Gorgeous Specimen Is The Final Word In Word Clocks

At this point, it’s safe to say that word clocks aren’t quite as exciting as they once were. We’ve seen versions that boil the concept down to what amounts to a parts bin build, which for better or for worse, takes a lot of the magic out of it. You just get an array of LEDs, put some letters in front of it, write some code, and you’re done.

But then [Mark Sidell] sent in his build, and we remembered why we collectively fell in love with these clocks in the first place. It wasn’t the end result that captivated us, although the final clock is indeed gorgeous, but the story of its painstaking design and construction. The documentation created for this project is unquestionably some of the best we’ve seen in a very long time, and whether or not you have any desire to build a word clock of your own, you won’t regret sitting down and reading through it.

If you can somehow come away from reading through that build log and not be impressed, surely the clock’s feature set will put you over the edge. The ability to show time in just five minute increments makes this one of the most practical word clocks we’ve seen, and the quality of life features such as automatic brightness control based on ambient light level, and a smartphone-controlled web interface for configuring the clock are just a few of its standout features.

Incidentally the glow behind the clock, provided by a dedicated array of WS2812 RGB LEDs, isn’t just for ambiance. It indicates the position of the sun in the sky as calculated by the Python astral package, as well as mimicking the colors of the sunrise and sunset. There’s even a compass onboard to make sure the LEDs are properly aligned with their astronautical counterpart.

[Mark] actually made several of these clocks, most of which were given away as gifts. Some of the lucky recipients lived far enough away that the clock had to be shipped, so he designed a custom shipping case to hold everything securely during the trip. It also meant he had to come up with a way of remotely maintaining the code on these clocks without user intervention, so he created a firmware update and telemetry gathering backend with Amazon Web Services that they check into periodically. Honestly, the attention to detail put into every element of this project is just staggering.

If you’re interested in seeing what all the fuss is about with these word clocks, but aren’t quite at [Mark]’s level, don’t worry. As we said earlier, you can build a small version with little more than an LED array and a microcontroller. Just don’t blame us if it ends up turning into an obsession.

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The Word Clock You Can Feel

By this point, pretty much everyone has come across a word clock project, if not built one themselves. There’s just an appeal to looking at a clock and seeing the time in a more human form than mere digits on a face. But there are senses beyond sight. Have you ever heard a word clock? Have you ever felt a word clock? These are questions to which Hackaday’s own [Moritz Sivers] can now answer yes, because he’s gone through the extreme learning process involved in designing and building a haptic word clock driven with the power of magnets.

Individual letters of the display are actuated by a matrix of magnetic coils on custom PCBs. These work in a vaguely similar fashion to LED matrices, except they generate magnetic fields that can push or pull on a magnet instead of generating light. As such, there are a variety of different challenges to be tackled: from coil design, to driving the increased power consumption, to even considering how coils interact with their neighbors. Inspired by research on other haptic displays, [Moritz] used ferrous foil to make the magnets latch into place. This way, each letter will stay in its forward or back position without powering the coil to hold it there. Plus the letter remains more stable while nearby coils are activated.

Part of the fun of “ubiquitous” projects like word clocks is seeing how creative hackers can get to make their own creations stand out. Whether it’s a miniaturized version of classic designs or something simple and clean, we  love to see them all. Unsurprisingly, [Moritz] himself has impressed us with his unique take on word clocks in the past. (Editor’s note: that’s nothing compared to his cloud chambers!)

Check out the video below to see this display’s actuation in action. We’re absolutely in love with the satisfying *click* the magnets make as they latch into place.

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A Discrete Logic Word Clock

Self-acclaimed computer nerd [Kevin Koster] was tired of designing new TTL-logic clocks before finishing his previous designs. So he finally buckled down and completed this unique word clock, which uses only a handful of TTL chips. We can’t disagree with his friends who complained that they can’t read [Kev]’s handwriting, so perhaps this diagram will make it clearer.

Besides being a nice logic-only project, this will give an example to younger folks how much effort went into things which are so simple to implement today. We don’t see a Karnaugh map on the project page for sorting out the logic diodes driving the minutes LEDs. If [Kev] did it on the fly, as the rat’s nest of diodes on the schematic would suggest, we’re not sure whether to scold him or be impressed (he does redraw that logic very neatly on a separate sheet).

No worries about high speed wiring on this project. The main oscillator derives time from the 50 Hz AC transformer power supply, and outputs a reference clock signal of 16.7 mHz (not MHz), or once per minute. This is divided down to 3.3 mHz for the 5-minutes counter and again to 277 uHz for the hour counter. If you live in a 60 Hz power mains country, you’d have to modify the oscillator section. Or you could contact [Kev] on his site, as he is considering making this available as a kit worldwide. If you like word clocks, we’ve covered quite a few of them before, including this crazy-complex rear-projection one.

