Keeping Clocks On Time, The Swiss Way

Could there be a worse fate for a guy with a Swiss accent than to be subjected to a clock that’s seconds or even – horrors! – minutes off the correct time? Indeed not, which is why [The Guy With the Swiss Accent] went to great lengths to keep his IKEA radio-controlled clock on track.

For those who haven’t seen any of [Andreas Spiess]’ YouTube videos, you’ll know that he pokes a bit of fun at Swiss stereotypes such as precision and punctuality. But really, having a clock that’s supposed to synchronize to one of the many longwave radio atomic clocks sprinkled around the globe and yet fails to do so is irksome to even the least chrono-obsessive personality. His IKEA clock is supposed to read signals from station DCF77 in Germany, but even the sensitive receivers in such clocks can be defeated by subterranean locales such as [Andreas]’ shop. His solution was to provide a local version of DCF77 using a Raspberry Pi and code that sends modulated time signals to a GPIO pin. The pin is connected to a ferrite rod antenna, which of course means that the Pi is being turned into a radio transmitter and hence is probably violating the law. But as [Andreas] points out, if the power is kept low enough, the emissions will only ever be received by nearby clocks.

With his clock now safely synced to an NTP server via the tiny radio station, [Andreas] can get back to work on his other projects, such as work-hardening copper wire for antennas with a Harley, or a nuclear apocalypse-Tweeting Geiger counter.

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NTP Morse Code Clock Powered By ESP8266

We’ve featured a great many unique clocks here on Hackaday, which have utilized nearly every imaginable way of conveying the current time. But of all these marvelous timepieces, the Morse code clock has the distinct honor of simultaneously being the easiest to construct and (arguably) the most difficult to read. As such, it’s little surprise we don’t see them very often. Which makes this latest entry into the field all the more interesting.

[WhisleyTangoHotel] has taken the basic concept of the Morse clock, which at its most simplistic could be done with a microcontroller and single LED, and expanded it into a (relatively) practical device. With both audio and visual signaling, and support for pulling the time from NTP, this is easily the most polished Morse code clock we’ve ever seen. Using it still requires you to have a decent grasp on Samuel Morse’s now nearly 200 year old encoding scheme of course, but on the bright side, this clock is sure to help keep your CW skills sharp.

For those following along at home, [WhisleyTangoHotel] provides a hand-drawn diagram to show how everything connects together in his Morse timepiece, but there’s nothing on the hardware side that’s likely to surprise the Hackaday reader. A single momentary push button represents the device’s sole user input, with the output being handled by a LED “tower” and speaker on their own respective pins on the microcontroller. Here a Adafruit Feather HUZZAH is used, but any ESP8266 would work in its place.

Of course, the advantage of using an ESP8266 board over your garden variety MCU is the Wi-Fi connectivity. This allows the clock to connect to an NTP server and get the current time before relaying it to the user. Some might think this overkill, but it’s really a critical feature; the lack of a proper RTC on the ESP means the clock would drift badly if not regularly synchronized. Assuming you’ve got a reliable Internet connection, this saves you the added cost and complexity of adding an external RTC.

[WhisleyTangoHotel] wraps up his blog post by providing his ESP8266 Arduino source code, which offers an interesting example in working not only with NTP and time zones on the ESP, but how to handle parsing strings and representing their principle characters in Morse code.

Interestingly enough, in the past we’ve seen a single LED clock that didn’t use Morse code to blink out the time, which might be a viable option as an alternate firmware for this device if you’re not in the Samuel Morse fan club.

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A Multifunction ESP8266 Smartwatch

Most of the DIY smartwatch projects we feature here on Hackaday aren’t exactly what most people would consider practical daily-use devices. Clunky designs, short battery life, limited functions: they’re more a wearable display of geek cred than they are functional timepieces. Oddly enough, the same could be said of many of the “real” smartwatches on the market, so perhaps the DIY versions are closer to the state-of-the-art than we thought.

