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Science Meets Style In This Cathode Tube Watch 190

scope-n-SHOUT writes "The Nixie Watch displays the time on nixie tubes, a cold-cathode tube filled with neon, a little mercury and argon at a small fraction of atmospheric pressure. Nixies were used in many early electronic desktop calculators, including the first: the vacuum tube-based Sumlock-Comptometer Anita Mk VII in 1961. This two-digit wristwatch is designed for everyday use, being water-resistant and rugged, not to mention looking really retro-future cool. The watch requires no button pushing to operate - it shows the hours, minutes and seconds in sequence at the flick of the wrist. For the hardcore code tweaker, a programming adapter allows the GPL'd PIC firmware running the watch to be hacked up at will. The Nixie Watch is being sold in very limited edition, with each piece individually numbered and engraved."
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Science Meets Style In This Cathode Tube Watch

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  • Why a watch? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by avalys ( 221114 ) on Thursday December 15, 2005 @02:02AM (#14262253)
    It seems like a watch is the wrong form factor for this thing. The idea is really cool, and I think I might actually buy one if it was made as a desk clock, but I wouldn't want that enormous hockey-puck-sized-thing strapped to my wrist all day.

    • Re:Why a watch? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Jerry Coffin ( 824726 ) on Thursday December 15, 2005 @02:13AM (#14262305)
      It seems like a watch is the wrong form factor for this thing. The idea is really cool, and I think I might actually buy one if it was made as a desk clock, but I wouldn't want that enormous hockey-puck-sized-thing strapped to my wrist all day.

      Something like one of these [] or these []?

    • Oh you mean like []

      Keep it quiet, or the link will get front page'd .. again.. :-\
      • Ah, OK... I thought the numbers appearing inside the tube were pretty sci-fi, but looking at the big picture on that page, it seems there's actually 10 little tubes inside there, bent to the shape of numbers, and I guess it just picks one to light up. Apparently they hadn't come up with the idea of using just 7 segments yet. :-)

        Can you bend cold cathode tubes (that people use to light up the insides of their computers) over a candle..?
        • No, its different. (Score:4, Informative)

          by imsabbel ( 611519 ) on Thursday December 15, 2005 @05:14AM (#14262743)
          We have really old (and back then expensive) frequency counters here that use the same display technology.

          Its basically a glow discharge tube like you can find them as gadgets sometimes (like a hearth, or a number or so glowing). The glow is around the kathode, which can be formed however you want.

          So this tubes have 10 different kathodes in one tube, sorted by visibility (to but the "big" shapes back as to not hinder the view to other ones). All in all, you can see that they are in different planes (about 5-8mm or so, which makes neat effects for a frequency counter (as the digit seems to jump rapidly, seemingly randomly back and forth in 3d-space)).

        • Re:Why a watch? (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Detritus ( 11846 )
          A 7-segment display needs a 7-segment decoder to drive the appropriate segments for each digit. That's a fair bit of extra circuitry and expense when your logic circuits are built from discrete components.

          Some older equipment used displays that were like miniature slide projectors. Each digit had a small rear projection screen. Behind that screen was an assembly of miniature light bulbs and optical slides. When one of the light bulbs was turned on, its light passed through an optical slide that had an ima

        • Re:Why a watch? (Score:5, Informative)

          by ajs318 ( 655362 ) <sd_resp2.earthshod@co@uk> on Thursday December 15, 2005 @09:00AM (#14263349)
          Nixie tubes are based on the same technology as the neon lamps you find on mains extension leads and some appliances {from the pre-LED era, or ones that don't have any low-voltage electronics inside them} and in power-finder screwdrivers. These simple lamps are just a glass tube with two electrodes, connected to the mains through a ballast resistor {or in the case of a power-finder, the capacitor formed between the whole surface of your body [not, as per common misconception, just the soles of your feet] and the earth; AC can flow through a capacitor because it is being continuously charged and discharged}. The tube is filled with a mixture of gases, mainly neon and argon, which become conductive and emit light when a sufficiently high voltage is applied. The glow occurs in the space between the cathode {negative terminal} and the anode {positive terminal}, but always nearest to the cathode. Note that the mains is AC, so each electrode glows on each alternate half-cycle; but since there are 50 cycles every second, your eyes cannot detect this.

