Gifts from Old Saint Nixie

The Maestro

Long ago, before the days of LEDs, LCDs and vacuum fluroescent displays there was briefly a display technology known as the Nixie tube.  A “backronym” standing for (N)umeric (I)ndicator e(X)perimental,  these glow discharge tubes (think fluoresent signs) could display numbers with certain models displaying a limit set of symbols, too.  The former Soviet Union produced and used these quite a bit in things like calculators and scientific equipment.

In more recent years there has been a revival of the Nixie Tube as there are tons of them still sitting in warehouses.  In many cases they are being used in clocks.

I decided it would be be fun to build some of these, both for myself and Gemma but also as Xmas gifts for others.

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HiFiBerry with Music Box an amazing AirPlay audio solution

I recently upgraded my home audio arrangement and wanted to be able to stream content via AirPlay.   The seemingly obvious choice was the Apple AirPort Express as it has a TOSlink audio output.  I bought one and found myself listening to a symphony of pops and clicks.   It was unpleasant and totally unlistenable.

As I had used the AirPort Extreme with some success in the distant past I assumed the issue lie with the Parasound Halo Integrated amplifier (which includes a DAC).

Further research revealed that the Apple AirPort Extreme (current generation) is in fact, a piece of a shit.  Its digital output is known to be very jittery and the ESS Sabre 32 DAC in the Parasound is not at all tolerant of this.   I was then left with the question of what to do next.

I did some web searches on the topic and uncovered a company called HiFiBerry that makes a number of audiophile-grade products for use with Raspberry Pi.   I was already familiar with a Linux distro called MusicBox which is a turn-key AirPlay receiver (among other things).

I ordered the HiFiBerry Digi+ Pro and waited anxiously for it to arrive.

I set it up (which was a breeze) and suddenly I had TOSlink and 75 ohm coax digital connectivity. I opted for coax.   Since then streaming over AirPlay sounds amazing.  I play a lot of lossless content and the performance is flawless.

I recommend this to anyone looking for a similar solution.  My final solution was to use a Raspberry Pi 3 with the Digi+ Pro and HiFiBerry’s steel case.  I am using Ethernet as latency is always better, but I did test WiFi and it worked well for me.

My HiFiBerry setup sitting atop the Parasound Halo.

My home-made Adafruit-inspired clock



My wife was recently away traveling and I decided that I wanted a project to keep me busy and out of trouble in her absence.   I determined that I would build her a custom clock while she was gone.   I began sketching out my design and found some great parts on Adafruit for my project.

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My NetApp Filer Clock


My latest creation came out of a bit of nostalgia.  I used to work for NetApp, a major player in the data storage industry.  During my time there, I used a FAS3020, purchased on eBay, as a learning tool.  I’ve since gotten rid of the filer itself but could not bear to part with the bezel.  It was a souvenir of sorts.

I recently uncovered the bezel in my parts closet and realized that a common 16×2 LCD screen fit the bezel perfectly.  I have many an Arduino on-hand and I also had a DS1307 I2C-based real-time clock.  A short while later, I had it up and going!


The parts used include:
– Arduino Uno microcontroller
– Generic DS1307 I2C Real-time clock (search eBay or Adafruit)
Adafruit RGB LCD shield kit

I am cleaning-up the code a bit and will then post it on Github.

My new Adafruit-inspired Robot

I have long been a fan of Adafruit.   They offer some really amazing kits, complete with specs, schematics, examples and all kinds of wonderful code and instructions for the tinkering.   I’ve had many hours of fun building and tweaking projects consisting largely of their components.

I have built robots in the past but they had turned out to be more cumbersome than expected.  They were heavy and buggy.  A lot of this was due to designs that were overkill (a bit too ambitious).  Since that time I’ve wanted to build something a bit more lean, simple and fun to operate.


I then stumbled across this $24.95 kit on Adafruit’s site and I couldn’t resist.

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