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Open Source Russian Vacuum Fluorescent Tube Clock

kdawson posted more than 5 years ago | from the ice-blue dept.

Hardware Hacking 155

ptorrone writes "Hacker extraordinaire Ladyada (whose open source hardware projects we have discussed before) has just published a complete how-to, with design document, on making your own open source Russian vacuum fluorescent clock. The vacuum fluorescent tubes aren't as dangerous as (high-voltage) Nixie tubes, and there seem to be more of them available in the world. If you're not interested in building a clock from scratch, you can also pick up a kit version. All the schematics, source code, and files are available on the project's page."

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It has software? (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29182935)

I've built Nixie clocks, and there shouldn't be any software involved at all. You can get clock ICs cheaply enough, a microprocessor is overkill for this kind of project.

Re:It has software? (2, Insightful)

Locutus (9039) | more than 5 years ago | (#29182985)

but it's hackable and they even saved a few bucks by using the microcontroller to create the HV to run the tube.
The microcontroller is an atmega168, just like what's in the Arduino but I didn't see if it was straight C or Arduino code.

LoB

Re:It has software? (1)

dangitman (862676) | more than 4 years ago | (#29183849)

So, one component uses some code. How does that make the whole clock open source?

Re:It has software? (1)

node 3 (115640) | more than 4 years ago | (#29184213)

So, one component uses some code. How does that make the whole clock open source?

Here is the source [ladyada.net] . Just because you don't compile it doesn't mean it's not open source, it just means it's not open source *software*.

Re:It has software? (3, Insightful)

Sparr0 (451780) | more than 5 years ago | (#29183095)

And what if I want to add a stopwatch or countdown timer mode to it? Or make it count in an alternate base or time system?

Re:It has software? (1)

X0563511 (793323) | more than 5 years ago | (#29183307)

How can this possibly be offtopic?

Grandparent is a post saying "using that is overkill" - a direct response to the topic.

Parent is a post saying "well yes, but what if..." which is a direct response to the direct response.

It can't get any more on-topic than this! WTF!

Re:It has software? (1)

Jurily (900488) | more than 5 years ago | (#29183703)

It can't get any more on-topic than this! WTF!

Needs more car analogies.

Re:It has software? (2, Funny)

hot soldering iron (800102) | more than 4 years ago | (#29184555)

Or cowbell.

Oh come on, get a clue. (2, Insightful)

Viol8 (599362) | more than 5 years ago | (#29183659)

I had a digital watch in 1979 that could do a stopwatch and day of the week. Do you honestly think it had a programmed CPU in it? It was all hardwired TTL logic on a single chip. You can do quite a lot with hardware alone - ask the creators of Pong.

Mod parent up , not down! (1)

boltar (263391) | more than 4 years ago | (#29184357)

The parent was spot on WRT digital watches AND pong. Can't you moderators use Google or what?

Re:Oh come on, get a clue. (1)

Norwell Bob (982405) | more than 4 years ago | (#29184649)

Mod this guy up... he's absolutely correct and to mod him a "troll" is just ignorant.

Re:Oh come on, get a clue. (2, Informative)

Thoughts from Englan (1212556) | more than 4 years ago | (#29184695)

Fair point but the beauty of using a microcontroler is that you can reconfigure the system to specific needs without having to redesign the hardware every time. This is pretty much what microprocessors were intended for until various people thought "Hey I can make a general purpose machine out of these"

Re:Oh come on, get a clue. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29185695)

You can do quite a lot with hardware alone - ask the creators of Pong.

Software is just more-easily-variable hardware schematics. The maths aint different.

The cost of a microprocessor is totally insignificant for a project like this.

Here's the Mad Libs version (1)

Profane MuthaFucka (574406) | more than 4 years ago | (#29185791)

I had a _______ in 1979 that could do a _______ and _______. Do you honestly think it had a programmed CPU in it? It was all hardwired _______ on a single _____. You can do quite a lot with ______ alone - ask the creators of _____.

Re:It has software? (2, Informative)

ladyada (850297) | more than 4 years ago | (#29186859)

if you read the design document, schematic and source you'll see theres a lot more in there than just a counter. theres day calculator, date, alarm, low power mode, RTC, HV boost, menu system with configuration, etc etc. a $2.50 microprocessor isnt overkill when you consider its doing -everything- except drive the HV VFD.