          In a Nixie tube, the cathode wires are shaped into numbers {or letters, or symbols} and each one is brought out to a separate terminal pin. The anode is a fine wire mesh grille in front of the cathodes. This is connected, through a ballast resistor {to limit the current} to a positive supply of several tens of volts DC {dependent upon the size of the tube}. When one of the cathodes is connected to ground, the gas ionises and a visible glow is given off around the cathode. The smaller the resistor, the bigger the current, and the further the glowing region extends {and the shorter the overall lifetime of the tube, since some material is transferred }; the general aim is to get a strong enough glow around the active wire so the whole digit is visible. Note that if a switched-mode power supply is being used to generate the high voltage, it will most probably already have a high enough output impedance so as not to need a ballast resistor.

          The cathodes can be driven by ordinary, open-collector NPN transistors but they must be selected carefully: the collector-base junction must have a sufficiently high breakdown voltage to withstand the display drive voltage. Otherwise the C-B junction will behave like a Zener diode, essentially dropping a constant voltage irrespective of how much current is flowing through it; and once a digit has been lit, it won't extinguish until the anode supply is interrupted. It won't actually fail catastrophically due to the ballast resistance limiting the current; but it probably is not what you want anyway. If the anode supply is switched-mode, and the output capacitor is small enough that this afterglow can discharge it completely, you might just be able to get away with using under-rated transistors to switch the cathodes; but this is not ideal since the anode supply will always be dying {not just in the afterglow while the transistor is staying on} and the display will flicker.
    • Yeeeeah ... I have a longcase clock which is only marginally smaller (about 2m tall - nice oak case) and probably nearly as accurate (if I could just adjust the fucking pendulum a bit more precisely - it's a bastard of an adjustment and you need to wait a couple of days to see if you got it right this time) which is about 250 years old. It's my grandfather's grandfather's grandfather clock. AND it rings the hour. My children hate it. I'll leave it to whichever one reproduces himself first.

      Sure, you can't we
      • Bugger. s/smaller/larger/g
    • I have one (Score:2, Interesting)

      by HWguy ( 147772 )
      I have one of these. It may not be for everyone but I bought it because:

      - It uses nixie tubes. I think they are the nicest of all digital display technologies. I like the fully formed numbers and I like the 3-dimensional movement as the digits change.
      - It was designed and manufactured by one person. I think that is quite an accomplishment and makes for a much more personal and unique timepiece.
      - The designer released the firmware under the GPL. This is the only watch in the world that I know of that ca
    • Announcing -- the iPod Nixie! Thank you, Steve Jobs!! Now I can watch neon numerals while rollerskat.... ARRRGGHH (truck brakes squealing) ... (silence)....(blink..flash..flash...)
  • by ghoul ( 157158 ) on Thursday December 15, 2005 @02:02AM (#14262254)
    where Science meets a total lack of style ;)
  • by Bonker ( 243350 ) on Thursday December 15, 2005 @02:02AM (#14262255)
    *flick* *flick* *flick*

    Dammit... too far.

    *flick* *flick* *flick*

    11... No, I'm sorry, that's the minutes.

    *flick* *flick* *flick*

    Something 11.


    And 15 seconds.
  • Its simply amazing how what can be considered today as antique technology that would be sitting in some electronics museum to a "hip" new product. As Old Skewl goes, this is pretty geeky!
  • Not (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DumbSwede ( 521261 ) <> on Thursday December 15, 2005 @02:05AM (#14262264) Homepage Journal
    "...really retro-future cool" -- NOT

    Maybe 4 smaller nixie tubes, but this first hours then minutes then seconds display on two digits looks more like a bad high school science project than a must have geek item.

  • This fabulous Nixie Watch could be yours if... the price is right.
  • Me: Hey, honey - take a look at this watch.

    My Lovely Wife (MLW): Oh - uh, what is that?

    Me: Cathode ray tube watch.

    MLW: Oh. How much is it?

