With a love of blinky and glowey things, [Fran] has collected a lot of electronic display devices over the years. Now she’s doing a few teardowns and tutorials on some of her (and our) favorite parts: LEDs and VFD and Nixie tubes
Perhaps it’s unsurprising that someone with hardware from a Saturn V flight computer also has a whole lot of vintage components, but we’re just surprised at how complete [Fran]’s collection is. She has one of the very first commercial LEDs ever made. It’s a very tiny red LED made by Monsanto (yes, that company) packaged in a very odd lead-and-cup package.
Also in her LED collection is a strange Western Electric part that’s green, but not the green you expect from an LED. This LED is more of an emerald color – not this color, but more like the green you get with a CMYK process. It would be really cool to see one of these put in a package with red, green, and blue LED, and could have some interesting applications considering the color space of an RGB LED.
Apart from her LEDs, [Fran] also has a huge collection of VFD and Nixie tubes. Despite the beliefs of eBay sellers, these two technologies are not the same: VFDs are true vacuum tubes with a phosphorescent coating and work something like a CRT turned inside out. Nixies, on the other hand, are filled with a gas (usually neon) that turns to plasma when current flows through one of the digits. [Fran] has a ton of VFDs and Nixies – mostly military surplus – and sent a few over to [Dave Jones] for him to fool around with.
It’s all very cool stuff and a great lead-in to what we hear [Fran] will be looking at next: electroluminescent displays found in the Apollo Guidance Computer.
Continue reading “[Fran]’s LEDs, Nixies, and VFDs.”
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.
Born well into the transistor era of the late 80s, [Fernando] missed out on all the fun you can have with high voltage and vacuum tubes. He wanted to experience this very cool tech, but since you won’t find a tube checker down at the five and dime anymore, where exactly do you get a vacuum tube to play around with? [Fernando]’s solution was to rip apart the vacuum fluorescent display from an old radio (Google Translate) and use that as a triode.
Inside every VFD is a filament, grid, and cathode – three simple elements also found in the triodes of just about every tube amp ever made. By applying a small voltage to the filament, a larger voltage to the cathode, and sending an audio signal to the grid, this triode amplifies the electrical signal coming from a stereo or guitar.
[Fernando] built his circuit on a breadboard, and with a little tweaking managed to get a fairly respectable amount of gain from parts salvaged from a radio. While using VFDs as amplifiers is nothing new – we’ve seen it a few times before, tube builds are always great to see, and bodged up electronics even more so.
[James Glanville] wrote in to show of his latest tube project. It’s a clock using six IV-3 VFD tubes. In addition to the tube displays the project prominently features a blue 3D printed case which hides away all the guts of the build including the Stellaris Launchpad which drives the clock.
Speaking of guts, you’ll want to look through a few of [James’] other posts on the project. His first write-up on this clock shows off the protoboard and point-to-point soldering that makes the tubes work. To help simplify things he went with a MAX6921 VFD driver chip. He mounted it dead-bug style on its own piece of protoboard and then soldered all of the necessary connections to the larger hunk hosting the tubes. There’s also an interesting post that details the switch mode power supply which ramps the USB 5V power all the way up to the 50V used to drive the displays.
If you like this you should check out the first VFD clock he built. We featured it a while back in a links post.
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
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
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.
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
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.
[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.
Continue reading “Scrapped DVD player turns into a full featured clock”
[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.
Continue reading “Oscilloscope VFD repair like doing brain surgery on yourself”