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Tech History Behind New York's New Year's Eve Ball

Soulskill posted more than 3 years ago | from the powered-by-dick-clark's-mojo dept.

Technology 106

Toe, The writes "A perennial icon of New Year's Eve is the geodesic ball which first dropped in Times Square in 1907. Over the past century, there have been seven iterations of this ball. The first one, made out of iron and wood, weighed 400 pounds and sported one hundred 25-watt bulbs. The current ball weighs almost six tons and uses 32,256 Philips Luxeon Rebel LEDs. The designers expect there to be more tech improvements to the ball soon. What do you think of the ball and the bizarre status it holds in our culture? How would you change it for years to come?"

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106 comments

32256 LEDs? (5, Funny)

Kazymyr (190114) | more than 3 years ago | (#34724178)

So what happened to the other 512?

Are they on a private network?

Re:32256 LEDs? (4, Insightful)

Phibz (254992) | more than 3 years ago | (#34724350)

They probably would go in the space occupied by the mast on each end of the ball.

Re:32256 LEDs? (1)

Miamicanes (730264) | more than 3 years ago | (#34724792)

I guess this falls into the category of "only on Slashdot...", but yeah, it does seem kind of sad that they didn't go for the gold ring at 32,768. It's obviously not a rounding error, either, because then the news story would have said that there are something like 30000, 32000, 33000, or 35000. 32256 -- so close, yet so far... ;-)

127 bottles of of beer on the wall, 127 bottles of beer...

Round. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34724192)

I think it should be very round.

Tweets of course! (1)

AlienIntelligence (1184493) | more than 3 years ago | (#34724458)

I think it should be connected to tha intarweb and allow the world to tweet to it. The tweets then displayed on the surface. Censor filter at their discretion. lol. -AI

Just the east coast? (4, Insightful)

crow (16139) | more than 3 years ago | (#34724198)

Growing up in Idaho, nobody particularly cared about the ball. Is this just an East Coast thing?

Re:Just the east coast? (1)

Tripp-phpBB (1912354) | more than 3 years ago | (#34724216)

I live on the east coast and I would probably have to say yes. Over here we love to watch the countdown and ball drop.

Re:Just the east coast? (1)

Swave An deBwoner (907414) | more than 3 years ago | (#34724286)

I live in NYC and couldn't care less about the New Year's ball or the whole wasted, drunken night of partying. It's a boon to the liquor industry though.

Re:Just the east coast? (2)

eyeball (17206) | more than 3 years ago | (#34724568)

When I lived in NY I wasn't into the New Years Eve thing either. It was fun however to stick my head out the window right before midnight and hear the background noise of the city get a little louder.

Re:Just the east coast? (1)

Threni (635302) | more than 3 years ago | (#34724352)

It's a little gaudy, isn't it? Perhaps an improvement would be one which was a little less tacky. Also, why is it dropping? What's that symbolic of? Wouldn't one which rose from the floor to some maximum height, combined with a light show/fireworks etc be a little more interesting?

Re:Just the east coast? (0)

Ethanol-fueled (1125189) | more than 3 years ago | (#34724516)

What's that symbolic of?

It's symbolic of a man's balls dropping when the heat of the New Year's Eve sex causes his scrotum to relax and slap against the taint of his partner.

Wouldn't one which rose from the floor to some maximum height, combined with a light show/fireworks etc be a little more interesting?

A telescoping tower would make much more sense in that context.

Re:Just the east coast? (2)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | more than 3 years ago | (#34724810)

I'm not familiar with the history, and just guessing, but... here in Britain, back before GPS, we had a big ball at Greenwich which dropped at precisely noon every day. Ships on the river could watch it through their telescopes and set their clocks by it, thus providing the most accurate possible time reference for navigation. Maybe the annual ball-drop is inspired by that?

Re:Just the east coast? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34726002)

Yes. Over here, we wired that up to the telegraph network, with the ball dropping at noon and at midnight every day in every major rail station so the town could see it. So it became a Big Thing to watch it happen on midnight. Then everyone stopped caring as we got good clocks that didn't need to be corrected all the time.

Re:Just the east coast? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34724750)

I live in Texas and unless you're a doctor, it's pretty much illegal to watch balls drop.
But seriously, when I was growing up, the only people interested in the New York celebration were one or two generations older than mine with age equating to level of excitement.

