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Digital Time Warps In Sicily Linked To U.S. Power Experiment?

By James Donahue

The people of Catania, Sicily, have been perplexed about a strange thing that has been happening to their digital clocks. In late June all of the electric digital clocks were found to be skipping forward from 15 to 20 minutes a day.

This has been creating a lot of confusion throughout the community because people find themselves waking earlier than normal and showing up for work and civic appoints too early.

Even stranger has been the fact that regular old-fashioned time pieces are not affected by this odd phenomenon. The grandfather clocks, wind-up pocket and wrist watches and other time pieces are keeping regular time like they always did.

Of course the so-called “experts” at the University of Catania’s electronics engineering department have been scratching their heads over this irregularity. They theorize that the digital jumps are in some way connected with the network of power generators that supply power throughout Sicily.

They may be quite right.

At about the same time this story broke, we noticed an interesting report that in the United States, the U.S. Naval Observatory, one of two official timekeeping agencies, is set to launch a yearlong experiment with America’s electric grid that they warn could create havoc with digital clocks, programmable coffeemakers, home and office security systems and even traffic lights.

The experiment, set to begin sometime this month is designed to allow more frequency variation on the grid. It appears that generated electricity does not travel down electric wires in the same steady frequency stream we all imagined. Consequently, power companies keep busy keeping the frequency of the current as even as possible.

The people behind this experiment say that allowing more frequency variation without correction may make the power supply “more reliable, save money and reduce what may be needless efforts.”

While the variations in power may be affecting the behavior of electronic timed gadgets, we are assured that important stuff like the GPS, computers or the official U.S. time will not be affected. Computers, televisions and other electronic equipment are expected to operate normally.

But be careful if you depend on a digital clock to wake you up in the morning. The alarm might go off either early or late.

“A lot of people are going to have things break and they’re not going to know why,” one government official said. The experiment will reveal just what devices will be affected, and whether power companies can get away with allowing frequency variations to remain unchecked.