Anyone else? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29182941)

Sucking clock? Sorry, couldn't resist.

In Soviet Russia (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29182945)

Time measures you.

Re:In Soviet Russia (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29186225)

Hey Ladyada - where the fuck is my x0xb0x kit!? I've been wait listed for over a year now. I think it's actually going to be 2 years now.

--Time

And this is worth buidling because.. ???? (0)

pearl298 (1585049) | more than 5 years ago | (#29182949)

Gee I don't have a digital clock in my house yet ...

Re:And this is worth buidling because.. ???? (2, Interesting)

Flaming Cowpie (830542) | more than 5 years ago | (#29182957)

Because most people don't the skills needed to actually build it. Go back to your corner.

Re:And this is worth buidling because.. ???? (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29183015)

Most people don't the skills to write.

Re:And this is worth buidling because.. ???? (1)

Hal_Porter (817932) | more than 5 years ago | (#29183109)

I think he just accidentally out one word. We hacker genii often use language in a quirky way you neurotypicals don't grokq.

Re:And this is worth buidling because.. ???? (4, Interesting)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 5 years ago | (#29183385)

Here's a gadget that is cool (from a geek point of view), that you can make yourself (provided you have the skills, you should as a geek), that makes other geeks go "ooooooh" in envy and awe, that glows in flurescent blue (that by itself is already enough) and you dismiss it as something you wouldn't want.

Please drop your geek card in the shredder by the door on your way out, will ya?

Re:And this is worth buidling because.. ???? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29183753)

that makes other geeks go "ooooooh" in envy and awe

If you are a 12 year old kid, assembling this would be a feat. However if you are any older it's just pointless. Why would you envy anybody who assembled a huge digital clock based on blueprints? Sure that was fun when we were kids but at some point you should realise: great I can assemble basic stuff, how about something useful now?

Re:And this is worth buidling because.. ???? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29183477)

Get the hell off Slashdot.

What's russian about it? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29183001)

It's just a digital clock, aint it?

Re:What's russian about it? (1)

Trepidity (597) | more than 4 years ago | (#29183823)

I was confused by that also, but it appears it's the particular variety of display tube that's Russian.

building from old parts (4, Interesting)

Thanshin (1188877) | more than 5 years ago | (#29183003)

A long time ago I redirected my child interest in destroying and rebuilding electronics to tinkering with virtual constructs.

So I shouldn't be interested in "hardware hacking"; however, too many hours of fallout, too many zombie movies and too many post apocaliptic novels have given me a degree of interest in that part of the engineering poetry.

Time to go find an open source rifle made from old car parts.

Re:building from old parts (1)

Unending (1164935) | more than 5 years ago | (#29183117)

That would probably be a Sten.

four winds shotgun (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29183159)

no need to get fancy with no machine gun, start with single shot first

Re:four winds shotgun (1)

Steauengeglase (512315) | more than 4 years ago | (#29185389)

Get out of here you filthy Lo Tek!

Quite neat, actually. (5, Insightful)

John Pfeiffer (454131) | more than 5 years ago | (#29183057)

First off, LadyAda is awesome. I really don't need to say any more than that.

I've been wanting to make something like this for a while now. A year or two ago, I bought a big box of the same old Soviet 'vacuum fluorescent indicator' tubes, but I was always having trouble working out the hardware involved, especially the power supply. Using a boost converter is a great idea which might have occurred to me if I had had any experience with them at the time. (Other projects have since taken priority)

My enclosure design wasn't quite as...ah, 'conservative' as a nice simple laser-cut plexiglass box though :) http://media.giantpachinkomachineofdoom.com/blog/2008-06/images/clockwip3.png [giantpachi...ofdoom.com]

Now I'm going to have to take another try at it! :D

Re:Quite neat, actually. (1)

Pentium100 (1240090) | more than 5 years ago | (#29183191)

I have made a nixie clock that uses counter chips and not some microcontroller. In any case, to get power for a VFD device you probably need a transformer with 3 outputs or 3 separate transformers. You need the anode voltage (depends on the display, probably 35-70VDC), power for your chips (5-12VDC) and power for the filament (usually 3VAC, it is important that this is AC).

