The Watch Eclectic

My friend Peter has made up a slogan for the station: “WWVB, all time, all the time.”

Zeit Synctime WatchI have this fascination with watches. I can’t tell you why, because I don’t know why!

It probably started on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, where buying knockoff watches is a sport enjoyed by three generations of my family.

Over time, Helaine has bought me some really nice watches too, including the one pictured. Made in Germany, it is identified on the face as Synctime. Whether that’s really the manufacturer or the name of the model has not been established.

This watch has a tiny radio inside. Every morning at 1:00 AM, it listens for a signal from WWVB in Boulder, CO (My friend Peter has made up a slogan for the station: “WWVB, all time, all the time”), and then resets itself to the correct time.

I’m not sure how a little wristwatch can hear this very low frequency station, but it does. It doesn’t catch it every night, but I’ve still never seen it drift off even a second. Because the station is on a frequency well below the AM broadcast band, the antenna should be extremely long. Obviously, that’s no impediment.

It has had its band repaired twice and the stem replaced once. The crystal has a few deep gouges. It does not take a licking and keep on ticking.

When I first got the watch, I’d send it to Chicago every year or so to get the little button battery changed. The process was described by the importer as difficult. It is. I know, because tonight, I changed the battery.

You know it’s time to replace the cell inside because when the second hand points to the “12”, it stops for five seconds, then races to the “1.” That’s disconcerting the first time you see it. Watches aren’t supposed to do that.

There are four tiny screws on the back of the case and another tinier one that holds the battery inside. A rubber grommet, probably meant to keep it watertight, immediately pops off as soon as the case is dismantled.

Wearing a set of magnifying lenses, I made the change in about 15 minutes. Then, pushing the stem in a staccato fashion, I electromechanically lined the hands up at 12:00:00. From there, it was placed it on a windowsill.

I waited. The instructions say recalibration can take five days! Until the clock ‘hears’ WWVB, the hands don’t move at all.

Tonight, it only took around 10 minutes. Once the signal is heard, the hands race around the face, stopping at the correct time… in California. A pull of the stem and twist of its knob, moves the hour hand, one hour at a time, until EDT is reached.

I love this watch. It’s thin and stylish (though its band has sometimes wreaked havoc on my shirt cuffs) and still 100% geek approved.

Return Trip

Will try and put in an entry later today, but this will be a full day of traveling, so who knows.

My plane leaves LAX this afternoon at 12:40 PST. We stop in Chicago (MDW) before landing in Hartford. Helaine says the flight has been early the last two days. I’d like them to go three for three.

This has been a wonderful trip. I’ve done pretty much everything I set out to do… and then some. Nothing was a disappointment.

When I get home, I’ll go through the photos to pick out some ‘orphan’ shots that were cool, but didn’t fit in any blog entry.

The first time I ever told Helaine I missed her was back in our dating days. I was on-assignment in Germany doing PM Magazine stories. It was the early 80s. I called her from a pay phone in Frankfurt.

I miss her even more now… and now I’m totally sure why.

Look, Up In The Sky

Since watching the video today, I’ve been reading as much as I could about the Russian rocket that burned up over the Rocky Mountain States, Thursday.

The beautiful video came from a Denver TV station’s helicopter starting its early morning run aloft. Lucky catch, and well done.

What you see burning up in the atmosphere, the rocket, had only been up since last Wednesday. That doesn’t seem very long.

NORAD says they tracked it all the way. Hey, guys, thanks for the heads up – not!

This rocket was part of the launch vehicle for a French satellite, COROT. Very international – French satellite with six international partners: the European Space Agency (Esa), Austria, Spain, Germany, Belgium and Brazil, launched on a Russian rocket in Kazakhstan. But that’s not the interesting part.

COROT will look for planets, hospitable to life, outside our solar system. There’s a practical idea! What didn’t get funded so this could?

These planets, hopefully around Earth-sized, are too far away to see. We can, however, detect their shadows across the stars they orbit. This is beyond geeky.

I’m sure in the long run, there’s important scientific knowledge to be discerned, but if we find a nice place, it will be much too far to visit. Imagine, a journey taking entire generations. The distant ancestors of the people who decided to go would be the passengers upon arrival.

Not gonna happen.

