Nixie Clock Uses Ingenious Software RTC

There’s something about Nixie Tube Clocks that keeps drawing hackers to build their own iterations, even if its been done a gazillion times before. Their depleting supply, and the high voltage drivers to control them, makes it all the more interesting. [Pete Mills], a veteran of several interesting projects, many of which we have featured here, is no exception and decided to build his own version of a Nixie Tube Clock, but with several nifty features.

To put it in a nut shell, his Clock uses Nixie tubes for display, has USB serial communication, temperature measurement, AC frequency measurement, time and date keeping with a software based RTC, software driven boost converter for the 175V DC nixie tube supply and a windows app for clock configuration.

The software based time keeping is pretty interesting. It is essentially a method to calibrate the crystal to more closely match real time, and some code to keep track of the time and date.  This obviously leads to a reduction in components and the spin-offs that comes with that; increased reliability, cost reduction, real estate savings. The RTC code can easily be ported to other clock projects irrespective of the display used. Besides keeping track of time and date, it can also account for leap years, and report the day of the week. A zero-crossing detector connected to the low-voltage transformer supply that powers the clock can also be used as an alternative way of keeping time.

When connected to a serial console over UART, the clock can report back many variables depending on the queries it receives. The high voltage DC needed to drive the Nixie tubes is generated using a simple boost converter controlled by the micro controller. An important “gotcha” that [Pete] deduced after blowing off several fuses, was to disconnect the micro controller port connected to the PWM timer and explicitly set it to output low via software. There’s a couple of other issues that he ran into – such as board layout, power supply, incorrect pullups – that make for interesting reading. The clock enclosure is still work in progress, but [Pete] hopes to get it done sometime soon.

He also wrote a Windows application – Nixie Clock Communicator – to help with time setting and calibration. Finally, he describes in detail the process of calibrating the clock’s software based RTC. Based on his calculations, the clock will drift by about 48 seconds over an 8 month period. Since he will be adjusting for DST much sooner than that, his clock ought to be off from correct time by not more than a minute at any given time. Not bad for a clock that does not use a dedicated RTC chip. [Pete] still has some of the prototype boards to give away if someone is interested. If you’d rather build it yourself from scratch, [Pete] has posted the software code, schematics and PCB, and a BoM.

Filed under: clock hacks

Dual Pet Food Dispenser is Doubly Convenient

Does your dog or cat wake you up every morning, demanding to be fed? Maybe you feed Sparky in the evenings instead. But doesn’t that limit your spontaneity? It sure limited [Jorge]’s after-work plans. He has two dogs that eat the same type of food, but in different quantities. This was a big factor in the design and execution of his dual pet food dispenser.

[Jorge] started by modeling his requirements in 3D. Dispensing takes place in two stages as food moves from the storage hopper to the bowls. A 12V printer motor turns the 3D-printed auger, which transports the nuggets to the staging area. Here, a servo controls a ramp in a see-saw motion, sending the food sliding sideways into one bowl or the other.

The dispenser is designed around a PIC18F2420. Although this micro was [Jorge] ‘s second choice, it ticks all the boxes in the design. His acrylic enclosure features four push buttons for navigation and selection through the 16×2 LCD. [Jorge] has an issue with the food getting stuck in the first stage. A friend suggested that he use vibration to agitate the food, but that didn’t work. [Jorge] ultimately added a stirring shaft with spokes that helps keep the morsels moving. Take the tour after the break.

If you want to dispense single doses of food on a timer, check out this automatic cat feeder made from scavenged parts.

Filed under: Microcontrollers

A company by any other name: Naming during a tech bubble

name


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For Silicon Valley upstarts and entrepreneurs, naming a fledgling company is often a daunting task. An increasingly crowded market signifies a growing number of
creative impediments like trademark restrictions, URL availability and the difficulty of differentiating in a sea of sameness. While some still assume that tech names today are characterized by dropped vowels and unconventional punctuation (a remnant of the dot com era), that’s actually a stereotype that brands are striving to move away from.