For my nixie clock I used two 220V/12V transformers. One takes in 220V from the outlet and transforms it to 12V (power for the chips), the other takes the 12V and transforms it back to about 200V.

The only difficulty I see with VFDs is that hey are common cathode and the counter chips are usually active high so you need two transistors for each element. With nixies you only need one transistor per cathode. On the other hand my nixie clock does not use multiplexing so it has a higher total number of transistors (29).

Re:Quite neat, actually. (1)

DZign (200479) | more than 5 years ago | (#29183397)

I really like this project..

One thing I'll test (if I ever have time) if the project can be adapted to run on pinball displays..
Pinball machines in the 80ies also used this type of vacuum displays (Gottliebs had the nice blue ones like shown here), Bally/Stern/Williams had smaller red ones - 6 and 7 digits.

I have enough of these pinball displays laying around (used ones can be found cheap from parts games on ebay and even new displays are still available from pinball parts shops).. so these are probably easier parts to find than these rare russian displays.
And what will be cooler in a gameroom than to have a clock made out of pinball displays ?
(maybe even put it in a fake backbox).

Re:Quite neat, actually. (2, Informative)

bitrex (859228) | more than 5 years ago | (#29183581)

They're not rare in Soviet Russia! Joking aside, these VFDs are not that rare. Like some kind of state-sponsored labor monster run amuck, these (and all kinds of other vacuum tubes) were produced by the trainload during the heyday of the Cold War. They can now be picked up for a few dollars on eBay from sellers in Russia and the former Soviet republics. Of course the US produced its fair share of tubes as well, but the vacuum tube era seems to have lasted much longer in Eastern Europe than here (particularly in military applications), and lots of the common NOS tubes in the US have been used up in guitar and stereo amps. In the strange world of vintage vacuum electronics it is often the more exotic looking items covered in Cyrillic that are cheap and cheerful, and the US and UK parts that are rare and coveted.

It would be interesting to know what product these VFD tubes were initially intended for; maybe they were used in calculators given the number of digits. The US pretty much jumped directly from Nixies and Numitrons right to LEDs and LCDs, but I'm betting that in Eastern Europe the adoption of LED technology was more slow and there needed to be a display technology to fill the gap. I think my suspicions may be correct given this eBay aucion [ebay.com] where a Russian manufactured VFD clock is for sale - the description says it supposedly was manufactured in 1982 when a similar product in the US would be LED for sure.

Re:Quite neat, actually. (1)

AmiMoJo (196126) | more than 5 years ago | (#29183621)

I would love to know where they are getting that case manufactured. I'm good with the electronics side, but hopeless when it comes to making cases.

You can get PCBs manufactured cheaply in China now (Seeed Studio are good). For cases though the only real option seems to be people like Front Panel Express who only work with metal. I keep thinking about taking a basic woodworking course or something, but I have arthritis in my hands so it's not that simple.

You would think that there would be someone doing low volume laser cut panels in plastic or wood, but everywhere I have looked they are either very, very expensive or want minimum quantities of 100 or more. I suppose AdaFruit are lucky in that they can sell lots of kits so it's not an issue.

Re:Quite neat, actually. (2, Informative)

PhunkySchtuff (208108) | more than 4 years ago | (#29184595)

Have a look at Ponoko [ponoko.com] - they're great for making one-off items, like this case, from all sorts of laser-cut materials. I'm not affiliated with Ponoko, just a happy customer. Looking at the design of the case, if it wasn't laser-cut, it should have been - a case like that would be trivial to get sorted out with the precision of laser cutting...

Re:Quite neat, actually. (1)

zwarte piet (1023413) | more than 4 years ago | (#29184369)

Wicked!!

What's really awesome ... (1)

SpooForBrains (771537) | more than 4 years ago | (#29185061)

... to me anyway, is not just the project itself, but the sheer care taken with the instructions. There's no assumption that you know anything, which for someone like me - who last did electronics at school some 16 years ago - makes this project actually doable.

Re:What's really awesome ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29186399)

If you're interested in more electronics projects with detailed explanations, take a look at the NerdKits tutorials [nerdkits.com] , which have been featured many times before on Slashdot (DIY Sound Level Meter [slashdot.org] , Hackable Microcontroller-Powered Valentines Day Card [slashdot.org] , iPhone-controlled R/C car [slashdot.org] , and others).

