Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Horological puzzle - do you think like a watchmaker or a lawyer ?

Watch gears are called wheels and pinions. Whether a gear is a wheel or a pinion, depends on it's relative size in relation to the next meshing gear.

Therefore, on the picture below, gear A is
a/ pinion
b/ wheel

Email your answer to nick@clockmaker.com.au

Monday, August 8, 2011

Dear Diary: The low ball offer

For the past 600 years of horological history, there was not a single instance when a watchmaker insulted a real-estate agent. Verbally or physically - or both.

A couple weeks ago, an e-mail hit my inbox: “Nick – there is an Omega watch I like. You’ve listed it for $2,399. Would you take $1,700?”

My reply was prompt and factual: “Sorry, no room to move on the price. It is a beauty – worn twice – and almost half price of the new one.”

Five minutes later: “Nick, I am a real-estate agent from the Eastern suburbs. I know how business works and I know you have plenty of room to move on the price. Never mind, obviously you don’t want my cash - I’ll get the same watch from a Melbourne dealer. Have a nice day. Marc”

I thought that was the end of the story so I did not bother replying.

Later that afternoon, yet another e-mail from Marc came in: “Nick, I still prefer to do business with you. What is your absolute best deal on the Omega? Would you take $1,750?”

Dealers call this type of customer a pit bull. Once they locks their jaws on you, you’re dead meat.

“Sorry Marc, $2,399. However I’ll throw in 2 years guarantee. N.”.

Finally, thirty minutes before closing time all hell broke lose. I will spare you the details of Marc’s 3-page long email but in a nutshell – I was accused of all committed and yet-to-be-committed crimes under the sun.

Here is the punch line:
“… what upsets me the most is your inability to handle my LOW BALL OFFER. Actually I intend to use your rude replies in my upcoming real-estate training seminar to show trainees how NOT to conduct sales process…”

I felt like I was hit by a shinkansen. I was guilty of … what? Not knowing how to handle a low ball offer? No kidding?!

Of course I know what a low ball offer is. It is the name for a past-time game played by Israelites and Ishmaelites in year 1200 - 775 BC. It goes like this:

Dude 1: I’ll give you half a shekel for that black ram!
Dude 2: Are you mad my brother? 2 shekels in silver, no agora less!
Dude 1: This is way too much--- I’ve sacrificed a better one last year and it only cost me a shekel!
Dude 2: A shekel and a half, and that’s it!
Dude 1: One…
Dude 2: One and a half…
Dude 1: One…
…and the game goes on for a solid 10 minutes.

Eventually, they've settled for a shekel and a quarter – the very exact price every single ram has been sold on that very dusty market since the walls of Jericho fell down.

Yes, a low ball offer was just a game. And they’ve played it not because they had nothing better to do, but because they had no Twitter, no Facebook, no iPhones, no Mario Brothers, no YouTube, no Wii or Xbox. THAT’S WHY!

But since my only connection to modern Judaism is being a fan of Woody Allen, and Marc probably arrives at his flashy Eastern suburbs office in an even flashier black Porsche – NOT on a camel’s back – I just can’t see how the low ball offer reference is relevant to either of us? But then again what if Marc is really right? Could it be possible that real businessmen actually still play that ancient game? And if this is the case, and the new generation of young professionals are now trained in the game, will I be losing sales thanks to my ignorance? So I’ve decided to go out, in the real world, to learn how the game is now played – by making low ball offers to business people I bump into. Nothing beats hands-on experience!

… --- …

It was the time for quick lunch break so I went down to a cozy take-away place called “Taste of Maharaja.”

“A small serve of lamb rogan josh, a plain naan and a can of coke please.”
“$10” said the onyx-eyes Kali, the goddess of time.
“Would you take $7?”
“I have cash here, in my hand. SEVEN dollars”
“So which one don’t you want- the naan or the drink?”
“Oh, you don’t understand me. I want the lot! I am just making you a low ball offer and you are supposed to play along…”
“Move away or I’ll hit you with a spoon” yelled Indra the cook. “Can’t you see the queue behind you?”

