DIY Digital Clock: Take 2!

What time is it?

Time to make a new clock!

About a year ago, I designed and assembled my own custom made clock. You couldn’t say it was in an enclosure since its guts were spilled out on both sides of a piece of foam core. I felt like, a year later, it was time to redo it and put it into a proper enclosure.

So, what time is it? Time to build us a new clock!

The Guts


I tend to get carried away and too focused to take proper progress pictures. This is literally the first picture I have from the electronics part.

Soldering all of those LEDs and components took a full day. I used hot glue to try to keep multiple wires in place to solder as fast as I could but it didn’t do the best job to hold them in. At time, the glue would fall away from the PCB. Still, it’s better than fiddling with one wire at a time.

The only difference from the prototype build is a lower resistor value for the LED resistors.

Putting Together a Box


Foam core is a favorite in my “lab”. It’s all I use these days because all it takes is a knife to cut and it’s inexpensive and accessible (Dollarama rocks). I built a simple black box with a white cover place. I was hoping with a lower resistor value on the LEDs, they’d be able to shine through the white foam core.


With the soldered parts and the enclosure ready, it was time to put it all together.


I glued a piece of foam core behind the control board to isolate the connections on the back with the display connections. I ended up mounting the two display panels on it’s own piece of foam core anyway so I guess that wasn’t really necessary. The display foam core backing fits tight with no need for pin or glues to hold it in place.


The white foam core was still too think for the LEDs so I ended up going back to a plain white sheet of paper. It’s not noticeably brighter than the original prototype with the paper.  The piece of paper is held up by two strips of foam core on either side.

I didn’t like the look of it at this point but it was the end of the weekend so I left it for now.


I still like how sleek the black foam core looks, even with a few imperfections here and there from a not-so-sharp knife.


After a few days to think about it, I realized simply turning around my diffusing screen pulled the look together.


Time to pull the plug on the prototype and enjoy something new.

Thanks for reading!

The BIG opening update for the next Fountain Show

If everything works out in the very end, this will be one of my best projects to date. And really, with everything that has happened so far, it has been one of my best projects to date even if nothing actually works yet. I’ve experimented and learned a lot and, even with the bouts of wanting to quit, I really want this project to work because, again, it will be my best.


I made a pool for the fountains out of scrap polypropylene sheets I got from work. I painted it all black because I thought it would benefit the lighting effects, as well as hide any imperfections better.

The white support beam running through the pool is where I would mount the fountain nozzles and LEDs.


I’m trying my best to keep things organized and clean. I drilled holes for the pump wiring so that there wouldn’t be any excess wiring sitting in the water. I also used a silver marker to label them.


Things started coming together as I had imagined. I used transparent tubing from the pumps to nozzles mounted on the support beam. The nozzles were made out of tubing that’s slightly more rigid. There’s also a smaller diameter tubing that I hot glued to the end to reduce the opening.


Looks good so far…


Heat shrink and electrical tape was good enough insulation with all of the water splashing every where. I decided to try another method of waterproofing certain connections which was to use short pieces of tubing and flooding it with hot glue on both ends. The connection in the picture is the splicing of the fountain wires to my own solid-core wire which is a likely point for failure.


Once I was satisfied with the tubing, I threw on some more black paint.


Next were the LEDs. They’re WS2812B modules (the little circle PCBs you find on eBay). I put them in little plastic cups to protect them from getting wet. They’re open on the bottomside but the LEDs are held inside of the cup with lots of hot glue anyway. I didn’t have any issues while testing them with water.


And here’s where things started falling apart…

I barely ever used paint until recently, so I learned the hard way that it’s not very water proof, at least when applied on smooth plastic surfaces. As soon as the water started flying, the paint started peeling.

The other concern I saw was the aim of the fountains. The nozzles are round and are attached to a round support beam, so, while it looks good by eye, it didn’t turn out very straight. The pumps struggle if the fountain streams are exactly vertical so I tend to shoot them slightly backward so they sort of look vertical when viewing the fountains from the front. Anyways, I have some ideas on how to fix this which you’ll see in a future post.

The pump on the far left didn’t seem to respond so it either got through my quick dry tests before building or I fried it while setting up.

Also, no idea where the foam and bubbles are coming from…


So clearly I’ve still got a lot of work ahead of me. Main things on the task list:

  • Scrape off all of the black paint on the inside of the pool. The outside black paint is fine.
  • Double check all of the pumps.
  • Replace support beam and nozzles.
  • Add a drain to the pool somehow.

Thanks for reading!

Happy holidays! (Christmas project 2015)

Last year’s Christmas holiday project was the “Make A Wish” fountain show. My original plans for this year was to follow it up with an updated set but I couldn’t find the time or motivation to do it. Instead, I decided to do something simpler.

