In the world of retrocomputing it’s the earliest models that garner the most interest, usually either due to their rarity, or sometimes just because of their flaws. The Commodore Amiga 1000 is a case in point, it was the machine everybody wanted but its A500 home computer sibling made the Amiga a success story. Peripherals for the 500 are plentiful then, while those for the 1000 remain a rarity. Thus it’s a treat to see an A1000 peripheral appear in the present day, in the form of a memory, clock, and SD card expansion called the Parciero. It packs 8Mb of SRAM to give the Amiga some truly quick fast memory, something that would have used an eye-wateringly expensive brace of chips back in the day but now has just a single package.
We like the description of the Parciero’s case as “about the size of a harmonica that’s been run over by a steamroller“, but it conceals the effect of the march of technology. Amiga enthusiasts are used to their peripherals being chunky affairs full of through-hole chips. Its creator [David Dunklee] is a retired senior US Space Force officer, and we appreciate his humour in the silkscreen layer. It’s a small-scale commercial product, but in a field so select as Amiga 1000 owners it’s unusual enough to make it noteworthy to all retrocomputer enthusiasts by virtue of its mere existence. We congratulate him for helping keep that little corner of vintage technology alive.
Fans of retro computers from the 8-bit and 16-bit eras will be well aware of the green death that eats these machines from the inside out. A common cause is leaking electrolytic capacitors, with RTC batteries being an even more vicious scourge when it comes to corrosion that destroys motherboards. Of course, time rolls on, and new generations of machines are now prone to this risk. [MattKC] has explored the issue on Microsoft’s original Xbox, built from 2001 to 2009.
The original Xbox does include a real-time clock, however, it doesn’t rely on a battery. Due to the RTC hardware being included in the bigger NVIDA MCPX X3 sound chip, the current draw on standby was too high to use a standard coin cell as a backup battery. Instead, a fancy high-value capacitor was used, allowing the clock to be maintained for a few hours away from AC power. The problem is that these capacitors were made during the Capacitor Plague in the early 2000s. Over time they leak and deposit corrosive material on the motherboard, which can easily kill the Xbox.
The solution? Removing the capacitor and cleaning off any goop that may have already been left on the board. The fastidious can replace the part, though the Xbox will work just fine without the capacitor in place; you’ll just have to reset the clock every time you unplug the console. [MattKC] also points out that this is a good time to inspect other caps on the board for harmful leakage.
We around the Hackaday shop never get tired of seeing new ways to mark the passage of time. Hackers come up with all manner of interesting timekeeping modalities using every imaginable material and method of moving the mechanism once per whatever minimum time unit the hacker chooses to mark.
But honestly, there are only so many ways to make a clock, and while we’re bound to see some repeats, it’s still nice to go over old ground with a fresh approach. Take this linear sliding stencil clock for instance. [Luuk Esselbrugge] has included some cool design elements that bear a closer look. The video below shows that the display is made up of four separate stepper motors, each driving a vertical stencil via a rack-and-pinion mechanism. There a simple microswitch for homing the display, and a Neopixel for lighting things up.
The video below shows that the stencils move very, very slowly; [Luuk] says that this is to keep the steppers as quiet as possible. Still, this means that some time changes take more than a minute to accomplish, which is a minor problem. The Neopixel also doesn’t quite light up just one digit, which should be a pretty easy fix for version 2. Still, even with these issues, we like the stately movements of this clock, and appreciate [Luuk]’s attempts to make it easier to live with.
Don’t let the number of clocks you see on these pages dissuade you from trying something new, or from putting your twist on an old design. Start with fridge magnets, an old oscilloscope, or even a bevy of steel balls, and let your imagination run wild. Just make sure to tell us all about it when you’re done.
One glimpse at the still images or the brief video below shows you exactly how [Eric Nguyen] managed to pull this off. Each segment of the display is made up of four 0.25″ (6.35 mm) steel balls, picked up and held in place by magnets behind the plain wood face of the clock. But the electromechanical complexity needed to accomplish that is the impressive part of the build. Each segment requires two servos, for a whopping 28 units plus one for the colon. Add to that the two heavy-duty servos needed to tilt the head and the four needed to lift the tray holding the steel balls, and the level of complexity is way up there. And yet, [Eric] still managed to make the interior, which is packed with a laser-cut acrylic skeleton, neat and presentable, as well he might since watching the insides work is pretty satisfying.
We love the level of craftsmanship and creativity on this build, congratulations to [Eric] on making his first Arduino build so hard to top. We’ve seen other mechanical digital displays before, but this one is really a work of art.
When it comes to measuring time on microcontrollers, there’s plenty of ways to go about things. For most quick and dirty purposes, such as debounce delays or other wait states, merely counting away a few cycles of the main clock will serve the purpose. Accurate to the tens of milliseconds, they get the average utility jobs done without too much fuss.
However, many projects are far more exacting in their requirements. When you’re building a clock, or a datalogger, or anything that relies on a stable sense of passing time for more than a few minutes, you’ll want a Real Time Clock. So called due to their nature of dealing with real time, as we humans tend to conceive it, these devices take it upon themselves to provide timekeeping services with a high degree of accuracy. We’ve compiled a guide to common parts and their potential applications so you can get things right the first time, every time.
This cyberpunk-esque truncated hexagonal bi-pyramid first geolocates itself, and then learns the times for local sunrise and sunset. A music module made of a Feather M4 Express and a Music Maker FeatherWing fetches astronomical data and controls the lights, speakers, and a couple of motion sensors that, when tripped, will change the lights and sounds on the fly. A separate Feather Huzzah and DS3231 RTC handle the WiFi negotiation and keep track of the time.
On top of the hourly lights and sound, the Circadian Machine does something pretty interesting: it performs another set of actions based on sunrise and sunset, basically cramming an entire day’s worth of actions between the two events, which seems like a salute to what humans do each day. Check out the build notes and walk-through video after the break, then stick around for the full build video.
It’s a shame that so many cool things happen in the night sky, but we can’t see them because of clouds or light pollution. If you missed seeing the comet NEOWISE or this summer’s Perseid meteor showers, there’s not a lot to be done but look at other people’s pictures. But if it’s the Moon and its phases you keep missing out on, that information can be acquired and visualized fairly easily.
[Jacob]’s moon phase viewer runs on an ItsyBitsy M4 Express, which holds data pulled from NASA ahead of time to save battery. Every morning, the board dishes out the daily info on a schedule kept by a real-time clock module.
We particularly like the minimalist case design, especially the little shelf that holds the lithium-ion cell. This is just the beginning, and [Jacob] plans to add more detail for anyone who wants one for themselves.