The word clock on a desk, with "tien", "over", "half" and "twaalf" lit

An Impeccably Documented Word Clock In Dutch

[Maarten Pennings] shares a word clock project – but not the regular kind. For a start, this clock is a shining demonstration of hobbyist-available 3D printing technologies, with embedded light guides for the letters printed in transparent filament, thanks to a dual-extruder printer. For a word clock, it’s surprisingly small – in fact, it uses an 8×8 addressable LED matrix, with words shown in different colors. If you’re looking to build a novel word clock, you’re all set here – [Maarten] tells all about this project’s story and provides a treasure trove of insights into designing all of its aspects!

The 8×8 limitation was initially set because he wanted to use a low-cost MAX7219 8×8 LED matrix module as a base for the clock. Thankfully, in Dutch, time can be expressed using shorter words — still, it had to be limited to 5-minute intervals. Extra effort had to be spent designing the layout — [Maarten] mentions his friend writing a solver that found a way to fit some words onto the layout diagonally. At some point, he switched from LEDs to Neopixels, and dug deep into addressable LED technology. For instance, he demonstrates Neopixel power measurements and current consumption calculations. This shows that the calculations indeed match the clock’s real consumption when measured by an external meter.

In the best of hacker traditions, all the source files are on Github — if you fancy yourself a Dutch word clock, you can build [Maarten]’s design easily! He provides extensive instructions on building this clock in the README, including a flashing and configuration tutorial, complete wiring diagrams, and a soldering guide. A manufacturing-grade amount of build information that won’t leave you guessing. He’s also added a fair number of animations, put plenty of effort into clock precision verification, and even investigated some Neopixel protocol minutiae. All in all, our hacker went all in on the capabilities while embracing the constraints. This reminds us of the similarly well-documented haptic word clock we covered just a year ago – check that one out, too!

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fiber matrix

Big LED Matrix Becomes Tiny LED Matrix Thanks To Fiber Optics

Everyone loves LED matrices, and even if you can’t find what you like commercially, it’s pretty easy to make just what you want. Need it big? No problem; just order a big PCB and some WS2812s. Need something tiny? There are ridiculously small LEDs that will test your SMD skills, as well as your vision.

But what if you want a small matrix that’s actually a big matrix in disguise? For that, you’ll want to follow [elliotmade]’s lead and incorporate fiber optics into your LED matrix. The build starts with a 16×16 matrix of WS2812B addressable LEDs, with fairly tight spacing but still 160 mm on a side. The flexible matrix was sandwiched between a metal backing plate and a plastic bezel with holes directly over each LED. Each hole accepts one end of a generous length of flexible 1.5-mm acrylic light pipe material; the other end plugs into a block of aluminum with a 35 by 7 matrix of similar holes. The small block is supported above the baseplate by standoffs, but it looks like the graceful bundle of fibers is holding up the smaller display.

A Raspberry Pi Pico running a CircutPython program does the job of controlling the LEDs, and as you can see in the video below, the effect is quite lovely. Just enough light leaks out from the fibers to make a fascinating show in the background while the small display does its thing. We’ve seen a few practical uses for such a thing, but we’re OK with this just being pretty. It does give one ideas about adding fiber optics to circuit sculptures, though.

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Image showing differences between WS2815 and WS2813 LED strips - the WS2815 strip lighting is more uniform throughout the strip's length.

Teaching You Everything You Might Have Missed About Addressable LEDs

Often, financial motivation results in people writing great educational material for hackers. Such is absolutely the case with this extensive documentation blog post on addressable LEDs by [DeRun]. This article could very be named “Addressable LEDs 101”, and it’s a must-scroll-through for anyone, whether you’re a seasoned hacker, or an artist with hardly any technical background and a desire to put LEDs in your creations.

This blog post is easy to read, painting a complete picture of what you can expect from different addressable LED types, and with apt illustrations to boot. Ever wonder which one of the addressable strips you should get from your retailer of choice, and what are the limitations of any specific type? Or, perhaps, you’d like to know – why is it that a strip with a certain LED controller is suspiciously cheap or expensive? You’re more than welcome to, at least, scroll through and fill into any of your addressable LED knowledge gaps, whether it’s voltage drops, color accuracy differences, data transfer protocol basics or dead LED failsafes.

