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Little Ben Versus Atomic Clock
by Amy Kenneley

They say good things come in small packages, and for my 10th birthday my really small present was a clock, called by the manufacturer Little Ben. It was the smaller version of Big Ben, a major timepiece sitting on grandpa's dresser.

Both Bens had round steel bodies with creamy paint finishes. They both had numbers, minute and hour hands that glowed in the dark. On their backs were two setting dials and two winding keys.

Mother thought I should learn to do things by the clock instead of being reminded to "get up" or "time for supper." She also hoped I would learn to tell time, which hadn't been big on my personal to-do list. My birthday clock, just like Grandpa's, was her solution.

Winding Up

Inscribed above the keys were the words "Do Not Wind Tightly." The little tag attached to the clock told how to set the hour and minute hands, how to wind and set the alarm, turn it off, and why the clock shouldn't be wound too tightly-there were springs and wheels inside.

I loved that little clock! In the dark at night the numbers glowed a reassuring green, and the comforting "tick, tick, tick" metronomed me to sleep. In the morning, a bell-like "ting, ting, ting" sounded.

When I went to camp, Little Ben was tucked in my suitcase. When I started going to sleepovers, it came along. Something happened to Little Ben when I was a teenager, but what was it?

Perhaps the admonition to not wind too tightly was forgotten. Perhaps it was dropped out of a sleeping bag. Somewhere, somehow, Little Ben was lost or broken.


A succession of timepieces have come and gone since then: clocks attached to radios, clocks attached to radios and cassette players, clocks attached to walls by electric cords or battery-powered. A succession of clocks have wakened me in the years since then, some with radio static news, some with fire-alarm "tong-tong"s and others with insistent doorbell-buzzer vibrations.

This week the latest waker-upper bit the dust. Really. It fell off the dresser while being attacked by the cat and all the little plastic parts fell off into the carpet. Time for a new timepiece.

Decisions, Decisions

What to choose, what to choose, was the question at the electronics store. Big, little, plastic, plastic, plastic, metal. Analog, digital, digital, digital. Black, blue, pink, red, fluorescent green, cartoon character shapes, rocket ships, guitars, motorcycles, trucks. There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all clock.

I narrowed my choices down. What I wanted was a clock to 1) tell the correct time 2) wake me up and 3) with very big numbers. That was my wish-list. Well, I got my wish-list clock---and oh, so much more!

What I came home with was an Atomic Projection Clock. There was no little tag attached with instructions-instead there was a large sheet of paper 20 by 20 inches. English on one side, Spanish on the other. Printed in China.

There were six diagrams of the clock from various perspectives: side, underside, front and back, including diagrams showing where to place the batteries (backup for the electricity).

I glanced down the instruction sections to find out how it worked. Here are the sections I had to read before I could use the clock: Powering Your Clock, Initial Reception, Always Bright, Reset, Dimmer, Alarm, Projector Focus, Image Rotation, Snooze-Light, Helpful Hints, rf Emissions Information, and finally, Limited 90-day warranty. It also came with an AC to DC Adapter..in case I go a-roving with my Atomic Projection Clock.

Oh, and the Atomic part is the best part of all. I have to put my new clock near a window facing Fort Collins, Colorado. It seems that that is where the Grand-daddy of all atomic clocks lives. My Little Atom needs to get signals from Big Atom. Getting the signal from Big Atom keeps my Little Atom correct.

Roman to Roamin'

How times change. I mean time has really changed.

First, all roads led to Rome, then it was Greenwich Mean Time that made the world run, now it is a signal from the Wild West. But if I can't find a good place for the reception, I have permission to move it to another window, according to the instructions.

Does that mean that by placing it in the window facing east, I might get signals bounced from around the world? Would my clock catch this ping-pong signal like a catcher's mitt catches a ball?

As with most household items with more than 3 lines of instructions, I handed this set-up project over to Himself. It wasn't long before he had Little Atom -for this is what I have decided to call it-working merrily.

Little Atom is pointed toward the sugar maple in the back yard, which is, we think, in the general direction of Fort Collins, Colorado. Well, perhaps not Colorado, but it is pointed West. Where the sun sets. Very technical, that.

Loving Little Atom

The alarm was a little unsettling, because it didn't ting-ting or tong-tong. It chirped. Just like the birds outside, or a cricket that has slipped under the screen door. We'll get used to that.

The really exciting thing about Little Atom is the projection part. A section of the clock twists from 0 degrees to 180 degrees, so you can see the time projected on the ceiling or lower, on a wall.

When night-time came, we looked up and the ceiling had a display in red numbers. No more raising my head to peer at the clock, trying to focus night-bleary eyes at a tiny clock face. There, in big red numbers on the sky of my bedroom was the time.

It was probably spit-spot on the Fort Collins, Colorado Big Atom clock. Then again, maybe not.

But in the middle of the night, with no appointments more necessary than the bathroom-- who cares?

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