Re:Just the east coast? (1)

larry bagina (561269) | more than 3 years ago | (#34724222)

i grew up on the east coast and never gave a shit. Probably a new york city thing.

Re:Just the east coast? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34724272)

I was born in New York City. I like watching it come down, but don't care if it's ten 100 watt light bulbs or 32,000 LED's, as long as it's visible on TV. (which means even a 40 watt bulb would be sufficient given the TV technology.) I prefer not to have the flashing lights, just a lit ball.

Re:Just the east coast? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34724246)

Does anyone in Idaho care about anything? Seems like living there is a good reason to give up on life.

Re:Just the east coast? (3, Informative)

Kazymyr (190114) | more than 3 years ago | (#34724282)

I lived in NYC for about 10 years, and not many people I know did. It's mostly a Big Media thing.

Re:Just the east coast? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34730010)

Would it not be wonderful if the money and time spent doing the stupid ball went to help the homeless folk there in NYC?

Re:Just the east coast? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34724308)

>> Is this just an East Coast thing?

Yes. It happens in their time zone. New Yorkers probably don't care much about the "dropping of the big spud" in Pocatello either.

Re:Just the east coast? (5, Funny)

Frosty Piss (770223) | more than 3 years ago | (#34724454)

"dropping of the big spud"

In Eugene Oregon where I grew up, we had the "lighting of the big joint", but a few years back they updated the technology to the "torching of the big bowl" with a giant 10 foot tall water bong. It's an Oregon thing...

Re:Just the east coast? (1)

Nyder (754090) | more than 3 years ago | (#34724680)

"dropping of the big spud"

In Eugene Oregon where I grew up, we had the "lighting of the big joint", but a few years back they updated the technology to the "torching of the big bowl" with a giant 10 foot tall water bong. It's an Oregon thing...

Naw, your fellow stoners, er, peeps up in Seattle do that same thing.

End the year like you start the year. =)

Re:Just the east coast? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34724612)

New Yorkers probably don't care much about the "dropping of the big spud"

I just "dropped a big spud". I named it "Michael Kristopeit". It was a "floater".

Ships set your chronometers (5, Informative)

twrake (168507) | more than 3 years ago | (#34724400)

Watching a dropped ball was a historical way of setting a marine chronometer up and until the advent of radio signals. Pre 1920 watching a dropping ball was essential tech.

from :
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marine_chronometer [wikipedia.org]

It was common for ships at the time to observe a time ball, such as the one at Greenwich, to check their chronometers before departing on a long voyage. Every day, ships would anchor briefly in the River Thames at Greenwich, waiting for the ball at the observatory to drop at precisely 1pm.

Other time balls (1)

calidoscope (312571) | more than 3 years ago | (#34725754)

In the late 1800's, several cities in the Northeastern US had balls that were dropped at noon as defined by the electric time service. Time standards were distributed by a special telegraph line from an observatory in the Alleghenies.

Re:Just the east coast? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34724492)

I live in Arizona, and always watch the ball (they always rebroadcast the drop again for our time zone)

Re:Just the east coast? (2)

Chapter80 (926879) | more than 3 years ago | (#34724614)

Being from the Midwest, I had heard of the ball on occasion, but it wasn't until I was about 35 that I saw what the deal was. I pretty sick one New Years Eve, and I stayed in. And, Boy, was I disappointed.

I thought they dropped a glass ball on Times Square. All they do is lower the damn thing. Whoopie. No shards of glass. No mess. What a disappointment.

Re:Just the east coast? (1)

Rallion (711805) | more than 3 years ago | (#34724758)

Well, if you're not in EST, the timing isn't even right, so I would imagine that it would have to be more than a little region-specific.

Still, I can't bring myself to care. It's nice to be at a party with people who do care, though, because it really boosts the energy level.

Re:Just the east coast? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34724986)

Growing up in Idaho, nobody particularly cared about the ball. Is this just an East Coast thing?

That's interesting because, growing up in the east coast, nobody particularly cared about Idaho.

Re:Just the east coast? (1)

mattack2 (1165421) | more than 3 years ago | (#34725606)

"Care about" is probably too strong (though it has been sad to see Dick Clark slurring in his brief propping up on the show the last year or two).. but it is/was something to watch, sometimes had interesting musical guests (and sometimes not just lip syncing). Nowadays, just like everything else, I record it and FF through for the few interesting bits. For pure entertainment value, the one on CNN with Anderson Cooper & Kathy Griffin is funnier.

