The Power Grid and the Need for a Master Clock Timing System

USA night from space from NASA

The US and southern Canada are lit up at night using power like never before to extend their days. All the major cities and thousands of smaller ones create a fascinating grid of light tied together by highways. Like a galaxy, the illusion of less distance between light sources increases with distance.

The USA from Space
From the point-of-view of a NASA satellite, the USA at night traces the pattern of electric lights from coast to coast: brighter in the cities, darker in the deserts and tundra. This is the power grid, keeping us all illuminated, protected and connected. Here it’s easy to see: where the people are power follows.

(By the way, that’s our Masterclock office in the St. Louis/St. Charles bright spot midway between ‘big’ Chicago and ‘little’ Memphis.)

The ‘Future’ and the Past in Darkness
Whenever Hollywood wants to show its audience the end of the world, it shuts off the lights in vast regions over the USA. This, as every movie-goer knows, signals the fall of civilization as we know it. Such a scenario has already happened in small patches across the USA and elsewhere, so its not too farfetched. Due to its lack of electrical lighting infrastructure, North Korea is also dark every night (Fig. 2).

North Korea has no lights.

North Korea has no lights. Surrounding countries light up their outlines and major highways, but in North Korea, they’re not wasting any electricity. South Korea looks like an island here.

Let’s remember, it was only about three hundred years ago that the North American continent was dark every night, lit up only by feeble campfires, lightning and occasional moonlight. Look how far we’ve come in this relatively recent ‘Golden Age’ of power generation!

The Power Grid Relies on Time Synchronization
You might think the power grid just produced gobs of power and people used what they wanted whenever they wanted to, like flipping on a light switch. But the power grid is a little more complex than that.

Power generators, whether they are hydrodynamic dams, nuclear plants, coal burning plants or solar cell farms, have to match their power generation to their transmission capability (which is usually a constant) AND the demand on the other end (which usually varies). So when people go to bed at night and turn off their lights and TV sets, the demand lessens and power generation must be reduced in lockstep. Conversely, the worst-case scenario is in the heat of summer, when air conditioners are running at full blast in every home and office. At such times the power grid reaches its structural limits.

Power outages were more common in the past.
Today we have safeguards and procedures in place based on the lessons learned from those mishaps. At all times the entire power system relies on time synchronization to match, switch and otherwise follow power demand patterns with just enough – but not too much – power generation.

Synchronization problems can lead to catastrophic failures.
The massive August 2003 blackout in the eastern regions of the United States and Canada, for example, was at least partially caused by synchronization failures.That’s why today every power plant is synchronized to one precise time delivered by orbiting GPS satellites. In this way, when one portion of the grid needs more power it can get precisely the right amount at precisely the right time.

The timing requirements of the power industry vary, largely because the entire system has evolved over many years. The older parts were designed using technologies that predated GPS satellites and the precise synchronization they offer.

Since electrical energy must be used as it is generated, generation must be constantly balanced with load. Moreover, the alternating current produced by every generator must be kept in approximate phase with every other generator. That’s quite a task.

Generation control requires time synchronization of about 10 milliseconds. Such precision is required by event and fault recorders that supply information used to correct problems in the grid and improve operation.

Stability control prevents generator shutdown, loss of load and separation of the power grid. To avoid these problems requires synchronization to about 46 microseconds (±1° phase angle at 60 Hz). Networked controls have requirements one order of magnitude lower, or to 4.6 microseconds (±0.1° phase angle at 60 Hz).

power linesTraveling wave fault locators find faults in the power grid by timing waveforms that travel down power lines at velocities near the speed of light. Because the high voltage towers are spaced about 300 meters apart, the timing requirement is 1 microsecond (μs) or the period of a 300 meter wavelength. Newer measurement techniques, such as synchronized phasor measurements, require time synchronization to Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) to within 1 μs, which corresponds to a phase angle accuracy of 0.022 ° for a 60 Hz system. A local time reference must be applied to each phasor measurement unit, and GPS is currently the only system that can meet these requirements.

Masterclock’s Role in the Power Grid
Worldwide and domestically, several power producers listed here and here have purchased Masterclock products for their facilities. Taking references from GPS antennas, these units set a precise time for all the other structures and machines in the station, ensuring synchronization to the most precise tolerances.