    Me: About $400.

    MLW: $400 for that?

    Me: Yeah. And you know what?

    MLW: What?

    Me: That is the exactly opposite of what kind of a watch I want you to buy me for Giftmas someday.

    MLW: Got it.
  • Not the only one (Score:5, Informative)

    by wkitchen ( 581276 ) on Thursday December 15, 2005 @02:07AM (#14262281)
    It's been done before. And with more digits [].
  • by Tsar ( 536185 ) on Thursday December 15, 2005 @02:08AM (#14262282) Homepage Journal
    Terry Gilliam would have loved to have had these in Brazil []!
  • by mister_llah ( 891540 ) on Thursday December 15, 2005 @02:08AM (#14262285) Homepage Journal
    Cathode Tube Watch: $395
    Tiger Print Suit: $2530
    Authentic Aviator Goggles: $125

    Realizing that you have the fashion sense of Helen Keller: Priceless
  • by FlyByPC ( 841016 ) on Thursday December 15, 2005 @02:11AM (#14262300) Homepage
    What, are they running the webserver on Nixie tubes, too?
  • by syousef ( 465911 ) on Thursday December 15, 2005 @02:15AM (#14262312) Journal
    More like impracticality meets extravagance.
  • You could cram a lot of PDA into that beast instead.
  • Just wondering. Did you get any decent amount of money for that huge ad? I sure hope you did since this probably sent more traffic their way then anything else has in the past.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Just wondering. Did you get any decent amount of money for that huge ad?

      OMG!!!! SLASHDOT is linking to an item FOR SALE!!!!

      ... or maybe it's just a link to a small company with a cool product. Stop acting so self-righteous and get over yourself.
      Are you really suggesting that slashdot shouldn't link to any product or service that is offered for sale?

    • Just wondering. Did you get any decent amount of money for that huge ad? I sure hope you did since this probably sent more traffic their way then anything else has in the past.

      I don't understand how this got modded +5 "Insightful." I mean, were all the XBOX 360 articles somehow enlightening to geeks, but this one is all of a sudden an "advertisement" because some dude will (gasp!) make money off of the product?

      I just checked the front page (3:35 am EST) and found that 4 of the 10 articles are about either
  • The "sold out" desk and wall clocks are MUCH cooler.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      I discovered the scope clock on my own some time ago. Now -that- thing is cool. It draws the numbers using vectors, not scanning and looks awesome. He's been sold out for quite some time but now that he's slashdotted, he oughta put the thing back on the market.
  • by John Miles ( 108215 ) on Thursday December 15, 2005 @02:27AM (#14262352) Homepage Journal
    ... if only for its homebrew-deco appeal. According to the .PDF copy of the user manual on the site, the software that runs it is GPL'ed and fully user-compilable/modifiable. The complete schematic is provided with a nifty discussion of the underlying circuit theory.

    Aesthetically, yeah, it's hard to argue that it's not a piece of junk. The first thing you notice -- because your eye expects to see two more Nixie tubes -- is the huge battery next to the two that are present. That should have been a stack of heavy-duty lithium coin cells mounted out of sight. If they'd gone that route, then the housing could have accommodated three tubes... which 85% of the time is all you need, right?

    It doesn't deserve the bashing it's getting on a "News for Nerds" site, at any rate. Everybody reading Slashdot has scarier stuff than this in their (psychic?) basements.
    • If they'd gone that route, then the housing could have accommodated three tubes... which 85% of the time is all you need, right?

      If this were giving time in hex, three tubes is all you'd need 100% of the time (assuming a twelve-hour clock).
    • He looked at lithium cells, but the supplier would not let him have samples, and the MOQ was in the order of 10,000 units (or $$, I can't remember), so the "common camera battery" route was taken... Again, it's a compromise. The reason the tilt-detector (a solid-state Analogue Devices unit) is used is that the HT converter is only activated whn the watch is at 45 degrees or so the the Earth. As you tilt the watch, you can just hear the HT boost converter starting (a very slight whstling) if you put your ea
  • that is one fucking painfully ugly watch.... I have yet to see on of these "nerd" watches I would actaully wear... as others said... this thing with hours/min..etc as a wall clock could be kewl... but as a watch it is only a good idea ...... if you find yourself constantly having to fight off the ladies with a stick and you are looking for sure fire sex repellant.
  • Back in the day... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by boomgopher ( 627124 ) on Thursday December 15, 2005 @02:41AM (#14262394) Journal
    When I was in the military some years back, we were still using some test equipment with these tubes as displays. The subtle beauty of them is when the digits would cycle through a sequence, you'd notice the position/depth change as it changed to a new digit. Coupled with the fadeout of the deactivated digit, it was a fascinating to watch.