Re:Quite neat, actually. (1)

Ageless (10680) | more than 4 years ago | (#29185961)

That case is really awesome. Did you ever make the case, or is that just a rendering? I'd love to have that clock on my desk :)

Cute, but how about this. (5, Interesting)

lurcher (88082) | more than 5 years ago | (#29183091)

IMHO this [die-wuestens.de] has more geek points.

Re:Cute, but how about this. (2, Informative)

John Pfeiffer (454131) | more than 5 years ago | (#29183153)

I don't know, man. The old IV-18 tubes are really wicked looking. You have a cylindrical glass vacuum tube, and inside it is a slab of glass with 7-segment digit phosphors, shiny silver traces, and extremely tiny, thin hexagonal grids infront of each digit. So, it basically looks like a glowing blue digital readout 'suspended' in a thin glass envelope.

There's also the IV-27 which is larger and 13 digits instead of 8, and the IV-21 (I think it's 21) which is a tiny version of the IV-18.

Re:Cute, but how about this. (1)

Linker3000 (626634) | more than 4 years ago | (#29183861)

That's pretty neat - but, ooooh, I can feel the burn-in from here!

Re:Cute, but how about this. (1)

Spy Handler (822350) | more than 4 years ago | (#29184259)

Sorry, the green clock may be technically more advanced but it's too big and ugly. The blue Ladyada clock is sleeker and looks VERY cool.

Re:Cute, but how about this. (1)

lurcher (88082) | more than 4 years ago | (#29184613)

May be a age thing, it reminded me of the Tek vector graphics terminal I used to use. (and of course asteroids)

Re:Cute, but how about this. (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29184629)

Too big? You'll be wanting the CRT pocket watch version then.

http://www.cathodecorner.com/sc60.html

A little crt tube pocket watch 25mm by 75mm by 100mm. Lovely!

Re:Cute, but how about this. (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29184413)

IMHO this [die-wuestens.de] has more geek points.

I see your bet, and I raise you one nixie clock built in a bottle [hackaday.com] .

Re:Cute, but how about this. (1)

Cannelloni (969195) | more than 4 years ago | (#29184563)

That, my good man, is just too cool! How did you find it?

Re:Cute, but how about this. (1)

lurcher (88082) | more than 4 years ago | (#29184593)

The place I use to buy parts for tube amps sells a kit of parts. (google Ask Jan First)

[Oblig.] Yes, but (0)

martas (1439879) | more than 5 years ago | (#29183163)

... does it run Linux?

Re:[Oblig.] Yes, but (1)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 5 years ago | (#29183415)

In Russian vacuum, Linux runs YOU.... Or something like that.

I wanna buy one... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29183241)

Serious...

Building it would take time i don't feel like using to do this. And relearning skills i've let slip by choice.

But damm. That would look sharp for the entertainment center.

Anyone know where to get one like the one pictured? Or close.. Nice sharp clean lines and simply a clock. One not suffering from feature creep like most alarm clocks.

Not so retro (1)

OrangeTide (124937) | more than 5 years ago | (#29183297)

Looks like the clock on my mom's 15 year old oven. Also looks like the display on a 10-15 year old VCR. If a teenager could remember it being new, then it's not retro. Sorry.

Cool project though.

Upgrade time? (1)

maroberts (15852) | more than 4 years ago | (#29184261)

Looks like the clock on my mom's 15 year old oven. Also looks like the display on a 10-15 year old VCR
Sounds like an excuse for the oven or microwave to "malfunction" so you can scavenge it for parts....

bad-ass! (1)

X0563511 (793323) | more than 5 years ago | (#29183325)

That is one bad-ass looking display. I didn't even know these existed... and I can see now that I would want to use them over normal LCD or LEDs, when given the space and power to use them. That looks fantastic!

Stick a color filter over it for even more badassery!

0.002% Accuracy means... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29183347)

it's wrong 99.998% of the time?

assuming it means 99.998% accuracy, that means it skews by 2 seconds a day.. not that great IMO.

