Is there a rift in the time vortex in our bedroom?
December 21, 2015 4:59 PM   Subscribe

Real life puzzle. My wife and I each have a digital alarm clock on our bedside tables. They were both accurate until we rearranged the room - now my wife's is always fast. We've switched the clock, extension cord, and outlet, but my wife's is still always fast. What's going on? Have we discovered a small rift in the time vortex?

Here's all the scenarios:

1. Both clocks on one side of the room for 9 years. Both clocks always accurate. Then we rearrange the furniture and clocks move to the other side of the room.

For all scenarios below, we are using just one wall outlet.

2. My clock plugged into a power strip that is plugged into the top plug on the outlet behind our bed. My wife's clock plugged into an extension cord on the bottom outlet. Wife's clock is fast.

3. I replace my wife's digital clock with another digital clock (that has always been accurate as far as we know). Wife's clock is fast.

4. I replace my wife's extension cord with a different extension cord - and instead of plugging it into the wall outlet, I plug it into the SAME POWER STRIP that my clock is plugged into. Wife's clock is fast.

In each scenario, my wife's clock becomes about 30 minutes fast over the course of several weeks.

Can you help us figure this out?
posted by kdern to Technology (29 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
She's messing with you.
posted by clone boulevard at 5:01 PM on December 21, 2015 [40 favorites]

Are they the same clock? Any chance her clock is old and not as good anymore?
posted by getawaysticks at 5:08 PM on December 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Many digital clocks that get their timing off the mains electricity. That is, the AC coming into your house is either 50 or 60hz depending on what part of the world you live in. In the US, it's 60 hz, so the clock is using a counter to divide by 10, and then divide by 6, which gives you 1hz, which is perfect for driving the seconds "hand" of your clock.

Other clocks use quartz for timing (like a digital wristwatch), and don't depend on the AC signal for timekeeping.

You may be using a clock meant for 50hz in a country with 60z, though that wouldn't explain why this is only happening now AND you'd have a different plug? There may be some issue with the power coming into your house, in which case you may want to call the electric company, or you could get a multimeter and check what's coming into your house. The US apparently experimented with tweaking the frequency of its power grid (letting it drift) a few years back, but I don't know what ever became of that. Or it's possible the clock in question was simply damaged.
posted by danny the boy at 5:26 PM on December 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

Similar to what danny the boy said, do your clocks have a 50hs/60hz switch on the bottom, and maybe your wife's was accidently switched to 50hz (or vice-versa) during the shuffling?
posted by jpeacock at 5:29 PM on December 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

If the clock was dividing US mains frequency by 50, then it would gain almost 5 hours a day, which is more than a little fast.
posted by ryanrs at 5:35 PM on December 21, 2015

Your wife may be accidentally setting it a minute or two faster when setting the alarm, hitting snooze, etc., especially if she's not thinking about it. That will add up. I've lived with people like that, where their alarm clocks would just drift faster and faster over weeks.
posted by Hypatia at 5:41 PM on December 21, 2015 [4 favorites]

If these are clocks that do in fact use a discrete timer in it, rather than using the frequency of the AC coming into the house, there's maybe a possibility that the moving process knocked it out of alignment? There may be some sort of trim control (basically a little potentiometer) in there that was marginal and then got knocked off where it should be when you rearranged. This would probably not be something you can adjust externally (i.e. you'd have to open it up to check, and you'd have to know what you were looking for).
posted by mrg at 5:42 PM on December 21, 2015

Y'all, it's not just the one clock.

"I replace my wife's digital clock with another digital clock (that has always been accurate as far as we know). Wife's clock is fast."

Yeah, she's messing with you.
posted by olinerd at 6:03 PM on December 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

My guess is that your wife's clock is the kind that counts cycles, and that the circuit (or leg) of your household power that you now have it plugged into also has a device on it which generates a transient when it switches off (such as a sizable motor), and that your wife's clock is counting the added peaks of the transient as cycles, and that speeds her clock up slightly.

