Nixie Clock Failure Analysis, [Dalibor Farný] Style

We’ve become sadly accustomed to consumer devices that seem to give up the ghost right after the warranty period expires. And even when we get “lucky” and the device fails while it’s still covered, chances are that there will be no attempt to repair it; the unit will be replaced with a new one, and the failed one will get pitched in the e-waste bin.

Not every manufacturer takes this approach, however. When premium quality is the keystone of your brand, you need to take field failures seriously. [Dalibor Farný], maker of high-end Nixie tubes and the sleek, sophisticated clocks they plug into, realizes this, and a new video goes into depth about the process he uses to diagnose issues and prevent them in the future.

One clock with a digit stuck off was traced to via failure by barrel fatigue, or the board material cracking inside the via hole and breaking the plated-through copper. This prompted a board redesign to increase the diameter of all the vias, eliminating that failure mode. Another clock had a digit stuck on, which ended up being a short to ground caused by pin misalignment; when the tube was plugged in, the pins slipped and scraped some solder off the socket and onto the ground plane of the board. That resulted in another redesign that not only fixed the problem by eliminating the ground plane on the upper side of the board, but also improved the aesthetics of the board dramatically.

As with all things [Dalibor], the video is a feast for the eyes with the warm orange glow in the polished glass and chrome tubes contrasting with the bead-blasted aluminum chassis. If you haven’t watched the “making of” video yet, you’ve got to check that out too.

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Captivating Clock Tells Time With Tall Tubes

Time is probably our most important social construct. Our perception of passing time changes with everything we do, and when it comes down to it, time is all we really have. You can choose to use it wisely, or sit back and watch it go by. If you want to do both, build a clock like this one, and spectate in sleek, sophisticated style.

[ChristineNZ]’s mid-century-meets-steampunk clock uses eight ILC1-1/8Ls, which are quite possibly the largest VFD tubes ever produced (and still available as new-old stock). In addition to the time, it displays the date, relative humidity, and temperature in both Celsius and Fahrenheit. A delightful chime sounds every fifteen minutes to remind you that time’s a-wastin’.

The seconds slip by in HH/MM/SS format, each division separated by a tube dedicated to dancing the time away. The mesmerizing display is driven by an Arduino Mega and a MAX6921 VFD driver, and built into a mahogany frame. There isn’t a single PCB in sight except for the Mega — all the VFDs are mounted on wood and everything is wired point-to-point. Sweep past the break to see the progressive slideshow build video that ends with a demo of all the functions.

Those glowing blue-green displays aren’t limited to clocking time. They can replace LCDs, or be scrolling marquees.

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This Word Clock Has Dirty Alphanumeric Mouth

Clocks which use words to tell the time in place of numbers are an increasingly popular hacker project, but we have to admit that before seeing this gorgeous clock from [Mitch Feig], we didn’t realize how badly we wanted to see one that could curse like a sailor.

But don’t worry, the WordClock-1 knows more than just the bad words. Rather than using an array of illuminated letters as we’ve seen in previous clocks, this one uses six alphanumeric LED displays. So not only can it display the time expressed with words and numbers, but it can show pretty much any other text you might have in mind.

[Mitch] is partial to having his clock toss a swear word on the display every few seconds, but perhaps you’d rather have it show some Klingon vocabulary to help you brush up. The lack of extended characters does limit its language capabilities somewhat, but it still manages to include Spanish, Italian, French, and Croatian libraries.

The ESP32 powered clock comes as a kit, and [Mitch] has provided some very thorough documentation that should make assembling it fairly straightforward as long as you don’t mind tackling a few SMD components. Additional word databases are stored on an SD card, and you can easily add your own or edit the existing ones with nothing more exotic than a text editor. The clock itself is configured via a web interface, and includes features like RGB LED effects and support for pulling the time down from an external GPS receiver.

Of course, if you’re content with what we can apparently now refer to as “old style” word clocks, we’ve seen plenty of projects which should serve as inspiration for anyone looking to roll their own textual timepiece.

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Hackaday Podcast 037: Two Flavors Of Robot Dog, Hacks That Start As Fitness Trackers, Clocks That Wound Themselves, And Helicopter Chainsaws

Hackaday Editors Mike Szczys and Elliot Williams take a look at the latest hacks from the past week. We keep seeing awesome stuff and find ourselves wanting to buy cheap welders, thermal camera sensors, and CNC parts. There was a meeting of the dog-shaped robots at ICRA and at least one of them has super-fluid movements. We dish on 3D printed meat, locking up the smartphones, asynchronous C routines, and synchronized clocks.

Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

Direct download (60.0 MB)

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Mini-VFD Clock Floats The Display Above It All

As [sjm4306] says, “You can never have too many clocks based on obsolete display technologies.” We couldn’t agree more, and this single-tube VFD clock is one we haven’t seen before.

The vacuum-fluorescent display that [sjm4306] chose to base this clock on is the IV-21, an eight-digit seven-segment display on the smallish side. The tube is Russian surplus from the ’80s, as all such displays seem to be. The main PCB sports an ATMega328, a boost converter to provide the high voltage needed to run the VFD, a real-time clock, and the driver chip for the tube segments. The tube itself lives on a clever riser card that elevates the display above the main PCB and puts it at the proper angle for reading. [sjm4306] designed it to be modular; should you want to user a bigger VFD you need only make a new riser PCB. Figuring out the proper way to space the through-holes in Eagle proved elusive, but he hacked a solution using a spreadsheet to handle the trigonometry and spit out Cartesian coordinates for each hole. Pretty neat. The video below shows the clock assembly and a test.

We really like the look of this clock for some reason – perhaps it’s the quirky nature of the VFD, or the soft teal glow of the digits. We’ve featured plenty of clocks with odd displays before: VFDs large and small, faux-NIMO, de-encapsulated LED “filaments”, and lots and lots of Nixies.

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100 Year Old Atomic Clock

Precision time is ubiquitous today thanks to GPS and WWVB. Even your Macbook or smartphone displays time which is synchronized to the NIST-F1 clock, a cesium fountain atomic clock (aka the ‘Atomic Clock’) that is part of a global consortium of atomic clocks known as Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). Without precise timing there would be train collisions, markets would tumble, schools would not start on time, and planes would fall out of the sky.

But how was precision timing achieved in the 19th century during the era of steam, brass, and solenoids? One of the first systems of precision timing kept trains running safely and on time, rang the bells at school, and kept markets trading by using a special clock designed by the Self Winding Clock Company. Through measurements of celestial objects by the US Naval Observatory, and time synchronization pulses broadcast by the Western Union telegraph network, this system synchronized time across the United States in an era where the speed of our train system was out-pacing by the precision of our clocks.

Those clocks were designed so well that many of them are still around and functioning. One of these 100-year-old self-winding clocks made its way onto my workbench. I did what any curious hacker would do, figured out how the synchronization worked and connected it to a clock source with atomic precision. Let’s take a look!

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