I used to have a very simple clock, synced to the atomic clock at Rugby. It took a single AA battery, warned you when the battery was low, had a snooze, and basically it worked well. Unfortunately when Aimee was very young she broke it.

So I looked for a replacement and couldn’t really find one. In the end I found a Science Museum clock that was real overkill, it used batteries and mains and was rather big. I got it as a Father’s day present last year (but all that follows is my fault, I picked it). I ended up sending the following to the Science Museum:

This clock is appalling. It frequently fails to sync with the radio signal, in a position that worked for a similar clock for years, and having failed to sync resets the time incorrectly by minutes, hours, and sometimes whole days. When it attemps the sync – it does it midnight and 1 AM. During that time, and it takes a long time, the clock vanishes and is unusable. If that isn’t enough it beeps loudly for every button press, so setting the alarm with a partner asleep is a nightmare. You need to flick a switch to turn the alarm off in the morning, and it can be easy to forget to switch it back on. It is sadly a masterpiece of poor design. I hope other SM products I have bought as gifts have not been as poor.

To their credit I got this reply

Thank you for your email. I’m sorry to hear you have been disappointed by the performance of your clock.

Our buyer was very concerned to hear of your quality issues, and appreciates you taking the time to write to us with your comments. If you could send the item back to me at the address below, I will certainly replace it and contact the supplier for their feedback regarding any production problems. I am also happy to offer you a full refund, including any postage costs incurred. We take quality and safety issues very seriously, and do test our products thoroughly, but with 1200 different lines it is not always possible to monitor on an ongoing basis.

The buying team would like to pass on their apologies and hope that this experience does not deter you from visiting the museum and shop in the future.

Could be more accurate

I think I should take them up on this kind offer, since the photo attached shows that it synced three hours off the correct time last night :-(.

“Anyone can teach maths”

How many times I have heard this quote. I beg to differ. I was on my way home from work yesterday, listening to BBC radio 2. A woman was on making a music request.

The presenter (Stuart Maconie) asked her what she did for a living.

Woman: “I’m a teacher”
SM: “What do you teach?”
Woman: “Maths”
SM: “What were you teaching today?”
Woman: “Maths” (Duh)
SM: “No, I mean, was it quadratic equations or something?”
Woman: “Yes, actually…”

More chatter…

SM: “What’s the volume of a cone?”
Woman:$\frac{1}{3} \pi r^2$

More chatter…

SM: “What’s the volume of a sphere?”
Woman:$\frac{1}{3} \pi r^2$
SM: “They can’t both be that”

Yes, that’s right, they can’t both be that. That would be because both answers are totally wrong. Not only are they wrong, they are not even dimensionally correct. In other words, any formula that represents a volume has to essentially be a distance times a distance times a distance. Count them, three distances multiplied together. This idiot gave the formula for an area; so it’s not just the incorrect formulae that bothered me, or the fact that this was a maths teacher, but the fact that the formulae couldn’t possibly be correct. Anyone with some insight into mathematics would know that. I would have known better when I was 18. Now there are some excellent maths school teachers, doing the job for the love of it, because it’s certainly not for the pay, but there are some awful ones too, I know because:

  • I had one of them;
  • my daily job largely consists of undoing the damage they have wreaked on my students.

Of course, she was probably caught off guard, as if that’s an excuse for not knowing these formulae if you’re a professional mathematician, but in that case the correct answer was “I don’t remember”.


Ok, I feel a bit better now.

Oh, the correct formulae are of course $\frac{1}{3} \pi r^2 h$ for a cone (note, $r \times r \times h$, three distances) and $\frac{4}{3} \pi r^3$ (note, $r \times r \times r$, three distances).