ESP8266 Clock Puts Time in a Jar

Ironically, with the wide availability of modular electronic components today, the hardest part of constructing your latest gadget might just end up being able to find a decent looking enclosure for it. Project boxes will only get you so far, and let’s be honest, they aren’t exactly the most attractive things in the world. But if you’re willing to think outside the box (get it?) there are some unconventional options out there that might fit the bill.

Take for example this ESP8266 clock by [ZaNgAbY] that’s housed in a glass pasta jar. With the addition of some window tint film for the LED display to shine through, the final result could nearly pass as modern art. Even if you don’t need an extra clock around the house, this same general principle could be used to create a slick-looking ticker for all sorts of information, from the weather to server uptime with just some adjustments to the code.

Inside the jar there’s six 8×8 MAX7219 LED matrix modules tacked together to create one long strip, with a NodeMCU board stuck to the back with double-sided tape. There’s also a DS3231 RTC module so the clock can keep halfway decent time, but depending on how aggressively you are willing to pull down the current time from NTP, that may or may not be required. A simple barrel jack is popped through the metal lid of the jar for power, and represents the only physical connection the internals have to the outside world.

For the next iteration [ZaNgAbY] is thinking of adding a temperature and humidity sensor, and a light sensor that can dim the LED display depending on the ambient light. While the environmental sensors will have to go on the outside of the lid if there’s any hope of pulling useful readings from them, the clear glass will allow him to keep the light sensor internal to the clock.

Believe it or not, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen somebody give their electronics the pickle treatment. We’ve previously played host to a server that “preserves” files in a Mason jar, as well as a gorgeous display of an iPod under glass.

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The Tide Is High, And This Clock Lets You Know

In case you happen to have an ocean nearby, you’re probably familiar with its rising and falling tides. And if mudflat hiking is a thing in your area, you’re also aware of the importance of good timing and knowing when the water will be on its way back. Tide clocks will help you to be prepared, and they are a fun alternative to your usual clock projects. If you’re looking for a starting point, [rabbitcreek] put together an Arduino-based tide clock kit for educational purposes.

If you feel like you’re experiencing some déjà vu here, this indeed isn’t [rabbitcreek]’s first tide clock project. But unlike his prior stationary clock, he has now created a small and portable, coin-cell version to take with you out on the sea. And what shape would better fit than a 3D printed moon — unfortunately the current design doesn’t offer much waterproofing.

For the underlying tide calculation itself, [rabbitcreek] uses just like in his previous project [Luke Miller]’s location-based library for the ubiquitous DS1307 and DS3213 real-time clocks. Of course, if you also want to keep track of other events on your clock, why not set up calendar events for the next rising tide?

Nuclear Synchroscope Gets New Life

The Synchroscope is an interesting power plant instrument which doubles up as two devices in one. If the generator frequency is not matched with the grid frequency, the rotation direction of the synchroscope pointer indicates if the frequency (generator speed) needs to be increased or decreased. When it stops rotating, the pointer angle indicates the phase difference between the generator and the grid. When [badjer1] [Chris Muncy] got his hands on an old synchroscope which had seen better days at a nuclear power plant control room, he decided to use it as the enclosure for a long-pending plan to build a Nixie Tube project. The result — an Arduino Nixie Clock and Weather Station — is a retro-modern looking instrument which indicates time, temperature, pressure and humidity and the synchroscope pointer now indicates atmospheric pressure.

Rather than replicating existing designs, he decided to build his project from scratch, learning new techniques and tricks while improving his design as he progressed. [badjer1] is a Fortran old-timer, so kudos to him for taking a plunge into the Arduino ecosystem. Other than the funky enclosure, most of the electronics are assembled from off-the-shelf modules. The synchroscope was not large enough to accommodate the electronics, so [badjer1] had to split it into two halves, and add a clear acrylic box in the middle to house it all. He stuck in a few LEDs inside the enclosure for added visual effect. Probably his biggest challenge, other than the mechanical assembly, was making sure he got the cutouts for the Nixie tubes on the display panel right. One wrong move and he would have ended up with a piece of aluminum junk and a missing face panel.

Being new to Arduino, he was careful with breaking up his code into manageable chunks, and peppering it with lots of comments, for his own, and everyone else’s, benefit. The electronics and hardware assembly are also equally well detailed, should anyone else want to attempt to replicate his build. There is still room for improvement, especially with the sensor mounting, but for now, [badjer1] seems pretty happy with the result. Check out the demo video after the break.

Thanks for the tip, [Chris Muncy].

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It’s a Nixie! It’s a VFD! No, It’s a Custom LED Display in a Tube

Like the look of Nixies but they just seem a little overdone? Or perhaps you just don’t want the hassles of a high-voltage power supply? Then maybe these faux-Nixie LED “tube” displays will find a way into your next clock build.

For his 2018 Hackaday Prize entry, [bobricius] decided that what the world needs is a Nixie that’s not a Nixie. To that end, each display is formed by seven surface-mount LEDs soldered to a seven-segment shaped PCB and slipped into a glass tube. The LEDs are in 4014 packages so they’re only 4 millimeters long, but what they lack in size they make up for in brightness. We’re not sure if it’s a trick of the camera, but the LEDs certainly seem to put off a bluish glow that’s reminiscent of vacuum-fluorescent displays — it’s like a Nixie and a VFD all rolled up in one package.  The current case, which hides the clock circuitry on the lower part of the PCB, is just plastic, but this would look spiffy in a fine wooden case.