Well, just nitpicking, would still love to have one of them.

does everything need the open source buzz word? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29183411)

  Nixie kits have been around for years, why now does it need the open source buzz word attached to it? Most electronic magazines will always include source for projects they list. They don't go around saying 'hey look at the open source article we wrote'

  These are great projects for the youngsters, nothing like remembering how you almost/did get the living shit shocked out of you. High voltage is fun for the whole family.

or... (3, Insightful)

lxs (131946) | more than 5 years ago | (#29183417)

You could just rip the clock out of an old VCR.

Re:or... (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29186863)

Sure, but why would you want a clock that only flashes "12:00"?

Since when are nixies "high voltage"? (1)

jcr (53032) | more than 5 years ago | (#29183433)

It's been a long time since I checked, but as I recall nixies only took 100v or so.

-jcr

Re:Since when are nixies "high voltage"? (1)

iamdrscience (541136) | more than 5 years ago | (#29183605)

I dunno, as an electronics hobbiest, I generally consider "high voltage" to be any power source that would be dangerous to lick. 5V TTL? No problem. 9V battery? Fairly uncomforable. 18V power supply? Not dangerous, but uncomfortable enough that I wouldn't lick it more than once (and haven't). 120V-180V leading to a Nixie? High enough that I'm not going to try.

I understand the standard may be different in industry.

Re:Since when are nixies "high voltage"? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29183817)

1) 9V - nice metaly taste
2) 12V - mostly the same
3) Car spark plug - numb face for 30 min.
4) 220 - a hole in the tongue for a month.

3 and 4 happened by accident.

Re:Since when are nixies "high voltage"? (1)

Viol8 (599362) | more than 4 years ago | (#29184127)

How can you accidentaly lick a live spark plug FFS???

Re:Since when are nixies "high voltage"? (1)

jcr (53032) | more than 4 years ago | (#29183929)

I generally consider "high voltage" to be any power source that would be dangerous to lick.

I draw that line at voltage that will arc through a rubber-coated canvas glove.

-jcr

Re:Since when are nixies "high voltage"? (1)

unitron (5733) | more than 5 years ago | (#29183665)

It's been a long time since I checked, but as I recall nixies only took 100v or so.

170V DC

My turn! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29183451)

I made this rather un-arty little project:
http://d.furaffinity.net/art/vylbird/1228053352.vylbird_01010020.jpg
And, because it's appearance isn't as good as I'd like, I more recently built this replacement:
http://vyl.avians.net/misc/Glowydie2.jpg

Electronic dice. The second one is configurable d6/12/20/100.

0.002% accuracy? (1, Informative)

Arancaytar (966377) | more than 5 years ago | (#29183463)

I hope that is the error, not the accuracy. :P

For a self-built clock, losing 1.728 seconds a day isn't too bad. But it's not that great either...

But..... (1)

thephydes (727739) | more than 5 years ago | (#29183579)

....does it blend?

Glowing tubes, mmm! (1)

Suomi-Poika (453539) | more than 5 years ago | (#29183583)

I ordered it immediately after I saw the first picture. I have a nixie clock kit which has been laying half assembled for years. I haven't connected the tubes and I don't have a case for it. Now I get a complete kit where from I can copy some designs, what a bargain! Thank you LadyAda!

"Open Source" hardware (3, Insightful)

dangitman (862676) | more than 5 years ago | (#29183585)

I'm not sure that the "Open Source" moniker has any relevance to hardware projects like this. In software, the "source code" is the actual raw material that a complied application is made of. In hardware, the "source" is physical electronic components.

I guess you could call the freely-available plans and schematics "the source" but that doesn't make much sense, because without hardware components, you can't compile it into a working device. So the term doesn't really apply, especially as we've had freely available electronic schematics for decades, and nobody ever called them "open source." This terminology just seems to be a way to seem cool and trendy.

Re:"Open Source" hardware (2, Interesting)

SlashWombat (1227578) | more than 5 years ago | (#29183649)

Truth is, how much simpler can electronics (and programming) get than a clock ... The basic "algorithm" once you get your reference frequency low enough (... generally 1 Hertz) is -> divide by 60 = seconds, divide by 60 = minutes, divide by 12 (or 24 if you prefer) = hours. Using a micro, you put the divides in an interrupt routine. You can chose to display at the end of the interrupt, or in the main loop.