    • The last thing I remember seeing these in was a frequency counter. Nothing else really needed a numeric display, and the equipment that the frequency counter was being used on predated the nixi tubes anyway. (1950-1965 era military equipment.)

      I don't think there was a maintenance tech in his right mind that would have suggested taking one of those frequency counters to the field.

      Whether there were that many maintenance techs that were in their right mind to begin with is an entirely different question, whic
    • by cocotoni ( 594328 ) on Thursday December 15, 2005 @03:57AM (#14262570)
      You Sir are the last person I would like to have watching the countdown for an important defense missile:

      10... 9... 8... 7... 6... ooh, shiny... 4... and look at the depth change...

      Only kidding :)
    • I have a Texas Instruments claculator I inherited from my late father with the same kind of display. I also have a vague recollection that the HP25s (god, the prince of claculators - a boon to mankind - reverse polish is the. best. notation. ever.) had this too. I may be wrong here.

  • is a watch like this one, but instead of using nixie tubes, it would use those green-blue displays also used in some old calculators. Does it exist ?

  • Uhm, I think I'd prefer a watch like this: []
  • by antifoidulus ( 807088 ) on Thursday December 15, 2005 @02:49AM (#14262420) Homepage Journal
    it would tell time in hex :P
    • would tell time in hex

      According to the .PDF copy of the user manual on the site, the software that runs it is GPL'ed and fully user-compilable/modifiable.

      Go for it!

    • by Cyclotron_Boy ( 708254 ) on Thursday December 15, 2005 @12:58PM (#14265141) Homepage
      Hate to self-promote, but here's my website [] with the nixie tube clock I was selling (before I ran out of parts). The most informative webpage for nixie tube related stuff is actually the Yahoo NeoNixie group, at Yahoo Groups []. David Forbes, who designed the watch, is a regular contributor to the list, and is a great guy- very knowledgeable. I have learned a lot from the list, and I highly suggest joining the group to anyone even remotely interested in the technology.
  • 1. slap retro-futuristic watch on skinny, hairy model 2. ?? 3. profit
  • by marcushnk ( 90744 ) <senectus AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday December 15, 2005 @04:18AM (#14262613) Journal
    Science Meets Style... and Style walks away with a bloody nose.

    Seriously people.. this does not look cool, neat, retro, funky or any thing other than an ugly lump on the end of an appendage.
    • and Style walks away with a bloody nose.

      At least I'm not alone in thinking so; I don't care how geeky you are, this [] does not approximate "style", unless your style is "ugly". At the very least, for $400, I expect brushed metal, if not something better. That plastic look just has to go.

      Geeky, yes, but it's not stylish at all, not even to a bunch of geeks on Slashdot. Sorry, but it's true.

  • Does it come with an optional B-battery carrying case?
  • Apart from the bulk, battery life is "a few months" - reminiscent of the first digital watches which used LEDs, so the display had to be turned on to read the time. Still, an unsubtle but doubtless effective bit of late product p1mpage in time for Christmas ;-)
  • Much cooler version (Score:3, Informative)

    by wrmrxxx ( 696969 ) on Thursday December 15, 2005 @04:36AM (#14262659)
    There's been a very impressive Nixie wristwatch at [] for quite a while now - he made it in 2001. The fact that it doesn't even use a microcontroller makes it that much cooler. Less flexible because you can't re-program it, but far more in keeping with the theme of the project.
  • Science meets style? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Flying pig ( 925874 ) on Thursday December 15, 2005 @04:36AM (#14262660)
    Obsolete engineering meets design disaster area.

