2022 Sci-Fi Contest: Nixie Calculator Is Resplendent In Walnut Enclosure

The Nixie tube is one of the most popular display technologies amongst the hacker and maker set. Glowing numerals can warm even the coldest heart, particularly when they’re energized with hundreds of volts. [ohad.harel] used these glorious displays to build the TORI Nixie Calculator, with beautiful results.¬†

The build uses seven IN-12 Nixie tubes for numerals, along with an IN-15A which displays mathematical symbols like +, %, and M. It’s equipped with a 32-key keyboard using mechanical key switches. Everything is wrapped up in a beautiful walnut enclosure that fits the tubes and keyboard perfectly, giving the final build a nice mid-century aesthetic.

Impressively, it goes beyond the basic usual calculator functions, also handling conversions between metric and imperial units. It’s a nice feature that would make it a wonderful tool to have on one’s desk beyond the simple aesthetic charm of the Nixie tubes.

Nixie projects never seem to die. Their beauty and warmth captivates builders to this day. Indeed, we’ve even seen some makers go to the trouble of creating new tubes from scratch!

A six digit Nixie clock on a desktop

Upcycled Nixie Clock Fit For A Friend

Building a clock from parts is a rite of passage for makers, and often represents a sensible introduction into the world of electronics. It’s also hard to beat the warm glow of Nixie tubes in a desktop clock, as [Joshua Coleman] discovered when building a Nixie tube clock for a friend.

The original decision to upcycle the chassis from an unrepairable Heathkit function generator came a little undone after some misaligned cutting, so the front panel ended up being redesigned and 3D printed. This ended up being serendipitous, as the redesigned front panel allowed the Nixie tubes to be inset within the metal chassis. This effect looks great, and it also better protects the tubes from impact damage.

Sourcing clones of the 74141 Nixie driver ICs ended up being easier than anticipated, and the rest of the electronics came together quickly. The decoders are driven by an Arduino, and the IN-4 Nixie tubes are powered by a bespoke 170 volt DC power supply.

Unfortunately four of the tubes were damaged during installation, however replacements were readily available online. The gorgeous IN-4 Nixie tube has a reputation for breaking easily, but is priced accordingly on auction sites and relatively easy to source.

The build video after the break should get any aspiring Nixie clock makers started, but the video description is also full of extra information and links for those needing help getting started.

We’re not short on clock hacks here at Hackaday, so why not check out a couple more? This retro-inspired LED clock looks like its right out of a parallel universe, or maybe this stunning Nixie clock driven by relays will strike your fancy.

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Closeup of the car dash with nixie tubes

Retro Future Nixie Corvair Instrument Panel

The future we know today looks very different than the one envisioned in the 60s and 70s. For starters, it has far too few Nixie tubes. An oversight [nixiebunny] wants to address with his Nixie tube instrument panel.

All the essential info is there: engine temperature, tachometer, speed, battery voltage, and even odometer. You might have noticed that there isn’t a clock. The justification that [nixiebunny] gives is that he’s always wearing his Nixie watch, so a clock in his car seems redundant. There is also a gap in the panel to allow an oil pressure display. Corvairs are known for throwing belts next to the oil sender, so any attached sensor needs to be designed well and thought through. A Teensy receives engine telemetry data (no OBDII port to hook into — GM didn’t come out with the first OBD port until the 80s) from the engine bay. The data is transformed into SPI data sent to the 74HC595 shift register chain via a CAT5 cable. Details are a little sparse, but we can see a custom PCB to fit the shape of the hole in the dash with the different Nixie tube footprints silkscreened on.

We love seeing Nixie tubes in unexpected places. Like this POV Nixie clock or this Nixie robot sculpture.

A black PCB with four numeric Nixie tubes on the top, showing 9:26. Under them, a group of black relays is located.

Relay-Driven Nixie Clock Gets You To Stop Scrolling

We don’t often get a Tips line submission where the “Subject” line auto-translates as “Yoshi Yoshi Yoshi”, linking to a short video by [Yasunari Industries] (embedded below). For many, it might be hard to tell what this is at a first glance – however, if the myriad of relays clacking won’t draw your attention, the four Nixie digits on the top definitely will! The gorgeous black PCB has two buttons on the bottom, incrementing hour and minute hours respectively, and observant readers will notice how the LEDs near the relays respond to binary-coded-decimal representation of the digits being shown. This appears to be a relay-based clock with Nixie tubes for digit outputs, and on a scale from “practical” to “eye candy”, it firmly points towards the latter!

The project’s description is quite laconic, but it’s fun to try to figure out what is what based off the few pictures available. The top part with the Nixies and the PIR sensor (presumably for conserving the Nixie tube resources) is V-scored, and a small jumper PCB on the back connects the Nixie module to the relay board – likely, we might see these boards reassembled in a different form-factor, or perhaps find their way into [Yasunari Industries]’ different projects altogether! We can see a Digispark board in the bottom right corner, and wonder if, with addition of that, this board is able to function as a standalone clock — hopefully it does, because that’s one gorgeous addition. And, of course, it all couldn’t happen without help of a bunch of red wires on the back of the board – the author says that some segments were reversed, and the high-voltage PSU section of the board was mis-wired.