I handed the $10 note and swiftly moved away. Even if I take our cultural and linguistic differences, it was obvious that these guys did not know how to play the low ball game and I was clearly wasting my time. As Peter Surname would say: "If I have to rate their customer service, I would struggle to give it more than 3 out of five”.

… --- …

Then it all become painfully obvious. As Marc said, the low ball offer is played between professionals, not just any business! That pain in my lower jaw and was obviously God-given after all! So I quickly booked an appointment with Dr. Nathan, the dentist on the 5th floor.

Dr. Nathan was not only a professional, but a very skillful and reputable dentist well known for his ability to charge just the right amount for his services. A clear testimony to that is his waiting room: always packed! Obviously, patients don't gather there just for the latest news, as a copy of the Times on his coffee table would suggest: "Wedding of Charles, Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer, Wednesday, July 29, 1981." No way!

If anyone knew how to play the game, it was the Dr. Nathan.

With only one thing on my mind, I couldn’t even feel the pain of the drill.

“All done Nick, don’t chew for the next 2 hours and take it easy” said the doc.
“Thank you, doctor. Now, how much do I owe you for today?”
“Usual charge, $320. Judy will take care of it.”
“Very good. So would you take $200 – in cash?”
Doctor Nathan gave me that worried ‘something is wrong’ look:
“Nick, are you still in pain? Are you allergic to penicillin..?”
“No doc, I am perfectly fine. I am just making you a low ball offer.”
“Ha! That is a good one, Nick – you almost got me worried for a second,”
said the doc, laughing. “Now get lost mate, the waiting room is fool and
I’ll miss the last bus home!” ...“and cut down on cherry strudels,
they are not doing you any good….”

I could not hear the rest because I was already on my way out. Again, the low ball offer did not work and I was experiencing both physical and emotional pain. What the hell is wrong with this world?

… ---…

After a long sleepless night, I’ve decided to give the low ball offer one final go. This time I didn’t rush. I knew why I failed: I was dealing with self-employed people who are obviously good at what they do but have a very limited understanding of how the real corporate world operates.

At exactly 10 o’clock, I was standing in front of the bank teller. This was the bank I visit every week. While the bank manager still doesn’t know my name, nor who I am, nor what I do, I feel appreciated. Who wouldn’t? After all, their advertising slogan is “Come and talk to the listening bank - together we make a great team.

“Good morning, I would like to make a small deposit”.
“Sure! How is your day?” (I’ve told you they are nice people! I love my bank!)
Topaz-eyed Jennet took my five $100 notes and smiled again.
Then she disappeared.
And then she re-appeared again with the bank manager... And two security guards.

“I hope this is a mistake,” said the manager. “Unless you have a better explanation for
an attempt to defraud the Bank?” (No one was smiling anymore, and one of the security guys started to act strangely.”)

“Defraud? What are you talking about? I am a customer, not a thief!”
“Let me rephrase that question – said the fuming manager – what exactly did you have in mind when you handed us $500 while $1,500 was written out on the deposit slip?”
“Oh, that... well cant’ you see it? I am making you a LOW BALL OFFER! I am surprised that you don’t know what that means – you are supposed to make me a counter offer until we agree on an amount of deposit which will be a win-win figure for both parties!”

The bank manager’s rant went on for an hour. I can’t remember the details but he concluded that this time they will treat the incident as an internal matter (they won’t call cops). I am banned to enter any of their branches for 10 years and yes, they have closed all my accounts, but I should still consider myself lucky.

But I am anything but lucky. Neither have I learned a thing. I am still completely clueless – so PLEASE if you are one of the low ball offer players, or you run a business which knows how to handle low ball offers, put me out of my misery and reveal the secret to me.

I am all ears!

A new horological puzzle

Yes, you do like puzzles! With over 120 replies and requests for 'more' looks like a puzzle section will become a standard newsletter feature.

Those who got it right said it was not a difficult one to figure out. For example, a fellow subscriber got it in less than 5 seconds. But he is an aviation accident investigator by trade, so no wonder. It was good to see that the puzzle smoked out a number of watchmakers lurking around the newsletter. For them too, this was way too easy.