Someday, COROT too will fall to Earth. Probably a whole less spectacular then.

Global Warming And Me

It is increasingly difficult to be a skeptic when it comes to global warming. That’s not because I am doubting my scientific beliefs, but because it’s more socially acceptable to be fearful of Vanuatu being inundated or Greenland turning green.

I was listening to the Faith Middleton Show today on Connecticut Public Radio. Global Warming was the topic and Dean James Gustave Speth of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies was a guest.

Dean Speth is a heavy hitter on the subject. I could copy his CV here, but I am so overshadowed by his achievements, I’d rather not risk the comparison.

Still, after hearing Dean Speth, I felt I had to send him this note:

Dear Dean Speth,

I listened to your broadcast today with great interest. Though I am skeptical of the harshest global warming pronouncements, I enjoy listening to experts, such as yourself and learning when I can.

Trust me when I say, it would be much easier to be a believer. It is a much more socially acceptable viewpoint to have.

Nearly ten years ago, I was invited to the White House to listen to then Vice President Gore speak on the subject. In spite of all I’d been told, he was a masterful speaker, making scientific points to an audience of meteorologists without benefit of notes or a written script. And yet, I wasn’t won over.

Though it’s purely anecdotal, most of the other meteorologists I spoke with then and speak with now, feel as I do. As operational forecasters, we use computer modeling on a daily basis and understand how weak it can be. We know we can’t always forecast tomorrow’s temperature accurately, much less next month’s or a few decades from now. Heck, we can’t always accurately initialize the models! It’s not for lack of trying.

Long range global modeling makes too many assumptions and takes too many shortcuts to keep me comfortable.

Unfortunately, the rhetoric concerning global warming has gotten so out of hand that lay people are starting to say they notice it! Summers are warmer. Storms are stronger. Winters have less snow.

Last summer and fall, our wild tropical season was attributed by many (Trenberth and Shea as an example) to global warming. Has it abated this year?

If global warming is science and not politics, why is every consequence I hear a negative one? Are there no positives, even in the most dire global warming scenarios? Won’t I save on heating oil? How about road wear and plowing in North America, Europe and parts of Asia? Won’t Siberia and the Great Plains of the US and Canada have a longer growing season?

And if Kyoto is the answer, why are the exclusions that exist in that treaty, and other exclusions which some countries have unilaterally declared (Germany’s removal of coal restrictions) for themselves, never mentioned? You made no mention of these today when declaring all the industrial countries had ratified Kyoto. If I were India or China, I’d ratify a million Kyotos which weaken my competitors and don’t touch me.

Again, it would be so much easier to believe. I am not a political extremist. I believe a clean and pure environment is good in the abstract. I am just scared we’re being sold an expensive bill of goods based on shaky science and strong emotional appeal.

Thank you for taking the time to read my email.


Geoff Fox

Hamden, CT

I don’t expect Dean Speth to read my email and have a Eureka moment. I didn’t expect to be won over when I listened either.

Still, one of us has to be wrong. If it’s me, I’d rather know now than later. I hope he feels the same way.

Dead In Two Places At Once

This website is hosted by a company out of Chicago. They in turn lease space from ServerCentral. This afternoon when I went to check something out – gone.

My other websites (there are multiple sites running on a singe server account) are hosted by an international company. I can’t be sure, but I think that server is in Germany.

It doesn’t make much difference where it is, as long as the connection back to the states is sufficiently wide.

This afternoon, that server too was gone!

What are the odds against that? Neither of these companies give 100% service, but they’re reasonably dependable.

Anyway, they’re back. Otherwise, how could you see this?

Too Close For Comfort

The soundtrack is Spencer Davis Group’s&#185 “Gimme Some Lovin’.” The video (film actually) shows my contemporaries from the 60s wearing granny glasses and tie dye, long hair over facial hair, with a VW camper thrown in for good measure.

This commercial couldn’t be more aimed toward me.

The fantasy only ends when they dissolve from the long hairs to these 40 and 50 year olds. Damn you television – I can’t handle the truth.

The problem is, all these ‘simpler times’ images are trying to sell grown up financial planning. That was the last thing I was thinking about back then. Even now that I’m the target demo, the company sponsoring this ad knows I won’t watch unless they seduce me.