I have seen (smart) 12 year olds build digital clocks using the relevant TTL/CMOS dividers, with the displays being either LED or Nixie tubes. (The difference between LED or Nixie is in the type of display driver chip.)

However, I wish the authors well. Don't see many people building anything electronic these days, probably because the price of consumer electronics is way lower than the price of just the parts! (IE: DVD player for under $20 is just one common item ... couldn't even make the case for that in any western country.)

Trying to get hold of the parts is difficult (1)

Viol8 (599362) | more than 5 years ago | (#29183687)

Back in the 80s you could walk into a Tandys (Radioshack in the states) and just buy components. Now all the Tandys are gone and Maplins has hardly any components in store - you need to mail order everything which is a bit off putting for people who just want to dabble. Well, IMO anyway.

Re:"Open Source" hardware (1)

ladyada (850297) | more than 4 years ago | (#29186821)

if it was just a timer divider, it would be a rather boring clock! if you read the design document, schem or source code you'll see theres a lot more in there than just a counter :)

Re:"Open Source" hardware (5, Insightful)

Max Romantschuk (132276) | more than 5 years ago | (#29183669)

I respectfully disagree.

RMS himself, the holy fanatic of free software, has compared swapping code to swapping recipes for cooking.

Open source and by extension free software is about unrestricted access to the instructions for making something. If this something is a computer program, a piece of hardware, a meal, a knitted sweater or a bottle rocket is irrelevant.

Granted, the term open source as understood by this community is most often applied to software. But the open source model can be successfully applied to any instructions that can be shared and improved upon. I dare you to dig a little, there is a lot more of this "open source" stuff out there than software.

Re:"Open Source" hardware (1)

dangitman (862676) | more than 4 years ago | (#29183881)

I dare you to dig a little, there is a lot more of this "open source" stuff out there than software.

I'm well aware of it, I spent my teen and pre-teen years building electronics from freely-available plans. But we never called it "open source" back then, so why start now?

Likewise, with your RMS example, nobody calls swapping recipes "open source," it's just swapping recipes, or "cooking."

Re:"Open Source" hardware (1)

zwarte piet (1023413) | more than 4 years ago | (#29184333)

Ah yes, In those days Philips used to include the schematics of their radio's. I made my own by using their schematics.

Re:"Open Source" hardware (1)

KFW (3689) | more than 4 years ago | (#29184815)

I spent my teen and pre-teen years building electronics from freely-available plans. But we never called it "open source" back then, so why start now?

Um, because we have a good general purpose term for it now that wasn't in use when you were a pre-teen? /K

Re:"Open Source" hardware (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29183903)

RMS himself, the holy fanatic of free software, has compared swapping code to swapping recipes for cooking.

Open source and by extension free software is about unrestricted access to the instructions for making something.

Hi Max Romantschuk,

You appear to be discussing "open source" and "free software" as if they were the same movement.

The official definition of "open source software" (which is published by the Open Source Initiative and too long to cite here) was derived indirectly from our criteria for free software. It is not the same; it is a little looser in some respects, so open source supporters have accepted a few licenses that we consider unacceptably restrictive of the users. Nonetheless, it is fairly close to our definition in practice.

However, the obvious meaning for the expression "open source software" is "You can look at the source code," and most people seem to think that's what it means. That is a much weaker criterion than free software, and much weaker than the official definition of open source. It includes many programs that are neither free nor open source.

Since that obvious meaning for "open source" is not the meaning that its advocates intend, the result is that most people misunderstand the term. Here is how writer Neal Stephenson defined "open source":

        Linux is "open source" software meaning, simply, that anyone can get copies of its source code files.

I don't think he deliberately sought to reject or dispute the "official" definition. I think he simply applied the conventions of the English language to come up with a meaning for the term. The state of Kansas published a similar definition:

        Make use of open-source software (OSS). OSS is software for which the source code is freely and publicly available, though the specific licensing agreements vary as to what one is allowed to do with that code.

The New York Times has stretched the term to refer to user beta testing -- letting a few users try an early version and give confidential feedback -- which proprietary software developers have practiced for decades.

