Sunday, September 21, 2008

Hawking unveils 'strangest clock'

The Corpus Clock
The clock face is gold-plated and almost 4ft

A £1m clock called the "time eater" has been unveiled at Cambridge University by Professor Stephen Hawking.

The author of A Brief History of Time was guest of honour when the unique clock, which has no hands or numbers, was revealed at Corpus Christi College.

Dubbed the strangest clock in the world, it features a giant grasshopper and has 60 slits cut into its face which light up to show the time.

Its creator John Taylor said he "wanted to make timekeeping interesting".

The Corpus Clock will stand outside the college's library and will be on view to the public.


Dr Taylor is an inventor and horologist - one who studies the measurement of time - and was a student at Corpus Christi in the 1950s.

He has given the clock as a gift to his former college.

The grasshopper or "chronophage", meaning "time eater", advances around the 4ft-wide face, each step marking a second.

Its movement triggers blue flashing lights which travel across the face eventually stopping at the correct hour and minute.

But the clock is only accurate once every five minutes - the rest of the time the lights are simply for decoration.

Professor Stephen Hawking
Professor Stephen Hawking unveiled the unique clock

Dr Taylor, 72, designed the timepiece as a tribute to English clockmaker John Harrison who solved the problem of longitude in the 18th century.

Harrison also invented the grasshopper escapement - a tiny internal device that releases a clock's gears at each swing of its pendulum.

Dr Taylor told the Daily Mail newspaper he decided "to turn the clock inside out... so you can see the seconds being eaten up".

"Conventional clocks with hands are boring," he said. "I wanted to make timekeeping interesting.

"I also wanted to depict that time is a destroyer - once a minute is gone you can't get it back.

"That's why my grasshopper is not a Disney character. He is a ferocious beast that over the seconds has his tongue lolling out, his jaws opening, then on the 59th second he gulps down time."

Big Ben

The clock has taken five years and a million pounds to construct

The Corpus Clock is wound up by an electric motor which will last for the next 25 years.

It took a team of eight engineers and craftsman five years to mould the 24-carat gold-plated face.

Alan Midleton, curator of the British Horological Institute, said: "It's a wonderful idea.

"Only time will tell whether it will become as famous as Big Ben - I doubt it, actually."

Dr Taylor made his fortune developing the kettle thermostat.

iPhone Developers Go From Rags to Riches

The iPhone is a revolutionary handset. But it is also the key to a virtual gold mine -- the iTunes App Store, where independent developers can become multimillionaires in just a year.

Since its launch in July, the App Store has grown to become an indie developer's dream come true. Steve Demeter, developer of the vastly popular $5 iPhone game Trism, announced he made $250,000 in profit in just two months. His team? Himself, mainly, with a little bit of help from a friend and a contracted designer (whom he paid $500). If his profits continue at this rate, Demeter will earn $3 million by July 2009.

"I really didn't think about the money," Demeter said in a phone interview with "I got an e-mail from a lady who's like, a 50-year-old woman who says, 'I do not play games, but I love Trism.' That's what I did it for."

What's more, Demeter initially released Trism as a free native application in the Jailbreak community -- meaning it was a game that users could play only if they hacked their iPhones. The prospects of making money were uncertain, but Demeter had a vision: He knew iPhone apps would get big once Apple released a software developer kit to allow third-party apps on the handset, and he wanted to get in on the platform early.

Though Demeter's success was fortuitous, he said he expects other applications to see similar numbers. He said the factors that made Trism stand out were unique gameplay (Trism is essentially a version of Bejeweled using the iPhone's accelerometer), high replay value and an online leaderboard that creates community. He said applications with great content will sell themselves, and that's ultimately what other developers need to focus on, too.

In a sense, the App Store, despite its corporate ties, has created an open market where developers can strike it rich with minimal resources -- even out of a garage -- so long as they possess the talent and the time.

Trism Bart Decrem, CEO of Tapulous, would agree. His company's free application Tap Tap Revenge, a music-rhythm game that utilizes the iPhone's touch screen and accelerometer, hit a milestone of 1,000,000 downloads just two weeks after its launch. As of this writing there are 1.75 million users who have downloaded Tap Tap Revenge, according to Decrem, and the company expects that number to grow to 2,000,000 by next week. As for profits, Tapulous just recently began inserting advertisements in the game, and the company also has plans to release a premium version that will cost money.

Decrem was mum to disclose profit numbers, but Demeter estimates that any top iPhone app is making its company roughly $5,000 to $10,000 a day.

Decrem's recipe for success with Tap Tap is similar to Trism's: Paying attention to detail; keeping the app engaging and alive with various forms of gameplay; and relying on those two factors to spread popularity with an old-fashioned marketing method -- word of mouth. Similar to Trism, Tap Tap Revenge was also an app that initially emerged in the Jailbreak community, and it spawned a loyal following there before breaking out into the broader market with the launch of the App Store.

Decrem, whose initial team was only four people including himself, said he views the App Store as an exciting new landscape, as opposed to today's overcrowded world of dot-coms.

Taptap "I think it's a very interesting space, and it's very reminiscent of the early days of the web in terms of the amount of green fields and opportunity," Decrem said in a phone interview. "You really don't need a huge amount of capital. You need attention to detail and product, and that's going to keep increasing."

Not all App Store success stories started out with the iPhone in mind. Design by a Knife CEO Austin Sarner's story is a bit different from Demeter's and Decrem's. Sarner built his reputation as a coder who had developed popular Mac applications in the past: App Zapper and Disco. He didn't even think about developing an iPhone app until much later in the game, he says.

Good thing he did: Sarner's $3 application, Pennies, a budgeting tool, was the 12th most popular in the App Store at one point.

Sarner echoes the idea that great content -- not marketing -- is what drives App Store success.

"You can come up with a generic idea, but implement it properly and you really are going to stand out," Sarner said in a phone interview. "Basically everybody's on the same level once they submit an iPhone app. Unlike traditional marketing, there's no ad campaign: A user just sees what he sees in the iPhone store, and the applications kind of have to sell themselves to some extent."

Pennies All three of these developers -- big fish in a small pond, if you will -- have plans for future iPhone applications as well.

"I have a sense of a bigger picture," Demeter said. "The community that has spread within Trism -- the amount of people that use forum accounts and create a sense of community -- I want to keep making great games, games people want to play."