When it comes to naming your tech company, you should instead follow the lead of some of the giants by keeping your company name simple, and most importantly, keeping your name broad. In a market that’s characterized by rapid innovation and fickle industry trends, you need to think broadly so that your name can withstand product changes and shifts in brand identity and can weather the tide of evolving demand. Selecting an inflexible, static company name, and you risk becoming a similarly static brand – one that, at best, might become mired in a costly rename to reflect a new company direction and, at worst, could fail to be
innovative at all. I’ve compiled a list of the companies that got naming right from their inception and now have the robust business to prove it.

Uber: One of the first companies that comes to mind is a business that defies expectations in what its name ‘should’ be. Uber’s name clearly isn’t grounded in the actual premise of ferrying customers about cities in sleek back cars. Rather, it underscores Uber’s exciting potential to become more than just a ride-hailing service. Already we’ve seen the brand live up to its name by delving into new initiatives, such as bike delivery, and has steadily marched its brand across the globe.

Amazon: Other companies will opt for a more metaphorical approach when it comes to styling a name for their company. It would have been easy for Amazon to merely name itself as a descriptor of its already-impressive brand promise. Both ‘Books A Million’ or ‘The eBookstore’ (which hearkens
back to Amazon’s original business), likely would have resonated with consumers. But the image of the expansive South American rainforest conjured by the name Amazon is much more effective than any name that might have pointed specifically to the troves of items available in their warehouses. The sheer size and diversity implicit in the name Amazon has been instrumental to its exploration of new industries such as cloud computing. It’s unlikely that Bezos could have predicted that his company would eventually win an Emmy, but the flexibility of his company’s name certainly suggested that it was possible.

Twitter: Twitter has achieved one of the most desirable feats in naming: repurposing a verb – to tweet – to become representative of their product and a ubiquitous part of the digital vernacular. The social platform was able to do so by expanding beyond the word “twitter”’ and “tweet’s” original meanings. While both always hinted at its
their original connotation with birds, its founders built off of that association by developing a user experience that initiated an ecosystem for conversation. While Twitter has paid homage to that original meaning in its bird logo, it’s safe to say that they’ve selected a name that gives the company ample room to grow beyond both its original interpretation and their original product.

Etsy: Successfully naming a tech company doesn’t always require using a word that’s found in the dictionary – online marketplace Etsy is a testament to that. The whimsical, foreign sound of the word lends itself to light-hearted nature of the brand, and has enabled the founder to truly build the brand from the bottom up. Today, Etsy has rocketed to startup success with its recent IPO, and perhaps most indicative of its triumph, has made the word ‘Etsy’ a household name.

Pandora: Most of us are familiar with the phrase “opening Pandora’s
box.” While it can occasionally have negative connotations, in this case, its notoriety has served Pandora well. As the name suggests, Pandora’s brand has opened up beyond its original premise of offering music fans an online radio service – it’s begun to make a foray into hosting its own concert series with prominent musicians. With a name that implies limitless expansion and growth, I’m keen to see what Pandora comes up with next.

As the tech market continues to grow and swell, it’s inevitable that finding the best name for a tech company only become increasingly difficult. But if budding entrepreneurs are looking to become the next disrupter, they’d be wise to search for a name that doesn’t get bogged down in these complexities, and instead emphasizes the possibilities of what their business can do.
Nikolas Contis is a global director of naming at branding firm Siegel+Gale. Throughout his 24 year career,
Nik has run major naming assignments for clients like Verizon, Toyota, Google, Procter & Gamble, Microsoft, Intel, Motorola, HP, SAP, Nokia, CVS/Caremark, and more.


VentureBeat’s VB Insight team is studying marketing and personalization… Chime in here, and we’ll share the results.



How tech is leading us back to a ‘village’-styl

artisan


There has been a lot of discussion about how the acceleration of technology is decimating the middle class and traditional jobs. But there has been very little discussion of an emerging trend where individuals are opting out of these same jobs people fear will disappear.

Driven by a post-scarcity economic model whereby you can live very frugally if you choose to, some workers (mostly college-educated and urban) are opting out of the now traditional work
structure and choosing their own path. As Chelsea Rustrum puts it in her book It’s a Shareable Life, “You can live a life dictated by choice, passion, and freedom — a life where your … experiences are of the highest value.”

