Mains Clocking A Microcontroller

[Lujji] is playing around with the STM8 microcontroller. In reviewing the official documentation for this chip, he read the external clock can be a sine wave, a triangle wave, or a square wave with a 50% duty cycle. The minimum CPU frequency is 0 Hz. [Lujji] doesn’t have a signal generator, and presumably, he’s all out of crystals. He does have mains AC, though, so why not clock a microcontroller with wall power?

Using mains power as a frequency standard is a concept a hundred years old. Synchronous motors turn at a rate proportional to the mains frequency, and this has been used in clocks for decades. If you’re really clever, you can clock digital circuits with mains AC, but we’ve never seen someone replace a tiny crystal in a microcontroller circuit with mains power.

After an experiment to prove the concept, [Lujji] went on to construct a circuit that wasn’t as dumb as connecting the microcontroller directly to a wall socket. The direct approach didn’t work that well anyway — the STM8 didn’t like low frequency clocks with slow edges. [Lujji] needed a clock with cleaner edges, and a 555 configured as a comparator fit the bill.

The completed circuit sends mains power through an optocoupler to drive a 555 configured as a comparator. The output is a clean 50Hz clock that is connected to the OSCIN pin on an STM8. This is now a chip running at 50Hz, and yes, it works. [Lujji] set up a circuit to write ‘Hello World’ on an old Nokia LCD. That took about three minutes. It works, though, even though it’s completely useless. Maybe this can be applied to some novel timekeeping similar to that one-instruction-per-day clock we looked earlier in the year.

Hackaday Prize Entry: Obsolete Time Lite

There are very few constants in the world of home-made electronics. Things that you might have found on the bench of a mid-1960s engineer working with germanium PNP transistors just as much as you might find on the bench of one in 2017 working on 32-bit microcontrollers. One of these constants is the humble Altoids tin. The ubiquitous mint container is as handy a size for the transistor circuits of previous decades as it is for the highly integrated circuits of today, and has become something of a standard form factor.

One thing you might not expect in an Altoids tin though is a vacuum tube, even one protruding through the lid. [opeRaptor] though has done just that, though, with a very nicely executed design for a NIXIE clock in your favorite mint container. We’re writing this up as a Hackaday Prize entry so at this stage in the competition the boards are still in design for the prototype, but the difficult power supply to make 180 V DC from a single cell is already proven to work, as it the clock circuitry. The final clock will be a very compact device given the size of the tin, and will contain an ESP8266 board for wireless network connectivity.

For a project at this early stage, there is frustratingly little real work to go on aside from some renders, but there is at least a video showing the PSU working driving a NIXIE, which we’ve put below the break.

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Linear Clock Slows the Fugit of the Tempus

We feature a lot of clocks here on Hackaday, and lately most of them seem to be Nixie clocks. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but every once in a while it’s nice to see something different. And this electromechanical rack and pinion clock is certainly different.

[JON-A-TRON] calls his clock a “perpetual clock,” perhaps in a nod to perpetual calendars. But in our opinion, all clocks are perpetual, so we’ll stick with “linear clock.” Whatever you call it, it’s pretty neat. The hour and minute indicators are laser cut and engraved plywood, each riding on a rack and pinion. Two steppers advance each rack incrementally, so the resolution of the clock is five minutes. [JON-A-TRON] hints that this was a design decision, in part to slow the perceived pace of time, an idea we can get behind. But as a practical matter, it greatly simplified the gear train; it would have taken a horologist like [Chris] at ClickSpring to figure out how to gear this with only one prime mover.

In the end, we really like the look of this clock, and the selection of materials adds to the aesthetic. And if you’re going to do a Nixie clock build, do us a favor and at least make it levitate.

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Power Sipping Master Keeps Slave Clock on Time

Few things are as infuriating as clocks that are not synchronized. It’s frustrating when the clock on the range and the clock on the microwave act like they’re in time zones that are one minute apart. Now picture that same issue over dozens of clocks in a train station, or hundreds in a school or factory. It’s no wonder that slave clocks, which advance on signals from a master clock, were developed.

When a pair of vintage Lepaute slave clocks made their way to [melka], he knew just what to do – build his own master clock to keep the slave on track. This particularly stylish slave clock uses pulses of alternating polarity every 30 seconds and will work on 1.5-volt pulses, which let [melka] meet his design goal of running for a year off a single AA battery. To keep the power needs low, [melka] relies on the RTC to wake up the MSP430 every second to increment a counter. When it hits 30, a pulse is sent to the clock’s motor through an H-bridge; the MCU alternates the polarity of every other pulse to advance the clock.

