Hackaday Links: January 17th, 2013

Free-formed VFD clock

links-free-formed-vfd-clock [James] doesn’t need a circuit board or even some protoboard to get the job done. He free-formed all the circuits for his VFD clock. Right now this is the only project hosted on his blog so click around to see how he got to this point.

DIY LED traffic light

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Here’s a scratch-build traffic light which [Jarle] uses to display information about his server. If you’re unable to find your own storm damaged original this is a pretty easy way to build one.

FPGA space attack game

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This game is running on an FPGA, but it’s not written in HDL. Instead, [Johan] wrote the game in C to run on a soft processor loaded on the gate array.

Hourglass entropy

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This is a fascinating idea for generating random numbers. [Gijs] is shining a laser onto a light dependent transistor. The beam of the laser is broken by the falling sand of an hourglass. This technique could be use as an entropy source for random number generation.

GPS clock source for a digital timepiece

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It seems like massive overkill, but you can’t beat the time accuracy of using a GPS module as a clock source. We don’t expect that [Jay] kept the clock in one piece after finishing the project. It’s just a good way to practice decoding the GPS data.

Scrapped DVD player turns into a full featured clock

[Dmitry] really went the distance with this project. It started as a broken DVD player scrapped for parts, and turned into this clock with way too many features. That link is a pretty a dry technical collection of the work. You’ll definitely want to have a look at it, but we’d suggest first watching the demo video after the break which is initially much more exciting.

The donor DVD hardware included a Vacuum Fluorescent display which is the nugget which [Dmitry] was after. But that board came along with some other nice things, like an integrated IR receiver. He also chose to use the PSU from the device. An Arduino is used to drive the clock. We’re not sure where he found it, but the video shows the service manual for the DVD player which must have a been a real help in interfacing with the display. The white dome on the right is a PIR motion sensor. It brings the device out of sleep mode when someone is in the room.

The case is laser-cut and started as cardboard to ensure everything fit as designed. The enclosure makes it a showpiece, but the features of displaying day, date, time, and temperature make it functional as well. Since the VFD is alpha-numeric we think this could even see future upgrades to be used as a new-mail/tweet/IM alert as well.

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Oscilloscope VFD repair like doing brain surgery on yourself

[Jerry Pommer] has an old Tektronix 2236 that is having some issues. Just to the right of the top corner of the screen is a VFD display that is used to show various numerical measurements. Unfortunately this has stopped working, so he made the oscilloscope probe itself in order to trouble-shoot the situation.

The entire repair process was filmed and you can see the 42-minute job embedded after the break. There’s a lot of stuff crammed inside that oscilloscope, and we see a tour of it all at the beginning of the video. Once [Jerry] gets down to business he traces the problem to a JK Flip-Flop used to feed the display. The output appears correct at first, but the clock signal is not functioning as expected. His solution is to use an MSP430 chip to replace the Flip-Flop functions.

The confidence to try this repair was sparked by [Todd Harrington’s] car-stereo VFD repair video.

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Repairing a VFD driver on a car stereo

We love seeing repairs and always marvel at the ability to track down the problem. [Todd] seems to have a knack for this. He was met with a lot of adversity when trying to get the Vacuum Fluorescent Display working on his car stereo. A lot of persistence, and a little bit of taking the easier way out let him accomplish his goal.

The head unit is out of his 1994 Jeep. He knew the radio functionality still worked, but the display was completely dark. After getting it out of the dashboard he connected it to a bench supply and started probing around. He established that the data lines were still working by setting the radio to auto scan mode and testing with a multimeter. When he went to measure the cathode pins he didn’t get any reading. It seems the driver which supplies that signal is burnt out.

One easy fix would be to replace the parts from a scavenged unit. [Todd] hit the junkyard and picked up one from a Jeep that was just one model year apart from his. Alas, they weren’t exactly the same, and although he swapped out a chip (using a neat heated solder sucker) it didn’t work. In the end he simply dropped in a power resistor to use the 12V rail as a 1V at 0.1A source for the filament.

You can see his repair extravaganza in the video after the break. If you’re looking for tips on scavenging these types of displays check out this post.

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An ice tube clock for the TI Launchpad

Because Nixies, Decatrons, and VFD tubes really are that cool, [cubeberg] over on the 43oh forums designed an IV-18 clock for the TI Launchpad.

Like adafruit’s Ice Tube clock, [cubeberg]’s project uses a surplus Russian IV-18 VFD tube conveniently sourced on eBay. On the board, there are three buttons for changing the time and setting the alarm along with a MAX6921 VFD tube driver and a small switching regulator to boost the 5 Volts on the Launchpad to the 50 V the tube requires.

There was a little bit of space left on [cubeberg]’s PCB design, and he filled that space with a header for a buzzer and a temperature sensor. Right now, the code doesn’t support an alarm function and he’s still waiting on a few components to finish off the thermometer portion of the board, but it’s still the makings of a very nice clock.

If you’d like to grab your own Launchpad ice tube clock, [bluehash] is organizing a group buy for 430h forum members. If they can get 15 pieces built, the clock will cost less than $5/unit. Very cool, and very cheap when you consider TI is practically giving Launchpads away.

[Todd] literally debugs this printing calculator

This printing calculator is a thrift store find. [Todd Harrison] picked it up for a measly $3, and it still works! But the device is about twenty years old and he thinks it’s time to clean up the aging hardware.

After cracking open the case he digs out some of the stuff that has made its way inside. This includes a few dried up moths (debugging complete). While everything is open he gives a tour of the components. The calculator has a VFD which is definitely worth the price tag of the unit even if you just want to reuse the display in another project. But that’s not all. The printing head would be a fun thing to play with as well. We could see using this in projects similar to some of the thermal printer hacks we’ve seen.

When put back together, and given a new ink ribbon, the unit is ready for another 10-years of holding down one corner of your desk. Don’t miss [Todd’s] tear-down and clean-up video after the break.

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Six-digit VFD alarm clock

[Haris Andrianakis] just finished building this very clean-looking vacuum fluorescent display clock. It shows six digits using IV-11 tubes, and also has a half-dozen RGB LEDs to spice things up (check out the video after the break for an example). An ATmega168 drives the device, controlling the display and serving as a battery-backed real-time clock.

As with any tube-based clock there’s a fair amount of work that goes into driving the display. Each tube has a filament which requires 1.2V, and the segments themselves need 60 volts to light up. The microcontroller is not hard to protect; this is done with a series of transistor-based circuits used for switching. But the need for three voltages (to power microcontroller, filament, and segments) means a more complex PSU design. [Haris] chose to use a MAX6921 to simplify the process.

If you’re considering building something like this, we’d recommend looking for some 12-segment tubes. As we’ve seen before, they can display letters as well as numbers in case you wish to repurpose the device in the future.

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