Al Billings bio photo

Al Billings

Former @openbuddha, Tabletop RPG Geek, Buddhist, Security Program Manager, Director at Ace Monster Toys (@AMT), an Oakland Hackerspace.

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Making Clocks

Today, a batch of Ardunino compatible nixie tub boards arrived from China. I heard about these a week ago on Professor Craven’s blog and immediately ordered four of them for myself. For those that don’t know what a Nixie Tube is, Wikipedia has the answers. As it says:

A Nixie tube is an electronic device for displaying numerals or other information. The glass tube contains a wire-mesh anode and multiple cathodes, shaped like numerals or other symbols. Applying power to one cathode surrounds it with an orange glow discharge. The tube is filled with a gas at low pressure, usually mostly neon and often a little mercury or argon, in a Penning mixture.

Basically, Nixie tubes were used before LED displays were invented to do alphanumeric displays on equipment, especially in the various militaries of the world. The numeric only ones, such as what people use for clocks, have the numbers 0 through 9 individually outlined, one on top of the other, with each one lit in turn as needed. If you’ve watched old 1960s science fiction movies, you’ve undoubtedly seen a Nixie tub display on a computer or piece of “high tech” equipment.

Professor Craven put a little video up yesterday of his tubes plugged into a board:

I have a flickr photo set of one of the boards as received.

Like Professor Craven, I plan on using them for a clock of sorts. More specifically, I plan on making a meditation timer for shits and grins. The idea is that I will laser cut a box at Ace Monster Toys to hold the hardware. I’ll put an arduino and the Nixie tube boards in it, with two or more of the tubes poking out, as a display. I’ll probably use two to signify minutes. I’m then thinking of adding two solenoids that go out the sides, underneath to small metal bars or rods and a few buttons. The idea is that you can set a series of times on the clock, like a sitting period and then a walking period for meditation (or a series of these as pairs) via the buttons. When each period ends, the solenoids will fire a series of times (like two or three or one, depending on what just ended or if we’re completely done), which will strike the metal bars, triggering a chime.

This is similar to the “Zen Alarm Clock” that has been around forever but a bit less new agey and more…something.

This seems both appropriately hackerish or geeky and appropriately Buddhist, in some sense.