They are opting into alternative, passion-based professions that have gained popularity and acceptance, such as craft beer producer or yoga teacher, and that have flexible hours. Twenty years ago, if Bob, the valedictorian, showed up to his high school reunion and said he was starting an artisanal coffee shop and manually roasting his own beans, most of the attendees would have laughed and asked each other, “What the heck happened to Bob?” Today, Bob is admired as one of the few that are beginning to embrace the lifestyles of a hundred years ago. Yes, machines can manufacture pretty darn good coffee. But Bob likes to hand roast
coffee, and people like to drink it.

The economics underlying this shift are of course driven by technology, which has progressively driven down the cost of commodity goods and enabled the easy sharing of capital assets. However, in an ironic twist, technological progress and abundance are ushering in a very retro lifestyle.

Housing, dining, and even employment are being unbundled into pre-industrial age configurations. Shervin Pishevar, an investor who funded Uber, posited this when he noticed that village services could be implemented at city-wide scales. But perhaps what is actually occurring is the reverse; the cities and services are decentralizing themselves into villages and village-like urban neighborhoods.

Some of these trends are already well established, while others such as food carts are of course small micro-trends amongst relatively wealthy city-dwellers.

1920s 2000s 2010s Breakout Company
Goods Local artisans Amazon Local artisans Etsy
Coffee Local artisans Starbucks Local artisans Blue Bottle
Barber Local artisans Supercuts Local artisans StyleSeat
Cities Villages and urban neighborhoods Suburbs Villages and urban villages
Personal Transport Hitch a ride and pay Own a car Hitch a ride and pay – Uber and Lyft Uber
Commuter Transport Small shared vehicle Mass transit Small shared vehicle Chariot
Hotel Rent a room in a guest house Hotel Rent a room in a guest house AirBnB
Housing Small houses McMansions Small houses and microapartments
Spirituality Church Consumerism Yoga and meditation CorePower Yoga
Work Independent craftspeople Companies Independent contractors oDesk
Trade Barter Paypal Barter and apps
Food Local store with local food and neighborhood delivery Safeway and factory farms Farmer’s markets and local food delivery FreshDirect
Entertainment Local artists Pop stars YouTube Stars and local bands Maker Studios
Restaurants Small restaurants, many home-based Chipotle Food carts Munchery
Schooling Schoolhouse, Home schooling, Trade apprenticeship Factory schools Charter schools, Home schooling, Trade schools AltSchool

Many of these new services offer very predictable quality due to built-in recommendations or via TripAdvisor or Yelp. Others are very haphazard, like a Burning Man camp during its heyday a few years ago. You can’t buy your way into a top restaurant when it’s a food cart whose owner has everything she needs. She’s much more incentivized to trade her services for a private yoga session, or just simply offer her food to people she already knows and likes.

The “return to the village” trend is, of course, limited to a small population that can afford to spend their time on personal pursuits and eschew higher wages. This privileged demographic could certainly suck it up and work 12 hours a day, be online every weekend, and live the materialistic American dream – but they now
have the luxury of trading less time for less wages, while still meeting their needs and leading excellent lives.

In parallel to the great migrations of the Depression era, young, educated people are flocking to cities like Detroit and Buffalo to begin a new kind of life. While the 1 percent worries about the new home construction index, others are taking advantage of relatively empty cities and abundant, inexpensive housing. The recent unbundling of healthcare from traditional career-track jobs is only making the opt-out path even more attractive.

People spent extremely long hours at work well before the industrial revolution. However, research shows that they actually spent far fewer hours actually performing
work
due to limited light, a lackadaisical work ethic, and numerous religious observances. The shift-based work day schedule developed during the industrial age has lasted well through the information age, and has extended into even longer hours for most knowledge workers. What happened to John Maynard Keynes’ prediction of a 15 hour workweek where people’s needs could easily be met with very little work?