This Slimline Word Clock Uses Laser Etching To Keep Things Simple

Judging by the tips we get, it seems like the popularity of word clocks has perhaps started falling off lately. But back at peak word clock, we were seeing dozens of designs, some better than others. This simple but classy word clock seems to benefit from all that prior art, making the design just about as simple as it can get while still looking great.

The main tool for [t0mg]’s build is a laser cutter, which is a great choice for keeping the design simple. The tricky part of word clocks is getting the “word search” matrix executed cleanly, and we’ve seen everything from laser-cut wood to inkjet prints, and even commercially produced PCBs, used for the job. [t0mg] opted instead to spray paint a piece of glass and etch away the characters with the laser, which results in superb text quality. Etching the underside of the glass also has the advantage of protecting the paint layer while giving the finished clock a glossy face that really looks nice. Under the template lie layers of MDF that hold the Neopixel strips and act as light guides, while an ESP32 and RTC perform timekeeping and LED-driving duties. [t0mg] finished off the clock with a nice web interface to set the clock, change the colors, and perform maintenance functions. The video below shows the software in use.

We really think this clock looks great, and for those with access to a laser cutter, it seems like a great way to go about building your own.

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Moving Fridge Magnets Make For Unique Clock

We see a ton of clock projects around these parts, and being hackers, we love to feature them all. But every once in a while we stumble upon a great new way to display the time that really gets our attention and requires a closer look, such as this moving fridge magnet clock.

The fridge magnets [Craig Colvin] built this unique clock around are the colorful plastic kinds that have adorned the lower regions of refrigerators in toddler-filled households for ages. Instead of residing on a fridge, [Craig] laminated a sheet of white acrylic to a thin sheet of steel, to give the magnets something to hold onto. Moving the numbers is the job of a CoreXY-style mechanism. The belt-driven Cartesian movement maneuvers a head to to the right location to pick up a number; a servo in the head moves two powerful magnets into position under the number. The head then moves the number to the right spot, releases its magnets, and the number stays put on the board. You can see it in action in the video after the break.

While we love this as it is, it brings to mind some great mods. One can imagine the addition of letters to make a legit word clock, or to just add a calendar display. We’d also love to see these magnets in their natural habitat by building this into the door of a working fridge.

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A Word Clock You Don’t Have To Actually Build To Enjoy

The great thing about word clocks is that while they all follow the same principle of spelling out the time for you, they come in so many shapes, sizes, and other variations, you have plenty of options to build one yourself. No matter if your craft of choice involves woodworking, laser cutting, PCB design, or nothing physical at all. For [Yasa], it was learning 3D modeling combined with a little trip down memory lane that led him to create a fully functional word clock as a rendered animation in Blender.

Inspired by the picture of a commercially available word clock, [Yasa] remembered the fun he had back in 2012 when he made a Turkish version for the Pebble watch, and decided to recreate that picture in Blender. But simply copying an image is of course a bit boring, so he turned it into an actual, functioning clock by essentially emulating a matrix of individually addressable LEDs using a custom texture he maps the current time to it. And since the original image had the clock positioned by a window, he figured he should have the sun move along with the time as well, to give it an even more realistic feel.

Of course, having the sun situation in real-time all year round would be a bit difficult to render, so [Yasa] choose to base the scene on the sun during spring equinox in his hometown Stockholm instead. You can see the actual clock showing your local time (or whichever time / time zone you set your device to) on his website, and his write-up is definitely a fun read you should check out if you’re interested in all the details or 3D modeling in general — or just to have a look at a time lapse of the clock itself. As he states, the general concept could be also used to model other word clocks, so who knows, maybe we will see this acrylic version or a PCB version of it in the future.

Quarantine Clock Focuses On The Essential

In these dire times of self quarantining, social distancing, and life as know it coming to a halt, time itself can become rather blurry, and even word clocks may seem unnecessarily precise — especially if you happen to have a more peculiar circadian rhythm. And let’s face it, chances are your usual schedule has become somwehat irrelevant by now, so why bother yourself with dates or an exact time anyway? If you can relate to this, then [mwfisher3] has the perfect clock for you, displaying only the day of the week and a rough estimate of how far that day has progressed.

Using a Raspberry Pi and a spare touch screen, [mwfisher3] had an easy game to begin with, so the clock itself is just Chrome running in Kiosk mode, displaying a local web site with the hours of the day mapped to an array of their textual representation. A few lines of JavaScript are then updating the web site content with the current day and “time”, and a Python script is handling the screen’s back light based on the readings from a Philips Hue motion sensor, using the phue library.

While this is definitely one of the simpler clock projects we’ve seen, this simplicity offers actually a great introduction to some easy JavaScript-based web displays on a Raspberry Pi without much fuzz and distraction. But if that’s not your thing, and you like things more mechanical, we’ve recently covered this day clock that follows the same idea, and then there’s also this light box for an artistic approach of getting a rough estimate of the time.