Once, Twice, Three Times a Nixie

Try as he might, [Localroger] can’t seem to throw away a certain board that started life in one of the first digital industrial scales, the NCI DigiFlex model 5775. He recently gave it a third career as a nixie clock with an alarm.

[Localroger] says the board dates to about 1975. It’s all TTL, no microprocessor anywhere. He was headed to the Dumpster with it in the mid-1980s, but realized that he could hack it into something useful. Since the display wasn’t multiplexed, it would be fairly easy. He used it as a BCD tester for about 10 years until the method fell out of fashion.

After a decade on the shelf, [Localroger] started off for the Dumpster once more with the board. The nixie tube display cried out for another chance to glow, so he decided to repurpose it into a remote-controlled bedside clock with an alarm. He installed a Parallax Propeller Protoboard with headers for easy removal and subsequent servicing of the 5775 board. He added a few things to the protoboard: a piezo element for the alarm, a SparkFun RTC module, an IR receiver, and vertically-oriented header so the PropPlug can be plugged in from the top. But that’s not all. [Localroger] designed a custom melamine-finished MDF enclosure and laser cut it, giving the edges a nice contrast. It’s so tough, he can put his ceramic lamp on top of it to save space on the nightstand.

Nixie tubes are becoming more scarce all the time. If you can’t find any, we humbly suggest rolling your own.

[Thanks Localroger!]

A Clock Built from Scraps

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Who doesn’t love a good surplus store? [Tyler Bletsch] just finished up this awesome clock hack by re-purposing a scrapped medical circuit board.

Ax-Man Surplus in Minneapolis has all kinds of goodies and it’s been around a long time (here’s a hack from the ’90s that source from the store). One day while digging through their inventory, [Tyler] found a bunch of scrap circuit boards with 7-segment displays. At $2 a pop, he decided to risk it to tinker with.

He quickly identified the main chip on the board to be a common LED driver (MAX7221) and began reverse engineering the board by tracing the circuit. He actually has a brilliant guide on his website about how to make circuit tracing way easier. From there it was just a matter of loading a MAX7221 library onto a ATtiny44, adding a 16MHz crystal, and since there’s an extra 2 digits available on the display… a temperature sensor too!

It’s a great little hack, and as it turned out, there wasn’t anything wrong with the boards, except for a minor typo in the company’s name. Hooray for reusing scrapped parts!

Fubarino Contest: Persistence of Vision clock

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The best part of these contests is that we get people to actually show off what they’ve been working on! Check out the POV clock which was sent in by [Taciuc]. He doesn’t have a webpage for it, but he did send a video which you can see after the break.

The project is a home-etched PCB with a long row or surface mount LEDs. The board is spun by a stepper motor which takes a little while to stabilize. But once it does it’s a twirling package of awesomeness. A PIC 16F628 drives the device, with a separate RTC chip to keep time. There’s also an IR receiver to facilitate user control. Our URL is displayed on the clock face itself and we think it’s always shown. But there is an easter egg in the code itself. If you try to dump the firmware from the chip you’ll see our web address in the hex output. Here’s his project archive if you want to the HEX, ASM and DipTrace schematic.


This is an entry in the Fubarino Contest for a chance at one of the 20 Fubarino SD boards which Microchip has put up as prizes!

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Stylish OLED Watch Uses Accelerometer Instead of Buttons

A few days ago [Andrew] contacted us to offer his help for the design of the mooltipass project case. While introducing himself, he casually mentioned his OLED watch that you can see above.

The watch is based on the low-power MSP430F microcontroller from Texas Instruments. It can consume as little as 1.5uA while maintaining a real-time clock and monitoring interrupts. It also uses ferroelectric RAM, which doesn’t need any power to retain its memory contents. That means there’s no need to set the time again if you remove the CR2016 battery that powers the watch.

[Andrew] chose an 0.96″ OLED display that only consumes up to 7mA. He also included an accelerometer that allows him to interact with the watch through its single and double tap detecting feature. He modeled his PCB using EagleCAD and the whole assembly using Sketchup. Most of the components were soldered in his reflow (toaster) oven. The final result is a mere 8.8mm thick and looks very professional in our opinion.

Fubarino Contest: VFD Clock

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The entries for our Fubarino contest are slowly yet surely coming in. [James] already had an awesome VFD clock under his belt, and figured adding a Hackaday easter egg to his project would be simple enough.

[James'] clock is based on the TI Stellaris LaunchPad with six beautiful seven-segment VFD display tubes. The clock’s time is controlled by a DS1307 RTC chip, and a small switch-mode power supply controlled by the Stellaris boosts the power from 5 Volts to 50 Volts for the tubes. The tubes are controlled with a Max6921 VFD driver chip.

The easter egg for this project – displaying the Hackaday URL – is only shown when you power up the clock when the seconds display shows 37. That’s extremely subtle for an easter egg and just the way we like it.

All the code for [James]‘ project is up on GitHub along with the designs for the tube clock’s enclosure. Really an awesome project, and a great way for [James] to earn himself a Fubarino.

What are you waiting for? We still haven’t passed twenty entries which means your chances of winning are pretty good!

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VFD And Nixie Clock Twofer

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Sometimes the stars align and we get two somewhat similar builds hitting the Hackaday tip line at the same time. Recently, the build of note was clocks using some sort of display tube, so here we go.

First up is [Pyrofer]‘s VFD network time clock (pic, above). The build started as a vacuum flourescent display tube he salvaged from an old fruit machine – whatever that is. The VFD was a 16 character, 14 segment display, all controlled via serial input.

The main control board is, of course, an Arduino with a WizNet 5100 Ethernet board. The clock connects to the Internet via DHCP so there’s no need to set an IP address. Once connected, the clock sets itself via network time and displays the current date, time, and temperature provided by a Dallas 1-wire temperature probe.

Next up is [Andrew]‘s beautiful Nixie clock with enough LEDs to satiate the desires of even the most discerning technophile. The board is based on a PIC microcontroller with two switching power supplies – one for the 170VDC for the Nixies, and 5V for the rest of the board.

A battery backed DS1307 is the real-time clock for this board, and two MCP23017 I/O expanders are used to run the old-school Nixie drivers

All this is pretty standard for a Nixie clock build, if a little excessive. It wasn’t enough for [Andrew], though: he used the USB support on his PIC to throw a USB port on his board and wrote an awesome bit of software for his PC to set the time, upload new firmware, and set the color fade and speed. With this many LEDs, it’s not something you want in your bedroom with all the lights on full blast, so he implemented a ‘sleep’ mode to turn off most of the lights and all the Nixie tubes. It’s a great piece of work that could easily be successfully funded on Kickstarter.

DCF77 Powered Clock is a Work of Art

[Brett] just completed his DCF77 Master Bracket Clock, intended to be a backup to an old logic controlled clock he made. For our readers that don’t know, DCF77 is a German longwave time signal whose transmitter is located near Frankfurt (Germany). Every minute, the current date and time are sent on the 77.5kHz carrier signal.

The result, which you can see above, is made using an Ikea lantern, a skeleton clock, an ATmega328 (for Arduino compatibility), a voice recording playback IC (ISD1730), a cheap 20×4 LCD display, a DCF77 receiver module, and many LEDs. We’re pretty sure that it must have taken [Brett] quite a while to get such a nice looking clock. In case the clock loses power from the power supply, 3 AA cells provide battery backup. On the firmware side, making the platform Arduino-compatible allowed [Brett] to use its libraries so the coding was quickly done. Embedded after a break is a video of the final result.

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