Your clock on the other hand, either doesn't count cycles (although it probably does if they remained synchronized on the other side of the room for any significant period of time) or it has a better internal filter for transients.
posted by jamjam at 6:07 PM on December 21, 2015

You could measure how fast the clock is a couple times a day. If there's a natural effect causing it, the difference should be gradual. If the difference stays the same, then jumps suddenly, there was probably an "event" responsible.
posted by panic at 6:19 PM on December 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think Hypatia is on the right track: she's accidentally advancing the time manually somehow. I do that with mine too. Groping for the snooze or off button, somehow I manage to paw the buttons just right to advance the time a minute or two. I've also managed to mess up the current time trying to set the alarm to an unusual wake-up time. It would be fast, because typically setting the time moves it forward, not backward.

Time check it several times a day for a while. Does it advance evenly, consistently gaining a minute every X hours, or does it jump ahead at certain times and then track minute-for-minute the rest of the day?
posted by ctmf at 6:22 PM on December 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Your wife may be accidentally setting it a minute or two faster when setting the alarm, hitting snooze, etc

But it this is the case, why did it never happen until the room rearrangement?
posted by beagle at 6:31 PM on December 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm fairly sure that unless your clocks are decades old, they won't be getting their timing info from the mains frequency. Quartz crystals have been better and cheaper for years.
posted by pompomtom at 7:02 PM on December 21, 2015

Is your wife's clock in an area that gets hotter than your clock? (Closer to heater, more time in sunlight)
The heat could affect the quartz crystal.
posted by FallowKing at 7:13 PM on December 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


My wife is definitely not accidentally changing the time a little each day. The first clock she used for about 5 years on the other side of the room without an issue. Now we have a baby who is up at 6 AM every day so we don't set alarms anymore. (The baby can't reach the clock so it's unlikely that he's messing with us.)

My wife swears she's not messing with me.

The first clock does have a 50hz/60hz switch. I've never changed it. It's set on 60hz, which I believe is standard for the US. When it was running fast I checked it and it was on 60hz then. I don't know if the second clock has a hz setting or not - but I know we've never looked for it or changed it.

The first clock is about 5 years old. The second is a Sony Dreamachine from about 15 years ago.

New info - my wife claims that the first clock very gradually became faster than my clock, and that the second one went from being accurate to 20 minutes fast in a day or so.
posted by kdern at 8:29 PM on December 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh - and the new location is near a window, though I can't imagine how that makes a difference.

One more detail - I am using a modern power strip with a thick plug on my side of the bed. The extension cord from there to my wife's side of the bed is an old, thin extension cord - but I think that's the type we've been using for years. Plus - I've already changed the extension cord when we were on clock #1 and it ran fast again.
posted by kdern at 8:31 PM on December 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Some kind of magnetic pull in new side of the room?
posted by infini at 8:31 PM on December 21, 2015

These are the clocks:

1. Sonic Alert (without vibrating attachment)

2. Sony Dreamachine from about 1995 (image from an image search, not mine).
posted by kdern at 8:33 PM on December 21, 2015

Sony Dreamachine from about 1995

My parents have those same clocks. One of the constant, frustrated refrains from my mom as I was growing up was that she always had to keep setting her clock back to the right time. I always assumed, and I'm pretty sure my mom assumed, too, that my dad was doing it on purpose to keep ahead of my mom's constant lateness. Intentionally setting her clock ahead so she got moving sooner is totally a thing he would do. I honestly do not know if she ever actually confirmed he was the culprit. How hilarious would it be if it turned out it was really the clock the whole time.

I'm home this week. I'll check in tomorrow with them and the clocks and report back!
posted by phunniemee at 8:53 PM on December 21, 2015 [5 favorites]

The Sonic Alert clock uses a DC adapter, so that eliminates the idea that the AC power frequency is the issue.

The Sonic Alert has the snooze button located exactly between the time setting buttons. It would be easy to press the wrong buttons by mistake. Gaining 20 minutes in a day can only be explained by pressing the time-set buttons by mistake.

And when you moved the clock to the other side of the room, is she using the opposite hand than she used before, possibly confusing the buttons.
posted by JackFlash at 10:15 PM on December 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

And when you moved the clock to the other side of the room, is she using the opposite hand than she used before, possibly confusing the buttons.