Re:Just the east coast? (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 3 years ago | (#34725906)

Growing up in Idaho, nobody particularly cared about the ball. Is this just an East Coast thing?

It's covered by several major TV networks as the centerpiece of the New Year's Eve programming, and it's even repeated (and watched) in the Pacific Time Zone. So no, it's not just an East Coast thing.

Nuke it from orbit (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34724230)

its the only way to be sure !

Dumb (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34724248)

As a West-coaster, the ball seems stupid and pointless

Re:Dumb (2)

oldspewey (1303305) | more than 3 years ago | (#34724284)

Most traditions are stupid and pointless from an outsider's viewpoint.

But to answer the question posed in TFS, "How would you change it for years to come?", I would have it spray viscous white fluid all over the assembled masses at the stroke of midnight.

Re:Dumb (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34724358)

Make the following requirements:
- everyone attending must be a good-looking, 18 to 29 years-old female with big to huge breasts
- everyone must be dressed in either a school, maid or nurse uniform
- the Eve Ball must have tentacles

Oh wait, you said New York, not Japan.

Carry on.

Re:Dumb (0)

Ethanol-fueled (1125189) | more than 3 years ago | (#34724558)

by oldspewey

But to answer the question posed in TFS, "How would you change it for years to come?", I would have it spray viscous white fluid all over the assembled masses at the stroke of midnight.

I see what you did there, pervert.

Re:Dumb (1)

ushering05401 (1086795) | more than 3 years ago | (#34725488)

Pervert and a Prude. [slashdot.org] Come on 'spewey, you can't go making too many distinctions with a nick like that. At a certain level it all spews, man - it all spews.

Re:Dumb (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34724294)

As a ball, the west coast seems stupid and pointless

Re:Dumb (2)

garcia (6573) | more than 3 years ago | (#34724442)

Nothing worse than in the Midwest where we're only delayed an hour and yet we watch the ball go down in NY and then wait through an hour of more after-ball-dropped third string acts to see the ball drop again. God it's painful.

Re:Dumb (4, Funny)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 3 years ago | (#34726096)

Nothing worse than in the Midwest where we're only delayed an hour and yet we watch the ball go down in NY and then wait through an hour of more after-ball-dropped third string acts to see the ball drop again. God it's painful.

What kind of twisted masochist are you that watches that stupid thing more than once? Don't you have anything else on the TV where you live? Gillagan's Island reruns? Hell man, you could log into Slashdot. Even that would be better. You need help.

Re:Dumb (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34727692)

I don't watch it go down. I'm too busy jerking off to your +4 karma on Slashdot and wondering why I'm not as cool as you. Fucking moron.

Re:Dumb (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34724464)

As a landmass, both coasts are a symbol of my oppression.

Grumble (2)

Zouden (232738) | more than 3 years ago | (#34724266)

What do you think of the ball and the bizarre status it holds in our culture?

Very little. Are there really no better stories to post at the moment?

The first one, made out of iron and wood, weighed 400 pounds ... The current ball weighs almost six tons

So the current ball is... much lighter? Or is it heavier? If you're not going to use the metric system, at least use consistent units.

Yes yes, get off my lawn. Happy new year.

Re:Grumble (1)

whitehaint (1883260) | more than 3 years ago | (#34724296)

2,000 pounds is one ton, so the ball used to weigh 0.2 tons. I wonder how the hell you get a ball with some damn lights to weigh that much....

Re:Grumble (1)

oldspewey (1303305) | more than 3 years ago | (#34724496)

I wonder how the hell you get a ball with some damn lights to weigh that much....

Shhhh ... you're going to ruin the surprise.

Re:Grumble (1)

Lumbre (1822486) | more than 3 years ago | (#34724412)

Well if you're going to be picky, they're using significant digits. 400 is accurate to within 50 pounds; 6 tons is accurate to within 0.5 tons, 1,000 pounds.

Essentially, 400 pounds +/- 50 pounds and 12,000 pounds +/- 1,000 pounds.

Zerglings. (5, Interesting)

Octopuscabbage (1932234) | more than 3 years ago | (#34724278)

It should drop and explode and 500 zerglings should pop out. It would be cool, because I live far away, and im sure our marines would have teched by then.

