Timeframe: The Little Desk Calendar That Could

Usually, the problem comes before the solution, but for [Stavros], the opposite happened. A 4.7″ E-Ink screen with integrated battery management and ESP32 caught his eye, and he bought it and started thinking about what he wanted to do with it. The Timeframe is a sleek desk calendar based around the integrated e-ink screen.

[Stavros] found the device’s MicroPython support was a little lackluster, and often failed to draw. He found a Platform.io project that used an older but modified library for driving the e-ink display which worked quite well. However, the older library didn’t support portrait orientation or other niceties. Rather than try and create something complex in C, he moved the complexity to a server environment he knew more about. With the help of CoPilot, he got some code that would wake up the ESP32 every half hour, download an image from a server, and then display it. A Python script uses a headless browser to visit Google Calendar, resize the window, take a screenshot, and then upload it.

The hardest part of the exercise was getting authentication with Google working reliably. A white sleek 3D printed case wraps the whole affair in an aesthetically pleasing shell. So far, this has been a great story of someone building something for themselves and using their strengths. Where’s the hack?

The hack comes when [Stavros] tried squeezing his calendar into a case that was too tight and cracked the screen. Suddenly a large portion of the screen wouldn’t draw. He turned what was broken into something new by mapping out the area that didn’t draw and converting the Python to draw weather information with Pillow rather than screenshot a webpage: clever reuse and a way to make good out of a bad accident.

The code is up on GitLab, and the 3D files for the case are available on Printables. You can also find the project on Hackaday.io, as it was an entry into our recently concluded Low-Power Contest. Unfortunately, while the Timeframe is pretty power efficient, it doesn’t last as long as this calendar with a 50-year battery life.

Low-Power Challenge: Making An Analog Clock Into A Calendar With A 50-Year Life

You have to be pretty ambitious to modify a clock to run for 50 years on a single battery. You also should probably be pretty young if you think you’re going to verify your power estimates, at least in person. According to [Josh EJ], this modified quartz analog clock, which ticks off the date rather than the time, is one of those “The March of Time” projects that’s intended to terrify incentivize you by showing how much of the year is left.

Making a regular clock movement slow down so that what normally takes an hour takes a month without making any mechanical changes requires some clever hacks. [Josh] decided to use an Arduino to send digital pulses to the quartz movement to advance the minute hand, rather than let it run free. Two pulses a day would be perfect for making a 30-day month fit into a 60-minute hour, but that only works for four months out of the year. [Josh]’s solution was to mark the first 28 even-numbered minutes, cram 29, 30, and 31 into the last four minutes of the hour, and sort the details out in code.

As for the low-power mods, there’s some cool wizardry involved with that, like flashing the Arduino Pro Mini with a new bootloader that reduces the clock speed to 1 MHz. This allows the microcontroller and RTC module to run from the clock movement’s 1.5 V AA battery. [Josh] estimates a current draw of about 6 μA per day, which works out to about 50 years from a single cell. That’s to be taken with a huge grain of salt, of course, but we expect the battery will last a long, long time.

[Josh] built this clock as part of the Low-Power Challenge contest, which wrapped up this week. We’re looking forward to the results of the contest — good luck to all the entrants!

Fail Of The Week: Epic 312 Weeks Of Fixing A Broken Project

If a hacker guardian angel exists, then we’re sure he or she was definitely AWOL for six long years from [Aaron Eiche]’s life as he worked on perfecting and making his Christmas Countdown clock. [Aaron] started this binary clock project in 2016, and only managed to make it work as expected in 2022 after a string of failures.

In case you’d like to check out his completed project first, then cut the chase and head over to his Github repository for his final, working version. The hardware is pretty straightforward, and not different from many similar projects that we’ve seen before. A microcontroller drives a set of LED’s to show the time remaining until Christmas Day in binary format. The LEDs show the number of days, hours, minutes and seconds until Christmas and it uses two buttons for adjustments and modes. An RTC section wasn’t included in the first version, but it appeared and disappeared along the six year journey, before finding a spot in the final version.

The value of this project doesn’t lie in the final version, but rather in the lessons other hackers, specially those still in the shallow end of the pool, can learn from [Aaron]’s mistakes. Thankfully, the clock ornament is not very expensive to build, so [Aaron] could persevere in improving it despite his annual facepalm moments.

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battery powered wall mounted clock with LCD display and 10 capacitive touch buttons

A Peppy Low Power Wall Mounted Display

[Phambili Tech] creates a battery powered mountable display, called “the Newt”, that can be used to display information about the time, calendar, weather or a host of other customizable items.