It’s not immediately clear how the clock is set; we recall the slave clocks in high school rapidly advancing for Daylight Saving adjustments, so we assume [melka] has provided some way of pulsing the clock quickly to set the time. Regardless, it’s a good lesson in low-power design. And be sure to check out this PIC-based master clock replacement, too.

Well Engineered Radio Clock Aces Form and Function

Clocks that read time via received radio signals have several advantages over their Internet-connected, NTP-synchronised brethren. The radio signal is ubiquitous and available over a fairly large footprint extending to thousands of kilometres from the transmitting antennae. This allows such clocks to work reliably in areas where there is no Internet service. And compared to GPS clocks, their front-end electronics and antenna requirements are much simpler. [Erik de Ruiter]’s DCF77 Analyzer/Clock is synchronised to the German DCF77 radio signal, which is derived from the atomic clocks at PTB headquarters. It features a ton of bells and whistles, while still being simple to build. It’s a slick piece of German hacker engineering that leaves us amazed.

Among the clock functions, it shows time, day of the week, date, CET/CEST modes, leap year indications and week numbers. The last is not part of the DCF77 protocol but is calculated via software. The DCF77 analyzer part has all of the useful information gleaned from the radio signals. There are displays for time period, pulse width, a bit counter, bit value indicator (0/1) and an error counter. There are two rings of 59 LEDs each that provide additional information about the DCF77 signal. A PIR sensor on the front panel helps put the clock in power save mode. Finally, there is a whole bunch of indicator LEDs and a bank of switches to control the various functions. On the rear panel, there are RJ45 sockets for the DCF77 receiver antenna board, temperature sensor and FTDI serial, a bunch of audio sound board controls, reset switches and a mode control switch.

His build starts with the design and layout of the enclosure. The front panel layout had to go through a couple of iterations before he was satisfied with the result. The final version was made from aluminium-coated sandwich-panel. He used an online service to photo-etch the markings, and then a milling machine to carve out the various windows and mounting holes. The rear panel is a tinted acrylic with laser engraving, which makes the neatly laid out innards visible for viewers to appreciate. The wooden frame is made from 40-year-old Mahogany, sourced from an old family heirloom desk. All of this hard work results in a really professional looking product.

The electronics are mostly off the shelf modules, except for the custom built LED driver boards. The heart of the device is an Arduino Mega because of the large number of outputs it provides. There are seven LED driver boards based around the Maxim 7221 (PDF) serial interface LED drivers – two to drive the inner and outer ring LEDs, and the others for the various seven-segment displays. The numerous annunciator LEDs are driven directly from the Arduino Mega. His build really comes together by incorporating a noise resilient DCF77 decoder library by [Udo Klein] which is running on a separate Arduino Uno. All of his design source files are posted on his GitHub repository and he hopes to publish an Instructable soon for those who would like to build one of their own.

In the first video below, he walks through the various functions of the clock, and in the second one, gives us a peek in to its inside. Watch, and be amazed.

Thanks for the tip, [Nick]

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[Kwan]’s Clock Displays Seconds, and Thirds

We have no idea if the background story is true or not, but we’re not going to let something like “truth” get in the way of a good story. The way [Kwan3217] tells it, first there were hours on sundials. Then when these were divided into sixty minute sections, they were called “minutes”. “Seconds” comes from a second division by sixty, into “second minutes”. The “third” division into sixty would give a time unit that lasts a sixtieth of a second.

[Kwan3217] built a clock that displays these third minutes. Weighing in at just a tiny bit over 16.6666 milliseconds each, the thirds’ hand is going to be spinning pretty fast, so he used LEDs. And if you’re going to display thirds, you’ve got to get them right, so he backs the clock up with GPS. There’s a full video playlist about it, and phenomenal detail in the project logs. Continue reading “[Kwan]’s Clock Displays Seconds, and Thirds”

A Wordsearch Twist on the Word Clock

We love seeing new takes on existing ideas, and [Danny] certainly took the word clock concept in an unusual direction with his Wordsearch Clock. Instead of lighting up words to spell out the time, [Danny] decided to embrace the fact that the apparent jumble of letters on the clock face resembles a word search puzzle.

In a word search puzzle, words can be found spelled forward or backward with letters lined up horizontally, diagonally, or vertically. All that matters is that the correct letters are in a line and sequentially adjacent to one another. [Danny]’s clock lights up the correct letters and words one after the other, just as if it were solving a word search puzzle for words that just happen to tell the correct time. You can see it in action in the video, embedded below.

[Danny] went the extra mile in the planning phase. After using a word search puzzle generator tool to assist in designing the layout, he wrote a Processing sketch to simulate the clock’s operation. Visually simulating the clock allowed him to make tweaks to the layout, identify edge cases to address, and gain insight into the whole process. If you’re interested in making your own, there is a GitHub repository for the project.

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