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.

Continue reading “Gorgeous Specimen Is The Final Word In Word Clocks”

You would think the hard part about creating a spectrum analyzer using a pint-sized ATTiny85 would be the software. But for [tuenhidiy], we suspect the hard part was fabricating an array of 320 LEDs that the little processor can drive. The design does work though, as you can see in the video below.

The key is to use a TPIC6B595N which is an 8-bit shift register made to drive non-logic outputs. With all outputs on, the driving FETs can supply 150 mA per channel and the device can handle 500 mA per channel peak. At room temperature, the part can go over 1W of total power dissipation, although that goes down with temperature, of course. If you need higher power, there’s a DW-variant of the part that can handle a few hundred milliwatts more.

Continue reading “Spectrum Display Uses Tiny CPU And Many LEDs”

John McAfee, the founder of McAfee Associates and pioneer in the antivirus field, was found dead today, June 23, 2021, of an apparent suicide in a Barcelona prison cell.

Born in 1945, the term “colorful” doesn’t begin to describe the life of McAfee. His entree into the nascent computer industry began with a degree in mathematics, followed by choice assignments at places like Xerox PARC, NASA, Univac, Booz Allen Hamilton, and Lockheed. He built up an impressive resume of programming skills until serendipity struck, in the form of one of the earliest computer viruses: the Brain virus. First found in the mid-1980s, Brain infected the boot sector of floppy disks and was originally intended as a somewhat heavy-handed form of copy protection by its authors. The virus rubbed McAfee the wrong way, and he threw himself into writing software to protect PCs from such infections. These were the roots of McAfee Associates, which opened its doors in 1987.

Continue reading “John McAfee’s Wild Ride Is Over”

Sound recording and playback have come a long way in the last century or so, but it’s fair to say there’s still a lot of interesting stuff locked away on old recordings. Not having a way to play it back is partly to blame; finding an antique phonograph that plays old-timey cylinder recordings is pretty hard. But even then, how do you digitize the output of these fragile, scratchy old recordings?

As it happens, [Jan Derogee] is in a position to answer these questions, with an antique phonograph and a bunch of Edison-style wax cylinders with voices and music from a bygone era locked away on them. It would be easy enough to just use the “reproducer” he previously built and set up a microphone to record the sound directly from the phonograph’s trumpet, but [Jan] decided to engineer a better solution. By adding the piezo element from an electronic greeting card to his reproducer, potted with liberal quantities of epoxy and padded with cotton, the piezo pickup was attached to the phonograph arm in place of the original stylus and trumpet. The signal from the piezo element was strong enough to require a shunt resistor, allowing it to be plugged directly into the audio input jack on a computer. From there it’s just an Audacity exercise, plus dealing with the occasional skipped groove.

We appreciate [Jan]’s effort to preserve these recordings, as well as the chance to hear some voices from the past. We’re actually surprised the recording sound as good as they do after all this time — they must have been well cared for.

Continue reading “Piezo Pickup Makes Wax Records Easy To Digitize”

There’s no doubting the utility of the trusty solderless breadboard, but you have to admit they’re less than perfect. They’re not ideal for certain types of circuits, of course, but that’s less of a problem than those jumper wires. The careless will end up with their components hopeless tangled in a rat’s nest of jumpers, while the fastidious will spend far more time making the jumpers neat and tidy than actually prototyping the circuit itself. What to do?

One way to crack this nut is to make the solderless breadboard jumperless, too. That’s the idea behind “breadWare” a work-in-progress undertaken by [Kevin Santo Cappuccio]. The idea is to adapt a standard breadboard so that connections between arbitrary pairs of common contact strips — plus the power rails — can be made in software. The trick behind this is a matrix of analog CMOS switch chips, specifically the MT8816AP. Each chip’s 128 crosspoint switches can handle up ± 12 volts, so there are plenty of circuits that can use these programmable silicon jumpers.

[Kevin] is currently on version 0.2, which is sized to fit under a solderless breadboard and make a compact package. He shared details on how he’s connecting to the breadboard contacts, and it looks like a painful process: pull out the contact, cut a small tab at the gutter-end, and bend it down so it forms a lead for a through-hole in the PCB. It seems like a lot of work, and there must be a better way; [Kevin] is clearly open to suggestions.

While we’ve seen crosspoint switching used to augment solderless breadboarding before, we find this project pleasing in its simplicity. The thought of tossing out all those jumpers is certainly tempting.

Raise your hand if you remember when PulseAudio was famous for breaking audio on Linux for everyone. For quite a few years, the standard answer for any audio problem on Linux was to uninstall PulseAudio, and just use ALSA. It’s probably the case that a number of distros switched to Pulse before it was quite ready. My experience was that after a couple years of fixing bugs, the experience got to be quite stable and useful. PulseAudio brought some really nice features to Linux, like moving sound streams between devices and dynamically resampling streams as needed.

Continue reading “PipeWire, The Newest Audio Kid On The Linux Block”

Believe it or not, the Mickey Mouse clip used for this demonstration is actually in the public domain.

The earliest televisions used a spinning disk technology called the Nipkow disk, which is exactly what [Science ‘n’ Stuff] recreated with their Arduino-based mechanical color television (video link, also embedded below.) The device reads video and audio from an SD card, and displays the video using a precisely-timed RGB LED visible through a perforated spinning disk. The persistence of vision effect results in a video that is small, relative to the size of the disk, but perfectly watchable. A twist is that the video is in color!

A Nipkow disk is a fairly simple and electromechanical device that relies on timing; something a modern microcontroller and RGB LED is perfectly capable of delivering. In this device, the holes in the disk create 32 vertical scanlines with 96 “pixels” making up each of those lines. Spinning disk technology was always limited to being monochromatic, but in this implementation, each “pixel” is given its own unique color by adjusting the RGB LED accordingly.

The first video shows off the device and demonstrates it working; note that it may look like there are multiple little screens, but the center one can be thought of as the “true” display with the others essentially being artifacts due to light leakage. If you’re interested in the nuts and bolts of exactly how a Nipkow disk works, then the second video is what you’ll be more interested in, because it goes through all the details of exactly how everything functions.

Another neat thing about Nipkow disks is that image acquisition is really not much more complex than image display.

[via Arduino Blog]

Continue reading “Big Spinning Disk Makes A Small Color Video Display”