Thursday, October 3, 2013

All I Wanted Was a Digital Atomic Clock

Readers of my January 10, 2013 blog post entitled “I Just Wanted a Simple Plug-In Lamp,” are already aware my manual dexterity is pretty pathetic. In truth, my manual’s got no dexter at all. Mechanical skills are not among my strong suite. Nor electronic. Nor….well, to continue along this path lies oblivion. That list could go on for quite some time. Suffice it to say that anything involving physical aptitude is occasionally challenging for me. To wit, refer back to the January 10 post which describes buying and mounting a simple elbow lamp over my desk.

This time, all I wanted was a clock. True, a clock with certain properties, but at the end of the requirements, it was still a simple clock. Let me start at the beginning.

On the Thursday before Labor Day weekend, my cable TV worked fine in the morning but was dead by the afternoon. I dislike calling Comcast. They’re nice enough people, but they make me feel like an incompetent. The fact that I am, doesn’t ameliorate this at all. They don’t have to throw my shortcomings in my face in such a stark way. From prior experience, I knew enough to unplug the little black box I pay them an ungodly amount of dollars for each month, wait a full sixty seconds, and then plug it back into the socket. Mind you, I have to either stand on my head or get down on my hands and knees to accomplish this—and the recovery from either position isn’t pretty.

So after a couple of false starts getting the right prongs into the proper side of the plug, it’s accomplished. Do I have TV reception? Nothing doing. The black box remains black. So I call for technical support. I hate those words. I don’t want technical support, I want a technician. And not the one that hides somewhere in my computer and tries to give me instructions only an electronics engineer could comprehend…much less follow.

A sweet female voice (frankly, I think they use a voice distorter, and it’s an evil old man on the other end laughing up his sleeve) had me do everything I’d already done twice more. Nothing. By now, I’m experiencing the first pangs of TV withdrawal symptoms. Not because there was anything on I particularly wanted to watch, but because I was denied the ability to do so.

Without making too much of a production out of this, let me say “technical support” decided my adapter had died. Not my television set, but that crucial little black box that tells the TV what to do.

“Okay, get me another one.”

“Fine, sir. Our next window (they have a language all their own) for a service call is Sunday afternoon between two and four.”

“Sunday? But this is Thursday!” I moan.

“Yes, sir. Sunday between two and four. Do you want me to schedule you?”

“Yes!” I shout. “Before it slips away and the next window becomes Monday or Tuesday.”

I hang up and try to reassure myself things will be all right. I’m in the middle of writing a novel. It will give me more time to work on that. Disrupts my routine, but still…

Yeah, right. I get very little work done on the novel because I’m obsessing over having no TV. I call a friend who doesn’t own a set but watches TV on his computer. Total bust. The few shows I could access held no interest.

I managed to live through most of the weekend with a big black screen sitting silently in the corner reminding me of my deprivation. Actually, I think it was sneering at me, but every time I faced it squarely, it just looked blandly black.

By the way, I have some rationale over my theory “technical support” toys with you. Have you noticed lately how the computerized voices answering virtually every business number you call spend as much time trying to convince you that you can find the answers to your questions much faster by going to their web site (two more words I despise) before they’ll actually put a live person on the line. I think they’re pissed because this bothersome customer won’t go away and solve his own problem.

To shorten this a bit, let me just say that at 2:30 p.m. Sunday afternoon a flesh and blood technician showed up, replaced my adapter with an even more slender, sleek-looking black box, made sure I knew how to operate it, and departed.

Feeling anxiety slough (or sluff, if you’re an Okie like me) away like dead snakeskin, I sat down to watch something…anything. At that point, I discovered my shiny new black box had no clock on it. The clock on the previous box was wonderful. It was always correct, it reset itself after power failures, and—best of all—it automatically adjusted for daylight savings time changes, keeping me from being early or late for appointments for at least two to three days after the appropriate solstice or equinox or whatever actually occurred.

This was a catastrophe of a magnitude few of my friends understand. I had no other clock in my living room. I had to have a clock so I could tell how much of my precious few remaining hours I was squandering.

Okay, all of that was prelude. Now let’s get to the nitty-gritty.

The very next morning, I set off to find a timepiece to sit on top of the reduced (but sleek) black box. I had some requirements. I wanted an atomic, digital clock of a certain size with the letters big enough see from the other side of the room.  Preferably battery operated, but certainly with battery backup. Price was no object…so long as it didn’t exceed $25.00. Simple enough, right?

And it was. I found a free-standing atomic Westclox that met my requirements at the second place I tried. For $10.97, I had the perfect clock. Except…when I got it home the black digital letters against a green-gray background rendered it impossible to read from across the room.

Disappointed but determined to put the best face on it, I placed the clock on the table beside my chair. Totally unacceptable. I don’t know why having to turn my head a few inches to see the incredibly accurate Westclox timepiece on my table differed significantly from dropping my eyes from the TV screen to the clock right beneath it…especially when I constantly work crossword puzzles while I view the programs…but it did. I put up with this terrible inconvenience for two days before moving my new atomic clock to my desk and switching the tick-tock clock that was there to the bathroom. Funny thing, that tick-tock clock. I never heard the ticks while working at the desk where it sat, but when I went to bed at night, the terrible racket in the next room caused my limbs to spasm and jerk in synchronous rhythm with the blessed thing. So my $10.97 atomic digital clock had a permanent new home, just not the one that fulfilled the need.

The next three days (and approximately 100 miles on the car) proved finding an acceptable replacement difficult. And I don’t want to hear a word from you whippersnappers who roll their eyes and say, “Just go to Amazon and get it over with." I can’t select a proper clock from the screen and weigh it, turn it over, sniff it, rub the smooth plastic surfaces. Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club, Sears, J. C. Penny, Macy’s, Radio Shack, Clocks and More, Blackstone, Kohls, Bed Bath and Beyond, Best Buy, Staples, Office Max, Target, and a couple of other places I can’t remember all failed me.

Then I hit a different Target location. And found. My clock. The little $16.01 Sony met all of my requirements. It was a clock radio, but I could just ignore that part and regard it as a clock. It was a plug-in, but it had the battery back-up. I put it in place and sat down in my chair to enjoy the beauty of the little thing and glory in the fact the green digital figures were clearly visible. Success at last.

It was not until the next evening I discovered the clock ran four minutes fast. I know this to be the case because “Longmire” didn’t begin until 8:04 p.m. on Monday night. Then all the programs started four minutes late, which finally clued me my perfect clock wasn’t so perfect. I fiddled with the manual setting thingamajig on top, but it wouldn’t work. I tried ignoring the discrepancy. After all, I should be adult enough to make allowances.

Well, I couldn’t. Those damned four minutes took on an importance they didn’t deserve. So the next morning brought a second trip to Target. I told the very nice customer service woman I merely wanted to swap for another identical clock. I got the new one and started to leave, but given that such acquisitions usually require a minimum of three trips, I decided to test it in at the store.

Plugged it in. It set itself. Only three minutes fast this time when measured against the atomic clock on the customer service cash registers. The manual time-set on this one worked, so I used up the very last dollop of dexter in my manual dexterity to set it to the correct time. It worked!

Then a second later, it went zip…and those three minutes showed up again.

Alas, I have no clock in my living room. I’m forced to use a button on my TV remote whenever I need to know the correct time. Those urges seem to come in eight to ten minute intervals. Sure hope the remote holds out.

Next week: Maybe we can get back The Bisti Business.


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