15-digit Nixie clock contains mostly non-useful information

[Jarek Lupinski] is at it again, this time building a clock using 15 Nixie tubes. Just look at the time…. wait, how do you read this now? It’s not seconds since the epoch, but an homage to a very expensive New York City art piece. [Jarek] took his inspiration from the Metronome art installation in Union Square.

We hadn’t heard of it before and were shocked to learn that this art was commissioned at $4.2 million. It belches steam and confuses passersby with its cryptic fifteen digits. It seems that the eight digits on the left mark the current time – two digits for hours, two for minutes, two for seconds, and the final digit for hundreths of a second. The seven remaining digits count down the time left in the day. So when you watch it, you see the significant digits of the display increasing, and the insignificant half decreasing.

The Nixie version rests snuggly on a 15″x4″ PCB. We’re sure it doesn’t number in the millions, but that couldn’t have been cheap to have manufactured. Each tube has its own driver chip, removing the need for multiplexing. An ATmega168 controls the clock (along with some shift registers to expand the I/O count), reading time from a DS1307 RTC chip. It looks fancy, but where’s the belching smoke on this version?


  1. CutThroughStuffGuy says:

    I have one for sale at $4.1 million.

  2. ColinB says:

    Too bad the schematic is only in a proprietary format. I was hoping to see how the drivers are all connected to the MCU.

  3. Karl says:

    1) Coat a 10 ohm, 1/8W resistor with several layers of flux.

    2) Apply 5V power.

    3) Observe smoke.

    4) Smell roastred resistor.

    [My favorite joke on newbie engineers debugging a new circuit]

  4. The belching smoke came from the first power supply, which couldn’t handle 180V @ 37.5mA =)

    ColinB, I will post a capture of the schematic and save it as a .png tonight. I’ll email you when it’s up (not at home computer now)

  5. therian says:

    what useful information does this post have ? is it news a day now ?

  6. IJ Dee-Vo says:

    Very useful info thanks for posting(not sarcasm)

  7. ColinB says:

    @Jarek – I would love to see a PNG of your schematic. Thanks! I’ll look for it later.

  8. PNGs posted, they’re at the bottom with the other files

  9. mike says:

    i’d be more inclined to build a scrolling text box….

    with the words “cryptic numbers here”.

  10. oh, man…
    btw, where did you get the PCB from? it is pretty long…

  11. There are a couple of board houses (Advanced Circuits) which sell a predetermined size of PCB, and you can dimension it and fill it with as many circuits as you like. In addition to this, I got 12 completely different circuits on the same board, and it all costs ~100.

  12. Matt says:

    Now if only they could set the Union Square clock to the *correct* time…
    Btw the ‘steam’ outlet is actually a cleverly designed HVAC vent.

  13. Matt says:

    Nvm, I’m wrong about the steam. Still, for $4.2m I’d at least put a GPS clock in..

  14. dredwerker says:

    I like it. All those nixie tubes I want one. More accurately – I want to build one :)

    Obviously with all those digits there would be enhancements. Like it saying “boobies” if you look at it upside down :)

  15. Whatnot says:

    ‘Non-useful’ eh, I think the word you are looking for is ‘useless’

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