Nixie tubes have a dedicated fan base over here, and we keep covering projects that find yet unexplored ways to use Nixies, such as a circular FFT display, or a high-speed camera calibration fixture. Sometimes, Nixie tubes feel like this special sauce you can add to your creation, which explains their popularity in all kinds of barely even counting-adjacent projects, like this TODO indicator. And when we run out of Nixies, we find ways to imitate them – whether it’s with tiny IPS displays, or with layered laser-cut acrylic!

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Dice Rolls From The Beginning Of Time

Generating random numbers might seem like a trivial task, that is until the numbers need to be truly random for cryptography or security reasons. When that’s the case, it turns out that these numbers are really “pseudo-random” and follow a predictable pattern. Devices that can produce truly random numbers often do it by sampling random events in the real world rather than relying on a computer to do it directly, like this machine which simulates a dice roll by looking at the cosmic microwave background radiation.

The cosmic microwave background radiation exists in the infrared at the farthest edges of the observable universe as a remnant of the big bang. It’s an excellent source of randomness, but tapping into it poses a bit of a challenge. For this build, [iSax] is using an old Soviet-era Geiger tube to detect the appropriate signal, and a Nixie tube to display the dice roll. After the device detects two particles from the Big Bang, the device measures the amount of time that passed between the detection of both particles and uses this number to calculate the dice roll.

While it takes a little bit longer to roll this dice than a traditional one since it has to wait to detect the right kind of particles, if you really need the randomness it can’t be beat. It certainly works as dice, but we can also see some use for generating truly random numbers for other applications as well. For some other sources of random inspiration be sure to check out our own [Voja Antonic]’s deep dive into truly random number generation.

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Espresso maker with added nixie flair

AI Powered Coffee Maker Knows A Bit Too Much About You

People keep warning that Skynet and the great robot uprising is not that far away, what with all this recent AI and machine-learning malarky getting all the attention lately. But we think going straight for a terminator robot army is not a very smart approach, not least due to a lack of subtlety. We think that it’s a much better bet to take over the world one home appliance at a time, and this AI Powered coffee maker might just well be part of that master plan.

Raspberry Pi Zero sitting atop the custom nixie tube driver PCB
PCB stackup with Pi Zero sat atop the driver / PSU PCBs

[Mark Smith] has taken a standard semi-auto espresso maker and jazzed it up a bit, with a sweet bar graph nixie tube the only obvious addition, at least from the front of the unit. Inside, a Raspberry Pi Zero sits atop his own nixie tube hat and associated power supply. The whole assembly is dropped into a 3D printed case and lives snuggled up to the water pump.

The Pi is running a web application written with the excellent Flask framework, and also an additional control application written in python. This allows the user to connect to the machine via Ethernet and see its status. The smarts are in the form of a simple self-grading machine learning algorithm, that takes a time series as an input (in this case when you take your shots of espresso) and after a few weeks of data, is able to make a reasonable prediction as to when you might want it in the future. It then automatically heats up in time for you to use the machine, when you usually do, then cools back down to save energy. No more pointless wandering around to see if the machine is hot enough yet – as you can just check the web page and see from the comfort of your desk.

But that’s not all [Mark] has done. He also improved the temperature control of the water boiler, and added an interlock that prevents the machine from producing a shot until the water temperature is just so. Water level is indicated by the glorious bar graph nixie tube, which also serves a few other user indication duties when appropriate. All in all a pretty sweet build, but we do add a word of caution: If your toaster starts making an unreasonable number of offers of toasted teacakes, give it a wide berth.

Rows of nixie tubes in clear acrylic

Binary Clock Lets The Nixies Glow

We’re not here to talk about another clock. Okay, we are, but the focus isn’t about whether or not it can tell time, it’s about taking a simple idea to an elegant conclusion. In all those ways, [Marcin Saj] produced a beautiful¬†project. Most of the nixie clocks we see are base-ten, but this uses base-two for lots of warm glow from more than a dozen replaceable units.

There are three rows for hours, minutes, and seconds. The top and bottom rows are labeled with an “H” and “S” respectively displayed on IN-15B tubes, while the middle row shows an “M” from an IN-15A tube. The pluses and minuses light up on IN-12 models so you’ll need eighteen of them for the full light show, but you could skimp and use sixteen in twelve-hour mode since you don’t need to count to twenty-four. We won’t explain how to read time in binary, since you know, you’re here and all. The laser-cut acrylic is gorgeous with clear plastic next to those shiny nixies, but you have to recreate the files or buy the cut parts as we couldn’t find vector files amongst the code and schematics.

Silly rabbit, nixies aren’t just for clocks. You can roll your own, but they’re not child’s play.

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