Open source supporters try to deal with this by pointing to their official definition, but that corrective approach is less effective for them than it is for us. The term "free software" has two natural meanings, one of which is the intended meaning, so a person who has grasped the idea of "free speech, not free beer" will not get it wrong again. But "open source" has only one natural meaning, which is different from the meaning its supporters intend. So there is no succinct way to explain and justify the official definition of "open source." That makes for worse confusion.

In conclusion, as the advocates of open source draw new users into our community, we free software activists have to work even more to bring the issue of freedom to those new users' attention. We have to say, "It's free software and it gives you freedom!" -- more and louder than ever. Every time you say "free software" rather than "open source," you help our campaign.

Thanks,
Robo-RMS

Yeah , but "Open Source" is a trendy right-on term (1)

Viol8 (599362) | more than 5 years ago | (#29183671)

at this moment in time , and goes down well with the we-hate-MS-stallman/linus/raymond[delete as applicable]-is-god fanboys which is what you need to get a story posted on slashdot.

Re:"Open Source" hardware (1)

Ephemeriis (315124) | more than 4 years ago | (#29184719)

I'm not sure that the "Open Source" moniker has any relevance to hardware projects like this. In software, the "source code" is the actual raw material that a complied application is made of. In hardware, the "source" is physical electronic components.

I guess you could call the freely-available plans and schematics "the source" but that doesn't make much sense, because without hardware components, you can't compile it into a working device. So the term doesn't really apply, especially as we've had freely available electronic schematics for decades, and nobody ever called them "open source." This terminology just seems to be a way to seem cool and trendy.

So, what can you do with the source code to a piece of software if you have no hardware? If someone just hands you a stack of paper with source code printed on it, and you've got no computer to run it on, what good is it?

Or maybe we're the hardware. Source code is instructions that tell hardware what to do... These are instructions that tell us how to build a clock... Not much different from the control programs that run industrial robots.

Regardless, I think the term applies. OSS is about the freedom to distribute and modify source code. These instructions are available for modification and distribution - unlike the instructions on how to build the RCA clock/radio I've got sitting on my bedstand. Someone else out there might take these instructions and expand upon them by adding an AM/FM tuner or something.

Re:"Open Source" hardware (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29185047)

Open source means sharing their thoughts without anything in return. The "source" is the "intellect" involve in making some physical/virtual things work for a purpose.

Re:"Open Source" hardware (1)

NixieBunny (859050) | more than 4 years ago | (#29186079)

You wouldn't say that if you've ever tried to understand or repair an item for which all that documentation is not available.

There has also been open source software for decades, but it wasn't called open source either. It was called a user library.

Which brings me to the question... (4, Funny)

CarpetShark (865376) | more than 4 years ago | (#29184153)

The vacuum fluorescent tubes aren't as dangerous as (high-voltage) Nixie tubes

Why not? Can nothing be done to correct this?

What's so dangerous about nixies? (1)

croftj (2359) | more than 4 years ago | (#29184195)

Sheesh a hacker who is afraid of 170V at low current, is a wimp. If the PS is properly designed to NOT be a bug zapper, then it may tingle, but it will hardly hurt you. Under the best circumstances if it can put out more than 50MA it is way overkill for a nixie clock. Even 20MA gives plenty of headroom.

  You want to see a real neat clock, checkout http://www.nixieneon.com./ [www.nixieneon.com] I haven't touted it as Opensource, but the code is GPL. It does come with complete schematics and a good assy manual.

Re:What's so dangerous about nixies? (1)

zwarte piet (1023413) | more than 4 years ago | (#29184439)

Jeez, my wall socket does 240Volts @ 16 amps and that hasn't managed to kill me. And it tried many times.

Over half the "female" geeks are men (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29184235)

Has anyone else noticed that actual female geeks are outnumbered by trannies? linuxchix.org is all ex-men, not an actual born woman as far as the eye can see. Yeah, that's how to fix gender imbalance: declare the men as women. And you thought it was a const, not a variable.

Wheres the nuke? (2, Funny)

bl8n8r (649187) | more than 4 years ago | (#29184363)

I wonder what happened to the nuke that was sitting behind the timer.

Oh Cool (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29184395)

VFD aren't very cool, they are everywhere and you can find them in everything from cars and calculators and stereos made from the late 70's.

Sorry they just aren't as cool as Nixies.