20151222_190705_001Behold! A modern-style Christmas tree! It’s made out of foam-core board and has eight sides which are lit up by WS2812B addressable LEDs.20151222_190631With the room lights off, you can get a better sense of what I was going for. I am very happy with the way that it came together, considering how little time I gave myself. This was almost all done on a Sunday.20151221_193338It’s one of my larger projects, with the base being 50x66cm and the “tree” standing at 52cm. I’ll have to find somewhere to put it because I would love to work with it next year.20151222_190933_022One amusing observation which I hadn’t planned for was the fantastic pattern the project projects onto the ceiling.

Thanks for visiting my blog! I hope to find some time to write up a year-in-review-style post as I did last year. Stay tuned!

Clock Project Journal Entry #1: What is it, and what’s the point?

One of the things my desk is missing is a clock. Yes, I have a computer, watch, and phone that can all tell time, but when I’m in a full-screen game, I don’t want to have to go looking for the time. I’d rather have a clock large enough that I can simply glance at. First world problems, I know, but in any case, I thought that this would make for an interesting electronics project, despite how simple it may sound.

I will be making two custom circuit boards for this project. One will be the control board and the other will be the actual LED clock display. The project will be controlled by at Atmega328p microcontroller and the time will be kept by the DS3231 real-time clock chip. The LEDs will be driven with the help of some 74HC595 shift registers since it should make programming easier as opposed to multiplexing… I always gravitate toward using shift registers, I guess.

One of the things I wanted to make sure of was the LED configuration. As it sits now, each segment will have 4 red LEDs. At first, I tried driving them at their “full” 20mA each (so 80mA per segment) but I felt that it was too bright. Bumping up the current-limiting resistor brought it to a more comfortable brightness. With the higher resistor, the current drawn for the segment was about 4mA, which is low enough for a pin on the shift register to handle directly. With that, I don’t need any transistors, which makes me happy…

I was planning to use a single resistor for the four LEDs on each segment, but it’s bad form and I don’t want to go that route for the whole project. I already feel “guilty” about using shift registers instead of just multiplexing. I will be putting a resistor for each LED. The main reason why I wanted to go with the one resistor per four LEDs is because it saves space without having to go with surface-mount components. I’ll see how the layout goes with the 1/4 watt resistors and hope that I don’t have to go and get some surface-mount resistors. I’d like to use whatever I already have.
ds3231rtc_sch_1Here’s the schematic for the control board. The board layout is done, or at least the first draft of it is. The only thing left to add is a switch to either cut the power to the project or at least turn of the display. I haven’t decided yet. I’m planning on using some mini-slide switches I bought a long time ago but I need to create an Eagle part for it which may take a little time. I’m waiting on some digital calipers from Amazon so that I can measure the pin thickness.

The layout for the display is coming along slowly. There’s only enough space for two digits per board, which is not a bad thing since I could use them for other projects. The problem that does arise from not making them specific for the project is that I have to make a separate circuit board for the colon and AM/PM indicator (I don’t really want a 24-hour formatted clock).

That’s all I have to share for now. I’ll be back with more when more details get finalized. Stay tuned!

PS. I started working on this project about a week or so before Ahmed Mohamed’s clock incident happened. I found that to be a funny coincidence.

The lamp that WAS meant to be! (WS2812B LED Box)

A little while ago, I was experimenting with a WS2812B LED and toying with the idea of making a basic lamp. Things didn’t work out and the project was scrapped but I still had the internals of it ready on a breadboard so I gave it another go, while taking in some inspiration from the comments on that post which mentioned a product that’s more or less a small table-top spotlight.


From my previous experiments, I already had a WS2812B LED soldered to some wires. For this project, I used only 22AWG stranded wire. For isolation and to hold things in place, I used hot glue.


With the LED ready, I started by putting one of my Attiny85 breakout boards onto the perfboard.


I then completed the soldering of the LED and potentiometers to the perfboard. The potentiometers are all connected to each other by Vcc and Ground. It seems like the connections in between one another weren’t very good as the LED would go wild at times, changing color or blinking for no reason. After some wiggling with the wires, I found which connections were weak and reflowed them.

… But even reflowing the connections didn’t work. The only thing that did fix the problems was putting force on the connections in a certain way. Once I got it working, I quickly hot glued everything. I know that’s horrible, but, being such a no frills project, I’m not very concerned. After the circuit was completed, I trimmed down the perfboard since the rest of it wasn’t needed.


The potentiometer and LEDs were all 5mm^2 so it wasn’t difficult cutting out appropriate sized holes for them. I first put in the LED and taped it to hold it in place before adding hot glue.


