An Unproven Hypothesis about Kitchen Clocks

Six tornadoes hit the Ottawa-Gatineau region on Friday, the most powerful being an EF-3. As a result power was lost for 180,000 homes in the Ottawa region, and even as I write this Tuesday evening Hydro Ottawa reports there are still homes out of power. One of the major problems was the impact of damage to the Merivale transformer station, one of two major stations taking power from the provincial grid, and connecting it to the city grid.

Anyhow. That was a long intro to a short story about our kitchen clocks.

So we got our power back early Saturday (an outage of only about 14 hours). Andrea set the clocks in the kitchen to her cellphone at that point. This afternoon, I was making some lunch, and I noticed that weirdly my kitchen clocks (microwave and stove) were both running ten minutes slow.

I think I have a hypothesis as to why. I have no evidence for this! I just think it’s a cool hypothesis.

It’s based on some stuff I learned about a power grid dispute in Europe between Serbia and Kosovo. From what I understand of that situation (and my limited understanding of power grids), demand applied to an AC power grid acts sort of like resistance on a bicycle wheel. So long as you have enough power being applied to the wheel, you can keep it spinning at the same pace, but if you don’t have enough power the wheel slows down.

In the case of a power grid, the ‘speed’ of the wheel is the frequency of the grid (50hz in Europe, and 60hz in North America).

When Serbian power plants were not balancing the demand from Kosovo, this caused the frequency of the entire grid in Europe to drop, enough to cause noticeable skew to clocks that use the grid frequency to keep time.

My thinking is that what was happening in Ottawa over the weekend is that we got power back, but there wasn’t enough power in the grid to maintain a full 60hz AC signal. Here’s some back-of-the-envelope math: If we lost 10 minutes over three days lets say (Saturday noon to Tuesday noon), then that would be be a loss of only 10 x 60 x 60 (36,000) cycles out of the expected 3 x 24 x 60 x 60 x 60 (15,552,000) cycles, a skew of only 0.02%, which I think would be within the allowable range (there are cutoff frequencies where things will be disconnected from the grid to prevent damage).

And that was my random speculation about clocks for the day.

Edit: I think maybe if we could find historical frequency data for Hydro Ottawa, similar to what Swiss Grid provides here, but over the period of time from the storm, we could prove my hypothesis.

A Random Music Post

I’ve been all weird about blogging lately, because i have a bunch of posts ideas that have been blocking me. Posts too difficult to write because I’m not able to articulate my feelings on the topics sufficiently (ugh, one of them is Twitter, of course 😒).

Anyhow: Let’s just make this a music post, to unbreak the log jam. Here’s some stuff I’ve been listening to and loving.

Gabriel Garzón-Montano

I have been loving Gabriel’s output for a few months now. Golden Wings was a huge hit for me for a couple of straight weeks, and his album Jardín is also full of great stuff. The play counts on these youtube videos are criminally low.

Pan Amsterdam

What a fascinating old-school rap style. Great album.

Devon Lamarr Organ Trio

I have watched this live performance multiple times, along with another from The True Loves. What a fun band (and the albums are great too)


I feel like you don’t hear so much jazz flute these days, so Tenderlonious’s whole album The Shakedown is worth listening to.

Jeremy Dutcher

Jeremy Dutcher’s album Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa recently won the Polaris prize. My understanding is that he learned songs of his ancestors recorded on wax cylinders, and added music. The result is incredible. It’s worth listening to over and over again.

On Burnout

I really did enjoy getting my Master's degree. It was an opportunity I still cherish, two years to dig into a problem, and try to understand it with as much depth as I could.

Unfortunately within that enjoyment, I did a poor job of taking care of myself, and by the end, I was suffering from burnout. My case of burnout was very shallow compared to some cases you'll read about. I recently read a post from someone (which, I alas, cannot find), where they said their burnout got so bad they felt physically ill every time they sat down at a computer.

