Turning OLEDs And Acrylic Into Faux Nixie Tubes

Love ’em or hate ’em, Nixies and the retro clocks they adorn are here to stay. At least until the world’s stock of surplus Soviet tubes is finally depleted, that is. The glow discharge tubes were last mass manufactured in the 1980s, and while they’re not too hard to get a hold of yet, they will be eventually. And what better way to get ready for that dreaded day than by rolling your own OLED faux Nixie tubes?

Granted, [Derek]’s faux Nixies, appropriately dubbed “Fixies,” require just a touch of willing suspension of disbelief. We’ve never see Nixies with tiny jam jars as envelopes, so that’s probably the first giveaway. But looking past that, the innards of these fake displays do a pretty convincing job of imitating the texture of the real thing.

The numbers themselves are displayed on a 128×64 white OLED display using a Nixie-like True Type font. An orange acrylic filter in front of the display gives it that warm amber Nixie glow, with laser etchings mimicking both the fine hexagonal anode grid and the ghostly cathodes of the non-illuminated numerals. The tubes looked convincing enough that a clock was in order, and after sorting through an I2C bottleneck with the help of a multiplexer, [Derek] had a pretty decent faux-Nixie clock, complete with a solenoid-actuated mechanical gong. The double-digit display for the seconds will no doubt cause some consternation among Nixie purists, but that’s probably part of the fun.

Of course, just because Nixies aren’t being mass-produced today doesn’t mean you can’t get new ones. You just have to be willing to pay for them, and [Dalibor Farný] will gladly set you up with his handmade artisanal Nixies, or even a clock kit using them.

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PrintEye Gives You Stats In A Blink

Once upon a time, most things were single-purpose, like the pocket watch. Then somebody made a watch with a date function, and next thing you know, we had TV/VCR combos and Swiss army knives. Now, people pull computers out of their pockets just to check the time or the bed temperature of their RepRap.

[Owen]’s antidote for this multi-function madness is PrintEye, a simple interface that queries his printer and displays its vital signs on a pair of OLED peepers. It’s a parts bin special, and you know how much we love those. PrintEye connects to the Duet controller over UART, and does its firmware whispering with an ATMega328P. The ‘Mega sends a single M-command and gets back all the status and temperature data in JSON format. Then it parses the info and displays it on twin OLED screens.

Want to make one? [Owen]’s got all the files you need over on IO, but offers no hand-holding services. If you’ve never spun a board before, this could be your introduction. Have to have an internet connection? Check out the Octoprint monitor that inspired PrintEye.

DIY Thermal Imager Uses DIY Gaussian Blur

Under the right circumstances, Gaussian blurring can make an image seem more clearly defined. [DZL] demonstrates exactly this with a lightweight and compact Gaussian interpolation routine to make the low-resolution thermal sensor data display much better on a small OLED.

[DZL] used an MLX90640 sensor to create a DIY thermal imager with a small OLED display, but since the sensor is relatively low-resolution at 32×24, displaying the data directly looks awfully blocky. Gaussian interpolation to improve the display looks really good, but it turns out that the full Gaussian interpolation isn’t a trivial calculation write on your own. Since [DZL] wanted to implement it on a microcontroller, the lightweight implementation was born. The project page walks through the details of Gaussian interpolation and how some effective shortcuts were made, so be sure to give it a look.

The MLX90640 sensor also makes an appearance in the Open Thermal Camera, one of the entries for the 2019 Hackaday Prize. If you’re interested in thermal imaging, don’t miss this teardown of a thermal imaging camera.

Hello: A Mini Badge For CCCamp

Badgelife culture is our community’s very own art form, with a plethora of designs coming forth featuring stunning artwork, impressive hardware, and clever software tricks. But sometimes a badge doesn’t need a brace of LEDs or a meme-inspired appearance to be a success, it just needs to be very good at what it does.

A perfect example is [Gavan Fantom]’s Hello mini badge. The hardware is fairly straightforward, it’s just a small square PCB sporting a LPC1115 microcontroller, 8Mb Flash chip, piezo speaker, and an OLED display. Its functionality is pretty simple as well, in that it exists to display text, images, or short animations. But the badge hides a very well-executed firmware that provides a serial terminal and zmodem file upload capability as well as an on-device interface via a small joystick. Power comes from a 500 mAh lithium-polymer cell, for which the badge integrates the usual charger and power management hardware.

