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Chemical lullaby, Clocky to the rescue, Don't mess with the Sabbath

by Deanna Miller
May 2, 2005 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 83, ISSUE 18


Chemical lullaby

In episode 4.13 of the TV Show "Alias," the character Marshall illustrates that it's never too early to familiarize your child with chemical terminology. He sings to his son over the phone: "Hush, little Mitchell, don't you cry. Daddy's gonna teach you 'bout lanthanides. Cerium's first--yes, it leads the way: hexagonal structure and it's iron-gray. Praseodymium is next, and it looks like brass." The scene fades before the next rhyme, but it would probably be "one-forty point nine is its atomic mass."

Clocky to the rescue

MIT research associate Gauri Nanda understands how hard it can be to wake up in the morning. "I've been known to hit the snooze bar for up to two hours or even accidentally turn it off," she says. "Having the alarm clock hide from me was just the most obvious way I could think of to get out of bed." So, she developed Clocky, an alarm clock with wheels.

No more serial hitting of the snooze button; you only get one reprieve with Clocky. The first time you slap "snooze," Clocky rolls off the bedside table and across your floor. You never know where Clocky will stop--maybe even under your bed. The contraption has an internal processor that enables it to find a new hiding spot each day. The next time the alarm sounds, you must get up and search for Clocky, increasing the chances that you'll be fully awake by the time you turn it off (and for those of us with tempers, increasing the chances that Clocky won't survive the encounter).

Nanda says: "In designing Clocky, I was in part inspired by kittens I've had that would bite my toes every morning. Clocky is less of an annoying device as it is a troublesome pet that you love anyway." This invention is an MIT Media Lab research project, so it's not yet commercially available.

Don't mess with the Sabbath

Readers have weighed in on Richard C. Henry's idea for calendar reform (C&EN, Jan. 31, page 64). Charles Rousseau of Laguna Niguel, Calif., and Bill Eykamp of Arlington, Mass., note that people have been trying to reform the calendar for a long time. Rousseau sent in an article from 1947 about the World Calendar, which the World Calendar Association hoped to adopt on Jan. 1, 1950. If that had happened, our calendar would now have 364 days plus an extra day called Year-End Day, a holiday. Every four years, we'd have another holiday, Leap Year Day, between June and July.

Eykamp writes that when he was a grad student, he found old, bound volumes of the Journal of Calendar Reform in the science library. He says: "I realized in an instant that I had found the mother lode of obscurity. ... This campaign has been going on forever, and I predict a long future of well-deserved irrelevance." Eykamp believes there are many problems with changing the calendar, but the main one is that Sabbath observers are not going to stop worshiping every seventh day just "for some dubious improvement."

But as Tony Bielecki of Cambridge, Mass., points out, Henry's calendar would not disrupt the Sabbath. Bielecki calls Henry's calendar "hopelessly complicated" and says the calendar described in H. G. Wells's novel "The World Set Free" is much simpler: 13 months of four weeks each, with New Year's Day and Leap Year's Day as holidays. Nevertheless, Bielecki concludes, "Henry's calendar ... does address one of the major sticking points of calendar reform." Whereas plans like the one in Wells's novel "insert one or two 'extra-calendrical' leap days into each year, Henry's plan saves up enough days to have a leap week, so the calendar is always aligned with the Sabbath."

No doubt Eykamp is right that we will always toy with the idea of calendar reform. Perhaps we should just leave the calendar the way it is but create more holidays, such as Calendar Reform Contemplation Day.

This week's column was written by Deanna Miller. Please send comments and suggestions to




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