[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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Putting Twitter in a VFD clock

Not content with only knowing the time, [trandi] decided his Vacuum Fluorescent Display clock would be much better if it displayed the weather and a Twitter feed.

[trandi] received a Lady Ada Ice Tube clock last month. The kit went together almost too easily. Now he had to, “make it connect to other ‘stuff’ and display some custom messages.” After playing with the firmware to display a Hello World, [trandi] mucked around with the GPS mod and figured out how to add scrolling text over a serial connection.

A serial connection to an Internet-connected computer is all well and good, but [trandi] really wanted a stand-alone solution. A tiny WiFi to RS-232 board was sourced and the work of getting a clock on the internet began in earnest. After a weekend was wasted trying to debug the HTTP mode of the WiFi board, [trandi] gave up and used TCP mode with manually constructed HTTP headers.

The clock gets the current weather and a Twitter feed. To one-up to the Ice Cube GPS mod, the clock now sets its own time from the Internet. Check out the video of [trandi] showing off his Internet clock and fine collection of single malts after the break.

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VFD Hacking


[Mostafa] was a bit bored and had a broken DVD player sitting around, so he decided to take it apart to see what made the machine’s LCD panel tick. Once he popped it open, he discovered it wasn’t an LCD panel at all, it was a VFD.

The seven segment display looked to be controlled by an ET16312n VFD driver, so he dug around online and found a datasheet for the chip. After looking at the documentation he was pretty confident he could get things working without too much trouble. He started tracing the board for the STB, CLK, Din, and Dout leads he needed to set up serial communications with the panel and was on his way in no time.

He hooked the panel up to the parallel port on his computer, and got busy hammering out some C code to write text to the display. Right now, the code lets you scroll text across the display, which is about as far as [Mostafa] cares to take it. It was done mostly as a proof of concept exercise, but since this VFD is compliant with the same NEC programming standard that most VFDs use, his code can likely be reused to drive any similar display with very little tweaking.

How a HP VFD Module was Reverse Engineered

We all love getting a good deal on sweet parts, but not all of them are documented. Some of us have trained our eyes and brains to spot “timesinks”, having been burned before. The rest sit down with whatever pile of stuff they have on hand, and figure out how to talk to that HP Media Center VFD.

[Jayeson] found some good deals on some Vacuum Fluorescent Displays from a HP Media Center computer as “new”, from some (unmentioned) shady dealers. Once receiving his B stock displays he needed to figure out a way to make them work.

Fun and excitement includes: figuring out the pins, first attempts of communication, getting the data sheet for a house brand chip… that still has the Atmel stamp on it, sniffing traffic with a logic analyzer, and deciphering that data. All that while being a pretty interesting read, good showing of willpower, and resulting in a couple Arduino Libraries as a bonus.

A VFD clock that tells the time, then tells you to **** off


Clocks are relatively simple devices – they tell time, and most often sport a handful of other utilitarian features like alarms and radios. Rarely though, do you see a clock that will wake you up in the morning and also curse at you shortly thereafter. [Matt Evans] clearly thought that clocks need to pack a little more attitude, so he built his girlfriend a clock that not only tells time, but spouts off nasty phrases as well. What a lucky gal!

The clock was constructed using IV-17 VFD tubes, each bearing 16 light-able segments. It seemed wasteful to simply use the tubes to tell time, so [Matt] got busy adding other features to the clock. It has an alarm, a calendar that is always stuck on his girlfriend’s birthday, and an ambient light sensor to dim the tubes at night. It also sports a variable rudeness setting, allowing for mild insults when family members are present, and extremely foul language for when your frat brothers swing by.

He has plenty of pictures on his site, but we’re betting people will want to see schematics and some source code. After all, Mother’s Day is but a few months away!

Wireless Arduino message board


[uhclem] was looking for a novel yet easy way to remind his kids to do their chores, and instead of using a series of post-it notes, he constructed a nice wireless Arduino-powered message board.  The message board is powered by an Arduino Pro, and communicates with his computer via a pair of series 1 Xbee radios which relay a series of canned messages to an attached VFD.  He installed all of the components in an old cigar box, and mounted it on the wall, making for a nice overall presentation.

Programming of the messages does not require any special software as the user interface is handled by the Arduino and accessed via a standard terminal session. [uhclem] mentions that the his code consumes nearly all of the device’s RAM when running, so he keeps a handful of canned messages stored in the Arduino’s flash memory, recalling them when needed.  The optional EEPROM is used to allow for streaming messages to the device as well.