Re:Zerglings. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34725646)

Hopefully we'll have finished researching Stimpacks at the tech lab by then.

Say, whaaaa? (4, Funny)

msauve (701917) | more than 3 years ago | (#34724334)

"Foley says it's a team of about six people who operate and take care of the ball year round."

They must be members of the Ball Handlers Union.

Re:Say, whaaaa? (1)

migla (1099771) | more than 3 years ago | (#34724808)

>"Foley says it's a team of about six people who operate and take care of the ball year round."

I wouldn't trust much of what this Foley person says. Must be pretty dumb not to be able to count the number of people with exact precision, when they seem to be as few as "about six".

Six Tons? (1)

FatLittleMonkey (1341387) | more than 3 years ago | (#34724344)

Six tons? What's it made of, depleted uranium?

Re:Six Tons? (1)

SuperSlacker64 (1918650) | more than 3 years ago | (#34724418)

Ooo! That could be a fun improvement! In years to come it could just be made out of active uranium, and then you won't even need all those thousands of light bulbs!

Re:Six Tons? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34724544)

stupid expensive crystals. RTFA

depleted uranium (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34724576)

only if they're planning on taking out all the spectators.

More Surprising... (2)

damn_registrars (1103043) | more than 3 years ago | (#34724346)

I'm more surprised by How much weight the ball has gained in the past 30 years [wikipedia.org]. The ball used through 1980 weighed only 150 pounds. Our newest iteration weights over eleven thousand pounds. I know plenty of people who have put on some weight lately, but I don't know anyone currently over the age of 30 who saw their own weight increase one-hundred fold in the past 30 years.

Re:More Surprising... (1)

durrr (1316311) | more than 3 years ago | (#34724374)

A quick guess is that like most things gaining weight, it also became a lot bigger.
And being a ball, it won't die of cardiovascular complication before becoming really really huge.

Re:More Surprising... (1)

Spazmania (174582) | more than 3 years ago | (#34725014)

Wacky. According to your link, it gained an order of magnitude in weight in from 1999 to 2000 when the aluminum ball was replaced with a crystal ball (150 lbs to 1200 lbs) and then it gained another order of magnitude in weight when it was replaced with a larger crystal ball between 2008 and 2009 (1200 lbs to 12000 lbs).

Re:More Surprising... (1)

thegarbz (1787294) | more than 3 years ago | (#34725828)

Thankyou. Someone who doesn't mix their units in the same sentence. I now know how the units relate without having to resort to google. How many tonnes is 400 pounds anyway.

Now how many CCs is it, (1)

crovira (10242) | more than 3 years ago | (#34726616)

and how much would it weigh if it was actually a dodecahedron with LEDs for facets?

Re:More Surprising... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34729600)

I presume you're a Brit.

Bet you're happy that you switched to decimal from Lsd.

That whole 12 Pence to a Shilling and 20 Shillings to a Pound was just wacked.

Not to mention farthings and florins and crowns.

The next one should be a hypersphere (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34724366)

Get to it, engineers

Oh God! (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34724376)

What do you think of the ball and the bizarre status it holds in our culture?

None. It's a Dick Clark thing.

How would you change it for years to come?

For the exception of this comment, I have never thought of it nor will I ever. I don't give a shit. Of all the shit happening in my life, this low tech ball with light bulbs (LEDs? BFD!) is completely meaningless to me. Jan 1 is just another fucking date on the calendar.

Tonight, I'll watch a movie with my wife and then go to bed at 10PM and wake up tomorrow with the same fucking problems I have today. Valentines Day means more to me than this holiday.

Re:Oh God! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34728894)

Oh, perhaps you could use those two hours that you waste watching a movie to do something to address the problems that beset you?

No, that would be much too proactive. Better just watch some canned "entertainment" to avoid thinking about it.

Old news? (1)

WoOS (28173) | more than 3 years ago | (#34724386)

From the linked article:

"On November 11th, 2008, The co-organizers of New Year’s Eve in Times Square (Times Square Alliance, Countdown Entertainment) unveiled a new Times Square New Year’s Eve Ball at a press conference at Hudson Scenic Studio in Yonkers, New York."

So the new ball already bounced around on two new year's eves. But hey, its about the history anyway.....

Interesting, but.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34724422)

...I wanted Snooki inside of it!

