Random Word Pairings Mark The Time On This Unusual Clock

Gosh, the fun we had when digital calculators became affordable enough that mere grade school students could bring one to class. The discovery that the numbers could be construed as the letters of various dirty words when viewed upside down was the source of endless mirth. They were simpler times.

This four-letter-word “clock” aims to recreate that whimsical time a bit, except with full control over the seven-segment displays and no need to look at it upside down. This descends from a word clock [WhiskeyTangoHotel] made previously and relies on a library of over 1000 four-letter words that can be reasonably displayed using seven-segment displays, most of them SFW but some mildly not. A PICAXE is used to select two of the four-letter words to display every second or so, making this a clock only by the loosest of definitions. Word selection is pseudorandom, seeded by noise from a floating ADC pin, but some of the word pairings in the video below seem to belie a non-random sense of humor. As is, there are over a million pairings possible; it might be fun to add in the full set of two- and three-letter words as well and see what sort of merriment ensues.

While we like the Back to the Future vibe here, we’ve seen some other really nice word clocks lately. There was the one that used PCBs as the mask for the characters, and then a rear-projection word clock that really looks great.

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Hackaday Podcast Ep13: Naked Components, Shocking Power Supplies, Eye-Popping Clock, And Hackaday Prize

Editors Mike Szczys and Elliot Williams geek out about all things hackerdom. Did you catch all of our April Fools nods this week? Get the inside scoop on those, and also the inside scoop on parts that have been cut in half for our viewing pleasure. And don’t miss Mike’s interview with a chip broker in the Shenzhen Electronics markets.

We rap about the newly announced Hackaday Prize, a word clock to end all other word clocks, the delights of transformerless power supplies, and tricks of non-contact voltage testers. You’ll even find an ode to the App Note, as well as a time when electronics came in wooden cases. And who doesn’t love a Raspberry Pi that grinds for you on Nintendo Switch games?

Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always, tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

Direct download (60.1 MB)

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A Word Clock, The Hard Way

We’ve all seen word clocks, and they’re great, but there are only so many ways to show the time in words. This word clock with 114 servos is the hard way to do it.

We’re not sure what [Moritz v. Sivers] was aiming for with this projection clock, but he certainly got it right. The basic idea is to project the characters needed to compose the time messages onto a translucent PVC screen, which could certainly have been accomplished with just a simple character mask and some LEDs. But for extra effect, [Moritz] mounted each character to a letterbox mounted over a Neopixel. The letterboxes are attached to a rack and pinion driven by a micro servo. The closer they get to the screen, the sharper the focus and the smaller the size of the character. Add in a little color changing and the time appears to float out from a jumbled, unfocused background. It’s quite eye-catching, and worth the 200+ hours of printing time it took to make all the parts. Complete build instructions are available, and a demo video is after the break.

We like pretty much any word clock – big, small, or even widescreen. This one really pushes all our buttons, though.

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LEDs Shine Through PCB On This Tiny Word Clock

Everyone seems to love word clocks. Maybe it’s the mystery of a blank surface lighting up to piece together the time in fuzzy format, or maybe it hearkens back to those “find-a-word” puzzles that idled away many an hour. Whatever it is, we see a lot of word clock builds, but there’s something especially about this diminutive PCB word clock that we find irresistible.

Like all fun projects, [sjm4306] found himself going through quite the design process with this one. The basic idea – using a PCB as the mask for the character array – is pretty clever. We’ve always found the laser-cut masks to be wanting, particularly in the characters with so-called counters, those enclosed spaces such as those in a capital A or Q that would be removed by a laser cutter. The character mask PCB [sjm4306] designed uses both the copper and a black solder mask to form the letters, which when lit by the array of SMD LEDs behind it glow a pleasing blue-green color against a dark background. Try as he might, though, the light from adjacent cells bled through, so he printed a stand that incorporates baffles for each LED. The clock looks great and even has some value-added modes, such as a falling characters display a la The Matrix, a Pong-like mode, and something that looks a bit like Tetris. Check out the video below for more details.

We’ve seen word clocks run afoul of the counter problem before, some that solved it by resorting to a stencil font, others that didn’t. We’re impressed by this solution, though, enough so that we hope [sjm4306] makes the PCB files available so we can build one.

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RGB Word Clock Doesn’t Skimp On The Features

Like most pieces of technology, word clocks seem to be getting better and better every year. As hackers get their hands on better microcontrollers and more capable LED controllers, these builds not only look more polished, but get improved features and functions. Luckily for us, the rise of these advanced modular components means they’re getting easier to build too. For an example of these parallel traits, look no further than VERBIS by [Andrei Erdei].

