Thursday, November 19, 2009

Just a Second

Streetclock by Howard in front of American Clo...

Apparently, there's a difference in clock/watch second hands, did you know that? At least that's my understanding and when it comes to measuring time, you should exercise caution when following my lead. I did well in premed physics but that doesn't mean I always know what I'm talking about. Besides that, I've been wearing the same watch for nearly fourteen years and still have no idea who made it, so what does that tell you?

Anyhow, having said all that, it seems there are the normal second hands that tick away, one second at a time, and there are those that travel around the face in a gliding motion, measuring (according to the manufacturer) the continuous flow of time. Now, if you're a real stickler for accuracy, the gliding motion is probably the way to go because, if you think about it, the ticking motion has to lose time each second.

You're not certain about that? Well, take a look at your watch -- go ahead, I'll wait. Okay, did you notice how the second hand hesitates just briefly each time it marks the passing of a second? If we were to time that delay and multiply it by 86,400 (the number of seconds in 24 hours), we'd discover the amount of time lost just keeping track of it. It's enough to make The Lone Gunmen from The X-Files start looking for a conspiracy. I loved those guys but I could never quite make up my mind whether they were supposed to mimic The Three Musketeers or The Three Stooges.

Now, if you're a therapist, it doesn't matter how the second hand moves because you're only concerned about the minute and hour hands tracking the flow of conversation. I mean, you have to be able to say, "We have five minutes left," because that's when the really important issues often come up. If you've ever been there -- on either side of the couch -- you know exactly what I mean.

But let's say you're trying to do something like take a pulse. With a glide drive, the second hand is sailing along while you're counting beats, but the moment you're done, it keeps on going. Not sure whether it's fourteen or fifteen beats per minute, as if that makes a difference, you start over. Pretty soon you're spending more time chasing the darned second hand than taking a pulse. It's enough to drive a bean counting insurance case manager, who says you're taking too much time with your patients already, crazy. Wait a minute, that's a good thing, right?

So, here's how this all came about. I was trying to explain it to my dog the other day during one of our deeper conversations, and he surprised me. We'd covered the minute and hour hands and when I got to the second, he didn't interrupt and ask which one was the "first." Following most humorists who presume dogs think concretely (see Inside Voices 10/18/09), that might be expected. Instead, his face brightened and he said he knew why the second hand moved fastest. Fool that I am, I said, "You do? Why does it?."

And he replied, "Because, being second, it always has to try harder to keep up with the other two!" Now, why didn't I think of that?

(Image via Wikipedia)
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