Addressable LEDs have a special place in our hearts, it’s as if the sun started shining brighter after we’ve discovered them… or, perhaps, it’s all the LEDs we are now able to use. WS2812 is a staple of the addressable LED world, which is why we see them even be targets of both clone manufacturers and patent trolls. However, just like the blog post we highlight today mentions, there’s plenty of other options. Either way do keep coming cover a new addressable LED-related hack, like rewriting their drivers to optimize them, or adding 3.3V compatibility with just a diode.

We thank [Helge] for sharing this with us!

Tutorial Teaches You To Use Neopixels With Micropython

Addressable LEDs are wonderful things, with products like Neopixels making it easy to create all kinds of vibrant, blinking glowables. However, for those without a lot of electronics experience, using these devices can seem a bit daunting. [Bhavesh Kakwani] is here to help, with his tutorial on getting started with Neopixels using the MicroPython environment. 

The tutorial flows on from [Bhavesh’s] Blink example for MicroPython, and is aimed at beginners who are learning for the first time. It explains the theory behind RGB color mixing that allows one to generate all manner of colors with WS2812B-based LED strings, and how to code for the Raspberry Pi Pico to make these LEDs do one’s bidding.

The guide even covers the use of the Wokwi simulation tool. This is a great way for beginners to test their projects before having to play with actual hardware. This is useful for beginners, because it’s a great way to catch mistakes – is there a software problem, or did they push the soldering iron through the microcontroller? It’s also a technique that pays dividends when working on more complicated projects.

Whether you’re entirely new to the embedded world, or just want to learn the intricacies of talking to addressable LEDs and make sense of color mixing theory, this tutorial will serve you well. Before you know it, you’ll be building glowing projects with the best of them!


Turing Ring Is Compact

One of the problems with a classic Turing machine is the tape must be infinitely long. [Mark’s] Turing Ring still doesn’t have an infinite tape, but it does make it circular to save space. That along with a very clever and capable UI makes this one of the most usable Turing machines we’ve seen. You can see a demo in the video below.

The device uses an Arduino Nano, a Neopixel ring, an encoder, and a laser-cut enclosure that looks great. The minimal UI has several modes and the video below takes you through all of them.

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WS2812s On A 6502

We can still remember when the WS2812 LED first came into our consciousness, way back in the mists of time. The timing diagrams in the datasheet-of-questionable-veracity made it sound quite tricky, with tight timing tolerances and essentially a high-speed two-bit PWM data protocol at 500 kHz. It was a challenge to bit-bang with an ATtiny85 back then, but there’s no way something as old and crusty as an Apple II would be up to snuff, right?

[Anders Nielsen] took up the challenge of getting the venerable 6502 processor to drive Neopixels and won! After all, if the chip is good enough for Bender and the Terminator T-800, it should be able to blink some colored LEDs, right? The secret sauce is shift registers!

Specifically, [Anders] abuses the 74LS165 parallel-in, serial-out shift register for his dirty work. Instead of bit-banging the WS2812’s “long high is a 1, short high is a 0” signal directly, the first few bits of the shift register are hard-wired to VCC and the last few to GND.

The bits in the middle determine if the pulse shifted out is long or short, and they’re set by the 6502, through a 6522 VIA chip, just like the Apple II would have. Clocking the data out of the shift register handles the timing-critical stuff. Very clever!

Video below the break.

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Parts Shortage Forces Creativity For This Recursive Clock Of Clocks

We’ve been seeing a lot of metaclocks lately — a digital clock whose display is formed by the sweeping hands of an array of individual analog clocks. They can look fantastic, and we’ve certainly seen some great examples.

But in this time of supply pinches, it’s not always possible to gather the parts one needs for a full-scale build. Happily, that didn’t stop [Erich Styger] from executing this circular multi-metaclock with only thirteen of his custom dual-shaft stepper analog movements. Normally, his clocks use double that number of movements, which he arranges in a matrix so that the hands can be positioned to form virtual seven-segment displays. By arranging the movements in a circle, the light-pipe hands can mimic an analog clock face, or perform any of [Erich]’s signature “intermezzo” animations, each of which is graceful and engaging to watch. Check out a little of what this charmingly recursive clock has to offer in the video below.

[Erich] could easily have gotten stuck on the original design — he’s been at this metaclock game for a while, after all. The fact that the reduced part count forced him to get creative on the display is the best part of this build, at least to us.

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