The two best comments were: "Got it before my husband!" and "What's wrong? Bloody hell, are you blind? - the half of the parts are missing!" Typical Aussie sense of humor. Once again, thanks to all who replied.

And a very special "well done" to all enthusiasts who did not know the answer, yet spent time and effort to at least give it a fair go.

Today's puzzle is, again, an easy one. However don't assume anything and don't rush. While calculators are not essential, feel free to use it if you have too.

Photo below is of a Rolex Datejust. I have revealed a couple of layers (a mere 2 hours of disassembling and photoshoping!) underneath the dial, exposing the calendar wheel and the associated gears.

Question: in exactly 24 hours, which date will be displayed? Tip: the angle between two red arrows is 72.58 degrees.

Unfortunately I cannot provide any more clues because if I do, everyone would get it straight away. Reward: the names of the first 10 subscribers who e-mail the correct answer will be published HERE. Guessing won't cut - you also need to tell us how you worked it out. We now have over 8,160 subscribers so here is YOUR chance to claim a piece of horological fame!

To keep it fair, results and 'winners' will be published in the next newsletter.

As always, please do include your name, occupation and state.

A simple horological puzzle - are you ready?

Do you have an eye for detail?

If so - here is a simple horological puzzle.

Below is the photo of a Rolex 3135 movement which came in today with a time-setting issue.

Question: Can you see what's wrong with it?

Now, don't rush. This is not a trick question, the answer is right in front of you. Take your time because if you just click on the answer link below, or on the help photo, you'll kick your bottom saying wow that was so obvious!

In case you do need help, here is the link to a clue photo. Use it wisely:

And if you still don't see it then click here for the answer:

Like it or was it too difficult? Got it right straight away? Ready for another puzzle? E-mail me on nick@clockmaker.com.au and let me know how you did!

Happy collecting,

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The white square packets

Thank you!

To all who kindly offered feedback: much appreciated! The inbox was flooded with emails and only regret is that I cannot publish some of the most brilliant, eloquent, friendliest and humorous replies I've ever read. It was humbling to receive emails from restaurant owners, second hand car dealers, new car dealers, real estate agents, a psychologist, retail experts, coffee shop owners, tradesmen, a lawyer, stay at home mums, engineers - just to mention few.

To Simon W.: Simon, we've read your email five times and we choked from laughter and tears. It left such a powerful impression on all of us here. Mate you are BRILLIANT.

If you ever feel like you need to get something off your chest - I am listening. I may not have time to reply to each and every email but I do read them all. Keep 'em coming :-)

The white square packets

Dear Nick,

... I can remember reading, some time ago, that the sounds "tick" and "tock" were actually made to sound different by our brain and that the clock/watch mechanism actually made the same sound each time i.e. tick tick tick etc. Have you heard this before and do you think the mechanism actually makes one sound or two?

Further to your last article, I thought the "largest pendulum in the world" I saw when I stayed at the Hotel Cornavin, Geneve, might be of interest. The hotel website says: "A special feature is the world’s largest pendulum - it hangs from the ninth floor and swings right down to the ground floor in the lobby of the hotel. The total length is 30.02 metres."


Hi P,

Thank you for your email and info about the Geneva pendulum. In regards to your question: I definitely subscribe to those who believe that tick and tock are not just two different events, but two distinctive sounds as well!

Let's talk about the tick and tock events first.

The period of oscillation of a clock's pendulum consists of a full swing which includes one tick and one tock.

To simplify, let's say you hop on the plane and travel from Sydney to Perth. This would be the 'tick'.

Coming back home would be 'tock'.

Now, while you've traveled the same distance on the same plane and have paid the same amount of money each way (and probably have watched the same movie) there is one main distinction between two trips: direction of the flight path.

Therefore tick and tock are not the same events. And you better hope that your pilot agrees with me! Otherwise, instead of flying you back home, you could end up in the middle of the Indian ocean, 3,500 km west of Perth. Same distance, same plane, same movie... wrong direction. Of course we can talk about the velocity and acceleration vectors of the clock pendulum, but we would still come to the same conclusion.

