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Time marches on for Big Ben

From the London Morning Standard:

Big Ben's Big Image Makeover: High Tech Replaces Tic-Toc
by Tim Perdue

Hanging 320 feet above the capital in the dead of night, a team of technicians stealthily brought Big Ben into the Digital Age - an act that caused near-riots when dawn revealed the dramatic changes to shocked Londoners.

Commuters and tourists were stunned to find the eerie red glow of LED digits peeking through the morning fog, bringing and end to almost 150 years of tradition. Even the famous bells have been replaced by an electronic version which allow for variable volume control and options for playing traditional tunes during holidays such as Christmas and New Years.

Prime Minister Tony Blair defended the change as riot police ringed the Palace of Westminster, keeping outraged throngs at bay. "Big Ben's new digital readout symbolizes our goverment's unwavering commitment to transforming Britain's image and economy from one ruled by the Dickens' Age to one which leads the Digital Age."

The Great Clock, which everyone calls Big Ben, was set in motion in May 1859. Designed by Edmund Beckett Denison, it was the most expensive and accurate clock of its day. Big Ben's new quartz movement is synchronized with the Royal Observatory's atomic clock in Greenwich, capturing the moment to a millionth of a second. Its original mechanical movement and bells have been removed to the Royal Observatory's museum of horology, where they will be preserved as the focal point of the distinguished 1,500 clock collection.

Jonathan Betts, the museum's curator, was philosphical about the move to modernize Big Ben. "It may lack romance, but it is a logical step in the progression of greater accuracy in measuring time. The mechanical clock has gone the way of the sundial and the hourglass. It has become a quaint curiosity in a world where time now marches to the beat of electrons."

The original movement and its bells will be cleaned and restored by expert clockmakers from Thwaites & Reed. They will then be placed on public view in the Royal Observatory's main gallery, where they are expected to attract crowds of curious Londoners and clock enthusiasts from around the world. Bett's face brightened at the thought. "It will be a marvelous draw for the museum. People are very big on Big Ben."


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