The funny part is, as much as they show these images, back when I looked that way, I would not have been welcomed with open arms. Now, they can’t live without me.

Funny how times change, isn’t it?

&#185 – As it turns out, the Spencer Davis Group (now touring in Germany) has a website.

Global Warming Revisited

This is probably the only controversial subject I address on the blog – Global Warming. I think I’ve made it clear I’m a skeptic, and the others I know who forecast the weather are also mainly skeptics.

It’s not a small thing. If I’m wrong, I’m asking you to sit by and doom the planet. If the Global Warming proponents are wrong, they’ve asked that we cripple our industrial base, allow others to continue to spew ‘greenhouse gasses’… and all for naught.

Every time I feel my position is solid, I think of reading things like:

Dr Naomi Oreskes, of the University of California, analysed almost 1,000 papers on the subject published since the early 1990s, and concluded that 75 per cent of them either explicitly or implicitly backed the consensus view, while none directly dissented from it.

That always gives me second thoughts.

Now there’s more… but it’s nothing I ever expected. It’s an eye opening article in the Telegraph from the UK. In case the link ‘expires,’ I will place the actual text at the bottom of this entry.

Here’s a little excerpt:

However, her (Dr Naomi Oreskes, of the University of California) unequivocal conclusions immediately raised suspicions among other academics, who knew of many papers that dissented from the pro-global warming line.

They included Dr Benny Peiser, a senior lecturer in the science faculty at Liverpool John Moores University, who decided to conduct his own analysis of the same set of 1,000 documents – and concluded that only one third backed the consensus view, while only one per cent did so explicitly.

I have often feared Global Warming is a politically and not scientifically motivated


I’ll keep my ears open for more on this.

Continue reading “Global Warming Revisited”

My Trashy Story

Every week, on Friday, our trash goes to the curb. Every other week it’s supposed to be accompanied by recycling. It doesn’t work that way in our household.

Whether it’s our distance from the curb or the amount of recycled newspapers we have (we subscribe to both the New Haven Register or New York Times) or maybe all the boxes we get because of online shopping, going to the curb bi-weekly doesn’t work. So all of this recyclable material piles up in the garage. A few times a year we stuff it into the SUV and I drive it to the transfer station.

Transfer station, what a lovely phrase. It’s so much more genteel than town dump.

I drove up to the transfer station this morning only to find the new policy – no newspapers. I had an SUV full of recyclables, and of course, the supermarket bags of newspapers were on top!

I unloaded the 20 or so bags of newspapers to get to the cardboard and other material underneath. At this point the transfer station folks took pity on me and found a place… a transfer station loophole if you will… that allowed me to drop the papers off. From now on it’s newspapers to the street, I suppose.

I want to be a good citizen, but it is increasingly difficult to follow the rules. In fact, it would be much easier to hide the newspapers and cardboard and bottles with our weekly trash. I’m sure a lot of people do just that. It also always strikes me as a little ironic that the two most talked about recycled products are made from sand (glass) or grow on trees (paper).

I know this is supposed to be good for the environment, and I’m for that. But, is it really? Is this just a feel good exercise with no payoff… or negative payoff?

From “Recycling Is Garbage” – New York Times Magazine, June 30, 1996:

Every time a sanitation department crew picks up a load of bottles and cans from the curb, New York City loses money. The recycling program consumes resources. It requires extra administrators and a continual public relations campaign explaining what to do with dozens of different products — recycle milk jugs but not milk cartons, index cards but not construction paper. (Most New Yorkers still don’t know the rules.) It requires enforcement agents to inspect garbage and issue tickets. Most of all, it requires extra collection crews and trucks. Collecting a ton of recyclable items is three times more expensive than collecting a ton of garbage because the crews pick up less material at each stop. For every ton of glass, plastic and metal that the truck delivers to a private recycler, the city currently spends $200 more than it would spend to bury the material in a landfill.

I don’t know what to think. I want to do what’s right, but I am really not sure. Until I know otherwise, I will follow the rules.

In the meantime, part of our recycling life at home will have to change. Newspapers to the curb. I can hardly wait for the first really big rain on a Thursday night.