For me, my symptoms of burnout were pretty simple: My interest in my field began to wane. I found it harder and harder to work on my projects, even as I put more and more hours in. Focus didn't come which made deep work hard. I found no interest in learning new things in computers, and I was emotionally very weak. I couldn't handle drama of any sort. Funny enough, for me, this mostly came out in media selection. I didn't watch any drama of any sort for almost two years. I couldn't hack it emotionally -- I lacked the energy to deal with emotionally challenging media. I totally quit on House of Cards, and have still, never gone back. Those two years I watched and read almost exclusively junky comfort media, comedies I knew would be unchallenging, or that I had read/watched before.

At this point, I am four years out from my encounter with burnout. The recovery process was slow. I knew I was burnt out, and so starting my new job, I set down some rules for myself to help me recover. These things were absolutely key:

  • Work 9-5, Monday through Friday, and take at least 45 minutes for lunch: This meant that I had a regular schedule, but most importantly, it meant I had time outside of work. The lunch thing didn't start as a rule, but I quickly realized it was hugely helpful for team bonding.
  • Laptop stays at work: For almost the entire first year, I was nearly religious about this, and it helped immensely. I intentionally made sure that I wasn't able to work outside of my work hours.
  • No Work on my Phone: This was another step at ensuring work stayed at work, and home stayed home.
  • No tech news: I have always had a problem with the firehose of tech news out there. It was really important for a good while to try to help enforce the work/home separation by trying to turn off technology at home. This meant no tech news. I set up content blockers on all my devices to keep me away from them, as my muscle memory would thwart self control.

While not rules, I found my mind naturally wanted to help heal itself: I found the idea of working on a computer at home outside of office hours pretty repulsive, so I spent relatively little time on the computer at home. Instead, I read quite a bit. Eventually, I started playing guitar

Over time, I found I could manage taking the computer home every once and a while. Eventually I could deal with more challenging media. But it took time. At this point, I feel mostly recovered. I would say it took two years for most of the work aspects to clear up, but it still took another year before I felt emotionally strong enough to watch/read more emotionally challenging media.

Despite my mostly recovered state, I have had a couple of run-ins with incipient burnout again. When stressed out, the instinct is to work more: Start working 50-60 hours a week. I have absolutely done this, and it's so ineffective in my experience. Rapidly you start to make mistakes. Those mistakes turn out to eat every extra hour put in, and more.

No, learning the lessons I did from burnout, when I get stressed, I try to remind myself to work less. Play guitar more. It's counter-intuitive especially when you are stressed, but that is absolutely the time to schedule a vacation, take advantage of the health benefits and get a massage. Slow things down, so that the brain works again. Working from home, like I do now, I have to be extra vigilant, as my old strategies of "leave the laptop at work" don't have the same power that they did when I had an office to go to.

Last time I felt burnout inching towards me, I finally sat down and started to think about how I organize my work. I got and dug into Things, and started trying hard to get things out of my brain. I read (most) of David Allen's Getting Things Done. I think it's keeping in the theme, that when burnout starts to happen, staying the course is absolutely the wrong thing to do.

I like what I do, and I'd like to keep doing it for a long as I can, and this means taking care of my whole self, physical and mental.

Storm Front

A couple weeks ago I got a chance to hit Small Pony Barrel Works. As I understand it they are a new brewery in Ottawa. They specialize in barrel aged sours. 

So far, everything I have tasted has been excellent. While I was there I bought four bottles (they only do 750ml).



Storm Front is pretty fascinating. Tastes like a sour ginger beer, with a heavy dose of lime. Really lovely beer.


The Wizard and the Prophet

I just finished reading The Wizard and the Prophet, by Charles C. Mann. The book looks at the challenges of the future (Water, Food, Energy and Climate) through the lens of two philosophies he calls Wizards (embodied by Norman Borlaug) and Prophets (embodied by William Vogt).

The book is a fantastic overview of the challenges faced by humanity, and differing solutions to them. However, I found the Wizard/Prophet dichotomy hugely irritating and distracting, undercutting the book. Each time he described a solution as belonging to the Wizard camp or Prophet camp I found myself irritated by the arbitrariness of it. He wants to build this axis along which people can be placed... but my personal feeling is that the axis is far from straight, and is generally a poor fit with reality.

Good read, recommended, even if you, like me, find yourself mocking the word Wizard and Prophet by the end.