This Word Clock Has Dirty Alphanumeric Mouth

Clocks which use words to tell the time in place of numbers are an increasingly popular hacker project, but we have to admit that before seeing this gorgeous clock from [Mitch Feig], we didn’t realize how badly we wanted to see one that could curse like a sailor.

But don’t worry, the WordClock-1 knows more than just the bad words. Rather than using an array of illuminated letters as we’ve seen in previous clocks, this one uses six alphanumeric LED displays. So not only can it display the time expressed with words and numbers, but it can show pretty much any other text you might have in mind.

[Mitch] is partial to having his clock toss a swear word on the display every few seconds, but perhaps you’d rather have it show some Klingon vocabulary to help you brush up. The lack of extended characters does limit its language capabilities somewhat, but it still manages to include Spanish, Italian, French, and Croatian libraries.

The ESP32 powered clock comes as a kit, and [Mitch] has provided some very thorough documentation that should make assembling it fairly straightforward as long as you don’t mind tackling a few SMD components. Additional word databases are stored on an SD card, and you can easily add your own or edit the existing ones with nothing more exotic than a text editor. The clock itself is configured via a web interface, and includes features like RGB LED effects and support for pulling the time down from an external GPS receiver.

Of course, if you’re content with what we can apparently now refer to as “old style” word clocks, we’ve seen plenty of projects which should serve as inspiration for anyone looking to roll their own textual timepiece.

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Can You Read Me The Time?

If you’re like the average clock user, you’ve probably gotten annoyed at reading analog clocks before. Typically, the solution is just to use a digital timepiece, but [sjm4306] has opted to make a small word clock that you can carry with you wherever you go to remind you of the time in the English language.

Unlike a similar project made by [Gordan Williams], which uses an 8 x 8 LED matrix with an inkjet printed overlay, this small word clock uses a 3D-printed light box to achieve its letter matrix. In fact, they were inspired by all of the existing DIY word clock designs using anything from off-the-shelf LED arrays, transparency masks and WS2812s.

The design uses a home-brewed PCB design that runs off 5 V via USB. The design places the letters on the top stop and restricts layers to keep the solder mask and copper from obstructing the light. The bottom side uses the same design principle with a square shape that overlaps the letter. In order to block light between adjacent letters, the 3D-printed light box comes into play.

One design challenge for the letter matrix was fitting all possible minutes into the array. Rather than making a larger array of letters, [sjm4306] had the clock describe the time down to five-minute intervals then add asterisks for the full time. It’s a pretty understandable solution for keeping the design simple, and the letters all fit onto the design so well!

Using a pin map assigned to the I/O for the rows and columns of the array, the software toggles the states of the pins as a switch statement. For scanning the matrix, the software uses an interrupt that draws the current column of LEDs and updates the display image before incrementing to the next column. By skipping or not skipping cycles, this allows the display to look brighter or dimmer.

The time tracking is fairly simple, using a DS1302 serial real time clock chip – it even charges a super capacitor to keep time after power is removed!

To tackle the light scattered internally in the PCB’s FR4 material, a separator is used to contain the light. As a low-cost solution, while there is still some amount of light diffused, it’s definitely better than without the separator.

Almost all of the files used for building the small word clock are available on [sjm4306]’s project page, including the software and design files. It hopefully won’t be too long before we start seeing more of these low-cost word clock designs!

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Minimalist Word Clock Does Things Neatly

Word clocks are a cool way to tell the time. While they could have probably been built back in the 1960s with a bunch of relays and bulbs, they really only came into their own in the LED-everything era. [Vatsal Agarwal] built one of his own, showcasing his maker credentials.

It’s a build that relies on good woodworking practices from the ground up. Maple wood is used for the frame, cut and prepared on a miter saw for accurate assembly. MDF is used for panels that are out of sight, and teak strips act as light barriers to ensure only the right words are lit at any given time. The front panel is a sleek black acrylic piece, adding to the minimalist look. Neopixels serve as the light source, controlled by an Arduino Uno. As a finishing touch, some glowy stainless steel buttons are mounted on the side to control the clock.

It’s a build that serves as a great introduction to woodwork, as well as more modern skills like CAD design for laser cutting, as well as programming. They’re a great way to get stuck into making, and you can even go pocket-sized if you’re truly brave. Incidentally, if you do take up the challenge of an all-analog relay-based build, make sure you drop us a line.

Make The Product By Hacking The Catalogue

We’ve all had that moment of seeing a product that’s an object of desire, only to realize that it’s a little beyond our means. Many of us in this community resolve to build our own, indeed these pages are full of projects that began in this way. But few of us have the audacity of [vcch], who was so taken with the QLockTwo expensive designer word clock that they built their own using the facsimile of its face on the front of QLock’s own catalogue. The claim is that this isn’t an unauthorized copy as such because no clock has been copied — as far as we’re aware there’s nothing against taking the scissors to a piece of promotional literature, and it certainly differs from the usual word clocks we’ve seen.

So how has this masterpiece of knock-off engineering been performed? The catalog cover has a high-quality cut-out rendition of the clock face, and the pages behind are thick enough to conceal an addressable LED. By cutting slots through the pages enough space is created for strips of LEDs, which are then hooked up to a Wemos D1 that runs the show. The software is provided, et voila! A faithful facsimile of the original QLockTwo, in part produced by QLock themselves. We applaud the ingenuity involved, but like [vcch] we’d say that if you like the QLockTwo then perhaps you’d like to consider buying one.

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)

Places to follow Hackaday podcasts:

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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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