The Newt tries to strike a balance between providing long operating periods while still maintaining high refresh rates and having extensive features. Many of the battery powered devices of this sort use E-Ink displays which offer long operating windows but poor refresh rates. The Newt uses an LCD screen that, while not being as low power as an E-Ink display, offers extended battery operation while still being daylight readable and providing high refresh rates.

The display itself is a 2.7 inch 240×400 SHARP “Memory In Pixel” LCD that provides the peppy display at low power. The Newt is WiFi capable through its ESP32-S2-WROVER module with a RV-3028-C7 Real Time Clock, a buzzer for sound feedback and capacitive touch sensors for input and interaction. A 1.85Wh LiPo battery (3.7V, 500mAh) is claimed to last for 1-2 months, with the possibility of using a larger battery for longer life.

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Pocket Computer Reminds Us Of PDAs

Before smartphones exploded on the scene in the late 00s, there was still a reasonable demand for pocket-sized computers that could do relatively simple computing tasks. Palm Pilots and other PDAs (Personal Digital Assistants) were all the rage in the ’90s and early ’00s, although for cutting-edge tech from that era plenty of these devices had astronomical price tags. This Arduino-based PDA hearkens back to that era, albeit with a much more accessible parts list.

The build is based around an Arudino Nano with an OLED screen and has the five necessary functions for a PDA: calculator, stopwatch, games, phonebook, and a calendar. With all of these components on such a small microcontroller, memory quickly became an issue when using the default libraries. [Danko] uses his own custom libraries in order to make the best use of memory which are all available on the project’s GitHub page. The build also includes a custom PCB to keep the entire pocket computer pocket-sized.

There are some other features packed into this tiny build as well, like the breakout game that can be played with a potentiometer. It’s an impressive build that makes as much use of the microcontroller’s capabilities as is possible, and if you enjoy projects where a microcontroller is used as if it is a PC take a look at this Arduino build with its own command-line interface.

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Great Beginnings: The Antikythera Mechanism Gets A “Day Zero”

When an unknown genius sat down more than 2,000 years ago to design and build an astronomical instrument, chances are good that he or she didn’t think that entire academic institutions devoted to solving its mysteries would one day be established. But such is the enduring nature of the Antikythera mechanism, the gift from antiquity that keeps on giving long after being dredged up from a shipwreck in the Aegean Sea.

And now, new research on the ancient mechanism reveals that like other mechanical calendars, the Antikythera mechanism has a “day zero,” or a minimum possible date that it can display. The analysis by a team led by [Aristeidis Voulgaris] gets deep into the weeds of astronomical cycles, which the mechanism was designed to simulate using up to 37 separate gears, 30 of which have been found. The cycle of concern is the saros, a 223 lunar month cycle of alignments between the Earth, Sun, and Moon. The saros can be used to predict eclipses, astronomical events of immense importance in antiquity, particularly annular eclipses, which occur when the Moon is at apogee and therefore eclipses less of the Sun’s surface.

The researchers looked at historical annular eclipse data and found that saros cycle 58 had a particularly long annular eclipse, on 23 December 178 BCE. The eclipse would have been visible at sunrise in the eastern Mediterranean, and coupled with other astronomical goodies, like the proximity to the winter solstice, the Sun entering Capricorn, and the Moon being new and at apogee, was probably so culturally significant to the builder that it could serve as the initial date for calibrating all the mechanisms pointers and dials.

Others differ with that take, of course, saying that the evidence points even further back, to a start date in the summer of 204 BCE. In any case, if like us you can’t get enough Antikythera, be sure to check out our overview of the mechanism, plus [Clickspring]’s exploration of methods perhaps used to build it.

Keep Track Of Your Google Calendar With This Custom Build

Keeping track of your appointments on Google Calendar is easy enough if you’re holding a phone or sitting at a computer, but sometimes you just want to know what’s going on at a glance. This desktop calendar build from [andrei.erdei] does just that with plenty of helpful LEDs.

The attract mode is very cool, even if it doesn’t display any actual information.

The design is simple, using WS2812 LEDs to backlight numbers to indicate whether they are weekdays, weekends, anniversaries, holidays, or any other dates of importance. The numerical layout is a nifty perpetual design allowing the display to easily accommodate the structure of any month, even those neat and tidy ones that start on Monday.

The design relies on an ESP-01 to communicate with Google Calendar and display the relevant data. It’s all wrapped up in a 3D printed case, with the printed paper template backlit from behind some smoked acrylic giving a surprisingly professional-looking finish.

If you’re tired of picking up your phone for every last thing, this design could be just what you’re after for keeping track of your appointments. Alternatively, you could always go the hard copy route. Video after the break.

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