Budd Goldman, an inventor in Mineola, N.Y., has earned his living for two decades making doo-dads. "Toilet paper holders that look like the back of cars, masks over shower heads that looked like celebrities, a little black box that you pushed it and it cursed," Goldman said, describing a few of his greatest hits.

But now comes, at the end of the 20th century, what Goldman considers his crowning achievement: the Millennium Clock. "I've been practicing to get to this one," he said.The desktop clock is a relentless reminder of the remaining days, hours, minutes and seconds until the arrival of Jan. 1, 2000 - as determined by the time zone of the person who sets it.

Goldman said the idea came to him in 1986, as he walked down a street in Seoul, South Korea. "There were billboards counting down to the Olympics," he said. "The idea germinated, and I decided to make a small version of a countdown clock," which would use an LCD display to count the days until an impending milestone, like a birthday or an anniversary. But the idea flopped.

"I didn't sell any," he said. "Zippo."

Fast-forward a decade to 1996, just as millennium fever was starting to infuse the country. "I was on the corner of 34th and Seventh and there was this billboard from a restaurant saying, `We'll be feeding customers into the new millennium."' he said. "The light bulb went off."