This is plausible sounding to me. Both of the clocks have time set buttons which are quite close to the snooze control (here is an image of the Dream Machine cube showing the top controls). My guess is that the faster spinning side of the space-time continuum is on your wife's side of the bed because she is using her non-dominant hand to hit snooze - and is sometimes missing - on whatever clock she has.

The test would be to swap sides of the bed while keeping the same clocks (I know this is a big ask - but the laws of the universe are potentially at stake).
posted by rongorongo at 12:03 AM on December 22, 2015

I had the same problem. I attributed it to Time Energy, but it was just the cable box screwing up the clock's internal timing. We moved the clock away from the cable box. Problem solved!
posted by Hanuman1960 at 6:31 AM on December 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Thread theme music.

I broke one of those clocks. The buttons on my model were weird, they were not separate button units, but built into the plastic of the case. I had trouble setting the time once, and pushed too hard and snapped one of the buttons off, breaking the case. One could still set the time, but had to use a pen or something to push the contact down.

Four possibilities I haven't seen discussed:
1. is there something that could be between the button and the contact switch that triggers the minute? If the switch is damaged or extra sensitive, due to the old age or a spill, one could disassemble the clock, assess, clean, and reassemble.
2. is there a battery backup in the clock? If so, does removing the battery help?
3. Old, thin extension cord is a consistent variable. Does plugging straight into the outlet (inconvenient as this may be) make a difference?
4. Actual Time Vortex: you kidlet can manipulate space and time. Get baby on the waitlist for Professor Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters.
posted by enfa at 6:40 AM on December 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

My alarm clock runs fast, too. It's a gradual thing, slowly adding maybe a minute every week or two. I can't say I have any idea why it's happening, but I know this:

1. It happened no matter what outlet it was plugged into - I've even moved apartments and it still runs fast. However, it didn't always run fast and I'm not sure when it started.
2. It's one of those clocks that automagically adjusts for daylight savings time. I don't even know what that mechanism is, let alone if it's relevant.
3. I never use the alarm (I use my phone) so I don't touch the thing at all for months at a time.
4. My alarm clock is on a thin extension cord.

I wonder if the original, gradually running fast clock is unrelated to the other, suddenly 20 minutes fast clock. Certainly seems like two totally different things, a coincidence of timing that is confusing your attempts at figuring out what is happening. Unless the second clock is consistently jumping 20 minutes fast, and doing so every day or on a regular pattern... but if it was just a one time thing, I'd eliminate that observation from the problem-solving.
posted by misskaz at 6:53 AM on December 22, 2015

Buy an identical model clock to the one your wife's using and plug it into the same outlet. Put it on her nightstand (tape a piece of paper over the buttons so she doesn't use it as an alarm clock) and see what happens over the course of a week or two. Then move the clock to your side for another few weeks.
posted by disconnect at 7:54 AM on December 22, 2015

Speaking of battery backup, I once had a digital clock that, when running off the battery alone, would run so much faster than when on AC that I had to stop relying on it to wake me up in a timely fashion when the power went off. Maybe in all the unplugging and replugging you're doing, the gain may be happening that way.
posted by DandyRandy at 9:57 AM on December 22, 2015

Both clocks are currently set to the same (wrong) time and neither my mom nor dad remember any of this ever happening. Story of my life.
posted by phunniemee at 10:01 AM on December 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

Thanks for all the replies. I think my next step could be to plug both clocks into the same outlet somewhere in the house without any extension cords for a month or so and see what happens.

In the meantime, here's the official thread theme music (thanks enfa for the inspiration).
posted by kdern at 6:11 PM on December 22, 2015

As others have previously mentioned, it's most likely the temperature difference between the two locations. This is especially likely if her clock is receiving direct sunlight for part of the day. The hotter the crystal oscillator gets, the faster it runs. The drift you are seeing is high, but not by any means impossibly so.

RF interference is possible, but less likely, unless there are sudden large jumps in time, in which case it is even more likely to be a human inadvertently advancing the time. By large jump I mean it's, for example, gaining a minute a day for a week and then suddenly picking up 5 or 10 minutes overnight and then back to gaining a minute a day or whatever. If it is the sun, the drift should be relatively constant over weekish timescales, aside from cloudy days.
posted by wierdo at 2:38 PM on December 25, 2015

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