Cybersecurity of Power and the Signals of Time
Sunday, July 28, 2019 at 11:54AM
Toby Considine in Basics, Cybersecurity

I was writing about about Power Cybersecurity and the information transmitted over the power signal, when I got distracted by an old family story. The story made that post too long. This post Recalls Power as a Time Signal.

Today, power is usually turned to DC before it is used, and doing so removed its periodicity as a signal. It wasn’t always so. The frequency of power used to be the heartbeat of time.

A family legend describes the period just after World War II, long before I arrived. My father, a founder of the Society of Industrial Engineering and fresh from war-time work for Kaiser Shipyards and likely in the Permanente Shipyard in Richmond California, had turned himself loose to the open market. With a reputation as an efficiency and process whiz-kid, he followed the consulting jobs, his young family in tow, in this case to the City of Industry in the Los Angeles suburbs.

My father obsessed on timely arrival, and I never knew him to be late to any event. My mother would say he liked to arrive for Mass in time to watch the candles warm up. But every day, he would leave the house too late, and he would be late for his first meeting. His clients seemed more amused than concerned, as if nothing could be funnier than a hot-shot time & efficiency consultant who could not make it anywhere on time. It always seemed as a joke to them, and as if they were waiting for him to catch on.

The joke was in the days before today’s big grid, towns would run their own power companies, and make their own technology choices. As did many smaller towns, the City of Industry had bought power system, complete with generator plant, from a European source. The town ran on 50 Hz power.

My family’s clocks, shipped from San Francisco, were design for 60 Hz power. They always advanced only 50 minutes in each hour. Electric Alarm Clocks and the clocks in the living room were slow. The residents new this, and though it hilarious to bet on how long it took each new arrival to figure things out.

Before AC/DC transformers, most systems used the frequency of the power for to control the essential processes over time.

Most academic clocks, on schools and at colleges and universities, used another power-based time signal until the early 90s. Between each substation that powered and the buildings it supplied, each campus would install a time-master. Every classroom clock would be chosen from the same brand that made the time-master. Clocks could all be adjusted centrally, the time correct each day, and daylight savings managed by a change made at the time master. These systems did not rely on power as the innate frequency of time, but they did use power to set each clock. This sort of system was phased out during the 90s, when campuses got the internet, and new clocks used Network Time Protocol (NTP) as do our laptops and phones today.

Still, power as a source for time. Many more signals are carried over the power signal, but those do belong in the Power Cybersecurity and the Signal.

Article originally appeared on New Daedalus (
See website for complete article licensing information.