Now let's talk about the tick and tock sound.

What we describe and hear as one 'tick' is actually a complex sound which consists of
5 distinctive individual mini-ticks! We hear all those 5 clicks as one because they occur almost instantaneously.

Lets have a look at the watch escapement and how the sound is generated.

Here is a drawing of the watch lever escapement:

And this is what happens on the first leg of your flight, Sydney to Perth:
(or should I call it - an anatomy of 5 sounds of "tick")

- pin hits pallet fork [1]
- escape wheel impulses pallets stone [2]
- pallets stone impulses back ruby pin of the balance wheel [3]
- pallets stone locks escape wheel [4]
- pallets hit banking pin [5]

And here is the return flight, back home, or 'tock' :

- pin hits pallet fork [1]
- escape wheel impulses pallets stone [2]
- pallets stone impulses back ruby pin of the balance wheel [3]
- pallets stone locks escape wheel [4]
- pallets hit banking pin [5]

Now there is one MAJOR difference between the two.
While the paths are the same, the action of the ruby pins is switched.
The very same ruby which received the impulse in the "tick" phase
is locking in the "tock" phase. And vice versa.

This is possible thanks to the extremely fine geometry of the pallets jewels. To say that the exact position of the jewel in relation to the escape wheel is critical would be a gross understatement. In traditional watchmaking, pallet jewels are set and secured onto a fork with shellac. Shellac is natural resin (produced by an Indian lac bug) and may be dissolved by alcohol. The watchmaker would set the jewel, assemble the escapement, check for the depth of engagement and then make further adjustments. Unlike glue, shellac can be melted an infinite number of times. Nevertheless, the adjustment process is tedious and time consuming.

Let me just give you another analogy.

Let's say that on your trip to Perth you make a stop over in Adelaide. While there, you visit a local watch dealer and buy a watch. Then have a strudel and coffee and fly on to Perth. This is the tick action.

The tock: on your way home, you make another stop over in Adelaide, sell that Omega back to dealer and have another strudel and coffee, then hop on the plane to Sydney.

Can you note the difference between the two events? First, you've bought the watch, then you've sold it. That means that both YOU and the DEALER were both buyer and seller.

This is exactly what happens in the relation between pallet stones and escape wheels. During the tick, one stone is receiving impulse while the other is locking. And during the tock, it goes the other way around. Same wheel, same pallets, same stones - just different actions.

If we had a very sensitive recording device which would then play the sound in 'slow motion' (spectral analysis) we will see those different actions sound differently. It would roughly look something like the drawing below. Events 1 and 4 are the loudest, but once again, since all 5 happen almost instantaneously, we hear them all as one tick.

Based on the above I am quite happy to conclude that when we are talking about ticks and tocks, both events and both sounds are different, and yes, rightly so, we say that there is only one tick and one tock.

Of course there are other types of escapements which produce only one sound - but more about that on another occasion.

Finally, here is a real-time snapshot of a timing machine recording showing the performance of a freshly overhauled watch. Note 0 sec/day error and 0.1millisecond beat error with a fantastic amplitude of 333 degrees:

The white squares on the bottom half of the screen are actually individual ticks and tocks. And as you can see, under magnification, they are nicely spaced in time:

This particular watch movement "produces" 21,600 white square packets each hour.
Neatly packed inside each packet are the 5 sounds of escapement - a total of almost 2.6 million sounds generated each day. What a mighty heart that is!

And this is precisely why we adore mechanical watches.

Oh, I almost forgot: with regards to that 30.02m hotel pendulum in Geneva: Using the simplified formula for the period of a pendulum mentioned in the last newsletter we can easily work out the length of ticks and tocks, in seconds:

If you substitute constants and input L=30.02m then T (tick+tock) is approx. 11 seconds. (Or that would be 27 seconds per swing period on the Moon!)

Talking about the Moon...

