Don’t Look Up, Or You’ll See The Time From This VFD Projection Clock

Ceiling clocks were a bit of a thing back in the days when clock radios were a fixture of nightstands. The idea was to project the time onto the ceiling so you’d only have to roll over onto your back and open your eyes to check the time, instead of potentially disturbing your slumber by craning your neck around to see the front of the clock.

As we recall, what sounded like a good idea was iffy in practice, with low-end optics and either weak incandescent bulbs or blazing LEDs. This nifty VFD projection clock by [Thomas Shupfs] seeks to fix those problems, and from the look of it does a pretty good job. It takes advantage of something else that fell out of favor with consumers — analog photography — by tapping into the ready supply of unwanted lenses. He paired that up with an IVL2-7/5 vacuum fluorescent display inside a 3D printed case with a cone-shaped extension to hold the lens at the right distance above the display. [Thomas] says that the STM32 software only supports JSON-RPC over USB at this time, and includes a couple of Python programs with examples of how to set the time and check the accuracy of the clock.

[Thomas] compares the clock head-to-head against his old LED projection clock, as seen in the featured image above; we flipped it for a better idea of what it would look like from bed. We’ve got to say the soft blue glow of the VFD would be a lot more pleasant to wake up to than the bright red LED projection. But this soft white projection clock is nice too.

Thanks to [skymab] for the tip.

2023 Cyberdeck Challenge: KOAT0 Portable Terminal

We’ve had cyberdecks as part of the scenery for long enough now that there are a series of common elements that appear across many different builds. The Raspberry Pi, for instance, or the mechanical keyboard, with a 3D printed body. [RobsonCuto]’s KOAT0 Portable Terminal has some of those in a particularly slim and neat design. The orange and grey color scheme is great really pops. Where this deck really shines though, is the display.  He’s eschewed LCDs or OLEDs, even CRTs, and gone for an unusual choice in a dot-matrix VFD.

The VFD in question is commonly available on AliExpress where it appears to be used for displaying Chinese characters. It’s not an obvious choice for a cyberdeck, so once the tidy-looking case is complete the real challenge in this project becomes how to drive it from the Pi. To that end, he appears to have some kind of text output working but still needs to complete a framebuffer driver. We applaud the effort and we really like the display.  We’re curious as to how its meager resolution might best be used in a Linux device.

All in all, this is a ‘deck we’d be happy to use ourselves if it were an option. We particularly like the on-the-arm style of use, and we’re pretty sure it’s the first time we’ve seen one of these displays on these pages.

Jet Engine Tachometer Turned Into Unique CPU Utilization Meter

When you’ve got a piece of interesting old aviation hardware on your desk, what do you do with it? If you’re not willing to relegate it to paperweight status, your only real choice is to tear it down to see what makes it tick. And if you’re lucky, you’ll be able to put it to work based on what you learned.

That’s what happened when [Glen Akins] came across a tachometer for a jet airplane, which he promptly turned into a unique CPU utilization gauge for his computer. Much of the write-up is concerned with probing the instrument’s innards to learn its secrets, although it was clear from the outset that his tachometer, from Kollsman Instruments, was electrically driven. [Glen]’s investigation revealed a 3-phase synchronous motor inside the tach. The motor drives a permanent magnet, which spins inside a copper cup attached to the needle on the tach’s face. Eddy currents induced in the cup by the spinning magnet create a torque that turns the needle against the force of a hairspring. Pretty simple — but how to put the instrument to work?

[Glen]’s solution was to build what amounts to a variable frequency drive (VFD). His power supply is based on techniques he used to explore aircraft synchros, which we covered a while back. The drive uses a trio of MCP4802 8-bit DACs to generate three phase-shifted sine waves via direct digital synthesis with an RP2040. The 3-phase signal drives the motor and spins the dial, with 84-Hz corresponding to full-scale deflection.

The video below shows the resulting CPU utilization gauge — which just queries for the current load level and sends it to the RP2040 over serial — in action. It’s not exactly responsive to rapid changes, but that’s to be expected from a mechanical system. And compared to exploring such a nice instrument, it really doesn’t matter.

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More Drill Press Mods: Adding A VFD Means No More Belt Changes

A decent drill press is an essential machine tool for almost any kind of shop, and marks a significant step up in precision compared to a hand drill. The ability to drill square, true holes is one thing, but the added power over what’s possible with a portable tool is the real game changer. If only you didn’t have to switch around those damn belts to change speeds, though.

