Chock a clock

It might sound bizarre, but is true. Venezuela's electric clocks are ticking slowly due to power shortage. The sluggish timepieces miss every midnight by 150 seconds. "The computers are not affected. The televisions function normally. No other devices, but the clocks are affected,' said Miguel Lara, general manager of the country's National Power Grid.

The problem started in February 2001, when one of the rivers powering a major hydroelectric plant in southeast Venezuela lost its flow due to a severe drought. To prevent blackouts, the country slightly lowered the frequency of the power supply. This slowed the vibration of the crystal that regulates time keeping in electric quartz clocks.

In the past year, Venezuela's clocks have slowed down by 14 hours and 36 minutes. However, Venezuelan citizens have taken the trouble in their stride. "We correct the clocks every three months and there's no problem,' says an air traffic controller. "If you're two minutes late to the office, and everybody else is too, there's no problem,' says Rene Osurna, who works at a shipping company.