When Power is the Synch Signal
For home use, the 60 Hz frequency is used as the resonator for low-priced electric clocks and timers that lack quartz oscillators. The legally allowable tolerance for the 60 Hz frequency is only ±0.02 Hz, or 0.033 %, but under normal operating conditions the actual tolerance is much tighter. As noted in an earlier post, such personal bedside clocks are not on Masterclocks’ product list. We’re working at a higher level of precision.

Time is important. That’s why we’re in this business.

This blog is brought to you by Masterclock, Inc. We design, build and sell a large catalog of professional-quality digital and analog clocks, master clocks, network clocks, time code clocks, time code generators and other synchronized time devices for precise applications at an affordable price.

If you have any questions about time, GPS, digital clocks or any other subject you’d like to know more about, sent them to us. We’ll be happy to reply directly and post answers.

Come visit us at www.masterclock.com!

Data for this article is derived from a freely available pdf file, Legal and Technical Measurement, Requirements for Time and Frequency by Michael A. Lombardi of the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

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Time in and Around Airports

Masterclock airport clock
You have a plane to catch
.
It’s leaving precisely at 12:55 pm. You look up as you race for Concourse C. Thankfully, there’s a Masterclock analog clock tied into the airport terminal’s computer system. In fact, every airport clock and time keeping device is tied into this centralized system. And they are all synchronized to the split second, getting their time reference from atomic clocks aboard orbitting GPS satellites. You can’t get more precise synchronized time than that!

No worries.
You still have time to make your plane. You can be confident that airport time is your time, even when storms block GPS signals. Whenever that happens, internal crystal oscillators take over, providing the “beat” to keep those second hands moving without missing a millisecond.

And that goes double for Air Traffic Control.
They’re not trying to get to a plane. They’re trying to find a precise time slot for every plane to use their runways and airspace — while keeping a very tight schedule. It’s hectic up there with split-second decisions and communications being called out in a constant stream. Thankfully, with full synchronization, it’s all as if everyone was looking at the same clock. So they know when to turn, when to descend and when to leave the gate.

And that goes for airports around the world. Masterclock digital clocks are in several of these control towers in the USA, throughout Canada, and around the world, making sure that everyone, and especially every pilot and air traffic controller, are watching those seconds and minutes tick off in precise lock step.

All are keyed into UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) based on the Prime Meridian in Greenwich, England. Airplanes pass through so many Time Zones every time they fly that one global time standard is the only way to make sure they’re all on precisely the same time. And that’s also why all pilots and control towers communicate in English. One standard solves so many problems.

Time is important. That’s why we’re in this business.

This blog is brought to you by Masterclock, Inc. We design, build and sell a large catalog of professional-quality digital and analog clocks, master clocks, network clocks, time code clocks, time code generators and other synchronized time devices for precise applications at an affordable price.

If you have any questions about time, GPS, digital clocks or any other subject you’d like to know more about, sent them to us. We’ll be happy to reply directly and post answers.

Come visit us at www.masterclock.com!

Accurate Time: Essential to Law Enforcement

Radar gun

From the Juvenile Courts and Radar Guns,
to 911 calls and the of broadcasting of Court TV (now Tru TV), precise synchronized time is essential for the law enforcement and the judicial systems.

On the other hand, it should be noted that sometimes the police will take whatever they can get, as evidenced by the far less precise chronologies derived from the likes of insects and their maggots on corpses (often shown in the various CSI TV shows).

Lesson learned: Precision is always relative to the task at hand.

GPS Tracking — Increasingly in the News
Where were you during the crime? And where are you now? These are the two most pressing questions faced by crime scene detectives when dealing with suspects. GPS is typically used to deliver precise location to help law enforcement officials find their GPS tracking devices, sometimes covertly hidden in suspects’ vehicles and contraband.

We use the same system to provide precise time to Masterclock devices.

Radar Gun Calibration
Oscillating quartz and higher quality rubidium crystals regulate time in most Masterclock devices. Along the same lines, did you know that an oscillating tuning fork stands in for a speeding vehicle in radar gun calibration tests? Most radar guns are allowed a frequency uncertainty of 0.1%, which translates to half a mile per hour at 50mph. As we all know, tickets are seldom issued unless the speed is exceeded by several miles per hour, often 10% or more of the posted speed limit. So if you’re clocked speeding, you can’t blame the gun.