I will continue to watch ladyada.net for more leet hax, i mean, obvious applications of commodity parts.

when you absolutely need to.. (1)

el_tedward (1612093) | more than 4 years ago | (#29184419)

Has this guy by chance made a guide on how to construct a jetpack velociraptor with scissors?

Re:when you absolutely need to.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29185577)

Has this guy by chance made a .......

from what I understand the guy is actually a girl - ladyada = Lady Ada

Russian precision..... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29184575)

In russia people are way more laid back...
http://www.ladyada.net/make/icetube/ --> Precision watch crystal keeps time with 0.002% accuracy!

Fa1lzors (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29184757)

A few glitches in the vodka (1)

Ancient_Hacker (751168) | more than 4 years ago | (#29184817)

Nice looking clock, but:

Using a microcontroller to supply the BOOST clock is a poor idea. If the software stumbles and leaves the BOOST line high, you have a dead short across the power supply.

Perhaps fortunately, this might drag the power to the CPU low enough to cause it to reboot, which might restore operation. Or the low voltage might cause it to hang.

Sometimes good old hardware is the right solution.

Re:A few glitches in the vodka (2, Informative)

ladyada (850297) | more than 4 years ago | (#29186779)

the PWM is hardware controlled and there's a WDT its as reliable as any 'off the shelf' chip...even 555's latch up if set up wrong ;)

Low-power RTC (1)

lemaymd (801076) | more than 4 years ago | (#29185173)

It's funny that in a clock centered on a massive vacuum tube they highlight their low-power RTC! Amdahl's law...

Wait, these are retro now!? Awesome! (1)

Lemming Mark (849014) | more than 4 years ago | (#29185645)

When I went away to university in 2000, I intended to use my digital wristwatch as an alarm clock. My Dad insisted that I should have something more substantial to wake me up - as a result I inherited his old bedside clock from ... the 80s, perhaps? Ancient, huge, unsubtle - one of its most noticeable features was a glowing digital display that was clearly not LED based. I had rather assumed it was some sort of fluorescent display but I've never seen another one like it. Looking at this clock the display is quite obviously the same stuff. So my ancient alarm clock has now become cool?! Awesome! Only trouble is that it broke a couple of years ago, so I don't get to ride the retro wave :-(

A shame, since the continuous, vicious sawtooth soundwave it produced instead of a "beep beep" could be heard from other floors in the building and would continue without a break for upwards of 30 minutes if you didn't wake up and hit the thing. For years that had me bolt fully awake in an instant with my fight-or-flight reflexes fully primed, wondering what the awful noise was and ready to sprint to lectures. They don't make 'em like they used to.

I feel old now!

Where is the timing input for GPS/NTP? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29186281)

In this day and age, the ability to use an external reference time source would seem important. Sparkfun make a nice board to drive an LCD clock that has an on-board GPS module and I am building a clock based on that now. If this clock had that, I'd buy the kit in a heartbeat.

OpenSourceRussianVacuumFluorescentTubeClocks! (1)

RevWaldo (1186281) | more than 4 years ago | (#29186423)

Open Source Russian Vacuum Fluorescent Tube Clocks!
Open Source Russian Vacuum Fluorescent Tube Clocks!
Open Source Russian Vacuum Fluorescent Tube Clocks!

Hi, I'm Al Hvorostovsky, President and CEO of Al Hvorostovsky's Open Source Russian Vacuum Fluorescent Tube Clock Emporium and Warehouse! Thanks to massive Soviet-era overproduction, I am now currently overstocked on Open Source Russian Vacuum Fluorescent Tube Clocks, and I am passing the savings on to you!!!

Create that retro look in your living room! Makes a great night lite for the baby's room!* A great gift for steampunks! "Hunt for Red October" re-enactments! Have an EMP-proof clock for your bomb shelter! Whatever your Open Source Russian Vacuum Fluorescent Tube Clock needs are! So come on down to Open Source Russian Vacuum Fluorescent Tube Clock Emporium and Warehouse! Just of the main road in Chernyshevsk.

*Keep out of the reach of children and pets.

Did this in EE291 in like, 1986 (1)

slyborg (524607) | more than 4 years ago | (#29186485)

I'm really perplexed why making an ancient VFD clock is on the first page of /. I mean, cute project, but I could see this in Make or something, not here.

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