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Thursday, July 23, 2015

Keeping Time

Knowing what time it is has become a basic piece of Western civilization. As soon as mechanical clocks were invented, they were placed high in public buildings to allow everyone an opportunity to know the time. Most clock towers had bells or some other signaling device to announce the top of the hour, and many small towns still mark 12:00 noon (lunch time) with a whistle, siren, or bells.

Up until about 20 years ago, most people wore or carried a watch with them all day. The proliferation of cell phones replaced the wrist watch along with the pocket camera, day planner, personal phone book, and pager. What can you do to prepare for the distinct possibilities of dead batteries, dead phone due to it being dropped in water or onto rocks, lost phone, or EMP/ CME* damage? A lot depends on how precisely you need to measure your time.

Seconds/Minutes
If you're using the flash-to-bang method** of telling how far away a lightning strike or explosion was, then counting out loud “one Mississippi, two Mississippi, etc.” will give you a reasonably accurate way of measuring small bits of time.

You can also estimate minutes (or hours) to sunset by this simple method:
  1. Extend your arm forward, with palm facing you. 
  2. Without looking directly at the sun, move your arm until the sun rests on top of your index finger. 
  3. Count how many fingers there are (alternating hands if necessary) until you reach the horizon. 
  4. Each index finger is approximately 15 minutes of daylight. 
From When All Hell Breaks Loose: Stuff You Need to Survive When Disaster Strikes, by Cody Lundin.
Hours
To be able to accurately measure hours, you're going to need a watch or clock. For fixed locations (bugging in, or at the bug out location), a decent wind-up alarm clock will keep time for you. Wind it up every night before you go to bed and they'll last a lot longer than any set of batteries could. The old mantle clocks and grandfather clocks were designed to run for up to a week before needing to be rewound (or have the weights reset).

Watches are designed to be worn or carried and work better than a clock while you're on the move. The features I look for in a watch are:
  • Non-electric. Search for “mechanical action” or “mechanical watch”. With no battery to replace, a well-made watch can last for decades. 
  • Waterproof. Self-explanatory - if I'm outside much, it's going to get wet. \
  • Replaceable band. The metal bands may look good, but I have never seen one that was built as well as the watch it is attached to. Bands break, so I want to be able to replace it as easily as possible. A covered watch band will protect the face of your watch and prevents reflection from the glass if you're trying to be stealthy. 
  • Self-winding. Also known as automatic watches, they have a small weight attached to the spring that winds it as your arm moves during normal daily activity. Not an option with pocket watches. 
You don't have to take out a second mortgage to get a decent watch, although there are some nice ones out there that cost as much as a used car, but you will tend to get what you pay for. Swiss and Japanese actions (the guts of the watch) are going to be more precise than those made in Mexico or China, but you'll pay more for them. Like any machine, get the best you can afford and it should provide you with years of service.

Days
Look, up in the sky, there's a big ball of light that will tell you when another day has arrived. By making a mark on something every time the sun rises, you can create a simple calendar for tracking the days of the week. If you're living underground and can't see the sun, you'll need a good clock for tracking days.

Weeks/Months
Before there were water clocks and mechanical clocks, people kept track of weeks and months by watching the Moon. Lunar cycles are the easiest astrological sign to learn, since the Moon is a pretty big object in our night sky. It takes 28 days (4 weeks) for the Moon to go from new (dark or no Moon) through waxing to full and waning back to new.

Seasons/Years
Due to the axial tilt of the Earth, as the seasons progress the Sun will rise and set at a slightly different time and in a slightly different place each day. I have actually had to explain this to a high-school student, because he had never been taught it. 

The length of daylight hits a peak at the Summer Solstice (around June 21st) and the shortest amount of daylight marks the Winter Solstice (around December 21st). Halfway between the longest and the shortest days is the Autumnal Equinox (around August 22nd) where there are 12 hours of light and 12 hours of dark marking the beginning of Autumn or Fall. Six months later (around March 21st) there will be another day of equal parts day and night, this one marking the Vernal Equinox and the beginning of Spring.


Spend your time well, friends.


*EMP/CME= Electro-Magnetic Pulse, an effect of high-altitude nuclear detonation that can fry electronics for hundreds of miles. Coronal Mass Ejection, when the surface of the Sun vomits forth a plume of highly energetic plasma in our direction, with effects similar to an EMP.

**Flash-to-bang. Since sound travels at about 1100 feet per second, much slower than light (186,000 miles per second), you can get a rough estimate of the distance from some action you can see by measuring how long it takes the sound to reach you. A mile is 5280 feet, so it will take sound about 5 seconds to travel a mile.

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