Time Stamping — Essential to the Legal Process
Nowadays virtually everything has a time stamp on it. Every email. Every traffic ticket. Every arrest warrant. Certainly every document that passes through a computer has a time stamp on it. That includes every legal document. That time stamp comes from a computer, which typically isn’t very precise on its own.

So, when an entire computer system needs to be more precise and synchronized, then it’s time to install a precision timing system, like the ones available at Masterclock, Inc. With every clock and device wired  to and controlled by a keyboard and a software app, clocks can receive time signals from GPS satellites to maintain precise synchronization — including all adjustments for Daylight Savings Time and Leap Seconds — automatically.

Doesn’t law enforcement have better things to do than to manually adjust their clocks back and forth twice a year? We think so.

911 Call Centers
With calls coming in at all hours, 911 call centers need accurate time. Often the crime is in progress or an accident has just occurred. Time-stamped documents need to be generated immediately so, as time goes by, officers, lawyers and judges, in turn, can reconstruct the incident and reexamine the facts as stated in those documents to assess guilt, fines and punishment.

Time is important. That’s why we’re in this business.

This blog is brought to you by Masterclock, Inc.
We design, build and sell a large catalog of professional-quality digital and analog clocks, master clocks, network clocks, time code clocks, time code generators and other synchronized time devices for precise applications at an affordable price.

If you have any questions
about time, GPS, digital clocks or any other subject you’d like to know more about, sent them to us. We’ll be happy to reply directly.

Come visit us at www.masterclock.com to see what we can do for you!

The Countdown Clock. It’s Not Just for NASA Anymore!

Masterclock - Apollo 17 count down and blast-offEver since the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo launches of the 1960s we’ve gotten a thrill from the 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 — BLASTOFF! countdown series. Largely forgotten, of course, is the count-up series that begins immediately thereafter, chronicling the entire spaceflight.

RC500 from Masterclock.

The C500 from Masterclock, a remote countdown, countup clock controller

Taking a Cue From NASA…
And acknowledging the need in various applications for countdowns and countups, Masterclock created the RC500, a countdown, countup clock controller.

The Wall Street Journal
recently reported that New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg did not have time for dillydallying and wanted to shorten office meetings. So he ordered the installation of countup clocks in meeting rooms to make staffers mindful of how much time they are spending away from their productive assignments. The Mayor’s press secretary was quoted as saying, “We’re not here to sit around and meet with each other—we’re here to get things done.” Since those countup clocks have been installed, meeting times have shortened an average of 20%, according to the press secretary.

Earlier the Mayor installed countdown clocks at City Hall and elsewhere. These tracked the days, hours and minutes until his term expired, with the message, “Make every day count.” Staffers report they are pleased that the clocks are there. Everyone acknowledges that a wasted minute can never be retrieved.

The Stock Market and Other Markets
Marketers have been buying our clock controllers to set a countdown to the end of the day of trading. Sales managers set countdown clocks for sales goal deadlines. Then there are those who use our controllers to time science applications or industrial processes (drying, setting, cooling, etc.) Our controllers can be used in sporting events (how long to the next event), broadcasts (how long before the news feed has to terminate?) and of course, to bring us full circle, NASA has digital clocks in almost every building chronicling local time, UTC time and time until the next launch.

Time is important. That’s why we’re in this business.

This blog is brought to you by Masterclock, Inc. We design, build and sell a large catalog of professional-quality digital and analog clocks, master clocks, network clocks, time code clocks, time code generators and other synchronized time devices for precise applications at an affordable price.

If you have any questions about time, GPS, digital clocks or any other subject you’d like to know more about, sent them to us. We’ll be happy to reply directly and post answers.

Come visit us at www.masterclock.com!

What We Do Not Make

Alarm clock

This is the most famous digital clock of all, a Panasonic tabletop model from the movie, “Groundhog Day,” starring Bill Murray as the hapless weatherman who kept waking up on the same day. Masterclock does not make this sort of digital clock, one that gets synced by the AC frequency coming out of the wall socket. No, our clocks are typically referenced to GPS satellites for the ultimate in sync and precision.

If you’re looking for a cute little digital clock for your night stand,
you may have come to the wrong place — but stick around, we’ll take you to the next level in time keeping.

