Thursday, May 22, 2014

Analog clock hints

I tweeted something recently about how I must be getting old. I can read an analogue clock in the usual half-second glance.

My tweet concerned this Gizmodo article. The writer Andrew Liszewski said,

Those of us raised with the English language were taught to read sentences in a straight line. But then when it came time to decipher clocks, we were expected to suddenly be able to read in a circle. It's no wonder we've all switched to digital displays

Today I came across this from Shaunaaaah on Reddit's chat about the most embarrassing things you should be able to do but can't.

I am really bad at telling time on an analog clock, I know how it works and I can get there but I can't just glance at the clock and know the time. Fortunately this very rarely matters.

It's an epidemic!

Here's how. You're not supposed to deduce the numbers (particularly if they're in Roman numerals, because the IIII will throw you every time).  12-hour analog clocks are just a series of pie charts. Everyone can read a pie chart. 

For the little hand, there's two pies - the one that starts at midnight and the one that starts at midday. Most people get up at about 50% of the pie, get to work at about 75% of the pie and then think about lunch (or post to Reddit and Gizmodo) until the pie's finished. After lunch, it starts again and you can go home just before 50% of the afternoon pie. You'll probably aim to go to bed before the whole pie runs out.

For the big hand, each pie is an hour and unless you're timing your heart rate or something, you can just use the 25%, 50% and 75% markers. Generally, you don't need them at all, as you can see from the little hand approximately how far the big hand has gotten through this particular pie.

This works because nobody looks at a watch to see "what time it is". If you don't believe me, ask someone who you've just seen look at a watch what time it is. Chances are they don't know. They just looked to see if they were early, or late, or if all of this crap was over with yet. That's far easier to tell from an analogue clock - "Hmm, little hand is near the bottom. Time to leave work!" than it is from a digital clock - "Hm, it's 4:56. What is a 4:56? Nearly a 5. So half hour plus a bit until I can go home." It takes appreciably longer to figure out.

Here's the incomparable Douglas Adams on the subject, from Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy:

Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-eight million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea. 
This planet has—or rather had—a problem, which was this: most of the people on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movements of small green pieces of paper, which is odd because on the whole it wasn't the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy.
And so the problem remained; lots of the people were mean, and most of them were miserable, even the ones with digital watches.

Digital watches were big in the 1970s and I had one - a Casio calculator watch - for years. Hard to read. Then Douglas Adams made me embarrassed. Of course now I don't have a watch at all, and my telephone is currently showing the time in digital format.

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