I am this Dang Clock

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I bought an old Westclox school clock for the shop right before our building’s 2018 Christmas party. Why did I buy a clock for a party? Read this.

When I received the old clock I plugged it in. Nothing happened. So I did the natural thing with old mechanisms. I made sure it wasn’t heating up, and I walked away.

About 30 minutes later, the clock was running. After some testing, I determined it was losing 10 minutes a day (this model has no way to adjust its run speed). So I did the natural thing with mechanical devices. I corrected the error every morning and let it run.

Nine months later, the clock is running perfectly. I haven’t touched it in a month.

Unlike many digital products, mechanical devices tend to work better the more you use them. The more I use my laptop, the more disk errors accumulate, the processor slows and eventually something crashes and I have to restart. With my old machines, the more they run, the better they run. Yes, there is maintenance (lubrication, of course). But a squirt of grease while the machine is running is all it takes to keep things moving.

I operate the about the same. Mornings are hard. When I teach at schools where they want you working at 7 a.m., I warn my students that my mental capacity hovers at 40 percent until 9 a.m.

I’ve always been this way, even when I was 16. Coffee helps. But being awake and moving is the only real solution. By 11 a.m. I will talk your ear off (about woodworking). And I’ll go until midnight – until I pull the plug on my brain.

I was reminded of all this today because I had to buy a turntable. My old 1970s-era BSR finally crapped out for good. I tried some of the new turntables that have flashy electronics but few mechanical amenities (you want me to change the belt to go from 45 to 33 rpm like on a drill press?). I have not been impressed.

So I went to the local used stereo store where I’ve been shopping for 23 years. I’m not an audiophile. Vinyl is just the way I prefer to consume music. So I told them I wanted to spend $200 or $300 on a turntable. And they said: That’s not possible.

All the vinyl enthusiasts have scooped up the old and excellent turntables.

“So what have you got?” I asked.

“An old BSR,” he replied. “It might last you another 30 years.”

It looked like my old BSR with its fake wood-grain stickers, but this one is a tad fancier as it has pitch control. An upgrade.

I paid the guy (it cost almost nothing) and took it home. I plugged it in and turned it on.

Nothing happened.

You know the drill. I walked away.

Now I am on my fourth album, fine tuning the tone arm so it will neither skip nor wear out my old records, some of which I’ve owned since 1986 (R.E.M.’s “Chronic Town” on blue vinyl for one).

I know that Britt Daniels of “Spoon” sings “Don’t buy the Realistic.” But honestly, in this day and age, you should probably buy the Realistic.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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29 Responses to I am this Dang Clock

  1. Oh, Realistic. I used to love getting the new Radio Shack catalog every year as a kid and dreaming as I looked through the Good, Better, Best stereo systems. I still remember the day when I asked for the new catalog and was told they weren’t printing them any more. It was like hearing that a friend had died.

    But I didn’t have a Realistic turntable. I bought a Dual CS508 around 1981 when I outgrew my all-in-one system. It is set up and still works although I don’t use it much. Every now and then I thumb through one of my boxes of albums (I can’t bring myself to part with them) and pull out something I haven’t heard in forever that never made it to CD and will never be within a parsec of a streaming service.

    One day I went nuts and bought a Nitty Gritty 1.5Fi record cleaning machine. I just looked at the current price and almost went into cardiac arrest. I hope it wasn’t anywhere near that much when I bought it. I’m thinking it got more expensive due to the vinyl enthusiast phenomenon that made all the old and excellent turntables disappear.

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  2. You could bought the thorens…

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  3. You coulda bought the thorens

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  4. Damian Paradis says:

    So how much of your workflow is broken up by flips of an album? Forced stepping back from your work? Clamping times based on X number of records? I’m not into records, but I very much approve!

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  5. Fred beck says:

    Just reboot the computer each day. No harder than adjusting a clock. Will it fix itself? No. But that’s part of it just like regular maintenance on any machine, blade, table.

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    • I’m not knocking digital tech. Just pointing out the difference. The more you use a digital device, the worse it performs. The more you use a mechanical device, the better it performs (during it’s regular lifetime).

      I never have to reboot my drill press. I have lost hours to reboots of Macs.

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      • Jason Baker says:

        In information technology we refer to the natural degradation of your computer as the system entropy. Like the universe, over time your system collapses into chaos. Opening political e-mails from crazy uncles may accelerate this journey.

        Liked by 2 people

  6. Peter says:

    Oh man… that song on the matador compilation was what turned me on to Spoon. Still my favorite Spoon channeling Frank Black almost a cover-song ever.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m sorry, but I don’t get the vinyl thing. I have a little nostalgia when I hear the needle drop, and later lift. And nice, big artwork. But I was very glad to move on from records, and never considered going back.

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    • I have a lot of records. Always have. I don’t think they are superior sound-wise (many are scratched or worn). Plus my ears are 51 years old. I just have always had a turntable like I have always had a pocketknife.

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    • mike says:

      I like vinyl for the same reason I like books. i am constantly reminded of what I have. I can flip through my records and pick an LP that I forgot I owned. When I stream, I constantly listen to the same albums and playlists. Also, I basically hate using computers and technology (and I am only 42). But I stare at a screen all day at work so when I get home I need to decompress from LCD screens and subliminally strobing fluorescent lights.