Masterclock Inc. does not make bedside alarm clocks, wristwatches or any other such personal time-keeping devices. Sorry.

Howerver, we DO make digital clocks of professional quality. Ours are referenced to GPS satellites.In this modern world, some organizations need that level of professional precision and synchronization in their time keeping instruments.

A GPS satellite
Every GPS satellite carries an atomic clock that helps regulate time for the entire world. Our clocks and devices listen for these signals with special antennas to provide you with the most precise time available for digital clocks and other devices.

We also make traditional analog clocks, the kind you remember in high school hanging on the wall behind the teacher. But here again, ours are of professional quality. They, too, are linked to atomic clocks aboard GPS satellites. They can also be controlled, as a group or individually, from the comfort of an office computer, rather than having to get out and attend to each one individually, particularly irksome during those twice-a-year trips to reset Daylight Saving(s) Time.

Our other time keeping systems are synchronized to precision Time Codes, like IRIG (for the military) and SMPTE (for the broadcast and movie-making industries).

Some of our devices translate one type of signal  to another. Often several devices are set in series between the satellite receiver and the display units. These distribute and amplify Time Code to any number of clocks, all controlled by a central software application so one person at a keyboard can ‘see’ on screen what each clock is doing without having to actually go out and examine each one.That is indeed a far cry from a nightstand alarm clock.

Time is important. That’s why we’re in this business.

This blog is brought to you by Masterclock, Inc. We design, build and sell a large catalog of professional-quality digital and analog clocks, master clocks, network clocks, time code clocks, time code generators and other synchronized time devices for precise applications at an affordable price.

If you have any questions about time, GPS, digital clocks or any other subject you’d like to know more about, sent them to us. We’ll be happy to reply directly.

Come visit us at www.masterclock.com to see what we can do for you!

The 50th Anniversary of the First Visible Light LED

Masterclock digital clocks and a 30" analog clock

Several Masterclock digital clocks (at right) and a 30″ analog clock (at left) on a rack ready for display at the next electronics convention.

The LED (light emitting diode) has been around for 50 years. And for most of those years they’ve been lighting up Masterclock digital clocks (see image at left).

The University of Illinois recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of the invention of the visible spectrum LED and its inventor, Professor Nick Holonyak Jr.

Top scientists from around the world paid homage to Dr. Holonyak recently in a symposium held October 24 and 25, 2012 at the Urbana-Champaign campus of the University of Illinois where the professor has been since 1963. This is only the latest of many honors Dr. Holonyak has earned in his career.

Back in 1962…
Within two decades after the invention of the transistor in 1947,  LEDs were being produced, but they were only capable of emitting infrared light, otherwise known as invisible heat. In 1962 young Holonyak, then working for a General Electric research lab in New York state and just out of grad school, mixed gallium arsenide and gallium phosphide to create the first diode that could produce visible light. Unfortunately, the practical benefits of his invention had to wait several years before they were more fully appreciated and commercially available.

Holonyak calls the LED the “ultimate lamp.”
The electrical current itself generates light, rather than heating a filament, making the LED fast, efficient and affordable. At first the only color was red. Today, LEDs come in every color and can be found in low-tech and hi-tech products, serving the world and lighting up kids’ toys. In the February 1963 issue of Reader’s Digest Holonyak predicted that LEDs would someday replace the incandescent light bulb of Thomas Edison. Unfortunately it took fifty years for that idea to catch on.

Pulsar Watch, ca. 1972,

Pulsar Watch, ca. 1972, now worth more than 10x its original price of $2,100.

LEDs and Time-Keeping
In 1972 watch manufacturer, Pulsar, introduced the first LED watch. Dubbed the Time Computer, the watch was said to be accurate to within 60 seconds a year. It cost $2,100 at the time. because it was the first to utilize LED technology in a small package and it relied on electronics to tell the time. Unfortunately, all this new technology devoured battery-life, which is why the watch required the wearer to press a button to see the time only when he needed to.Red
The first LEDs were red. This wasn’t a choice.  Blame it on physics. LEDs are created by layering semiconductor crystals on a tiny wafer. As layers are added, dopants (trace impurities) are also added to  color the LED. Gallium arsenide phosphide was the original dopant and it creates a natural red color when electrified.

New processes and new elements create all the colors of the rainbow in today’s LEDs.

