Navigating the Oceans is Deadly Without a Clock

I came across an interesting question this weekend: how do you establish your East/West location on the globe without modern technology? The answer depends on what you mean by “modern”, it turns out you only have to go back about three centuries to find there was no reliable way. The technology that changed that was a clock; a very special one that kept accurate time despite changing atmospheric conditions and motion. The invention of the Harrison H1 revolutionized maritime travel.

We can thank Andy Weir for getting me onto this topic. I just finished his amazing novel The Martian and I can confirm that George Graves’ opinion of the high quality of that novel is spot on. For the most part, Andy lines up challenges that Mark Watney faces and then engineers a solution around them. But when it came to plotting location on the surface of Mars he made just a passing reference to the need to have accurate clocks to determine longitude. I had always assumed that a sextant was all you needed. But unless you have a known landmark to sight from this will only establish your latitude (North/South position).

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If You Could Build a Clock in World of Goo…

[Orson Scott Card] once wrote “…time flows through all lives equally.” You have to wonder what he would think if he saw Rhei, a fluid clock that is part prototype, part dynamic installation, and part moving sculpture. The developers [Damjan Stanković], and [Marko Pavlović] say that time flows, and thanks to the fluid-based numerals on the clock face, that seems to be an appropriate tag line (if you can’t visualize it, check out the video below).

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Clocks for Social Good

Over the past five days we’ve been challenging the Hackaday community to build a clock and show it off. This is to raise awareness for electronics design in everyday life and hopefully you found a non-hacker to join you on the project. The point is that our society — which has pretty much universally accepted everyday carry of complex electronics — has no idea what goes into electronic design. How are we supposed to get kids excited about engineering if they are never able to pull back that curtain and see it in action?

Build something simple that can be understood by everyone, and show it off in a way that invites the uninitiated to get excited. What’s simpler than a clock? I think of it as the impetus behind technology. Marking the passage of time goes back to our roots as primitive humans following migratory herds, and betting on the changing seasons for crop growth. Our modern lives are governed by time more than ever. These Clocks for Social Good prove that anyone can understand how this technology works. And everyone who wants to learn to build their own electronic gadget can discover how to do so at low-cost and with reasonable effort. This is how we grow the next generation of engineers, so let’s take a look at what we all came up with over the weekend.

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Porsche-themed Mancave Clock: There is no Substitute

With an extra Porsche brake rotor lying about and a persistent friend to be silenced, [GordsGarage] decided to fabricate a one-of-a-kind man cave wall clock.

This was not to be a boring old hang-it-flat-on-the-wall design, though. The Porsche rotor is a composite design, with a steel hub and a ceramic disc weighing only a third of what an all-steel rotor weighs. That inspired [GordsGarage] to fabricate a wall bracket to hold the rotor and allow it to spin, showing off both sides. The business side has a brushed aluminum clock face with decals cut with a s vinyl-plotter and designed to look like a Porsche tachometer, while the reverse side has a nice custom badge for his friend’s shop. The build log shares some of the nice touches that went into the clock, like powder coated parts to mimic stock Porsche red brake calipers, and the secret [GordsGarage] logo.

It may not have been a clock for social good, but it’s a great design and a nice build that’s sure to brighten up his friend’s shop. And mancave warming presents are apparently a thing now, so we’ll be sure to keep our finger on the pulse of this social trend.

Nixie Tube Clock Isn’t Just a Clock

With everything that’s been happening in the news lately, [Jarek] decided it was finally time to finish up his latest project. The Internet of Things has been exploding with projects lately, and this clock that also alerts him of the weather is the latest addition. Plus it has the added bonus of using everybody’s favorite display: nixie tubes!

Of course, using high voltage for the nixies can be terror-inducing, but [Jarek] found a power supply on eBay that was able to power the tubes for not too much money. The controller is an HV5622 which can control up to 32 nixies while only using up three pins on a microcontroller which is pretty handy if you have a limited number of output pins.

The clock also has another device hidden behind all of the wires for the tubes: an ESP8266 to give it network connectivity. The clock connects to the Internet and searches for the nine-hour weather forecast. There are a few nixie lights behind the display which illuminate cutouts in the case to indicate a few different weather statuses. It’s a very polished project, and since it’s enclosed in a nice case it’s not likely to be mistaken for any movie props. Of course, other nixie projects don’t have the same comforting look.

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I Built a Clock to Spread Awareness. Now It’s Your Turn

I spent an evening building a clock. It’s not about keeping time, or even about the clock. This is about raising awareness that people actually build electronics as a hobby. Promoting wide understanding of this can have a profound effect on our society. On the one hand, it can avoid drama like we’ve seen with the clock incident this week at a school in Texas. The far more important result is to get more people interested in STEM fields.

If you think back to 10-20 years ago, everyone knew that “computer person” who always had interesting technology, spent tons of time on the computer, and was the go-to when people needed help. Fast forward to today and everyone is that computer geek to one extent or another. Smartphones, tablets, and laptops have been universally adopted. We need everyone today to know that “hardware person” who is building electronics in their basement, garage, or hackerspace. I don’t have any illusions that everyone will be bootstrapping a clock in 10 years. But there are enough of us out there already that raising our profile will let everyone discover they already have a hardware hacker in their social circles.

Get started this weekend by building a Clock for Social Good. Grab a non-hacker friend and build a clock with anything you have lying around. Document it on and send me a message with the link so I can add it to the already-growing list of clock builds.

This will break down the barriers your non-hacker acquaintances have about cracking open the case on something, or about seeing a bunch of loose wires hanging off of a board. Getting our projects out into the community will help people learn that building hardware is a thing, and one that they should get their kids excited about. The more engineers we can create in middle and high school, the better our future outlook becomes.

Now, if you want to know more about my clock, check out the video after the break. I do have a project page started, with plenty more information coming later today as I find carve out some time to update it. I can’t wait to see what you come up with for your own project!

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Why You Should Build a Clock for Social Good this Week

We’ve seen a wide range of emotional responses regarding [Ahmed Mohamed]’s arrest this week for bringing a clock he built to school. No matter where you fall on the political scale, we can all agree that mistaking a hobby engineering project for a bomb is a problem for education. People just don’t understand that mere mortals can, and do, build electronics. We can change that, but we need your help.

Our friends at NYC Resistor came up with a great idea. Why don’t we all build a clock? I want you to take it one step further: find a non-hacker to partner with on the project. Grab a friend, relative, or acquaintance and ask them to join you in building a clock from stuff you have on hand in order to promote STEM education.

Clocks have long been one of my favorite projects, and like the one shown above, most of my builds didn’t look anything like traditional clocks. Once you start getting into how clocks are built, you’ll be amazed at how accurate dirt-cheap clocks are and how difficult it can be to replicate that accuracy. Pass this knowledge on to your teammates. Teach them how to solder, or how to draw a schematic, or just how to open the case on some electronics without fear.

Post your project on and we’ll add it to the Clocks for Social Good list (message me with the link). If you decide to document it elsewhere just leave a link in the comments below. We’ll post a roundup of all these builds next week. I plan to repurpose the soldering workshop board I populated last week as the display for my clock. I’ll be helping a friend of mine learn to solder as part of the build!

Happy hacking, and thanks for helping to dispel fear and teach others about awesome engineering.

Need some inspiration to get going? You can always chat with others about it in the Hacker Channel. If you have an Arduino and some LED strips you can do something like this. Here’s a binary clock built with just a few LEDs. Or if you have a laser cutter at your disposal you can make a unique display with just a pair of motors.