Some people regard clocks – you know, those things you mount on the wall or place on your bedside table – as quaint relics of our analogue heritage. Fair enough. But clocks are not just about displaying and recording the inexorable passage of time. Whereas the vast majority emanate from impersonal production lines, some are beautifully designed and finely engineered machines that reflect the passion (and occasionally the whimsy) of their creators.
Unlike the one in my office, pictured below. Bought in America a few years ago, it features a number of revolving plastic gears that look vaguely interesting but serve no real purpose. If anyone asks about it (if they don’t, the conversation is steered ever so subtly in the right direction), I refer self-deprecatingly to my appreciation of “industrial chic”. The same explanation covers the brass model lawnmower, the split-window VW Beetle, the two infrared-controlled miniature helicopters, the talking George Bush doll and the plastic Terminator T-800 robot.
But we digress. It’s time to meet Jacques Arzul, master horologist (see “About time”, page 44). This intense, meticulous craftsman is a self-professed “clock forensics expert” whose investigative instincts shift into high gear when he’s confronted with a missing part. And he takes it personally when he encounters evidence of abuse.
As he told PM’s Sean Woods: “My job is more about fixing the abuse the clocks… have been subjected to over time than overhauling and maintaining them. For me, it’s a tragedy that these clocks, made by hand with so much love and dedication, get neglected this way.”
Somewhat embarrassingly, horological abuse has featured at least once in my past. Many years ago, intent on “freezing” an especially important moment in my life, I whipped off my wristwatch and drove a 15 cm nail through it. The perforated watch, together with a plank from the coffee table to which it had become attached, was eventually displayed on my lounge wall without explanation (hey, I was young).
What’s really worrying is that when people like Arzul finally hang up their tools, there won’t be anyone to replace them – as evidenced by the fact that he’s battling to find a suitable apprentice to follow in his fastidious footsteps. Here’s hoping he succeeds.
Read PM on your computer:
Do you know that Popular Mechanics magazine is now available in digital format at only R90 for 12 months’ access? That’s a formidable 50% discount on the cover price! Visit www.magsathome.co.za to subscribe (existing print subscribers can claim their digital version FREE by e-mailing email@example.com with their request, including their e-mail address). Our digizine is not yet iPad-compatible, but we’re working on it.
And now for something completely different.
Have you ever played with QR Codes? It's the new Big Thing, and it's actually a lot of fun. In essence, it's a printed or screen-displayed barcode that is scanned with the camera on your Web-enabled smartphone or tablet. When the device's software (see link below) reads the code, it acts like a "click-through" to the relevant Web page. QR (quick response) Codes are used primarily to transmit small bits of data such as URLs and text messages. Here's how it works:
Use your smartphone to download the necessary software from BeeTagg at http://get.beetagg.com. Install, then launch the application.
Select "scan", and the phone's camera will be activated automatically. Position the phone so that the graphic (see page 29 of PM’s June issue) fits inside the picture frame and hold it steady while the software is activated. (On some phones, such as the BlackBerry, you may need to take a picture of the graphic.)
Depending on the handset used, this will prompt you to "Open link" or "Go to Web". Follow the prompt to access the Virgin Galactic video on PM's Mobisite. Download the video to your phone, then watch it. It's as easy as that.
Get your hands on a copy of PM's June 2011 issue – on sale on 23 May – to find out how we'll travel to space and to try out QR codes, using the video showing the Virgin Galactic space travel experience.
– Alan Duggan (firstname.lastname@example.org)