Atomic Clocks Are Late in Leaping


Before Congress moved it up three weeks, daylight saving time was scheduled to kick in on April 1. I know because a pair of my clocks finally leapt forward an hour. They were my radio-controlled clocks, which promised to make the change on time, no matter when Congress decreed it would occur.

Nope. Didn't happen.

Amid the concerns that the federal change in time would disrupt computers and other appliances, I quietly chortled that my clocks would magically navigate the switch, prodded by an unseen atomic clock beaming the correct time from Colorado.


Turns out nobody was more surprised than the folks at La Crosse Technology, a Wisconsin company that made my clocks and specializes in models controlled by the atomic clock. So I called La Crosse customer service and was pleased to reach a well-prepared, U.S.-based agent. She offered to exchange them or to send me a travel alarm for each clock I was willing to keep and switch manually.

It seems that a German company that provided the software for a small portion of La Crosse's clocks–"analog" models with minute and hour hands–had programmed them to make the change on a pre-set date. It was an ill-advised effort to make them more accurate, particularly for clocks on the East Coast or elsewhere that might not detect the radio signal every day, says Allan McCormick, La Crosse's president. "They had all the best intentions, but it turned out a disaster."

Only for analog clocks, and even only for some of them. La Crosse writes the software for its digital products, which are the overwhelming bestsellers and made the switch as expected. But when it comes to clocks, I like the sweeping hands of analog, even if it means I'm stuck in history for a bit, and an hour behind for a few weeks.

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