A few days ago, I wrote about the fact that my old chum Michael Dunn — who used to be the Editor-in-Chief at Electronic Design News (EDN) and is also the owner of Cantares Electronic Design and Consulting — pointed me at something that has left me drooling with desire (see also Mindbogglingly Droolworthy Display Concept).
At first glance, this bodacious beauty appears to be a Nixie tube clock, which would be cool enough in its own right. On closer examination, however, we discover that the clock’s digits aren’t Nixie tubes — they are glass tubes containing small OLED display screens that have been programmed to look like Nixie tubes.
In addition to a couple of different Nixie tube effects, there is also a split-flap display, a LEGO block display, and a presentation format I don’t even know how to describe. In fact, there are more than 20 supplied formats, plus you have the ability to add your own custom images.
Shortly after reading my initial column, my chum Joe Farr pointed me at a YouTube video by Techmoan titled A Clock Limited Only by Imagination or 135 x 240 Pixels. Also, the instigator of all this, the previously mentioned Michael Dunn, introduced me to this column on Hackaday.
All I can say is that the video is very well made and explains everything far better than I could hope to do. Furthermore, in addition to referencing the same video, the column on Hackaday also links to an interesting FIXIE (Faux-Nixie) Project, which employs OLED screens in a similar manner, but which uses glass jam jars as housings.
So, here’s the thing… I really, really like this OLED idea. I’d love to buy one of the aforementioned bodacious beauties, but I find myself short of funds, so I’m going to take a stab at creating my own FIXIE implementation.
The creator of the original FIXIEs used hexagonal jars saying that the flat faces didn’t distort the displays as much as did their round cousins. If I were to go down this route, I think I’d be tempted to experiment with a variety of different jars to see which suited me best. Also, my chum Rick Curl suggested that there are some large test tubes on the market that might fit the bill.
These are all viable alternatives, but I’ve opted to go in a different direction. Based in the Czech Republic, my chum Dalibor Farny specializes in hand-made Nixie tubes that are essentially works of art. One of the most famous, largest, and beautiful of all the classic Nixie tubes was the Z568M, whose digits are approximately 2” wide and 4” tall. Dalibor offers a pin-compatible replacement called the R|Z568M. According to Dalibor, each R|Z568M entails more than three hours of precision handcrafting.
As an aside, several years ago, Dalibor created a set of steampunk R|Z568M tubes with copper anodes and bronze bases just for me – this remains one of only two such sets in the world.
The reason I’m waffling on about all this here is that, as soon as I’d determined to create my own OLED displays, I emailed Dalibor to explain what I was doing and to ask what he did with any less-than-perfect glass tubes. He immediately replied, “Indeed, we do have some glass envelopes that were rejected for production purposes because they are not perfectly uniform.”
Dalibor isn’t interested in supplying these “seconds” on a commercial basis, but he’s kindly agreed to support what he calls “Max’s Special Project” (when I was a kid, my mother often told me I was special and I foolishly took this to be a complement — similarly, my dad used to tell me I was beautiful when I was asleep, and I erroneously took that to be a complement also — it was much later in life that I thought, “Wait… What?”).
The upshot of all this is that I currently have seven empty R|Z568M glass tubes and accompanying metal bases winging my way. As soon as they arrive, I’ll start looking for the highest resolution OLED displays that will fit in these little beauties.
I will, of course, be reporting further in future columns. In the meantime, as always, I welcome your comments, questions, and suggestions.