All hands on deck: Turning back time tougher each year


October 29, 1994|By ROB KASPER

Tonight the clocks in our house will be set back an hour to mark the end of daylight-saving time.

I used to be able to change the time on all the clocks in my domain. But that was before clocks got complicated.

Now I can only adjust some of the clocks, some of the time.

I feel comfortable fooling with clocks that have hands, the "big hand" to mark the minutes, the "little hand" for the hours. Somewhere on the body of these clocks is a knob that controls the hands. To twist time, you slowly move the knob. That is the way time should pass, at a measured pace.

I have even mastered our most complicated "hand" clock, an ancient watch my grandfather used during his days as an engineer on the Rock Island Railroad. To change the time, I unscrew its magnificent glass cover, then pull a small metal arm from its hiding spot, in the face of watch. Once the arm is extended, twisting a knob at the top of the watch moves the hands and sets the time. Maybe it is my imagination, but this 70-year-old watch seems to run better when I set the time by moving the hands backward.

Digital clocks, with their pulsing numbers, give me trouble.

I have learned how to adjust the time on some digital alarm clocks. But it has taken me much practice and many sweaty nights in motel rooms wondering "is that clock really going to wake me up in time to catch my plane?"

Motel rooms introduced me to digital clocks. These digital timing devices were usually connected to a radio. If I wanted to listen to the radio, I first had to crack the code on the clock-radio control panel. The crucial words on the control panel, like "time," "hour," "minute," "radio," "alarm" and "off," were often the same color as the clock-radio, usually black. That meant they were almost impossible to see, especially at night.

So when I checked into a motel room, I would invariably spend time studying the box that flashed next to my bed. I would have practice sessions with the room's digital clock radio. Holding down what I took to be the "alarm," "hour" and "minute" buttons, I told the machine that in about 15 minutes, it should sound its alarm or play its radio.

Then I would wait in the room for the alarm to go off. Sometimes it would. Sometimes it wouldn't. Mostly I spent a lot of time in motel rooms.

While I have gotten better over the years at setting digital clocks, I am not completely confident in my work. Recently, for example, after I thought I had programmed a hotel room clock to wake me at 7 a.m. to the gentle tones of classical music, the device had me jumping out of my Jockey shorts when it began hard rock music at 7 p.m. I reset the alarm clock. But I had to catch a plane the next morning. And just be sure, I had the hotel desk give me a wake-up call.

Most of the digital clocks in our house belong to our kids. I usually can get the devices to report the correct time. I can even reset the clock on the VCR, if I follow the five-step instructions. First, I push the power button on. Second, I hit the "select" button until the days of week begin flashing, then I push the "set" button to set the correct day of the week. Third, I push the "select" button again, and "12 AM" flashes. Then I push the set button to set the correct hour. Fourth, I push the "select" button and "00" flashes, then I push the set button to set the correct minute. Fifth and finally, I push the select button one last time to make sure the correct time is displayed. Then I turn the VCR off.

I am not sure why, but getting the VCR to display the correct time gives me a major sense of accomplishment.

However, try as I might, I cannot set the clock on our microwave oven. This microwave is so old that it should probably have a sundial, not a digital clock. The instruction booklet that goes with it is out of print. But we got it for the right price -- it was free.

So it sits in our house, and beeps and chirps and tells time. I don't know how to set its clock. My wife has no clue. So this weekend, when the time has to be adjusted, we will ask our 9-year-old son to please make the microwave tell the correct time. He will.

The kid enjoys doing something his parents can't. I have noticed that the list of things that the kids can do and the parents can't is growing.

Which is another way of saying that whether it is daylight-saving or standard, time marches on.

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