While we are there.... here is an email received from a fellow subscriber. I think it's cool (and so humanely personal) so I have to share it with you:

"I wanted to ask you to keep an eye out for me for an anniversary Moonwatch or one from the landing year. Unfortunately I missed a beauty you had in just recently. The reason for me is very significant. On July 21st 1969 I flew with my family from England to start a new life in Australia. As a bright eyed seven year old, it was a new adventure, only surpassed by the adventure that was unfolding above me beyond 30,000 feet.

During one of the night sections of the flight to Australia the Captain came onto the intercom and announced "Ladies and gentlemen, this is your Captain speaking. Man has just set foot on the moon!". My father turned to me, pointing out to the moon through our window and said to me "If you look closely you can see him waiving". I later discovered I shared the same first name with Neil Armstrong and my father took me to see him, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins when they visited Perth later that year.

So for all those reasons above and a boyhood fascination with space travel the Moonwatch is the piece I have always wanted to own and wear. -N."

Monday, August 1, 2011

Time generation and time transportation

Last week a note from a fellow subscriber was received - with a complaint about the length of recent news articles. He concluded that I "...obviously have far too much time on my hands." What a compliment! Anyway, should you prefer a shorter newsletter (or no newsletter at all) then you may wish to skip this one.

However if you are a technically-minded person then I am sure you'll enjoy my struggle with time and time transportation. In addition, I would strongly recommend this article to all single ladies as a final proof that choosing between an investment banker and a geek is a no brainer. You have been warned my dear!

Time generation and time transportation

Yes we are surrounded by time-telling devices! Mobile phones, personal computers, microwave, video recorder, TV sets, digital watches and clocks, fax machines - you name it - it seems that time is everywhere!

But where does the time come from ?

Time generation

It may sound strange, but the time is actually baked. Like my wife's strudel - it comes from an oven. There are few bakeries around the globe which 'bake' the time. And once a day, all bakers get together and show their strudels to each other. Just to make sure they have got it right.

Of course, scientists don't call the time strudel, neither do they call their laboratory a bakehouse, but when you think of it, this is how it really works. In essence, time is GENERATED.

For reasons shown later, I will take you through the kitchen of NICT, located in Japan. Men in white coats who work at the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology call their strudel JST - Japan Standard Time.

Since we all know that the most accurate clock is an atomic clock, you are guessing that JST is generated by an atomic clock. That is just partially true because time masters have at their disposal no less than 22 atomic clocks! And this is how the kitchen looks like: there are 18 cesium atomic clocks and 4 hydrogen masers. Plus a bunch of computers, of course.

Clocks are set in 4 rooms and each room is fully shielded from electromagnetic radiation and kept at a constant temperature. The accuracy of each hydrogen maser is 1 second in 67 million years and cesium clocks are accurate to 1 second in 100 million years. You would think that one clock will do, but no! To generate the time, they plug them all at once and then average the error, synthesize the result, advance the clock for 9 hours and voila - the JST strudel is ready!

You have to love Japanese bakers - they are really funny. They say: Cesium clocks are better for long time stability (greater than one day) and hydrogen masers for short term stability (less than one day). Like half a second in 50 million years would matter. But for them, it obviously does. Respect!

As said before, all leading national laboratories get together once per day to compare their time with each other. The end result is a master-strudel called International Atomic Time (TAI).

Time distribution

Back to JST.

Once the time is generated, it is then distributed to end users. And the queue of users is long: Everyone from your Internet service provider, military, nuclear plant operators, transportation, shipping, broadcasting, legal people - down to your bed side alarm clock - depend on and require National time.

Here is how the distribution list goes:

JST ->
-radio transmitted time and frequency standard [digital clocks and watches automatically synchronized]
-Internet time [network of ISPs]
-modem users [serious guys]

The users on the right are connected to the bakery via cable or network.
But let's focus on the magical distribution and synchronization of time which happens in the most mysterious way:
via radio waves!

