My alarm clock died last week. It was a big, brass fucker, with two bells on top, the type that you wind up - radio alarm clocks are susceptible to power cuts, I don't trust the buggers. My one was fab, it had separate winders for the time and the alarm, so it wouldn't stop after the alarm had gone off, and would go on for ages. It always always always woke me up, it was so loud. It was the single loudest noise I think I have ever heard in my life, louder than Big Ben. It was so loud it would wake the dead, and then give them a fucking heart attack immediately afterward.

But last week, after 4 years of faithful service, it just died. Stopped working. Wouldn't unwind. So it's still fully wound up - I'm terrified it's going to ring like fuck or explode one day, so it's locked away in a cupboard. Sad, really - it has to live out its retirement in a permanent state of tension. I bought a new one today, it runs on a battery and has a button on top that's easy to switch off. Still has a loud mechanical ring, which is good. We'll see how it goes.

But the reason I'm noding this is because it reminded me of a story my sister Sara told me when I was a kid - I don't know if she made it up, or if there is a credited author, if there is I'm sure one of my fellow noders will be delighted to let me know. Here's the story:

In a small town there was a huge clock tower with a big bell. Every night at midnight, the bell would ring once, really really loudly. After many years, the whole town got used to it, and simply slept through it. One night though, something went wrong with the clock's workings - and when midnight came around, the bell didn't ring. When the bell failed to ring, every single person in the town woke up immediately, in shock, and said "What was that?"...

Alarm Clock is also the name of a mostly useless Desk Accessory in pre-System 7.5 Macs. A floating clock application, it was replaced when System 7.5 utilized a Superclock-like timepiece in the menu bar.

I'm opposed to general usage of these things on principle. If you're getting enough sleep, you should wake up on your own when you need to. However, many of us like to both stay up late and get up in time for work/school, so these devices persist.

Alarm clocks come in 3 varieties:

  • Electronic alarm clocks usually make a buzzing or beeping sound (or some other annoying yet simple waveform). Some incorporate radios and/or cd players, but these are less common and naturally cost more. These never seemed to wake me up consistently. They also tend forget everything whenever there's a power blip (better ones use a battery to prevent this).
  • Mechanical alarm clocks are the kind RalphyK mentioned. These use two bells and a metal knocker that alternately hits each bell rapidly and forcefully. These are immune to power outages, but do have to be wound frequently (usually once a day). These are generally pretty effective.
  • Software alarm clocks (stop laughing) are actually any of several tricks to get your computer to (for example) play a given sound at a given time. This requires that you have a computer and speakers within reasonable proximity to your sleeping arrangements (In my dorm room, my computer and speakers are under my lofted bed). In Windows XP, this can be done by setting the desired sound/song/whatever as a scheduled task for the desired time. There should be a way to do this in Linux, I just don't know how yet (/msg me if you do). Selection of the song is important. I use Fear Factory's Hurt Conveyor if I absolutely must be up at the time I set it for.

Note: I'm a very heavy sleeper. I've slept through six concurrent electronic alarm clocks before. I also nearly slept through a fire alarm in my dorm, despite there being a squawkbox just outside my room's door. Lighter sleepers will probably do fine with electronic alarms, but overkill isn't a bad thing.

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