There’s a variety of possibilities for the badge, but we’d guess that most owners will simply use it to display their name with perhaps a little animation. A bit of nifty processing of some video could perhaps get something approaching watchable video on it though, opening up the entertaining possibility of displaying demos or other video content.

[Gavan] will have some of the Hello badges at the upcoming CCCamp hacker camp in Germany if you’re interested, and should be easy enough to find in the EMF village.

A Tiny Train Departure Board, Just Like The Real Thing

If you travel on the British rail system, you’ll be familiar with the ubiquitous orange dot-matrix departure display boards. At a glance they tell you the expected arrival times of the next few trains, where they are headed, and at the bottom the current time.  [Chris Crocker-White] was inspired by a Tweet to recreate one of these displays in miniature and hang it under his monitor.

The hardware is a Raspberry Pi Zero with an OLED screen, in a custom 3D-printed case. A soldered USB cable takes power from the monitor’s USB ports. Software wise it’s a demonstration vehicle for the Balena cloud service that pulls its data from their transport API, but the choice of dot matrix typeface is perfect and absolutely looks the part.

There is some question as to whether a project such as this one should need a cloud service as its backend, and of course it serves as a demonstration piece rather than a definitive way to enact a departure board. It does however bring a ready-packaged API for transport data, which given that many data sources can be opaque, is a useful feature.

Train time displays seem to be a popular choice on the Eastern side of the Atlantic, here’s another British one, and one from Ireland.

Thanks [Pyrofer] for the tip.

Tiny Game System Is An Experiment In Minimalism

Many people assumed the smartphone revolution would kill the dedicated handheld game system, and really, it’s not hard to see why. What’s the point of buying the latest Nintendo or Sony handheld when the phone you’re already carrying around with you is capable of high-definition 3D graphics and online connectivity? Software developers got the hint quickly, and as predicted, mobile gaming has absolutely exploded over the last few years.

But at the same time, we’ve noticed something of a return to the simplistic handheld systems of yore. Perhaps it’s little more than nostalgia, but small bare-bones systems like the one [Mislav Breka] has entered into the 2019 Hackaday Prize show that not everyone is satisfied with the direction modern gaming has gone in. His system is specifically designed as an experiment to build the most minimal gaming system possible.

In terms of the overall design, this ATMega328 powered system is similar to a scaled-down Arduboy. But while the visual similarities are obvious, the BOM that [Mislav] has provided seems to indicate a considerably more spartan device. Currently there doesn’t seem to be any provision for audio, nor is there a battery and the associated circuitry to charge it. As promised, there’s little here other than the bare essentials.

Unfortunately, the project is off to something of a rocky start. As [Mislav] explains in his writeup on Hackaday.io, there’s a mistake somewhere in either the board design or the component selection that’s keeping the device from accepting a firmware. He won’t have the equipment to debug the device until he returns to school, and is actively looking for volunteers who might be interested in helping him get the kinks worked out on the design.

Freeform ESP8266 Network Attached Data Display

Like many of us, [Josef Adamčík] finds himself fascinated with so-called “freeform” electronic designs, where the three dimensional circuit makes up sections of the device’s structure. When well executed, such designs really blur the line between being a practical device and an artistic piece. In fact his latest design, an ESP8266 MQTT client, would seem to indicate there might not be much of a “line” at all.

The inspiration for this project actually comes from something [Josef] had worked on previously: an ESP8266-based environmental monitoring system. That device had sensors to pick up on things such as humidity and ambient light level, but it didn’t have a display of its own; it just pushed the data out onto the network using MQTT. So he thought a companion device which could receive this environmental data and present it to him in a unique and visually appealing way would be a natural extension of the idea.

As the display doesn’t need any local sensors of its own, it made the design and construction much easier. Which is not to say it was easy, of course. In this write-up, [Josef] takes the reader through the process of designing each “layer” of the circuit in 2D, printing it out onto paper, and then using that as a guide to assemble the real thing. Once he had the individual panels done, he used some pieces of cardboard to create a three dimensional jig which helped him get it all soldered together.

On the software side it’s pretty straightforward. It just pulls the interesting bits of information off of the network and displays it on the OLED. Right now it’s configured to show current temperature on the display, but of course that could be changed to pretty much anything you could imagine if you’re looking to add a similar device to your desktop. There’s also a red LED on the device which lights up to let [Josef] know when the batteries are getting low on the remote sensor unit; a particularly nice touch.

If you’d like to see more of these freeform circuits, we’d advise you to checkout the finalists for our recently concluded “Circuit Sculpture” contest. Some of the finalists are truly beyond belief.