DIY 8-Bit Computer Knows All The Tricks

Some projects are a rite of passage within their respected fields. For computer science, building one’s own computer from scratch is certainly among those projects. Of course, we’re not talking about buying components online and snapping together a modern x86 machine. We mean building something closer to a fully-programmable 8-bit computer from the ground up, like this one from [Federico] based on 74LS logic chips.

The computer was designed and built from scratch which is impressive enough, but [Federico] completed this project in about a month as well. It can be programmed manually through DIP switches or via a USB connection to another computer, and also includes an adjustable clock which can perform steps anywhere from 1 Hz to 32 kHz. Complete with a 1024 byte memory, a capable ALU, four seven-segment LEDs and (in the second version of the computer) a 2×16 LCD disply, this 8-bit computer has it all.

Not only is this a capable machine designed by someone who clearly knows his way around a logic chip, but [Federico] has also made the code and schematics available on his GitHub page. It’s worth a read even without building your own, but if you want to go that route without printing an enormous PCB you can always follow the breadboard route.

Thanks to [killergeek] for the tip!

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A Unique Display Makes An Unusual Clock

Do you know the clock speed of the computer you’re reading this article on? Maybe Hackaday readers are more likely to reply “Yes!” to that question than the general public, but if there’s a takeaway it’s that for most computer users their clock speed is now an irrelevance. It’s quick enough for the job in hand and that’s all that matters. This was not always the case though, and a few decades ago the clock speed of a PC was its major selling point. Beige boxes would have seven-segment displays lit up with the figure, and it was an unusual example of one that [Ken Yap] used to produce a clock that he believes is one-of-a-kind; unless by some slim chance somebody else has rescued the same part.

The displays were hard wired without any signals from the processor, and what makes this one unusual is that as well as having a couple of digits in yellow it also sports a segmented “MHz” in red. This would have been quite a big deal on your 486 back in about 1994. To make a clock from this unpromising start required a little creative thinking, and he manages it by using the “M” and the “H” digits to represent minutes and hours, and displaying each figure in turn. The display is wired on a piece of protoboard with an STM8 dev board, and yes, as you can see in the very short video below the break, it does tell the time.

Custom displays are more usually seen in the world of LCDs than LEDs, so this one remains a rarity on these pages. Happily there are projects out there in which people spin their own takes on the idea.

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Building This Mechanical Digital Clock Took Balls

In the neverending quest for unique ways to display the time, hackers will try just about anything. We’ve seen it all, or at least we thought we had, and then up popped this purely mechanical digital clock that uses nothing but steel balls to display the time. And we absolutely love it!

Click to embiggen (you’ll be glad you did)

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.

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Displaying Incoming Server Attacks By Giving Server Logs A Scoreboard

In the server world, it’s a foregone conclusion that ports shouldn’t be exposed to the greater Internet if they don’t need to be. There are malicious bots everywhere that will try and randomly access anything connected to a network, and it’s best just to shut them off completely. If you have to have a port open, like 22 for SSH, it’ll need to be secured properly and monitored so that the administrator can keep track of it. Usually this is done in a system log and put to the side, but [Nick] wanted a more up-front reminder of just how many attempts were being made to log into his systems.

This build actively monitors attempts to log into his server on port 22 and notifies him via a numerical display and series of LEDs. It’s based on a Raspberry Pi Zero W housed in a 3D-printed case, and works by interfacing with a program called fail2ban running on the server. fail2ban‘s primary job is to block IP addresses that fail a certain number of login attempts on a server, but being FOSS it can be modified for situations like this. With some Python code running on the Pi, it is able to gather data fed to it from fail2ban and display it.

[Nick] was able to see immediate results too. Within 24 hours he saw 1633 login attempts on a server with normal login enabled, which was promptly shown on the display. A video of the counter in action is linked below. You don’t always need a secondary display if you need real-time information on your server, though. This Pi server has its own display built right in to its case.

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Mechanical Seven-Segment Display Really Sticks Out From The Pack

We’ve been displaying numbers using segmented displays for almost 120 years now, an invention that predates the LEDs that usually power the ubiquitous devices by a half-dozen decades or so. But LEDs are far from the only way to run a seven-segment display — check out this mechanical seven-segment display for proof of that.

We’ve been seeing a lot of mechanical seven-segment displays lately, and when we first spotted [indoorgeek]’s build, we thought it would be a variation on the common “flip-dot” mechanism. But this one is different; to form each numeral, the necessary segments protrude from the face of the display slightly. Everything is 3D-printed from white filament, yielding a clean look when the retracted but casting a sharp shadow when extended. Each segment carries a small magnet on the back which snuggles up against the steel core of a custom-wound electromagnet, which repels the magnet when energized and extends the segment. We thought for sure it would be loud, but the video below shows that it’s really quiet.

While we like the subtle contrast of the display, it might not be enough for some users, especially where side-lighting is impractical. In that case, they might want to look at this earlier similar display and try contrasting colors on the sides of each segment.

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Mechanical Seven-Segment Display Mixes Art With Hacking

We’re not sure what to call this one. Is it a circuit sculpture? Sort of, but it moves, so perhaps it’s a kinetic circuit sculpture. Creator [Tomohiro Tsuchita] calls it “something beautiful but totally useless,” which we find a tad harsh. But whatever you call it, we think this mechanical seven-segment display is really, really cool.

Before anyone gets to thinking that this is something like the other mechanical seven-segment displays we’ve seen lately, think again. This one is not addressable; it simply goes through the ten digits in order. So you won’t be building a clock from it, although we suppose the mechanism could be modified to allow that. Then again, looking at that drive train of laser-cut acrylic cams, maybe not. Each segment has its own cam with lobes or valleys for each segment. A cam follower lowers and raises the segments as the cams rotate on a common shaft. A full-rotation servo powers the display under the control of a Micro:bit; the microcontroller is overkill for now but will be used in version two, which will allow the speed to change in response to sensors.

Watching this display change at its stately pace is strangely soothing. We love the look of this, but then again, we’re partial to objets d’art-circuit. After all, we ran a circuit sculpture contest earlier in the year, and just wrapped up a Hack Chat dedicated to the subject.

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Daisy Chained Seven Segment Art Display


This seven segment art display makes use of a 81 seven segment red common cathode LED displays. The LEDs are arranged onto 100x100mm boards that each contain an Arduino Nano and 9 seven segment displays, daisy chained through three-pin headers located on the sides of the boards. The pins (power, ground, and serial) provide the signals necessary for propagating a program across each of the connected boards.

The first board – with two Arduino Nanos – sends instructions for which digits to light and drives the display, sending the instructions over to the next board on the chain.

In a multiplexed arrangement, a single Arduino Nano is able to drive up to 12 seven segment displays, but only 9 needed to be driven for the program, keeping D13’s built in LED and the serial pins free. Since no resistors are featured on the boards, current limiting is done through software. This was inspired by the Bubble LED displays on the Sinclair Scientific Calculator, and was done in order to achieve a greater brightness by controlling the current through the duty cycle.

The time between digits lighting up is 2ms, giving them some time to cool down. The animations in the demos featured falling and incrementing digits, as well as a random number generator using a linear feedback shift register.

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