After the LED was in place, I fed the power supply wires (female jumper wires) through a hole I cut near the bottom corner of the box. The potentiometers come with a washer and nut so I didn’t need any hot glue to keep those in place. This is my first time using these kind of potentiometers in a project and, even without fancy knobs, I think they look great. They certainly look better than tiny trimpots, which is what I would have used otherwise.


And that’s it! The placement of the potentiometers was planned specifically to double as a way to lay the box down on an angle.

I hope you liked this simple project of mine. I recently ordered a set of these LEDs for an idea for the next Light Show.

PS. My main website,, was recently updated!

Presenting the ESP8266 Capsule!

This project went exceptionally well. With just under two weeks of prototyping and 3.5 straight hours of soldering, the ESP8266 Capsule is complete! The project as I’ve been showing you in previous posts has been crammed into an enclosure (a food container). Let’s take a look at how the soldering went.

IMG_0001The only plan I had was a very rough schematic of the project. I skipped the perfboard planning on paper which is something I started doing with my projects that ended up on perfboards. I thought the circuits were simple enough to wing it… While that’s was somewhat true, it was challenging at times but it all worked out.

IMG_0002I pulled apart the prototype since I had the schematic to work with. I used fresh ATmega328p and AMS1117 boards since I like to have a couple rough assembled ones laying around for prototyping with.

I used some cut jumper wires that still have the female connector on it to connect up the LCD. The ones I used were actually cut off of the old Box project that was sacrificed for this project. I like to think of this as the Box 2.0 since it’s pretty much the same thing, except it gains an internet connection but loses the real-time clock.

IMG_0003This was about halfway through the soldering process. I got increasingly concerned with all of the connections flying out everywhere. They’re that long just for assembly. They would be cut down when it was time to connect everything together.

IMG_0004The first test was scary, as it usually is. The LCD lit up but didn’t show anything. After a few minutes, I realized the potentiometer that adjusts the contrast of the text was turned all the way down for some reason. I thought it would have stayed the same since it was directly taken from the prototype.

The only real issue was with the photoresistor. One of the legs had a loose connection that I had to touch up with my soldering iron a couple more times to get right. I would have liked to hot glued parts of this project but I don’t think I have enough glue for my glue gun. I put some tape in hopes that it’ll help things stay in place. Everything is so tightly packed in there, mostly because of the female connector for the LCD connections, so things aren’t shifting around too much inside.

IMG_0006This is the final product. The sensors are mounted on the top with the LCD underneath it. Beside the LCD is a switch to turn on and off the LCD backlight.

It looks very similar to the Light Timer Project since it uses the same kind of enclosure and LCD. I’d like to think I’ve progressed since then. There are no breadboards tucked in there, and I’m using some custom PCBs… That’s progress to me!

IMG_0007I find that inexpensive switches are hard to find so my previous projects usually never had one unless I had a switch I pulled from an old toy or something. My switches from China finally came in yesterday. They’re cheap and don’t fit in a breadboard, but they work great in the project.

Now that it’s in the enclosure, it can be moved around, especially since it can still be powered by batteries. I’m thinking of leaving it outside for a day and watch the data come in. It’ll be a designated day I’d announce since I’d have to pick a good day to do it. The enclosure is hardly weatherproof, and the power in contacts are fully exposed. I could put it in a bag, but I think that would affect the humidity readings. I’ll let you know.

Thank you for following along with this project! Stay tuned for more projects coming soon!

Here are some links for this project: MYSQL Database Live DemoThing SpeakGitHub Repository

ESP8266 Project Powered Up

As I said in the previous post, I wanted to get a power supply for the ESP8266 project instead of using batteries. I decided to go to the nearby electronics store today to get one.IMG_0001This power supply is 9VDC 1A and actually comes in a branded box for the Atari “Lynx”, an old portable gaming system from the 80’s. I’m curious to know if the newer (I’m assuming) and smaller power supplies that were also in the store are any better than this one in terms of efficiency. I bought this one because of the cheaper price and it has the CSA and UL listings which is nice to have.

I also picked up a new soldering iron tip, and the 9V battery clips came in the mail today. I used all of these things to get the power supply into the project.IMG_0003I soldered the power supply wires to one of the 9v battery clips backwards so it would clip into another battery holder that would be the power input to a project. This way, the project can still go battery powered if I wanted to move it somewhere away from any power outlets temporarily. The power supply can also be shared around to other projects if it even needs to be.

With the project powered up from the wall, I have it uploading information again. You can view my Thing Speak channel here. The code is available on GitHub if you’d like to try a similar project.

I am waiting for some switches in the mail, along with other things I don’t really need anymore (parts for the temperature sensor that was supposed to be for this project). Anyways, I want to add a switch to the LCD backlight so I can essentially turn off the LCD when I don’t want it on. That would be the last connection in the prototype. From there, I’ll need to decide what will be soldered where and try to get it into an enclosure.

Thanks for reading!