Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Stopping Time - the Most Precise Measurements

Time measuring is nowadays very precise and this we take for granted. To some extend in some sense time has become natural. This is probably a safe assumption to say. Most people would regard time as a natural occurring ‘substance’ and the watch around their wrist as a piece of technology ‘measuring’ this phenomenon. In reality it might be the other way round. The little and in some cases beautifully crafted piece of engineering is actually inventing the time as it ticks.
Certainly time is not a natural phenomenon even though we have grown to think of it as fundamental it is little more than a social convention or a cultural agreement that has developed over the last century and managed to extend its importance. The first wave came with the industrial revolution and the synchronisation of working hours. Time has entered individual households and then accompanied each individual around the wrist. Even more so, time players ‘behind the scenes’ a crucial role without which not much would work in today’s highly timed society arrangements. From computer networks to complex shipping and transport schedules everything ticks. GPS as a technology for example is basically based on time sync. Each satellite has up to three atom clocks to keep track of the time and provide the most accurate time the receiver is checking its time against. Besides the visual field of images and photography, time is probably the second most important field of technology in our era.
There seem to be two big groups of time application, one side is the technology applications and the other is the consumer side of time keeping. An application that somehow sits in between the two is the discipline of time keeping for major sports events such as the Olympics. The determination of the accurate measurement of the new 100m sprint world record has both aspects, on one side it is completely technical and a question of applied engineering, but on the other hand it is highly emotional and directly why millions of people are drawn into the fascination of sport. The company Swiss Timing is delivering this crucial bit of the games since the 1932 Olympic games in Los Angeles.
It is all very accurate, on time and in sync. In this job one cannot make mistakes there is only one chance to tae the time of a potentially new world record and the time ticks. So backup systems are needed. If time fails what do you do what can you rely up on that compares. The other problem is the accurate stopping of the time in relation to the finishing of the race. Who crossed the line first when exactly was the line crossed? Surprisingly, but probably obvious the back up is a visual method. It is all captured on camera, the finishing as well as the backup start signal. Here gain the power of the ‘true image is striking. Decisions in the dimension of a thousandth of a second not only decide over who the winner is, but decides over a number of attached an most likely very valuable extension, from sponsors to advertisement and supporter, sport is about money. The truth and evidence are important and it seems that once more the visual is dominant.
It seems that most of these types of measuring the time are all very much exterior and so far athlete centered technologies are not jet accepted by the IOC. Positioning systems and RFID technology are in trials and most probably the future of time measuring.

Image by “Ciclos d’Racco Anti-Age”, Agency: ByVivas, Curitiba, Brazil, Creative Director: Marcos Steffens, Art Director: Ricardo Madeira Peroza, Copywriter: Fernando Baibich, Illustrator: Studio M - takn from adoholik

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