Woz’s Watch Makes Air Travelers Nervous

[Steve Wozniak], Last of the freelance hackers and Greatest swordfighter in the world, lives a hacker life you couldn’t even dream about. The folks over at medGadget ran into him and learned about his watch. In their interview (embedded after the break) [Steve] shows off the Nixie tube wristwatch that we can only assume he created himself.

The watch consists of two tiny tubes, a PCB, and battery. There must be an accelerometer in there because the display is switched off unless the watch is held at a certain configurable angle. Once held in the correct position the display flashes the hours, then the minutes.

The time is set by two buttons inside the watch’s case. [Steve] goes on to explain the trepidation his fellow passengers have when he disassembles the watch mid-flight and starts to monkey around with the buttons inside. Not to be stopped at electronic tomfoolery, he also shares his delight in sneaking ceramic knives on board so that he can properly cut his steaks.

Lifestyle aside, the small Nixie clock packages we’ve seen don’t even come close to this. We assume this is pretty hard on the battery and wonder if the watch gets hot if you’re stuck in a long meeting and constantly looking at the time. We can get over both of those limitations just for the cool factor alone.

Update: Reader [Stephen] left a comment pointing to the origin of  the watch. It is controlled by a PIC microprocessor, boasts a four-month battery life at 50 viewings per day, and there’s some code available.  It is for sale but currently out of stock.


25 thoughts on “Woz’s Watch Makes Air Travelers Nervous

  1. For the life of me I can’t find the site atm, but I did find the supposed maker of Waz’s nixie watch. The site had a quote from him about the watch if I remember correctly. So I’m fairly sure he commissioned the watch to be made by these guys. I will do my best to hunt the site down and report back with a link.

  2. It’s simultaneously funny and sad that people fear stuff like this. the panic over the Aqua teen “bomb” is another example. we live in a world run by this stuff, and yet it’s imprisoned in pretty little boxes with “do not open” stickers and so hacking is instantly assumed to be sinister. good on you, woz. have a danger-steak for me.

  3. @Stephen:
    If you’ve posted several times before, your posts appear instantaneously. Otherwise they wait to I suppose moderate them.

    Nice watch, though, as many others have stated, its been out for awhile. I’m working on a design for an alarm clock using nixies, and a decatron for tenths of a second. I’ll be trying to post it when it’s done. Won’t surprise me if it doesn’t make it, seeing as how its been done plenty now.

  4. The knife he uses to cut steaks on a plane is actually his business card, I think I recall him saying it was made of stainless steel.

    Austenitic stainless is non-magnetic, and the amount of metal in a buisiness card is, of course, not very much, so it does not have to be ceramic to pass security.

  5. You freakin kids… I can’t believe that… I haven’t read the link, so if the lift angle is software-configured rather than configured by a physical switch, then maybe there is.

    but my guess? mercury switch.

  6. There are no mercury switches. The tilt angle is read constantly by an angle sensing chip relative to gravitation angle and fed to the PIC microprocessor. The code is setup so you can self determine a good reference angle to hold the watch at to have it display. There are a few user settable options in the code, all set with the internal button switches. I know this from the manual that came with mine which is S/N 3 of the original production lot. I love mine, and wear it to special functions. My first battery lasted a year.

  7. I have one of the prototypes as there was much discussion among the technical types on neonixie-l about the best way to do the power management.
    The case was designed by John Smout of http://www.jsdesign.co.uk/ who makes lovely things nixie-related – see http://www.clock-it.net/ – a very talented designer.
    The case was machined by an on-line machining shop. Main problem is lack of tubes as they are not made any more.
    I’ve had mine for a new years – since at least 2005 – here’s a very bad photo of John & I looking like hypnotised rabbits in headlights with our watches – mine hasn’t lit as my wrist angle was not correct when the photo was taken – http://www.desmith.net/NMdS/Shack/John%20&%20Nick%2008-Apr-06.jpg

  8. another substitute for nixies is EL sheet.

    i discovered by accident that its possible to “zap” areas of the sheet so that they no longer emit light by using a near UV laser.

    (safety goggles required!)

    with a little persuasion any piece of EL sheet such as a green backlight can be retasked into a numerical display.

  9. fwiw you can now get FC30 sensors which take 300uA when running and can detect six distinct angles.

    what would also work is the triple axis accelerometer from a demised macbook (haha) as these have analogue output.

  10. Steve – thanks for the info. In retrospect it seems idiotic to suggest a mercury switch considering this is 2010 and not 1969, but let me ask: does the angle-sensing switch work reliably for this even in motion? When driving does it exhibit the same occasional-on behavior you would expect from a mercury switch with its contents sloshing around?

    1. Late response, but anyway… Firstly, don;t look at your watch when driving :)

      Secondly, I’ve had one of these watches since they were prototypes (my one is pre-serial number) – the angle-sensor is pretty good – I’ve not seen it come on unexpectedly or had any comments to that effect.

      Its a great, innovative, design. Which is why the Woz loves them (he’s bought several).

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