Wrist Watch Alarm Clock
Our first kookaburra
The arrival of our first kookaburra heralded my own adolescence, and at the same time, immediately inaugurated a period in which I started to feel that my interests and priorities had become radically different from those of many of my high-school peers. My friends dwindled, not by design, to a handful of individuals, all of them eccentric to some degree (the closest were a would-be Georgian architect and a would-be scientific illustrator), all of them high achievers at school, and nearly all of them subject to bullying of one kind or another. My kookaburra became the personality who dominated my life, sitting on our clothes-horse in the evening, thrashing her food before swallowing it whole, following us on our coastal holidays, unperturbedly watching the passing scenery from her cage in the back of the Land-Rover, or riding magisterially on our shoulders – and it was difficult, on returning to school, to have any sense of connection with ‘normal’ adolescent pastimes.
“What did you do on the holidays?”
“Went to Lake Tabourie and watched tiger beetles on the beach. My kookaburra came too. What did you do?”
“Played Aussie Rules and mucked about with my mates. See you later.”
And behind that See you later, other words common in the Australian lingo were left unspoken: weirdo, loser, or even drongo. Too bad. If I could have had a drongo in my aviary as well, I would have done so.
Kookaburras are Australian icons, appearing on tea-caddies and cricket-balls. One of the first songs children learn to sing in primary school is “Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree/ Merry, merry king of the bush is he.” Bush people need no alarm clocks; they are woken at dawn every morning by the laughing of kookaburras. Everyone knows that kookaburras eat snakes, even venomous ones. Despite this, hardly anyone really knows kookaburras, and even now, I am not sure whether I do. But to become even superficially intimate with a kookaburra is to enter a new and complex world, and one which sometimes makes human society seem absurd. Gavin Maxwell’s books on his life with otters, which I was reading at the time, communicate a similar social dislocation: a sense which can make his writing seem arrogant or misanthropic when it is in fact nothing of the sort. Living with an animal of peculiarly high intelligence and independence of spirit, especially at an impressionable age, teaches the lesson – and it is not a lesson that is easily unlearned – that human beings are merely a species, and there are other species whose qualities are undoubtedly more noble than our own. One discovers this, to a certain extent, by keeping a dog, or a duck, or a rabbit, but when one lets a wild animal into one’s home, human priorities suddenly become rather meaningless.
Kookaburras are large kingfishers: the shape of the bill and the azure wing-coverts are the most obvious signs. Like kingfishers, they perch and wait for their prey to pass beneath them, and are most commonly seen by passing motorists, adopting this ground-gazing position on power-lines and telephone wires. The neck is very flexible, and the head seems to be equipped with an invisible plumbline which helps it to maintain a constant position relative to the ground, no matter how much the body, and the branch or wire beneath it, is blowing about in the wind. Perch a kookaburra on your wrist, and move your hand up and down as though shaking someone’s hand. The kookaburra will fix you with her eye, and her head will remain absolutely still. There is something as uncanny and predatorial in this ability as there is in the habit owls have of swaying from left to right when assessing the distance between themselves and their prey. Clearly, in the case of the kookaburra, it is a prelude to the groundward plunge and the clack of the harpoon bill on an unsuspecting mouse or snake.
Remarkably, this experiment can be tried with almost any injured kookaburra taken direct from the wild, for one of the surest signs of a kookaburra’s intelligence is its adaptability and its ability to assess situations. It is impossible to perch a wild hawk, owl, magpie or currawong on your arm at the first meeting: all of these will instantly launch themselves into the air, and if a wing is broken, flap helplessly about on the ground, damaging tail feathers and primaries in the process. Try the experiment with a honeyeater, and the look of the very devil will suddenly come into its eyes, and its claws will dig into your flesh like little needles, and tear at you in the most excruciating way as the wings flap like fury. My father brought our first kookaburra home from a field trip in a cardboard box. One of her wings was badly broken, and he had found the bird on the side of the road, where she would surely have fallen victim to a fox or a feral cat had she been left unattended for long. When I opened the box, the kookaburra did not bate or scrabble: she assessed me with
The Guts and Garters of the Casio F-91W
Aaaan the logic board itself. The CPU is ceramic-coated so that I can't get to it, although an old photo of an earlier model i found said "PIC24" with a Motorola logo. Bottom left is the buzzer - I seem to have shorted it out somehow, as the alarm no longer sounds. :( I'll get another tomorrow (?7.50) and keep this one for hacking. I think I'll do a project/workshop on it for E-Space.
Oh, apparently the thing you would time with this is often a bomb. Osama Bin Laden wears one. To be honet, you can see why - the electronics are extremely simple, and yet legendarily reliable. It's quite a depressing thought that people have died from bombs timed using these.
Obviously, that's not the fault of the watch or it's design - you could do it with basically any timing mechanism with an alarm - remove the buzzer or vibrator, hook it into a transistor and a battery, and you can run anything! A nice version of this was the robotic actuator triggered by an alarm clock I saw on hackaday once. I even made a similar timing device in school! (We used a 555 timer and tuned the circuit with a potentiometer - was something daft like an egg timer.)
Unfortunately, due to the ubiquity of this thing and the amount of intelligence in your average military organisation, there's now a nmber of people living in a notable American jail essentially accused of owning this watch. Great reason to lose your human rights, right? A few people have begun wearing this watch purely in solidarity.
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