Keeping Clocks On Time, The Swiss Way

Could there be a worse fate for a guy with a Swiss accent than to be subjected to a clock that’s seconds or even – horrors! – minutes off the correct time? Indeed not, which is why [The Guy With the Swiss Accent] went to great lengths to keep his IKEA radio-controlled clock on track.

For those who haven’t seen any of [Andreas Spiess]’ YouTube videos, you’ll know that he pokes a bit of fun at Swiss stereotypes such as precision and punctuality. But really, having a clock that’s supposed to synchronize to one of the many longwave radio atomic clocks sprinkled around the globe and yet fails to do so is irksome to even the least chrono-obsessive personality. His IKEA clock is supposed to read signals from station DCF77 in Germany, but even the sensitive receivers in such clocks can be defeated by subterranean locales such as [Andreas]’ shop. His solution was to provide a local version of DCF77 using a Raspberry Pi and code that sends modulated time signals to a GPIO pin. The pin is connected to a ferrite rod antenna, which of course means that the Pi is being turned into a radio transmitter and hence is probably violating the law. But as [Andreas] points out, if the power is kept low enough, the emissions will only ever be received by nearby clocks.

With his clock now safely synced to an NTP server via the tiny radio station, [Andreas] can get back to work on his other projects, such as work-hardening copper wire for antennas with a Harley, or a nuclear apocalypse-Tweeting Geiger counter.

29 thoughts on “Keeping Clocks On Time, The Swiss Way

  1. If you ever find yourself in a similar situation — with a radio-synchronized clock unable to find a transmission — there is a mobile app that somehow simulates these radio transmissions using your phone’s audio speaker. I didn’t think it would be possible until I saw it work with my own eyes. The name is “Clock Wave”. I have it for iOS. Not sure if an Android version exists.

    1. It’s very much possible, you don’t need to generate 77.5kHz signal, only one that will cause a harmonic at 77.5kHz. You’ll lose power doing that but at close distances it won’t matter (eg. phone next to a clock).

    1. Because of his “subterranean locale”?

      Regarding DCF77: its official reach is around 2.000 kilometers. This can be considerably more, as I found out when I lived in the Caribbean. I had moved house from a location with a volcano between me and the Atlantic tot a place closer to the Atlantic shore of the island. I then found that my cheap Chinese weatherstation / clock would be six hours behind on some mornings. I eventually realised what was happening: at night, when atmospheric conditions were favourable, the clock would pick up the DCF-77 signal from Mainhausen, some 7.500 kilometers away and synchronise to it. Pretty impressive.

  2. As part of my home automation system I build a few screens with ESP8266 which display a large clock and some other parameters. All the traditional clocks are now gone.

    The fact that now every single clock visible in my home is perfectly synchronized is an excellent experience.

    1. Of the clocks in view of my bed, one is analogue and battery powered. One is radio synchronised, but infrequently jumps by a few hours, my phone which is synced to my mobile network’s time, and a radio, which is synchronised to something else.
      If they all agree then I know what time it is, but if one of them disagrees I have to go through a troubleshooting procedure to try and work out which ones I can trust…

    2. Nothing rustles my jimmies more than the clock on the range and the clock on the microwave being several seconds out of sync, despite the time I spend trying to get them to line up. IMHO, all digital clocks should automatically sync to NTP. No excuse for manually setting clocks in a world with pervasive WiFi and microcontrollers for pennies.

      1. With the current “Internet of Things” craze giving us access to the status of our freezer and oven through handy iPhone apps and all, one wonders why some of that networked intelligence being added to our appliances doesn’t include an NTP CONNECTION FOR THE DAMN CLOCK!

        My jimmies get rustled every time the power company decides to shut off power (just long enough to bork the clocks) & I have to reset three clocks (Refrig, oven and Keurig). And, BTW, has anyone noticed that power interruptions seem to have become more frequent lately? Or is it just me?

        1. The number of things I have which recover to a working state after a power outage has massively increased over recent years so even when I know there was an outage I don’t have any record of it (for now).

        2. It’s not just you, or at least it’s not just you in your region. When I lived in Connecticut we were constantly blipping out. Here in Idaho, not so much. Part of it is new, better infrastructure and mostly buried distribution lines here, as opposed to pole-mounted lines back east. But a lot of it has to do with “deferred maintenance” by utility companies with limited resources. Just keeping up with foliage clearing around power lines would be a full-time job, and it’s pretty expensive to contract that work out. Spending that kind of money doesn’t really turn the shareholders on, so management decides to take a chance one year and put the money into something else. Then it gets a little windy and BAM! Another cutout blows and 100 customers come home to blinking digital clocks.

          1. I’m a lifelong Idahoan. Where I live there are blips in the power pretty often. Just little ones long enough to upset the clocks. The dumbest one is my Blu-Ray player that *turns itself on* after a power interruption.

            This town also has mostly aboveground power lines on poles.

            Years ago I had an NEC V70 Betamax VCR. It had the neatest feature, a built in NiCd battery backup for the clock and timer. AFAIK, nobody else ever had that on a VCR, Beta or VHS. Why not a battery compartment on top or one side for a couple of AA cells?

    3. I’d be interested in that ESP8266 build for clocks. What they charge for large format clocks for buildings is insane. I’ve deployed PiClock, but always good to have something in the bin for other things.

      1. Essentially it’s made of ILI9431 (2.2″ or 2.8″) and an ESP board. Code is arduino based, it acts like s MQTT client receiving time and a few other things which it displays. There is a mqtt broker on the server and node red feeds it the time.

        How large do you need your clock?

    4. >All the traditional clocks are now gone.

      I wouldn’t want to be in your house when a power failure or a large scale disaster hits. You won’t even know what time it is and good luck fighting all those dead electronic devices that control menial stuff.

  3. I too live in an area where we lose power a couple times a week in the winter or more. Yes the battery backed up clocks work until the battery runs down. Also have to go around changing clocks for daylight saving time (another vote to stop that here)

    So I took a cheap clock from Amazon and replaced the guts with an ARM to run the display and an ESP8266 to go out on the web and pick up the time.

    https://www.coridium.us/coridium/blog/web-connected-clock-up

  4. atomic RF is good, but why not really go for it and have a configurable DST and UTC and use sun position based off vertical accelerator calibration? The only way to auto DST and UTC is off a lat long lookup table using Polaris somehow with a manual calibration..

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