Continue reading “My Trashy Story”

Another Reason Not To Smoke

I saw this just a moment ago on

A San Francisco man learned the hard way that littering — especially burning objects — is not a good idea. Jonathan Fish was driving across the Bay Bridge on Thursday when he tossed his cigarette out the window. But the cigarette blew back into his $30,000 Ford Expedition, igniting the back seat and filling the SUV with smoke. Fish pulled over and leaped from the flaming vehicle, which kept rolling and crashed into a guardrail. “It was in flames by the time he got out,” said CHP Officer Shawn Chase. “He had some of his hair singed on the back of his head. (The car) burned down to the frame.” Fish likely faces a misdemeanor charge for littering, which carries a fine of up to $1,000.

It’s a sort of funny, ironic story. Except for me, now over 20 years a non-smoker, it hits home.

It had to be 1969, wintertime, and a Saturday night. I was living in Boston, making believe I was attending Emerson College and working as a talk show producer on the Steve Fredericks Show at WMEX.

Being a talk show producer sounds more glamorous than it really was. WMEX was a second rate station with an awful signal. It was owned by Max Richmond, a larger than life caricature of himself. Everything he did was done with an eye to cost. That’s fine, but reward should be factored in as well.

We were in a building originally designed by a movie studio for their Boston operation. That’s probably the reason it was built of cinder block with no insulation.

I answered calls and watched the door to the outside. I didn’t even screen all the phone lines. Some came to my little booth – others didn’t.

The show ended at (I think) 2:00 AM. I found my car, a faded green 1960 Volkswagen Beetle&#185 and headed toward the Mass Pike. I was going to Albany, NY to see my friend Larry Lubetsky, a student a SUNY Albany.

Back then I was a smoker. My cigarette of choice was Tareyton. That was the brand which showed smokers with black eyes and the caption, “I’d rather fight than switch.”

This was the time when a pack of cigarettes in a machine cost 40&#162. I remember going to WHDH-TV (then Channel 5) for a conference and seeing cigarettes in a hallway machine for 35&#162!

I’m sorry. This story isn’t going in a straight line. Back to what I’m writing about.

As I drove, I smoked. And, as the cigarette would burn down toward the filter, I’d roll down the window and flick it outside. Looking back, that was wrong and I apologize to society in general for my selfish attitude.

Somewhere between Worcester and Springfield the car seemed a little smoky. Of course I had been smoking. So, I rolled down the window, let in some fresh wintry air, and then rolled it back up.

You didn’t want to keep the window down long in a 1960 VW. The heating system was vigorous enough to keep you warm through early September. After that it was a losing battle against the elements.

I continued driving, though the toll booth at the eastern end of the turnpike and through the Berkshires into New York State. The smoky conditions were getting worse. The window was going down more frequently.

It is only in retrospect that I realize I should have stopped and looked.

I merged off the Berkshire Extension of the New York State Thruway onto the main line. Even at this late hour there was truck traffic and my VW’s lack of power (the car topped out at around 60 mph… and took around a minute to get there) made me check my mirrors constantly. It was then I spotted the red glow from behind the back seat.

The 1960 Volkswagen had bucket seats in the front and a bench seat in the back. Behind the bench was a rectangular, deep pocket where you could store things. When I bought the car, there had been covers on the front seats. These fabric covers were in that pocket and they were on fire. One of my flicked cigarettes must have been blown back into the car.

I pulled to the side and jumped out. I didn’t think about safety at the time as I reached back in, flipped the front seat forward, pulled the slipcovers out and began stomping on them on the shoulder of the New York State Thruway.

I left them there, on the side of the road where they could commiserate with lost shoes and socks and the other things you find at the highway’s edge. I was shaking, now realizing what had… and what could have happened.

Still, I had to make it to Larry’s apartment before dawn. I hopped back in the car, lit another cigarette and started to drive.

Some people never learn.

Blogger’s note – I have been smoke free since the winter of 1984-85. This event had nothing to do with quitting. Of all the things in my life that were smart, quitting smoking was one of the smartest.

&#185 – I couldn’t find an actual photo of a green 1960 VW Beetle. I did find a yellow one and with Photoshop, made it green. Helaine took a look and said the color was unnatural. Actually, the color is pretty close. Though this was glossy paint when it left Germany, it was a very dull green during my ownership.