Nana is on vacation this week, so Berta is home with the kids and sleeping in late. This means I can sleep in a little, but it has caused some issues with our alarm clock. The most aggravating thing with our alarm clock in the new house is that it seems very loud. Combined with the size of our new bedroom, and the "across the room" philosophy of forcing someone to get out of bed to turn off the alarm, I'm sure that the neighbors hear our alarm for a good 20 seconds before someone turns it off.

Our current alarm actually has two separate alarm times. Each of the alarms has a different chirp pattern and pitch. This is interesting because at the old house we had always used one alarm for Berta and one for me, and although Berta's alarm went off before mine, I wouldn't wake up for it. I suspect that's due to me becoming conditioned to respond to only one of the two alarm sounds. I've read a bit about alarms that gradually get louder when they go off, instead of creating an ear drum-piercing siren at the onset. And perhaps instead of a chirping siren, the alarm should use music or some other noise to gently wake us us. Maybe this is also the solution to the neighbors being affected by our alarm.

But while I'm thinking about improving my alarm clock, let's go completely high-tech.

I read an article recently with a complaint that was to the effect of, if you're going to put so many buttons on the clock anyway, why not let people type in the time with a keypad? I think this is a great idea. Why stop there?

If you're going to offer multiple alarms, why set the limit at two? I suppose that's a practical option for two people waking up in the morning, but what if you're using the alarm for something else? You could program an alarm to function as a school bell, sounding a buzzer at the end and beginning of each class period. This would be useful for add-on classrooms that might not have their own integrated bell.

I'm a proponent of gigantic numbers on my alarm. Without my glasses on in bed, I can't see the little numbers on the tiny alarms. With big numbers, I can read the time form a distance without having to rub my eyes clear from sleep and squint to focus.

I've always liked the idea of those clocks that project the time onto the ceiling. I wonder if there is a way to incorporate that into this alarm clock design without making it too obtrusive. I mean, I wouldn't want the projected time to be like a lamp in the room. The purpose of this would be to figure out a way that the clock itself could be small while the numbers of the time could be large.

The snooze button is a tricky subject. On one hand, I think the snooze button is evil. Getting those extra few minutes never does me any good. I always end up feeling more groggy than the first time I wake up. But on the other hand, sometimes you just need another few minutes of sleep. The snooze button on our current alarm delays the alarm for 7 minutes. Why 7? I have no idea. Is there research on this? Is 7 the optimal number? Personally, I think if we're going to be able to program alarm times, we should be able to program snooze delays, and whether or not a particular alarm enables the snooze button as an option. Setting the number of allowed snoozes for a particular alarm would be neat, too.

The snooze button should probably not be so large and inviting either. One of the features on our current alarm that I like is that the "alarm off" button is very small and tucked between a few of the time-setting buttons. You have to be a bit more awake to determine which button to push. Being awake is the purpose of the alarm, so this is a good thing.

I wonder if it would be a good idea to include a kind of puzzle in the turn-off feature of the alarm. I've seen alarms that have puzzles on top where you must assemble a puzzle in order to shut off the alarm. It seems a bit too complicated. I would worry about losing a piece of the puzzle behind some furniture, since the clock apparently knocks the pieces out of the frame when the alarm goes off.

Maybe an actual puzzle isn't the best idea, but if it's too easy to turn off the alarm without being fully awake, then the alarm has failed. This is primarily why our alarm is across the room on top of the armoire. Maybe if there's a keypad on the clock, you should need to type a code (the clock would flash on its screen) in order to disable the alarm.

Setting the time should be easier. I like the idea of setting the time or alarm by typing it on a keypad, but there are already clocks that can set the time using radio frequencies. This is fine if you want the actual time, but we tend to set our clock 14 minutes ahead (14 is two snoozes - see above) of the actual time. Somehow this works out for us. Of course, if our clock was set for the real time, we'd have a problem.

Perhaps the clock should allow you to get the time from the radio signal, but then adjust it based on your preference. So if you set the time 14 minutes ahead, then after the power goes out and the clock comes back on, you'd still be 14 minutes ahead of whatever the current time was. That's a cool feature of our current clock - the ability to retain its settings during a power outage. It does this by using a 9v battery as a backup. Why did they do this? Couldn't the battery be rechargeable? So now I have to replace batteries in the clock just like in the smoke detectors. It's a trivial thing, but nothing really draws your attention to the battery needing changed until it fails to perform its function, and that happens so rarely that by the time it does happen, the battery is usually dead. Weird.

Should the clock have an MP3 player built in? I think so. Then you could use MP3s for alarms. The memory size doesn't have to be huge, just enough to hold the alarm files you want to use, and perhaps some of the alarm settings. Maybe 64MB. You're probably not going to use this alarm to play music outside of the alarm, so there's no need for a huge drive. I've never used my alarm to play radio, even though I think it does it.

Note that I have specifically and purposefully not mentioned having an iPod dock, because 1) I don't have an iPod 2) if I did have an iPod then when I left it at work I would no longer have an alarm 3) having DRM device dependence like that is a stupid, stupid thing.

It seems like I'm looking for a small embedded Linux clock. It'll have a big illuminated screen with enough resolution to let me pick MP3s for transfer from a USB memory stick into its internal memory. It'll have a numeric keypad on the top that'll serve as the interface for setting the time, adding alarms, turning off alarms, snoozing, etc. The clock will use flash RAM to store the alarm audio and all of the alarm settings so that they are retained after a power outage. It'll connect to the internet and scroll a stock ticker across its face on command. Ok, that last one is probably excessive.

I'm not really looking to replace my current alarm. It suits well when we have a normal routine. But if my alarm ever breaks - you know, accidentally - these are the types of features I'll be looking for before I settle on a $5 model from CVS.

Update: Apparently Clocks 24/7 has hired the most agressive SEO firm ever, and demanded that I remove links that are "in violation of Google's Webmaster Guidelines".  I'll remind both Clocks 24/7 and their agressive SEO firm that I can link to whatever lousy products I darn well please, and if their poor customer support stops offering a product, that doesn't mean I have to immediately yank my links out of my post at their (or Google's!) whim.

That said, I've replaced the one link on my site with more appropriate links, which will hopefully satisfy their request.