Preview: The year before us

December 29, 2012

The word “clock” is derived from the Medieval Latin “clocca,” meaning bell.

The correlation of bells and clocks is religious, as bells were used to remind monks of the canonical hours for prayer. Hundreds of years ago, monks were among an exclusive group of people who had a definite need to know the hour of the day.

Today, our base unit for measuring time is the second, and timekeeping relies on the frequency of electronic transitions within an atomic structure.

Since 1968, the International Bureau of Weights and Measures has defined a second as “the duration of 9,192,631,770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the caesium 133 atom.” In 1997, the group helpfully clarified that the definition refers to a caesium atom at rest at a temperature of absolute zero.

The correlation of seconds and atoms is physical, and the only people who know what a second is are members of an exclusive group that studies subatomic particles.

Between Dec. 31, 2012, and Dec. 31, 2013, there will be about 31.5 million seconds.

In that time, a human heart will beat about 38 million times.

The sun’s core will have converted 18.9 quadrillion tons of hydrogen into helium.

If World Bank projections hold true, the number of humans on Earth will increase by about 85 million.

About 400 people in the United States will be struck by lightning. Maybe 40 of those will die.

Next year, computer-driven cars will be legal in California. Such vehicles rely on an array of sensors and cameras to provide information to the car’s software, which takes care of turning, braking and acceleration. California and the other state that allows driverless cars, Nevada, still require a human behind the wheel who can take over in the event of an emergency.

In 2013, smartphones will account for more than half of global cellphone sales.

Voter ID laws, both new and revised, will be considered in Iowa, Montana, Nevada and Virginia. The courts may still be sorting out the constitutionality of Pennsylvania’s law when the primary arrives in May.

Between Dec. 31, 2012, and Dec. 31, 2013, Earth will travel 584 million miles while orbiting the sun.

Also within that span, Virgin Galactic, a private space travel company, plans to begin its first passenger flights. The company’s owner, British billionaire Richard Branson, has said he will bring family members aboard for SpaceShipTwo’s maiden voyage. More than 500 others have signed up for Virgin Galactic’s two-hour spaceflights, which cost $200,000.

In 2013, knowing glances will increase by 0.89 percent.

Chocolate will continue to be good.

In 2013, nostalgia for 2012 will begin accruing at an imperceptable rate. Alarms will sound. The sun will set.

In 2013, we shall continue on our way.

Dave Penn is a copy editor for the Observer-Reporter. Contact him at



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