NTP server heated with Bitcoin mining dongles

Bitcoin Mining ASICs Repurposed To Keep NTP Server On Track

They say time is money, but if that’s true, money must also be time. It’s all figurative, of course, but in the case of this NTP server heater powered by Bitcoin mining dongles, money actually does become time.

This is an example of the lengths to which Network Time Protocol aficionados will go in search of slightly better performance from their NTP servers. [Folkert van Heusden], having heard that thermal stability keeps NTP servers happy, used a picnic cooler as an environmental chamber for his  Pi- and GPS-based NTP rig. Heat is added to the chamber thanks to seven Block Erupter ASIC miner dongles, which are turned on by a Python script when a microcontroller sends an MQTT message that the temperature has dropped below the setpoint.

Each dongle produces about 2.5 Watts of heat when it’s working, making them pretty effective heaters. Alas, heat is all they produce at the moment — [Folkert] just has them working on the same hash over and over. He does say that he has plans to let the miners do useful work at some point, not so much for profit but to at least help out the network a bit.

This seems like a bit of a long way around to solve this problem, but since the mining dongles are basically obsolete now — we talked about them way back in 2013 — it has a nice hacky feeling to it that we appreciate.

NTP, Rust, And Arduino Make A Phenomenal Frequency Counter

Making a microcontroller perform as a frequency counter is a relatively straightforward task involving the measurement of the time period during which a number of pulses are counted. The maximum frequency is however limited to a fraction of the microcontroller’s clock speed and the accuracy of the resulting instrument depends on that of the clock crystal so it will hardly result in the best of frequency counters. It’s something [FrankBuss] has approached with an Arduino-based counter that offloads the timing question to a host PC, and thus claims atomic accuracy due to its clock being tied to a master source via NTP. The Rust code PC-side provides continuous readings whose accuracy increases the longer it is left counting the source. The example shown reaches 20 parts per billion after several hours reading a 1 MHz source.

It’s clear that this is hardly the most convenient of frequency counters, however we can see that it could find a use for anyone intent on monitoring the long-term stability of a source, and could even be used with some kind of feedback to discipline an RF source against the NTP clock with the use of an appropriate prescaler. Its true calling might come though not in measurement but in calibration of another instrument which can be adjusted to match its reading once it has settled down. There’s surely no cheaper way to satisfy your inner frequency standard nut.

Portable GPS Time Server Powered By The ESP8266

Most Hackaday readers will be familiar with the idea of a network time server; a magical box nestled away in some distant data center that runs the Network Time Protocol (NTP) and allows us to conveniently synchronize the clocks in our computers and gadgets. Particularly eager clock watchers can actually rig up their own NTP server for their personal use, and if you’re a true time aficionado like [Cristiano Monteiro], you might be interested in the portable GPS-controlled time server he recently put together.

The heart of the build is a NEO-6M GPS module which features a dedicated pulse per second (PPS) pin. The ESP8266 combines the timestamp from the GPS messages and the PPS signal to synchronize itself with the atomic clock aboard the orbiting satellite. To prevent the system from drifting too far out of sync when it doesn’t have a lock on the GPS signal, [Cristiano] is using a DS3231 I2C real-time clock module that features a high accuracy temperature-compensated crystal oscillator (TCXO).

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A Custom Clock With LED Filament Hands

LEDs have become so ubiquitous in our projects that just hearing that term probably conjures images of tiny illuminated domes in an array of single-spectrum colors. It’s easy to forget that these efficient sources of light come in a variety of form factors, including the retro-tacular filaments that [bitborked] used to make his beautiful analog LED wall clock.

Aside from its aesthetics, this timepiece features some great design. A custom PCB acts as a hub for all the LED filament spokes. The onboard brains come in the form of an ESP32, which means it can keep extremely accurate time via NTP. WS2811 LED controllers, which we’re so accustomed to seeing alongside RGB LEDs that they almost feel strange to see here, provide the 12 volts required for each filament and make individual addressing a breeze.

[bitborked] takes advantage of that addressability to display other animations in addition to the standard clock face. They also plan to implement MQTT for eventual alerts from other home automation devices. When it comes to just telling time, you can discern the individual “hands” by differences in their brightness, which sadly does not show up as well in video as it does in real life.

We would certainly be happy to have this clock on our walls, and we hope to eventually see more of its PCB designs. In the meantime, though, we can drool over a more digital take on the LED filament clock. Although, filaments are certainly not required to make a beautiful LED timekeeper.

Using Heaters To Display Time

We’re always fans of interesting clock builds around here, whether it’s a word clock, marble clock, or in this case a clock using a unique display method. Of course, since this is a build by Hackaday’s own [Moritz v. Sivers] the display that was chosen for this build was a custom thermochromic display. These displays use heat-sensitive material to change color, and his latest build leverages that into one of the more colorful clock builds we’ve seen.

The clock’s display is built around a piece of thermochromic film encased in clear acrylic. The way the film operates is based on an LCD display, but using heat to display the segments. For this build, as opposed to his previous builds using larger displays, he needed to refine the method he used for generating the heat required for the color change. For that he swapped out the Peltier devices for surface mount resistors and completely redesigned the drivers and the PCBs around this new method.

Of course, the actual clock mechanism is worth a mention as well. The device uses an ESP8266 board to handle the operation of the clock, and it is able to use its wireless capabilities to get the current time via NTP. All of the files needed to recreate this are available on the project page as well, including code, CAD files, and PCB layouts. It’s always good to have an interesting clock around your home, but if you’re not a fan of electronic clocks like this we can recommend any number of mechanical clocks as well.

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Circle Full Of LEDs Becomes A Clock

Building a clock of some sorts seems to be a time honored tradition for hackers and LED clocks seem one of the most popular. You can build anything from a seven-segment display to a binary clock or something even more fancy. [Clueless] found a circle of LED rings online and with made an LED version of an analog clock.

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Colorful Quinary Clock Makes The Most Out Of Five Neopixels

If binary digits are bits, are quinary digits “quits”? Perhaps, but whatever you call them, you’re going to have to wrap your head around some new concepts in order to make sense of this quinary display clock.

The transition between 15:42 and 15:43.

Why quinary? [Spike Snell] wanted to minimize the number of LEDs, and 52 is enough to cover all 24 hours. Binary clocks may have geek chic, but there are only so many ways to display ones and zeros.

[Spike]’s clock is unique because it shows each quit using a single WS2812 Neopixel. The values zero through four are each represented by a different color, meaning the user needs to memorize which color goes with which value, which we suspect is the hardest part of learning this clock. The clock’s software is fairly simple and runs on an ESP8266, and uses NTP to keep on track. The clock self-adjusts for Daylight Savings time, and it has a nice feature that dims the display in the evening to make living with it easier.

Even for those not up on their base-five arithmetic,  [Spike]’s clock is still a nice, slowly evolving abstract art piece. And for those who grok the quinary clock, perhaps a career awaits you in an alternate future where bi-quinary relay computers caught on.