Just do the whole thing in CG (1)

Animats (122034) | more than 3 years ago | (#34724438)

Just do the ball in CG. It's a made-for-TV event anyway. Going to Times Square on New Years Eve sucks.

Yankees (1)

jappleng (1805148) | more than 3 years ago | (#34724588)

I want to see the NY Yankees smash that ball to bits with their baseball bats while it's still plugged in. Cats and laz0rz is always welcome.

Plasma, one way or another. (1)

falzer (224563) | more than 3 years ago | (#34724812)

I'd use 1 to 3 high powered electrodeless fluorescent lighting tubes at the center of an empty ball, and have the skin of the sphere be made from some sort of light-diffusing glass or plastic. Electrodeless fluorescent lighting is very efficient and long-lasting.

Actually, come to think of it, since it used one day a year, so what if the light source has 100,000 hours of useful runtime? Damn this fixation on longevity and efficiency!

I would make each vertex of the geodesic sphere a tungsten electrode (cooled if necessary) and have fairly high powered plasma arcs flowing across the ball's surface, switching directions, forming patterns, and suchlike. The viewers should avoid staring too long.

Improve it (2)

Walzmyn (913748) | more than 3 years ago | (#34724866)

What would I do to improve it?
Drop the damn thing. It's boring as hell watching it slowly slide down a big pole. Actually drop it like a gallows drop or a bungee jumper diving off.

Re:Improve it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34725838)

Ah, yes. Because nothing says "Happy New Year!" like bombarding Times Square with 6 tons of broken glass.

Kewl! They should drop it from the top (1)

crovira (10242) | more than 3 years ago | (#34726668)

of the new World Trade Tower right into one of the memorial pools, once its finally up.

THAT should show Bin Laden, eh?

So much for LED energy efficiency (1)

russotto (537200) | more than 3 years ago | (#34725042)

100 25W light bulbs = 2500W
32256 Phillips Luxeon Rebel LEDs, 3V @ 350ma = approx 34kW, not counting the driver circuitry that the 25W bulbs didn't need.

Bring back the incandescent bulb!

Re:So much for LED energy efficiency (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34725176)

They could have a duty cycle that reduces it. Also does it have to run one of those LEDs at 350 mA?

Re:So much for LED energy efficiency (1)

JerRocks (885412) | more than 3 years ago | (#34725666)

From TFA: "Changing to an LED ball was not only more green, the decrease in electricity costs allows the city to host the ball on top of One Times Square, where 100,000 visitors marvel at the sparkling ball all year. In tune with the changes, the 2011 ball will be lit completely off the grid by bike pedal-generated electricity contributed by those who visited the exhibit and pedaled at the station."

and increase in ad speak (1)

cinnamon colbert (732724) | more than 3 years ago | (#34725096)

original ball: 25 Watt Light bulbs
Now: Luxeon Rebel LEDs
It is the "luxeon rebel" part that really bothers me , indicative of the overwhelming pressure to put advertising everywhere at all times

Fr1st ps0t! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34725178)

so tha'Rt you don't

You forget the largest component (1)

kriston (7886) | more than 3 years ago | (#34725576)

Don't forget the New Year's Eve Ball's largest component: a decades-vacant One Times Square building.

Greenwich Observatory and other time balls (1)

dpbsmith (263124) | more than 3 years ago | (#34726770)

The Times Square ball is a decorative and symbolic version of a practical time signaling system used at Greenwich Observatory, in which a large ball, visible from a long distance, was dropped rapidly under the force of gravity--not the slow, majestic descent of the Times Square ball. Apparently this system worked well because the ball could be released directly by electricity, and observed visually (no speed-of-sound delay). See the Wikipedia article time ball [wikipedia.org]

What's up with ending posts with dumb questions? (1)

detroitindustrial (587050) | more than 3 years ago | (#34728626)

>What do you think of the ball and the bizarre status it holds in our culture? How would you change it for years to come?

I think I liked slashdot a lot more back when every post didn't end in a stupid question.

Classical style (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34729070)

High tech would be fluorescent lighting

A bit like [Port] Adelaide's Semaphore Time Ball? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34729140)

Semaphore (near Port Adelaide, in metro Adelaide, South Australia) has a clock tower (not far from its -working- Merry-Go-Round... but I digress), with a time-ball that's still capable of working...

Before GPS's,the idea was to help synchronize ships' clocks (needed, then, for navigation)[before they left the area, by sea... :-)]

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