Blue
In 1993 Shuji Nakamura invented the bright blue LED using gallium nitride.

White
Blue LEDs coated with yellow phosphors provide white light. This was also a Nakamura invention.

A Mastercock TCDS8646 with a row of red LED digits over a row of smaller amber LEDs.

A Mastercock TCDS8646 digital display with a row of red LED digits over a row of smaller amber LEDs.

Masterclock designs and makes digital clocks in a wide variety of sizes and types using red, green, blue and yellow digits. You can mix and match them in some of our larger clocks. They portray the day, date, the day of the year and can even perform countdowns and provide alphanumeric messages.

If you’d like to learn more, come visit us soon at www.masterclock.com

Time is important. That’s why we’re in this business.

This blog is brought to you by Masterclock, Inc. We design, build and sell a large catalog of professional-quality digital and analog clocks, master clocks, network clocks, time code clocks, time code generators and other synchronized time devices for precise applications at an affordable price.

If you have any questions about time, GPS, digital clocks or any other subject you’d like to know more about, sent them to us. We’ll be happy to reply directly and post answers.

Come visit us at www.masterclock.com!

A Note from Hollywood: The Clapperboard and SMPTE

This is a modern SMPTE clapperboard

This is a modern SMPTE clapperboard with synced TIme Code. Here we’re about 18 and a half seconds into the production. We’re looking at frame #13 of 30 per second in the last column. That frame rate is too fast for the human eye to follow, so Masterclock clocks never show the frames, even though many of our clocks are referenced to the SMPTE frame rate.

Rolling. Speed. Take One. [SNAP] And… Action!
The clapperboard is a staple of Hollywood. In the old days, when movies were shot on film and the sound was captured on tape, a simple snap of the clapperboard and a chalked out note on its face were the ways moviemakers synced sound with picture back in the editing room.

Traditional clapperboards consisted of a wooden slate and a hinged clapstick attached to the top of the slate. Today, smart slates, or digi-slates, are electronic SMPTE Time Code versions with LED numbers (shown above). They mark the hour, minute, second and frame (1-30) of a production so lip-sync editing has never been more precise.

30 Frames per Second
If you ever get a chance to see one of these SMPTE clapperboards in action, you’ll notice the human eye cannot follow the speedy rounds of thirty frames each second. It goes by in a blur. But the camera, shooting each picture at 1/30th of a second sees these frames clearly and in order. Then again, high speed cameras (that project in slow motion) see each number on the clapperboard for several frames before the next one appears. It’s all a matter of your time frame.

For today’s blog we’re interested in SMPTE Time Code as it pertains to the digital clocks and analog clocks produced by Masterclock that rely on Time Code for their sync reference.

SMPTE Time Code
is a set of standards to label individual frames (1 through 30 for each second of video) with a Time Code defined by the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (or SMPTE for short).

Time Codes provide an embedded time reference for editing, synchronization and identification. The invention of Time Code made modern videotape editing possible, and is still in use in today’s digital cameras. Those who buy Masterclock clocks with a Time Code (SMPTE or IRIG) reference generally use them in the broadcast industry where everything is edited by the second and the frame. Others who buy Time Code products may be locked into legacy systems built before the 1990s when NTP (Network Time {Protocol) and GPS satellite reference systems became more available and popular.

NTP is the Latest Thing. 
The competing system, NTP (Network Time Protocol) arrived with the Internet and it is growing in popularity. NTP utilizes standard Ethernet wiring to synchronize computers, clocks and other network devices to a NTP reference server, typically ultimately synced to atomic clocks aboard GPS satellites. Besides the increased accuracy, another benefit to NTP is the same wire that carries the signal can also carry the power needed to run the clock, so wiring is simplified. This is called PoE (Power over Ethernet) and it is also becoming more popular.

No matter what your precise synchronization needs are, Masterclock is as close as our website. Let us know if we can help you with your upcoming projects.

Time is important. That’s why we’re in this business.

This blog is brought to you by Masterclock, Inc. We design, build and sell a large catalog of professional-quality digital and analog clocks, master clocks, network clocks, time code clocks, time code generators and other synchronized time devices for precise applications at an affordable price.

If you have any questions about time, GPS, digital clocks or any other subject you’d like to know more about, sent them to us. We’ll be happy to reply directly and post answers.

Come visit us at www.masterclock.com!