away, and im sure our marines would have teched by then.
  • by msauve ( 701917 ) on Friday December 31, 2010 @04:45PM (#34724334)
    "Foley says it's a team of about six people who operate and take care of the ball year round."

    They must be members of the Ball Handlers Union.
  • Six tons? What's it made of, depleted uranium?
    • Ooo! That could be a fun improvement! In years to come it could just be made out of active uranium, and then you won't even need all those thousands of light bulbs!
    • by crovira ( 10242 )

      No, its real U 238.

      Gives my friends and I a real glow (in the dark!)

  • I'm more surprised by How much weight the ball has gained in the past 30 years [wikipedia.org]. The ball used through 1980 weighed only 150 pounds. Our newest iteration weights over eleven thousand pounds. I know plenty of people who have put on some weight lately, but I don't know anyone currently over the age of 30 who saw their own weight increase one-hundred fold in the past 30 years.
    • by durrr ( 1316311 )
      A quick guess is that like most things gaining weight, it also became a lot bigger.
      And being a ball, it won't die of cardiovascular complication before becoming really really huge.
    • by Lumbre ( 1822486 )
      Well, look at these people [dimensionsmagazine.com]. They've tried.
    • Wacky. According to your link, it gained an order of magnitude in weight in from 1999 to 2000 when the aluminum ball was replaced with a crystal ball (150 lbs to 1200 lbs) and then it gained another order of magnitude in weight when it was replaced with a larger crystal ball between 2008 and 2009 (1200 lbs to 12000 lbs).

    • Thankyou. Someone who doesn't mix their units in the same sentence. I now know how the units relate without having to resort to google. How many tonnes is 400 pounds anyway.
  • Oh God! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    What do you think of the ball and the bizarre status it holds in our culture?

    None. It's a Dick Clark thing.

    How would you change it for years to come?

    For the exception of this comment, I have never thought of it nor will I ever. I don't give a shit. Of all the shit happening in my life, this low tech ball with light bulbs (LEDs? BFD!) is completely meaningless to me. Jan 1 is just another fucking date on the calendar.

    Tonight, I'll watch a movie with my wife and then go to bed at 10PM and wake up tomorrow with the same fucking problems I have today. Valentines Day means more to me than this holiday.

  • From the linked article:

    "On November 11th, 2008, The co-organizers of New Year’s Eve in Times Square (Times Square Alliance, Countdown Entertainment) unveiled a new Times Square New Year’s Eve Ball at a press conference at Hudson Scenic Studio in Yonkers, New York."

    So the new ball already bounced around on two new year's eves. But hey, its about the history anyway.....

  • Just do the ball in CG. It's a made-for-TV event anyway. Going to Times Square on New Years Eve sucks.

  • They should make the next ball one big spherical LCD TV, so they can project whatever they want all the way around.
  • That green I sunk in the corner pocket last week was a shot worthy of....eh? Oh a big lightbulb. Meh.
  • I want to see the NY Yankees smash that ball to bits with their baseball bats while it's still plugged in. Cats and laz0rz is always welcome.
  • by PPH ( 736903 ) on Friday December 31, 2010 @05:55PM (#34724776)

    ... a Death Star!

    That's no moon!

  • I'd use 1 to 3 high powered electrodeless fluorescent lighting tubes at the center of an empty ball, and have the skin of the sphere be made from some sort of light-diffusing glass or plastic. Electrodeless fluorescent lighting is very efficient and long-lasting.

    Actually, come to think of it, since it used one day a year, so what if the light source has 100,000 hours of useful runtime? Damn this fixation on longevity and efficiency!

    I would make each vertex of the geodesic sphere a tungsten electrode (cooled
  • The current ball weighs almost six tons and uses 32,256 Philips Luxeon Rebel LEDs.

    Why are we buying LEDs from rebel scum?

  • by Walzmyn ( 913748 ) on Friday December 31, 2010 @06:06PM (#34724866)

    What would I do to improve it?
    Drop the damn thing. It's boring as hell watching it slowly slide down a big pole. Actually drop it like a gallows drop or a bungee jumper diving off.

  • 100 25W light bulbs = 2500W
    32256 Phillips Luxeon Rebel LEDs, 3V @ 350ma = approx 34kW, not counting the driver circuitry that the 25W bulbs didn't need.

    Bring back the incandescent bulb!

    • From TFA: "Changing to an LED ball was not only more green, the decrease in electricity costs allows the city to host the ball on top of One Times Square, where 100,000 visitors marvel at the sparkling ball all year. In tune with the changes, the 2011 ball will be lit completely off the grid by bike pedal-generated electricity contributed by those who visited the exhibit and pedaled at the station."
  • original ball: 25 Watt Light bulbs
    Now: Luxeon Rebel LEDs
    It is the "luxeon rebel" part that really bothers me , indicative of the overwhelming pressure to put advertising everywhere at all times
    • by socsoc ( 1116769 )
      Phillips. It's Philips Luxeon Rebel LEDs, get it right consumer.

      -Phillips Marketing Dept

  • Don't forget the New Year's Eve Ball's largest component: a decades-vacant One Times Square building.

  • The Times Square ball is a decorative and symbolic version of a practical time signaling system used at Greenwich Observatory, in which a large ball, visible from a long distance, was dropped rapidly under the force of gravity--not the slow, majestic descent of the Times Square ball. Apparently this system worked well because the ball could be released directly by electricity, and observed visually (no speed-of-sound delay). See the Wikipedia article time ball [wikipedia.org]

  • >What do you think of the ball and the bizarre status it holds in our culture? How would you change it for years to come?

    I think I liked slashdot a lot more back when every post didn't end in a stupid question.
  • OK So you know that the Ball you have in Times Square is a representation of the Ball at Greenwich in London which descends twice everyday as an indication to all ships captains setting sail from London as the correct time. Hence Greenwich Mean Time which is the zero time zone for the world. So as for the ball being in YOUR culture, I have to take issue in a good natured and nah nah ne nah nah kinda way

God helps them that themselves. -- Benjamin Franklin, "Poor Richard's Almanac"