You don’t, of course, if you go through the effort to add a variable frequency drive to your drill press like [Midwest Cyberpunk] did, along with some other cool mods. The donor tool for these mods came from — where else? — Harbor Freight. Some will quibble with that choice, but the tool was pretty cheap, and really all [Midwest] was interested in here was some decent castings and a quill with acceptable runout, since the entire power train of the tool was slated for replacement. The original motor gave way to a beefy Baldor 3-phase/240-volt motor controlled by a VFD mounted on a bracket to the left of the drill press head, allowing the stock belt and step pulley transmission to be greatly simplified. Continue reading “More Drill Press Mods: Adding A VFD Means No More Belt Changes”

This Retro Game Console Puts Vacuum Fluorescent Display To Good Use

Small in size, low-resolution, blocky segments, and a limited color palette — all characteristics of the typical vacuum fluorescent display, any of which would seem to disqualify them as the display of choice for a lot of applications. But this is Hackaday, and we don’t really pay much attention to what we’re supposed to do, but rather to what’s fun and cool to do. So when we see something like a VFD game console, we just have to sit up and take notice.

In a lot of ways, the design of [Simon Boak]’s Arduino-based VFD console is driven by his choice of display. The Noritake Itron GU20X8-301 VFD is a “tricolor” display with eight rows of 20 rectangular pixels. Each pixel is composed of six short linear segments, with alternating red and blue colors. Turning on either set of segments yields one of the two base colors, while turning on both yields a sorta-kinda whitish color, if you squint a bit.

[Simon] chose a two-piece design for his console, with a separate controller and display. The controller holds the Arduino Nano and all the controls, plus a piezo buzzer for fun. The display case connects to the controller with a ribbon cable and holds the VFD power supply and driver. To celebrate the retro look of the VFD, both cases are decked out with woodgrain side panels. [Simon] chose appropriately blocky games for the console, like Snake, Conway’s Game of Life, and the venerable snow demo. We’d imagine Pong would be a good choice too, as well as perhaps Tetris if the display were flipped on its side.

We really like the look of this console, and we appreciate putting an otherwise obsolete display to use in a creative way. If you want to learn a little more about these displays, check out this love letter to the VFD.

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A Loving Look Inside Vacuum Fluorescent Displays

Everyone knows we’re big fans of displays that differ from the plain old flat-panel LCDs that seem to adorn most devices these days. It’s a bit boring when the front panel of your widget is the same thing you stare at hour after hour while using your phone. Give us the chunky, blocky goodness of a vacuum fluorescent display (VFD) any day of the week for visual interest and retro appeal.

From the video below, it seems like [Posy] certainly is in the VFD fandom too, rolling out as he does example after example of unique and complicated displays, mostly from audio equipment that had its heyday in the 1990s. In some ways, the video is just a love letter to the VFD, and that’s just fine with us. But the teardowns do provide some insights into how VFDs work, as well as suggest ways to tweak the overall look of a VFD.

For example, consider the classy white VFDs that graced a lot of home audio gear back in the day. It turns out, the phosphors used in those displays weren’t white, but closer to the blue-green color that VFDs are often associated with. But put a pink filter between the display and the world, and suddenly those turquoise phosphors look white. [Posy] does a lot of fiddling with the stock filters to change the look of his VFDs, some to good effect, others less so.

As for the internals of VFDs, [Posy]’s look at a damaged display reveals a lot about how they work. With a loose scrap of conductor shorting one of the cathodes inside the tube, the damaged VFD isn’t much to look at, and is beyond reasonable repair, but it’s kind of cool to examine the spring mechanisms that take up slack as the cathodes heat up and expand.

Thanks to [Posy] for this heartfelt look into the VFDs of yesterday. If you need more about how VFDs work, we’ve covered that before, too.

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Audio Amp Puts VFDs To Work In An Unusual Way

It’s safe to say that most projects that feature a VFD emphasize the “D” aspect more than anything. Vacuum fluorescent displays are solid performers, after all, with their cool blue-green glow that’s just the right look for lots of retro and not-so-retro builds. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t applications that leverage the “V” aspect, such as this nifty audio preamp using VFDs as active components.

The inspiration behind [JGJMatt]’s build came from the Korg Nutube line of VFD-based low-voltage dual-triode vacuum tubes. Finding these particular components a little on the expensive side, [JGJMatt] turned to the old standby DM160 VFD indicator tube, which is basically just a triode, to see how it would fare as an amp. The circuit takes advantage of the low current and voltage requirements of the VFDs — the whole thing runs from a USB boost converter — by wedging them between a 2N3904 input stage and a 2N2007 MOSFET output. There’s a mix of SMD and through-hole components on the custom-etched PCB, with a separate riser card to show off the VFDs a little bit through the front panel of the 3D printed case.

All in all, we find this little amp pretty cool, and we love the way it puts a twist on the venerable VFD. We’ve seen similar VFD amps before, but this one’s fit and finish really pays off.