This colorful word clock is powered by an ESP8266, a 8×8 RGB LED matrix, and a WS2812 RGB LED controller module. [Andrei] used the diminutive ESP-01 which can plug right into the LED controller, and just needs a 3.3 VDC regulator board to complete the very compact electronics package.

To keep the LEDs from interfering with each other, [Andrei] has designed a 3D printed grid which fits over the matrix board. On top of that goes a piece of paper that has the letters printed on it. He mentions that he was able to get good results printing this “stencil” out on an inkjet printer by simply running the same piece of paper through a few times; picking up more black ink each time it went through. Judging by the sharp characters seen in the video after the break, the trick worked well.

With his hardware put together, [Andrei] turned his attention to the software. We really think the project shines here, as his clock not only supports NTP for automatically setting the time over the Internet, but offers a full web interface to control various functions such as the LED colors. You can even change the NTP server and network configuration right from the UI, which is a nice touch compared to just hard coding the values into the code. Even if you don’t use the same hardware, the open source control software is definitely something you should look into if you’re building your own word clock.

We recently covered another easy to build word clock that used an LED matrix and not a whole lot else, but it was quite tiny. This build is a much more reasonable size for a desk, but you’ll probably need to break out the laser cutter if you want to get much bigger.

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Is That A Word Clock In Your Pocket?

Word clocks are one of those projects that everyone seems to love. Even if you aren’t into the tech behind how they work, they have a certain appealing aesthetic. Plus you can read the time without worrying about those pesky numbers, to say nothing of those weird little hands that spin around in a circle. This is the 21st century, who has time for that?

Now, thanks to [Gordon Williams], these decidedly modern timepieces just got a lot more accessible. His word clock is not only small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, but it’s the easiest-to-build one we’ve ever seen. If you were ever curious about these gadgets but didn’t want to put in the the time and effort required to build a full scale version, this diminutive take on the idea might be just what Father Time ordered.

The trick is to attach the microcontroller directly to the backside of an 8 x 8 LED matrix. As demonstrated by [Gordon], the Bluetooth-enabled Espruino MDBT42Q fits neatly between the rows of pins, which need only a gentlest of persuasions to get lined up and soldered into place. Since the time can be set remotely over Bluetooth, there’s not even so much as an additional button required. While driving the LEDs directly off of the digital pins of a microcontroller is never recommended, the specifics of this application (only a few of the LEDs on at a time, and not for very long) means he can get away with it.

Of course, that just gets you an array of square LEDs you blink. It wouldn’t be much of a word clock without, you know, words. To that end, [Gordon] has provided an overlay which you can print on a standard inkjet printer. While it’s not a perfect effect as the light still comes through the ink, it works well enough to get the point across. One could even argue that the white letters on the gray background helps with visibility compared to just the letters alone lighting up.

If you’re not in the market for a dollhouse-sized word clock, fear not. We’ve got no shortage of adult sized versions of these popular timepieces for your viewing pleasure.

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Word Clock Don’t Need No Stencil Font

Word clocks use natural language to display the time. They’ve been in vogue in the last 20 years or so, as low-cost digital technology makes them particularly cost effective and easy to build for the average maker. The hardware and software is a solved problem, so presentation is everything. Luckily, [watsaig]’s effort does not disappoint.

The build began with a timeframe of just seven days — a narrow window given [watsaig]’s lack of experience with lasercutting and woodworking. Not content to let that get in the way, it was time to get to work. Wood was sourced from Amazon and designs laid out, before lasercutting began in earnest.

[watsaig] decided to fill all of the letters with epoxy to achieve a flat finished surface that also served as diffuser for the LEDs. To avoid using an unsightly stencil font, the centers (the cut out portion) of letters like O, A, and R had to be placed by hand. Unfortunately his turned out quite badly. When using a squeegee method to work epoxy into the letters, the inserts tended to shift, ruining the face plate.

Undeterred, the clock face was recreated from scratch, and it was determined that a pipette was a far more suitable tool, allowing the letters to be filled with epoxy without unduly disturbing the letter inserts. The final result is visually attractive, finished with a wonderful stain and giving a pleasing glow thanks the careful attention to diffusion and masking. The hidden Happy Birthday message may have been lost in the rush, but it’s the thought that counts, after all.

For a Continental take, check out this word clock in Catalan.