Keeping the Correct Time on Your Computer

 

Once upon a time, I heard a (certainly fake) “Confucius says” saying:

“Confucius says: Man who have one clock knows what time it is. Man who have two clocks does not know what time it is.”

Fortunately, for most purposes, this is not really important on your computer. You do want the time to be about right, so your files are tagged with appropriate dates and times. More important is the interval between events on your computer — as in, which is my most recent version of this file?

However, for some purposes like home theater pc, keeping the correct time is important. Recording a TV show and starting late, or worse, ending too early, just is not acceptable. We can always set padding on both ends of the record time — just like on a VCR — record a minute early and continue recording for a couple minutes extra.

It’s nice to have the right time, though, and not worry about the computer’s clock drifting earlier and earlier (or later and later). We have several options to make sure our computers stay in sync.

Some media center software, such as SageTV, can be set to automatically synchronize the computer’s clock when they connect to get the program guide each day. I do this.

Another option is to run a separate program on the computer to synchronize to some standard time source. There are a number of programs that are available to use NTP (Network Time Protocol) to synchronize with other computers that are set up to be NTP servers.

The most well known of these servers is the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Phoenix. The NIST even has its own public-domain program that you can download from their site called, of course, NISTime. There are versions for Windows 95 and later (including 32bit and 64 bit computers) and Windows 3.1, including source code and instruction files. You can read about and download NISTime from the NIST at http://tf.nist.gov/service/its.htm

Another free program that links to time servers (time sources for your clock) is Atomic Clock Sync, which is freeware and can be downloaded from Cnet’s Download.com site. I tried Atomic Clock Sync on my notebook and it adjusted the time by 21 seconds — not bad. I’ll try it again in a few days to see how it does. ACS can be set to automatically synchronize each day; the default is manual. It also includes a number of timeservers that you can choose.

Windows XP actually has a time synchronization function built in called w32tm. All I can say is that the documentation probaby means something to someone. Whether it is helping or not, I’m running the command “w32tm /config /update” twice a day on my home theater pc.

I was having problems with the computer’s clock running slow, even measurable within a day. Running this twice a day in addition to sync’ing with SageTV’s servers once a day (which I was already doing) seems to have resolved the problem.

While I was running a full system scan of my computer, Sunbelt Software’s
CounterSpy
complained about Atomic Clock Sync. It referred to “Adw.BestOffersNetworks.AtomicClockSync Adware” and classified it as “Risk: High.” Counterspy’s description says the application is not a threat, but that it is installed with several adware threats. After some quick cross-checking, I updated last week’s online newsletter (article 3) to alert readers.

I have seen nothing unusual in my system’s operation. No popups, no unusual ads, no browser hijacking, nothing.
CounterSpy
only reacted during a system scan. Counterspy did not react based on any system activity, nor did anything else. ZoneAlarm, of course, reacted when I told Atomic Clock Sync to “ping” the server. Note that Counterspy flagged this as “adware” not “spyware.”

I also checked with two other anti-spyware products: XoftSpy and Microsoft Antispyware (beta) software packages. Neither identified anything wrong with the Atomic Clock Sync files. I also rechecked Download.com — and note that their banner at the top claims “Safe, Trusted and Spyware Free.” Is it adware, though? If so, a lot of folks have been fooled — it’s available from PCWorld.com, download.com, Winsite.com, Snapfiles.com, PCMag.com, and other places.

Perhaps an earlier version of Atomic Clock Sync did have adware included; perhaps not. I did some more internet searching and found Ed Bott’s blog entry at http://www.edbott.com/weblog/archives/000151.html, where he was talking about adware.

He quotes Ben Edelman of Harvard University, who was testifying before the Federal Trade Commission about adware, and who mentioned Atomic Clock Sync as an alternative to similar programs that install adware:

For example, Atomic Clock Sync 2.69 is an automatic computer clock synchronization program, but unlike WhenU’s ClockSync and Gator’s Precision Time, Atomic Clock Sync does not require that users accept popup advertisements. Similarly, Weather Watcher 5.010 provides local weather monitoring and reporting, and unlike WhenU’s WeatherCast and Gator’s Precision Time, Weather Watcher entails no popups.

In other words, Ben Edelman identified Atomic Clock Sync as one of the good programs. For now, I’m not worried about it.


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Comments

  1. I set my computer’s clock to update once a day using this method:
    http://noosphere.princeton.edu/time.regedit.html

  2. Cliff Belton says:

    Hi Terry , I use a program Tunup Utilities tyo keep my computer tidied up and recently switched on it’s turbo mode. It made a slightg difference in response time but not much else. When I wanted to do a system restore I got the message “no restore points saved”. A disatre I thought but on returning Tuneup Utilities to normal mode ny restore ppoints were then found. I thought this might answer some questions your readers may have.

  3. i don’t use the computer clock..i depend on my desk size atomic clock for the correct time and if i tape something off the internet i make sure my recorder is set correctly.

  4. I’ve been running a free time synchronisation program called “dimension4″ for several years. It’s available from http://thinkman.com/dimension4/default.htm

    I have also been using TClockEx to replace Microsoft’s clock information in the task bar. It allows you to customise the clock information, which includes the date.

    Google for it

    I can now see the date written correctly, instead of a series of digits (which is not the date, but an encoded substitute), and I can see am or pm correctly written in lower case rather than upper (although the author wasn’t taught at school that each of the two letters should be followd by a full stop).
    Still, it’s a vast improvement on the pathetic default offering.

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