Setting the clocks

Most people dislike Daylight Saving Time, myself included. Debates about it can get convoluted, but in my experience, the arguments against it boil down to two objections:

  • The time change gives everyone jet lag twice a year.
  • Resetting every clock you own is an annoying waste of time.

There isn’t much you can do about the first one, but it is possible to reduce the effect of the second. How? By replacing your dumb clocks with smarter ones that reset themselves automatically.

Most of us already have some of the smarter kind, although we may not think of them as clocks. Your smartphone, for example, always displays the correct time. When the twice-a-year time change happens, your phone makes the switch without any action on your part. Your computer probably does the same thing, and if it doesn’t, that’s because the feature is disabled. (In Windows, right-click the clock in the lower right corner of your screen and click Adjust date and time. Then make sure that Set time automatically, Adjust for daylight saving time automatically, and Set time zone automatically are all turned on.)

But what about the other clocks? Most people don’t know this, but you can buy clocks that know how to set themselves. I learned this a decade or two ago when I needed to replace my bedside clock-radio, and while shopping for a new one, I stumbled across an Emerson SmartSet clock-radio that automatically resets itself to the correct date and time “as soon as you plug it in and after every power interruption.” That sounded too good to be true, but I bought one, and it works as advertised. (The model I bought back then has been discontinued, but Emerson makes several similar ones, which sell for prices as low as $15.)

The instruction manual didn’t explain how it performs this miracle, but a little research revealed the answer. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is a part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, and it’s in charge of providing a national time standard. The correct time from NIST’s atomic clocks is made available on the Internet (which is what computers and phones use) and by radio signal on several different frequencies. The Emerson clocks are designed to receive that signal and adjust themselves accordingly.

Emerson isn’t the only clock-maker that offers this feature, and it’s not limited to digital clocks. A couple of years ago, the analog wall clock in my kitchen stopped working (it was at least twenty years old), and I decided to see if I could replace it with a self-setting model. After a little browsing on Amazon, I ordered a La Crosse Technology clock that looked almost exactly like its predecessor, except for the words ATOMIC TIME on its face. But despite its old-school appearance, this clock listens to the NIST time signal and resets itself whenever the need arises.

At this point, I have very few clocks left that have to be reset by hand. The analog wall clock in my bathroom still requires that, but I’ll eventually replace it with a La Crosse or something similar. There’s also a digital clock in my living room that has to be set by hand. I replaced my old analog wristwatch with an Apple Watch at the beginning of this year, and it synchronizes with my iPhone. The only other holdout I can think of is the dashboard clock in my car. (My microwave oven has no clock, which is fine with me.)

Someday, I will have no clocks that need to be reset manually. Won’t it be nice to eliminate that minor annoyance from my life?

Update: Since writing this entry, I’ve realized that I have two other clocks in my kitchen. They’re built into my coffee maker and my digital kitchen scale. I normally don’t even notice these, so I suppose it doesn’t matter whether they’re correct or not. But I went ahead and reset them anyway.

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