Of all the gadgets and gizmos that I’ve got lying around my apartment these days, I think the oldest one I have might be the old clock radio in my bedroom. It originally resided in the bedroom I shared with my brothers while I was growing up, and I don’t recall exactly when it was purchased, but I can distinctly remember using it to listen to radio coverage of the returns on election day in 1996 (the first one I was old enough to vote in), and I know it was around for at least a few years before that. It is by no means pretty (back in those days, none of them were,) and the layer of dust doesn’t help that either, but a clock radio is one of those things that you rarely give a second thought to until the power goes out and you need to reset the time. You expect it to tell time, wake you up when you set the alarms, and listen to the radio, and as long as it does all of those, why bother replacing it? For that matter, as long as it keeps accurate time, that’s enough for most people. I can’t remember the last time I used the alarms, or even the radio for that matter. (And yes, I know I need to dust. I’ll take care of it sometime this year. Just don’t ask how the rest of the place looks right now…)
Last Summer, when I was out on a typical Saturday morning garage sale run (something I do quite often during the Summer,) I happened to come across a clock radio identical to mine. On one hand, it was only a buck, and even though the old one has kept going for this long, it is not without its issues (the snooz(sic) button no longer works,) so why not keep a spare around just in case something happens to the old one? On the other hand, it’s not like there is any particular reason why I would actually want another clock radio like the one I have already. To be blunt, even in the context of late 80s/early 90s design the clock was never all that pretty, and adding another 16+ years worth of use certainly hasn’t done anything to change that. Nonetheless, partly due to the low price (notwithstanding the fact that an attitude like that will eventually get you a house packed to the rafters with stuff you’ll never use) and partially for the novelty of finding another example of something that’s been around for that long, I ended up buying it. It turned out that the snooze button (just because the clock itself misspells it doesn’t mean that I have to) worked just fine on the “new” one, so that one took over timekeeping duties in the room and the old one was relegated to the closet.
Fast forward to last night, when as I prepared to go to bed I noticed that for some reason the clock was just sitting on 12:00. Further investigation revealed that the clock seemed to be “ticking” (when you press the button, you can see the seconds ticking by) and could be set as usual, but for some reason the current time shown on the display would just stay on wherever it happened to have been set. Since the primary purpose of this particular clock is to be able to look up from the bed and see what time it is, this tends to make it rather useless. Fortunately, the old clock remained in the closet, which meant that at roughly 3:30 in the morning last night I was able to swap out the malfunctioning clock for an identical spare. To be honest, I’m not sure if this means that I wasted a buck on the duplicate clock radio (after all, it was the “new” one that ended up failing) or if I was going to have a clock radio fail on me either way, and buying the second one saved me from some sort of temporal crisis. Then again, since I only use the this as a clock anyway this isn’t exactly a life-or-death situation.
For that matter, I don’t even use the alarms on this clock anymore. In general, the alarms in alarm clocks like these are good at getting you to wake up, but the alarm sounds generated by most alarm clocks are about as pleasant as listening to a vomiting cat scraping its claws on a chalkboard. You get the suspicion that years of intensive research has gone into the subject to create a noise that is just grating enough to ensure that you’re too annoyed to get back to sleep, but not quite enough that you throw the alarm clock through the nearest window. Instead, I use the alarm function on my old Dell Axim X5 PocketPC to wake me up in the morning. Compared to the alarm clocks discussed above this particular device is far newer, but at this point even the Axim is five years old. It was long ago replaced by my X50v (and later my Sprint PPC-6700) for everyday PDA use, but this particular device still sees virtually daily use as my alarm clock and as an e-book reader. Instead of the aforementioned horrible wake-up noises,. I get to use whatever sound I want as the alarm (currently, and for quite a while now, I use the Roadrunner’s “Beep Beep” sound from the cartoons,) and I get a lot more flexibility with setting alarms than I would from using the alarm clock, being able to set specific times on specific days. There’s just one drawback to this approach:
Rather than having a plain old snooze button, the alarm function in PPC2003 gives you a whole laundry list of different snooze settings. There’s the ever popular 5 minute setting, but you also get 10, 15, and 30 minutes, then 1 hour, 2 hours and so on. I’m pretty sure if you scrolled down the list far enough, you’d probably find a Rip Van Winkle option on there somewhere. It’s great for E-book reading, even better for other PDA functions, not so great for actually getting you to wake up in the morning. Even with all this fancy (if not particularly new) technology, it’s still no replacement for an old-fashioned clock when all you’re looking for is the time. Just don’t count on that always being there when you need it…