      I am glad I bought my turntables 10+ years ago when they were still cheap. I have a 70s Thorens 160, 70s Dual 1019 and a 90s fisher direct drive and don’t think I paid more than $80
      each. The Dual is the most mechanically complex and does suffer it is neglected. But I use it most days.

      I have recently upgrade to higher grade cartridges just because I like to tinker, and the cartridges cost more than the tables :).

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  8. rickdahlgren says:

    I keep thousands of songs on my phone which is also a broadcast quality remote truck in my pocket.

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  9. frank Hyatt says:

    Hear! Hear! The more I try to sync my communications, website and, security with my office and personnel the more I want to go back to pencil and paper

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  10. This phenomenon also occurs in humans’ bodies and minds, “move it or lose it.”

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Kapow says:

    I refurbished a 1952 Magnavox tube console (Colaro turntable; no radio) in our living room and experienced the same atrophy from under-use. Replaced the cartridge with a moving magnet Pickering so i could find styli. Its got this feature that measures the record size before it drops the arm, so regardless of size (10” for example) the armdrops on the edge. This measurement is mechanical somehow. Weird.

    When it worked, it was great, then it sat. Now it won’t stop cycling the auto start when I turn it on. It was funny, the 78 speed setting didn’t turn the table, and that was a beneficial feature because I added an 1/8” jack with a switch for convenience media. I could just turn it on 78, and plug in my ipod and get tube amplification through this antique piece of furniture.

    Not so anymore.

    I listen to records in my shop (Dual 1019). Dust is problematic, but not a show stopper. None of my records (or really anything I own from a potential buyer’s point of view) are collectible or not replaceable, so it’s fine.

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  12. flyandgrain says:

    About 15 years ago I bought a ’57 Cadillac. Against all intelligent reason my brother and I decided to drive it home (about 9 miles). Short drive, 30 MPH. The car smoked the whole way like a DDT Fogger. Excited about my new acquisition, I started playing with all of the buttons available in 1957. There is more than you think. The windows-worked. The power seat-worked. The radio-well. There was a pause. Now, I have a 1952 Pontiac, and I know about the pause. Typical pause on an old tube radio with new capacitors (its actually the capacitors you should change, not the tubes) takes 10 seconds to warm up. My brother and I waited in anticipation and after about 4 minutes we assumed the radio had succumb to either mud daubers, Texas heat, or simply age. Then, out of the ether can some voices, and sure enough for the rest of that trip home we were able to listen to the Astros game on the AM radio, smoking out cars behind us and praying for sufficient brakes.

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  13. Cole Haney says:

    Years ago when I was in the Army in Korea (1985-6), I was issued a “new” (actually, it was rebuilt) vehicle (M151A2, or what you might call a late-model Jeep). I could still smell the paint. There’s nothing like that new car smell, is there?

    The engine would frequently die. I’d have to crank it and could drive it again. Sometimes, it would just die as I drove past a South Korean Army post (I was in an area in the north that had LOTS), I’d have to turn off the ignition, then turn it on again, often causing a very loud bang; it was always lots of “fun” for all of us…

    Anyway, my platoon sergeant, who previously was a “Motor Sergeant” in another unit’s motor pool, told me to just tolerate it. “Son, sometimes you just have to let these things work themselves out.”

    After a couple of months, it ran fine. Go figure. “Pops” forgot more practical knowledge than I could ever learn.

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  14. franktiger says:

    This is off subject but cool, the clamper old tool restoration. An odd fix for broken tool handles. .https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=mRc7ZDRcgrQ

    Free plan download.

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  15. Al says:

    Unreliable yesterday is indestructible today. Funny how that works.

    Value/de-value engineering at its finest

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  16. Dumont69 says:

    For any of you DUAL guys that need service, probably one of the best is right here in Iowa http://www.fixmydual.com/
    I’ve got a Realistic LAB400 that works like new and PL-518 sitting backup.
    My dream table though is the unicorn I sold 15 years ago (like an idiot), my dad’s B&O Beogram 3000…..I’ll find a solid one some day.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. andrewhandmademindmade says:

    There seems to be such a large division in music consumers on whether they love vinyl or love the modern technology we have. I for one absolutely love it!

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  18. D.M. Jeffers says:

    Not having a fully functional brain until 9am speaks to me on a fundamental level, I wonder if its a night owl thing. There’s nothing I enjoy more than working in my shop into the wee hours of the morning.

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  19. Lex says:

    I’m not a real audiophile (i.e. i don’t have thousands or tens of thousands of dollars in gear) but i also don’t understand the digital/analog divide. I understand that the “warmth” of analog is often the result of imperfection and that’s fine. Sometimes the cold truth of digital music is fatiguing, especially if the file is compressed and the equipment it’s played through is anything better than mediocre.

    I do love tubes though and use a tube-buffered integrated amp in my shop. The Chinese are doing some amazing things with low/mid budget hi-fi equipment. And i hate compressed music files even though i like digital. If anyone is of the same opinion, i recommend paying for a Tidal subscription for streaming CD quality music (and some truly hi-rez potential). Inexpensive, but high quality Digital Analog Converters are now readily available. I love my Schiit audio outboard DAC. Paired with good speakers, an ipad, DAC, and chi-fi amp can produce fantastic sound. I’m also a fan of full range speakers so i’ve made my own cabinets.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. stpackard says:

    Posts like this one are the reason I’ve been reading this blog for around 8 years. Thanks Chris!

    Liked by 1 person

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