But this ESP8266 smartwatch created by [Shyam Ravi] is getting dangerously close to something you could unironically leave the house with. It’s still missing an enclosure that prevents you from receiving PCB acupuncture while wearing it, but beyond than that it has a more than respectable repertoire of functions. It even seems to be a fairly reasonable size (with the potential to be even smaller). All that with a total build cost of less than $20 USD, and we’re thinking this might be a project to keep an eye on.

Not content with a watch that simply tells the time, [Shyam] added in a weather function that pulls the current conditions for his corner of the globe from the Yahoo weather API and displays it above the time and date on the watch’s multi-color OLED display when the center button is pressed. Frankly, given the state of DIY watches, that would already have been impressive enough; but he didn’t stop there.

The left and right buttons control Internet-connected relays which [Shyam] uses to turn his lights and air conditioner on and off. When he presses the corresponding button, the watch will even display the status of the devices wherever his travels might take him.

A smattering of DIY watches pass by our careful gaze, though it’s been a while since we’ve seen an ESP8266 watch. More recently we’ve seen an Arduino watch, and some downright gorgeous analog creations.

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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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Persistence Of Phosphorescence Clock Displays YouTube Stats Too

Looking for an eye-catching and unique way to display the time and date? Want the flexibility to add other critical information, like the number of YouTube subs you’ve got? Care to be able to read it from half a block away, at least at night? Then this scrolling glow-in-the-dark dot-matrix display could be right up your alley.

Building on his previous Morse code transcriber using a similar display, [Jan Derogee] took the concept and went big. The idea is to cover a PVC pipe with phosphorescent tape and rotate it past a row of 100 UV LEDs. The LEDs are turned on as the glow-in-the-dark surface passes over them, charging up a row of spots. The display is built up to two rows of 16 characters by the time it rotates into view, and the effect seems to last for quite a while. An ESP8266 takes care of driving the display and fetching NTP time and YouTube stats.

We’ve seen “persistence of phosphorescence” clocks before, but not as good looking and legible as this one. We like the approach, and we can’t help but think of other uses for glow-in-the-dark displays.

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7-Segment Digits Slide Stylishly On This OLED Clock

Over at Sparkfun, [Alex] shared an OLED clock project that’s currently in progress but has a couple interesting twists. The first is the use of a small OLED screen for each digit, to which [Alex] added a stylistic touch. Digits transition by having segments slide vertically in a smooth animated motion. It’s an attractive effect, and the code is available on his github repository for anyone who wants to try it out.

[Alex] also found that by using an ESP32 microcontroller and synchronizing the clock via NTP over WiFi, the added cost of implementing a real-time clock in hardware becomes unnecessary. Without an RTC, time would drift by a few seconds every day and require a reset. At the moment the clock requires the SSID and password to be hardcoded, but [Alex] would prefer to allow this to be configured via a web page and could use some help. If you have implemented a web server on the ESP32, [Alex] would like to know how you handled multiple pages. “I’ve been scratching my head throughout the build on how to get this done,” he writes. “With the ESP8266, there’s on(const String &uri, handler function), but that seems to have been removed on the ESP32.” If you can point [Alex] in the right direction, be sure to pipe up.

OLED displays and clocks often go together, as we have seen with projects like the DIY OLED Smart Watch, but it’s nice to see someone using the OLED’s strengths to add some visual flair to an otherwise plain display.

Apparently Time IS Money

Some people like to tweak cars. Some like to overclock PCs. Then there are the guys like [Jack Zimmermann] who are obsessed with accurate time. He’s working on a project that will deploy NTP (Network Time Protocol) servers in different African countries and needed small, cheap, energy-efficient, and accurate servers. What he wound up with is a very accurate setup for around $200. Along the way, he built some custom hardware, and hacked a computer to sync to the GPS clock reference.

His original attempt was with a Raspberry Pi 3. However, the network adapter isn’t the fastest possible, both because it is 100 MBPS and, primarily, because it is connected via the USB bus. Network latency due to these limitations makes it difficult to serve accurate time.

His solution includes an Odroid C2. For $50 it is a very capable computer with four cores, gigabit Ethernet, and can even use eMMC storage which is faster than the usual SD card. You can still use a conventional SD card, though, if you prefer.

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