Four large nixie tubes showing the number 2

[Dalibor Farný]’s Enormous Nixies Light Up Contemporary Art Museum

Nixie tubes come in many shapes and sizes, but in only one color: the warm orange glow that makes them so desirable. They don’t usually come in large numbers, either: a typical clock has four or six; a frequency counter perhaps eight or nine. But some projects go bigger – a lot bigger in [Dalibor Farný]’s case. He built an art installation featuring more than a hundred jumbo-sized nixie tubes that make an entire wall glow orange.

This project is the brainchild of renowned installation artist [Alfredo Jaar], who was invited to create an exhibition at the Hiroshima Museum of Contemporary Art. Its title, Umashimenkana, means “we shall bring forth new life” and refers to a poem describing the birth of a child amid the suffering and despair following the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Visitors to the exhibit experience a dark room where they see a wall of orange numbers count down to zero and erupt into a waterfall of falling zeroes.

Nixie tube expert [Dalibor] was the go-to person to implement such an installation – after all, he’s one of very few people making his own tubes. But even he had to invest a lot of time and effort into scaling them up to the required 150 mm diameter, with 135 mm tall characters. We covered his efforts towards what was then known as the H-tube project two years ago, and we’re happy to report that all of the problems that plagued his efforts at the time have since been solved.

The cathodes of a large nixie tube being assembledOne of the major issues was keeping the front of the tubes intact during manufacture. Often, [Dalibor] and his colleagues would finish sealing up a tube, only for the front to pop out due to stress build-up in the glass. A thorough heating of the entire surface followed by a slow cooling down turned out to be the trick to evening out the stress. All this heat then caused oxidation of the cathodes, necessitating a continuous flow of inert gas into the tube during manufacture. Those cathodes already had to be made stronger than usual to stop them from flexing, and the backplate light enough to keep everything shock resistant. The list goes on.

After ironing out these quirks, as well as countless others, [Dalibor] was finally able to set up a small-scale production line in a new workshop to get the required 121 tubes, plus spares, ready for shipment to Japan. The team then assembled the project on-site, together with museum staff and the artist himself. The end result looks stunning, as you can see in the excellent video embedded below. We imagine it looks even better in real life – if you want to experience that, you have until October 15th.

You might remember [Dalibor] from his excellent video on nixie clock fault analysis – which we hope won’t be necessary for Umashimenkana. He might be able to make your favorite shape into a nixie tube, too. Thanks for the tip, [Jaac]!

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Hackaday Links: September 15, 2019

It’s probably one of the first lessons learned by new drivers: if you see a big, red fire truck parked by the side of the road, don’t run into it. Such a lesson appears not to have been in the Tesla Autopilot’s driver education curriculum, though – a Tesla Model S managed to ram into the rear of a fire truck parked at the scene of an accident on a southern California freeway. Crash analysis reveals that the Tesla was on Autopilot and following another vehicle; the driver of the lead vehicle noticed the obstruction and changed lanes. Apparently the Tesla reacted to that by speeding up, but failed to notice the stationary fire truck. One would think that the person driving the car would have stepped in to control the vehicle, but alas. Aside from beating up on Tesla, whose AutoPilot feature seems intent on keeping the market for batteries from junked vehicles fully stocked, this just points out how far engineers have to go before self-driving vehicles are as safe as even the worst human drivers.

The tech press is abuzz today with stories about potential union-busting at Kickstarter. Back in March, Kickstarter employees announced their intent to organize under the Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU). On Thursday, two of the union organizers were fired. Clarissa Redwine, who recently hosted a Hack Chat, was one of those released; both she and Taylor Moore are protesting their terminations as an illegal attempt to intimidate Kickstarter employees and keep them from voting for the union. For their part, Kickstarter management says that both employees and two more were released as a result of documented performance issues during the normal review cycle, and that fourteen employees who are in favor of the union were given raises during this cycle, with three of them having been promoted. There will no doubt be plenty more news about this to come.

Would you pay $900 for a Nixie clock? We wouldn’t, but if you choose to buy into Millclock’s high-end timepiece, it may help soften the blow if you think about it being an investment in the future of Nixie tubes. You see, Millclock isn’t just putting together an overpriced clock that uses surplus Russian Nixies – they’re actually making brand new tubes. Techmoan recently reviewed the new clock and learned that the ZIN18 tubes are not coming from Czech Republic-based Dalibor Farný, but rather are being manufactured in-house. That’s exciting news for Nixie builders everywhere; while Dalibor’s tubes are high-quality products, it can’t hurt to have a little competition in the market. Nixies as a growth industry in 2019 – who’da thunk it?

We ran across an interesting project on the other day, one that qualifies as a true hack. How much house can you afford? A simple question, but the answer can be very difficult to arrive at with the certainty needed to sign papers that put you on the hook for the next 30 years. Mike Ferarra and his son decided to answer this question – in a circuit simulator? As it turns out, circuit simulators are great at solving the kinds of non-linear simultaneous equations needed to factor in principle, interest, insurance, taxes, wages, and a host of other inflows and outflows. Current sources represent money in, current sinks money paid out. Whatever is left is what you can afford. Is this how Kirchoff bought his house?

And finally, is your parts inventory a bit of a mystery? Nikhil Dabas decided that rather than trying to remember what he had and risk duplicating orders, he’d build an application to do it for him. Called WhatDidIBuy, it does exactly what you’d think; it scrapes the order history pages of sites like Adafruit, Digi-Key, and Mouser and compiles a list of your orders as CSV files. It’s only semi-automated, leaving the login process to the user, but something like this could save a ton of time. And it’s modular, so adding support for new suppliers is a simple as writing a new scraper. Forgot what you ordered from McMaster, eBay, or even Amazon? Now there’s an app for that.

Hand-Forged Cases Make Nixie Clocks Into Works Of Art

Both “Nixie” and “Steampunk” are getting a bit overused. It’s hard to count the number of clock projects we’ve seen recently that combine the two, and normally we’d be loath to feature yet another variation on that theme without a good reason. This is a good reason.

The single-digit Nixie clocks that [Claes Vahlberg] built are, simply put, works of art. There’s a small version of the clock, featuring a single IN-16 Nixie, and a larger version that uses a Dalibor Farny custom Nixie, a work of art in its own right. Each clock has features like time and date, temperature and barometric pressure, and even days remaining in the current lunar cycle. The cases for the clocks, though, are the real treat. Hand forged from steel, they remind us of steam whistles on top of a boiler.

[Claes] doesn’t have many details on the build process — we’ve been in contact and he says he’s working on documentation — but it doesn’t matter. As if all that weren’t enough, the clocks are controlled by a remote, which has its own IN-16 tube and is motion controlled. The last bit is a nice touch since there are no buttons to distract from the smooth lines of the hammered metal case.

We gush, but we think this one really shines. That’s not to take anything away from previous Nixie-steampunk mashups, like this single-digit clock or this solar power meter. But these clocks are a step beyond.

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