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Video: Making a 10,000-Year Clock
11/8/2012

The power design for the clock.
The power design for the clock.

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TJ McDermott
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10,000 years
TJ McDermott   11/8/2012 10:15:37 AM
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10,000 years is also the time span for which the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository was supposed to maintain disposal standards.

Yucca Mountain didn't really have any moving parts that had to last 10,000; it simply had to not decay and release radiation.  10,000 years for a moving mechanism is much, much more difficult.

bob from maine
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Re: 10,000 years
bob from maine   11/8/2012 11:24:27 AM
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I own 2 grandfather clocks, one with a completely wooden movement and the other with a hard-brass movement. The wood movement clock has been in continuous operation except for moving and cleaning since the early 1800's and analysis suggests this should be able to run indefinitely with proper maintenance. Unfortunately I can't say the same for the modern brass movement, though getting parts is obviously much easier. I don't think the longevity of a device is necessarily a reflection of the quality of the components as much as it is a reflection of the mindset of the designer and builder.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: 10,000 years
Rob Spiegel   11/8/2012 11:37:37 AM
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10,000 years is a long time, TJ. I'm not sure this clock can really last that long, especially since it might still need winding. Yet the idea of trying is quite interesting.

naperlou
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Long is interesting, but...
naperlou   11/8/2012 12:02:57 PM
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Rob, while long term thinking is interesting, it is not really important to many engineering tasks.  One of the issues is that basic technology and needs change over time.  Sometimes over a short period of time.  What the Long Now Foundation reminds me of is Japanese companies.  When I was at a large company they sent us through a marketing management course of study.  I was a product strategist at the time.  The instructors were professors from business schools in Europe.  Many of them also consulted on the side.  They were always talking about the hundred year strategies of the Japanese companies they worked with.  Where are those companies now?  Most of them are floundering becuase of a number of external factors. 

Another example of where creating a device or system for the long term that will not work is in computer controlled systems.  I did the long term transition plan for a large military project.  They had it right.  They recognized that the technology was going to change and we worked to try to project it and then to come up with strategies to ensure that the system evolved over time and that the new could work with the old while taking advantage of advances in technology.

Some projects and technologies just don't need to last a long time, and it might be better if they don't.  Take the Space Shuttle.  The computers are very old and not very powerful by today's standards.  You might recall that the crew started using regular laptops on flights becuase they had much more power.  The problem with a lot of NASA projects is that they are not used to long term use that can be modified.  The expense in the acceptance testing.  The Shuttle and the International Space Station (ISS) are examples of projects that differ from previous projects. 

Rob Spiegel
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Re: Long is interesting, but...
Rob Spiegel   11/8/2012 12:09:35 PM
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Good points, Naperlou. When I spoke with the team of engineers involved with the project, I asked why they building this clock. One of them quipped, "Because we're getting paid to do it." 

Even so, it's an interesting project.

Elizabeth M
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Definitely interesting...but will it actually last?
Elizabeth M   11/8/2012 12:26:19 PM
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Compelling project, to be sure, Rob! It's hard to wrap my mind around the idea of a clock that can last 10,000 years. Wonder what problems will arise over even a century or so given the changing conditions that will occur over that time, not to mention the fact that the designers will be loooooong gone at the theoretical end of the clock's life span. Kind of funny, too, that no one involved in the project will ever know if they were successful (ie, if the clock does indeed last 10,000 years). Interesting to ponder, though.

naperlou
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Re: Long is interesting, but...
naperlou   11/8/2012 12:42:26 PM
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Rob, that's the difference between an engineer and a scientist.  I started out in physics (high energy, to be precise).  We looked down on the engineers.  Frankly, there were no job prospects in High Energy Physics.  Even the majority of my professors and graduate students ended up programming.  That helped me get a job and I eventually got a Computer Science degree.  I also have worked as a Systems Engineer for an aerospace company.  What I eventually was that engineering is a creative endeavour.  Pure science basically involves understanding what is.  Of course, it takes lots of engineering to create the devices used to obtain that understanding. 

Rob Spiegel
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Re: Definitely interesting...but will it actually last?
Rob Spiegel   11/8/2012 12:56:17 PM
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I agree, Elizabeth. The whole point of this project -- and other clock and library projects developed by the Long Now Foundation -- is to get people thinking about the future. Founder Danny Hillis was prompted to create the foundation because he thought people were not thinking enough about the future.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: Long is interesting, but...
Rob Spiegel   11/8/2012 2:48:56 PM
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Naperlou, I would imagine this project must involve both engineering and science. They will certainly need to determine what the materials might go through over 10,000 years. That study, I think, would be more a matter of physics than engineering.

Charles Murray
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Re: Definitely interesting...but will it actually last?
Charles Murray   11/8/2012 6:33:04 PM
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Maybe I missed it, Rob, but is there any sense of how accurate its timekeeping will be? If it's off just one second per year, it could be inaccurate by two hours and 47 minutes at the end of 10,000 years. If it's off one minute per year, it could be inaccurate by more than a week after 10,000 years.  

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