While we’re still a long way from a post-scarcity economy, we are already at a point where a large portion of the population no longer works the traditional 40+ hour work week, and it has become increasingly difficult to find service workers that can reliably perform monotonous jobs. Perhaps, in the near
future, the time-for-wages equation will shift positively and benefit all Americans, well beyond the privileged few that can choose to opt-out and return to a village lifestyle. A world where workers will be empowered to dictate their own hours, their own wages, and most importantly, their own freedom to explore their passions. A massive shift that opens up the opportunity for numerous peer-to-peer services and networks.

Peter Yared is founder and CTO of Sapho and formerly CTO/CIO of CBS Interactive.



Is Apple building a YouTube killer? The rumor returns

yahoo answers apple youtube


Google only just concluded its I/O newsfest and already on this calm Sunday we have a new(ish) Apple rumor to play with: Apple’s reportedly developing its own YouTube competitor.

The likelihood of this rumor appears pretty shaky at first glance, but let’s explore the idea for a moment; it’s the weekend and thought experiments are fun.

News of an Apple-run YouTube competitor hit the wires today near the end of an article titled “Apple in talks to sign Drake as iTunes Radio guest DJ.” Buried
below some music industry chatter, the author adds [emphasis ours]:

Apple’s plans appear aimed at taking the best of Pandora, Spotify and YouTube and blending it into something that will outgun them all. There are plans for streaming music (and video), artists’ pages, a YouTube-style post-it-yourself destination called Apple Connect and a well-documented reboot of iTunes Radio.

This isn’t the first time Apple’s reportedly planned a service which would reportedly compete with YouTube. In 2011, rumors of an Apple-YouTube competitor turned up on sites like the Huffington Post. The speculation was at least in part fueled by Apple’s then-new data center in Maiden, North Carolina. One year later, Apple booted YouTube off its list of default iOS apps, again sparking speculation of a YouTube killer.

This brings us back to today. In a week Apple will host its own developer conference, where it will likely unveil a Beats-powered streaming service. The service may include “Ping-like” social features that mirror Spotify’s existing feature-set. Meanwhile, Spotify has somehow elbowed its way into hosting video content.

If a YouTube competitor is indeed in the works, maybe that’s how Apple could break into Web streaming video, and later, user-generated videos? As much as I’d love to watch Apple flounder with its own YouTube competitor, the idea just doesn’t make sense yet.

Apple’s WWDC kicks of on June 8. There, we’ll probably learn a lot about Apple’s plans for Beats, iOS 9, OS X, a TV streaming service, and new Apple TV hardware. But is a YouTube killer in the works? Probably not. At least, that’s my guess.



Woman accidentally throws out Apple I computer worth $200,000

Apple 1


After her husband passed away, a woman cleaned out her garage and threw out two boxes of his old electronics. One of the items she dropped off at recycling center Clean Bay Area in Silicon Valley turned out to be an Apple Computer 1, known retroactively as the Apple I or Apple-1.

This was in early April. She didn’t want a tax receipt and didn’t want to leave her contact information, Clean Bay Area vice president Victor Gichun told NBC.

Weeks after the boxes were dropped off, the recycling firm finally went through them and made the discovery. “We really couldn’t believe our eyes.
We thought it was fake,” Gichun said.

Yet the computer was indeed real and the recycling firm sold the Apple I for $200,000 to a private collection. If you think that’s steep, keep in mind that an Apple I computer was sold for $365,000 this past December.

These first-generation desktop computers are worth so much as only about 200 were assembled by Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Ron Wayne in 1976. They were originally sold for $600 each.

That said, this story could still have a happy ending: the company’s policy is to give 50 percent of all sales back to the original owner. Gichun doesn’t know her name but he remembers what she looks like. “To prove who she is,” Gichun said, “I just need to look at her.”

As a result, all the woman has to do is show up at Clean Bay Area again, and she’ll be handed a
six-figure check.

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More GPIOs For The ESP8266

The ESP8266 is an incredible piece of hardware; it’s a WiFi module controllable over a serial port, it’s five freaking dollars, and if that’s not enough, there’s a microcontroller on board. Until there’s a new radio standard, this is the Internet Of Things module.