Could this be another Nixie tube killer that never was? Perhaps, but wherever it ends up, we like the look of it, and we’re glad it’s one of the early Hackaday Prize entries. Have you got something to enter in the greatest hardware competition on Earth? If not, get cracking!

Hacking a 30-year-old Russian VFD

Reddit user [InThePartsBin] found some VFDs (Vacuum Fluorescent Displays) on an old PCB on eBay. The Russian boards date from 1987 and have a bunch of through-hole resistors, transistors and a some mystery ICs, plastic wraps around the legs and the top of the tube is held steady by a rubber grommet (the tip itself goes through a hole in a board mounted perpendicular to the main board.) Being the curious kind of person we like, and seeing the boards weren’t too expensive, he bought some in order to play around with to see if he could bring them back to life.

After getting the VFDs lighting up and figuring out the circuitry on the back, [InThePartsBin] decided that a clock was the best thing to build out of it. It was decided that a specialized VFD driver chip was the easiest way to make the thing work, so a MAX6934 was ordered. To give the clock some brains, an ATmega328 was recruited and to keep time, [InThePartsBin] had some DS3231 real-time clock modules left over from a previous project, so they were recruited as well. A daughterboard was designed to sit on the back of the vintage board and hold the ‘328 and the VFD driver chip.

Once [InThePartsBin] soldered on the components it was time to fire it up and send 1’s to the driver to turn on all the segments on all the tubes. Success! The only thing that [InThePartsBin] has left to do is write the code for the clock, but all the segments and tubes are controllable now, so the hardware part is done. There are other VFD clock projects on the site: Check out this one, or this one, and bask in the beautiful steel-blue glow.

Via Reddit.

Modernizing a 170 year old Antique Grandfather Clock

Frankly, we let out a yelp of despair when we read this in the tip line “Antique Grandfather clock with Arduino insides“! But before you too roll your eyes, groan, or post snark, do check out [David Henshaw]’s amazing blog post on how he spent almost eight months working on the conversion.

Before you jump to any conclusions about his credentials, we must point out that [David] is an ace hacker who has been building electronic clocks for a long time. In this project, he takes the antique grandfather clock from 1847, and puts inside it a new movement built from Meccano pieces, stepper motors, hall sensors, LEDs, an Arduino and lots of breadboard and jumper wires while making sure that it still looks and sounds as close to the original as possible.

He starts off by building a custom electro-mechanical clock movement, and since he’s planning as he progresses, meccano, breadboard and jumper wires were the way to go. Hot glue helps preserve sanity by keeping all the jumper wires in place. To interface with all of the peripherals in the clock, he decided to use a bank of shift registers driven from a regular Arduino Uno. The more expensive DS3231 RTC module ensures better accuracy compared to the cheaper DS1307 or similar clones. A bank of RGB LEDs acts as an annunciator panel inside the clock to help provide various status indications. The mechanical movement itself went through several iterations to get the time display working with a smooth movement of the hands. Besides displaying time, [David] also added a moon phase indicator dial. A five-rod chime is struck using a stepper motor driven cam and a separate solenoid is used to pull and release three chime hammers simultaneously to generate the loud gong sounds.

And here’s the amazing part – he did all of this before laying his hands on the actual grandfather clock – which was shipped to him in California from an antique clock specialist in England and took two months to arrive. [David] ordered just the clock housing, dial/face and external parts, with none of the original inner mechanism. Once he received it, his custom clock-work assembly needed some more tweaking to get all the positions right for the various hands and dials. A clock like this without its typical “ticktock” sound would be pretty lame, so [David] used a pair of solenoids to provide the sound effect, with each one being turned on for a different duration to produce the characteristic ticktock.

At the end of eight months, the result – christened Judge – was pretty satisfying. Check the video below to judge the Judge for yourself. If you would like to see some more of [David]’s clockwork, check out Dottie the Flip Dot Clock and A Reel to Reel Clock.

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Get Inside a TCXO Clock Chip

[Pete] wondered how real-time clock modules could be selling on eBay for $1.50 when the main component, the Maxim DS3231 RTC/TCXO chip, cost him more like $4 apiece. Could the cheap modules contain counterfeit chips?

Well, sure they could. But in this case, they didn’t, and [Pete] has the die shots to prove it. He started off by clipping the SOIC leads rather than desoldering — he’s not going to be reusing this chip after he’s cut it in half. Next was a stage of embrittling the case by heating it up with a lighter and dunking it in water. Then he went at it with sandpaper.

It’s cool. You can see the watch crystal inside, and all of the circuitry. The DS3231 includes a TCXO — temperature-corrected crystal oscillator — and it seems to have a bank of capacitors that it connects and disconnects depending on the chip’s temperature to keep the oscillator running at the right speed. [Pete] used one in an offline situation, and it only lost sixteen seconds over a year, so we’d say that they work fine.

If you’d like to know more about how crystals are used to keep time, check out [Jenny]’s excellent article. And if sixteen second per year is way too much for you, tune up your rubidium standard and welcome to the world of the time nuts.