The magic of radio

Ever since 1920s radio broadcasting was used as a vehicle to transport time signals.
You tune to your local radio station and just a few seconds before the news, you'll hear "bip, bip, bip, beeep: it is 5 o'clock." So you can set your watch or clock to correct time. In this scenario, time is obviously transmitted via radio, but YOU are the one who does the adjustment or synchronization of your clock.

Obviously, it would be much easier if the clock is somehow adjusted (synchronized) by itself, preferably more than once per day. And thanks to advancement in electronics, such synchronizing devices are now commonly installed in both clock and watches. Therefore as long as you are within the radius of a transmitter, your timepiece will be set and synchronized to the National time automatically.

What a brilliant solution!

Limitations of radio transmitted time signals

Yes, you've seen this one coming :-(

The first problem with wireless synchronization is the fact that only a few countries transmit time signal. Japan, Germany, France, US, China, UK, Russia and Canada are 'on air' but each country has its own time distribution standard. Therefore your Japanese clock will not work in Germany and a Junghans watch cannot be synchronized in China.

The second problem is coverage: while one radio signal can synchronize an infinite number of clocks simultaneously in its area of coverage, the strength of radio signals decrease with distance. If you are located too far away from a transmitter, synchronization just won't happen.

This second challenge leads us to core of my quest for radio time signal detection and decoding.

The challenge

One of the biggest challenges of astronomy is the whole art and science of learning to find things in the night sky. Like astronomy, radio signal detection is challenging because it requires specialist equipment, patience and plenty of "luck". t any given time there are millions of radio signals to be heard and detected. Some of them are very strong - like your local AM radio station or TV station. thers are detectable only under very special conditions, at certain times of the night or year. nd like distant starts, some of them are just too weak to be heard!

Since time signals, like JST, are just another form of radio signals, a couple years ago I got really excited about the possibility of 'catching' and decoding it. While a distance of 8,000 km is 8 times farther away from the coverage area of a Japanese transmitter, I felt that under right circumstances and with adequate equipment reception it could be possible.

As they say in astronomy: you just need a larger telescope. Or in my case: a larger antenna!

But why would I want to catch a time signal in the first place? Well, because I am watchmaker and seeing, hearing and decoding the most accurate time reference would be like looking at time's DNA structure under a microscope. Or watching the first nanoseconds of the Big Bang. It is difficult, bordering on impossible - and definitely a fun thing to try!

Getting started

The initial research online showed that JST time is transmitted as radio signal at a frequency of 40 kHz. The transmitting site is located at Mount Ohtakadoya, 7,983 km north from Sydney. The output power of the transmitter is 50 KW and thanks to it's 250m tall antenna and kilometers of wire under the antenna, its radiated power is around 12KW. Transmitter's 'rego plate' : JJY.

Two problems become evident straight away: first, I needed a receiver which could be tuned down to 40KHz. This is a very low frequency. Your AM car radio goes down to 520KHz, and some marine communication receivers go down to 100KHz. Even at that frequency, the sensitivity is very poor - simply, most receivers are not designed for chasing low frequency signals.

The second problem was the size of the receiving antenna. Keep in mind that clocks which are synchronized by Japanese time signal are in close proximity to the transmitter. On contrary, I am located 8,000 km away. The further you go from the transmitter, the weaker the signal - and a larger receiving antenna is required!

There were a number of other problems with potential reception - but luckily I was not aware of them at the time.

The receiver

In August 2010. I had stumbled upon the website of an Italian radio manufacturer who recently launched a revolutionary radio receiver featuring a new technology called Software Defined Radio (SDR) Basically their receiver was capable of tuning down to 10 KHz! In addition, the overall reception performance was hardly degraded even at such a low frequency. This new concept had other benefits when compared to your classical AM radio receiver. As you know, when you tune your car radio, you can listen to only one station at a time. SDR allows you to tune to all of them at once! In addition, you cannot only hear the signals, but you can see the signals as well because your personal computer is part of the radio. And much more - signal recording of the entire spectrum, number of narrow filters to filter the signal, various modulation modes... A true Space shuttle radio!

Two weeks later, to my wife's shock and horror, the Perseus was sitting in my radio shack...

[To be continued...]