The most common version of the ESP, the -01 version, only has a 2×4 row of pins for serial, power, configuration, and two lines of GPIO. It’s a shame that module only has two GPIOs, but if you’re good enough with a soldering iron you can get a few more. It took a lot of careful soldering, but [Hugatry] managed to break out two more GPIOs on this tiny module.

According to [Hugatry] a lot of patience to solder those wires onto those tiny pads, but after finishing this little proof of concept he discovered a Russian hacker managed to tap into four extra GPIOs on the ESP8266-01 module (Google Translatrix).

As a proof of concept, it’s great, but there’s more than one ESP module out there. If you’re looking for a cheap WiFi module, check out the ESP-03, -04, or -07; they have nice castellated pins that are exceptionally easy to solder to.

Video below.

Filed under: Microcontrollers

More GPIOs For The ESP8266

The ESP8266 is an incredible piece of hardware; it’s a WiFi module controllable over a serial port, it’s five freaking dollars, and if that’s not enough, there’s a microcontroller on board. Until there’s a new radio standard, this is the Internet Of Things module.

The most common version of the ESP, the -01 version, only has a 2×4 row of pins for serial, power, configuration, and two lines of GPIO. It’s a shame that module only has two GPIOs, but if you’re good enough with a soldering iron you can get a few more. It took a lot of careful soldering, but [Hugatry] managed to break out two more GPIOs on this tiny module.

According to [Hugatry] a lot of patience to solder those wires onto those tiny pads, but after finishing this little proof of concept he discovered a Russian hacker managed to tap into four extra GPIOs on the ESP8266-01 module (Google Translatrix).

As a proof of concept, it’s great, but there’s more than one ESP module out there. If you’re looking for a cheap WiFi module, check out the ESP-03, -04, or -07; they have nice castellated pins that are exceptionally easy to solder to.

Video below.

Filed under: Microcontrollers

From Scrap To Sword: Casting Pewter

[TheBackyardScientist] has been living up to his name, this time by casting a pewter sword in his yard. Pewter is a soft alloy of mostly (85–99%) tin along with copper, antimony and bismuth. Older pewter castings often used lead as well. The great thing about pewter is its low melting point of 170–230 °C. At such low temperatures, pewter can be melted down on a common hot plate. Think of it as an easy way to get into the world of metal casting – no forge required. Of course, anyone who has been splashed with solder will tell you that hot molten metal always deserves a lot of respect.

[BackyardScientist] obtained his metal by hunting the local thrift stores. He used the “lost foam” method of casting, by carving a sword out of styrofoam. The sword was embedded in a 5 gallon bucket of sand with a riser to allow the mold to be filled. The pewter was melted on a cheap hot plate, and poured into the mold. The hot metal melts the foam on contact, simultaneously filling up the cavity left over in the sand mold. [BackyardScientist] was left with a solid pewter sword. It won’t hold an edge, but it is a great illustration of the technique.

Click past the break to see [TheBackyardScientist’s] video.

Filed under: classic hacks

From Scrap To Sword: Casting Pewter

[TheBackyardScientist] has been living up to his name, this time by casting a pewter sword in his yard. Pewter is a soft alloy of mostly (85–99%) tin along with copper, antimony and bismuth. Older pewter castings often used lead as well. The great thing about pewter is its low melting point of 170–230 °C. At such low temperatures, pewter can be melted down on a common hot plate. Think of it as an easy way to get into the world of metal casting – no forge required. Of course, anyone who has been splashed with solder will tell you that hot molten metal always deserves a lot of respect.

[BackyardScientist] obtained his metal by hunting the local thrift stores. He used the “lost foam” method of casting, by carving a sword out of styrofoam. The sword was embedded in a 5 gallon bucket of sand with a riser to allow the mold to be filled. The pewter was melted on a cheap hot plate, and poured into the mold. The hot metal melts the foam on contact, simultaneously filling up the cavity left over in the sand mold. [BackyardScientist] was left with a solid pewter sword. It won’t hold an edge, but it is a great illustration of the technique.

Click past the break to see [TheBackyardScientist’s] video.

Filed under: classic hacks