    Seriously, years ago I actually encountered a Geiger counter (don't ask) which used transistors to drive Nixie tubes. In those days there were no high voltage transistors, so it worked around the idea that the Nixies turned off at a certain voltage, therefore the VEBO of the transistors did not need to exceed the difference between the high voltage rail and the Nixie cutoff voltage.

    Did you notice the words "Geiger counter" there? Yes. Of course, if the radiation reached a level sufficient to ionise the gas in the tubes, they stayed conducting. So turning a small gamma source on the tubes themselves blew all the output transistors.

  • by nickds ( 849306 ) on Thursday December 15, 2005 @05:36AM (#14262814)
    Making a nixie watch is enormously complicated - the power issues are complex - the tubes need 180VDC at a few mA to strike, but the batteries must last for 6 months or so. Each watch is hand made and uses lots of SMD components - the tubes are indeed not the smallest available as they are not made any more, so you can only use "common tubes" - the earlier 4-tube watch mentioned used JAN7009/4998 tubes which are extremely rare (the builder found a one-off small batch at a hamfest), and can't be used for commercial construction. It's not ideal, using these tubes, but it does work. Other common small tubes, like the Russian IN-17s have other problems (they are too deep). I actually have one of these watches (a prototype), and it attracts nothing but admiration, even from my wife & daughter. You do need big wrists, though (I'm 6' 4" tall and 103kg)... David only did this as a bit of fun - he deserves credit for producing something that's fun, with little profit (if any) for an awful lot of hard work. Nicko
    • by goon ( 2774 )

      `... David only did this as a bit of fun - he deserves credit for producing something that's fun, with little profit (if any) for an awful lot of hard work ...`

      I hang my head in shame when I read some of the posts here. Isn't the journey of hacking together some technology from design to completion what /. is (was) about?

      ; Bits in SetDig tell which digit's being set
      NotSet equ 0 ; not in set mode
      H24Set equ 1 ; setting hours
      HrsSet equ 2 ; setting hours

      Did anyone comment on the

  • by squoozer ( 730327 ) on Thursday December 15, 2005 @06:12AM (#14262931)

    ... after 3 weeks of wearing this watch your hand goes black and drops off.

  • Unfortunately this watch design is no smarter than the norm.

    I was disappointed when I read:

    The timekeeping rate is adjustable to permit regulation to within a few seconds a week.

    I can't understand why in the year 2005 every digital watch does not include a tiny radio receiver to pick up the WWV or GPS radio time signals. Then every watch will be accurate to within a second or two, all the time (as long as the wearer goes outside every so often if it's a GPS watch), and there's no need to set it - u

  • Want to try and wear this through the airport. I could see the security flipping out right now..
  • If you run at 88 miles an hour while wearing it, do you go back in time? Or does it require doing something else at 88 miles an hour... ha ha
  • by digitaldc ( 879047 ) * on Thursday December 15, 2005 @08:47AM (#14263315)
    Or are you on house arrest?
  • I'll bet that baby eats batteries for breakfast. Just imagine buying one for the paltry price of $395 and the spending another $1,200 on batteries because everyone who spots it while you walk by wants to see it in action.

    Why do I get the feeling the developer is in cohoots with Union Carbide?
  • woz's watch [] costs about six times as much as this cathode watch.
  • If you want the ULTIMATE in clunky, difficult to wear watches, you need one of these: []

    One hell of a lot more accurate than that nixie tube toy! :)
  • I'd love to see a similar idea put towards a desktop calculator that used vacuum tubes instead of transistors and cathode tubes instead of LEDs. Yes it would be big, hot, and slow... but it would definitely be a geek conversation piece.
  • Can you imagine trying to explain to any TSA employee why the thing on your wrist looks like a bomb timer from a bad movie?
  • At the first software development job I ever had, about 12 years ago, I was given a "piece of junk" electronic calculator by the IT guy (small mom & pop shop). I was a "kid" then (19 or 20 years old), and I didn't have the same appreciation for old electronics that I do now. Back then, a piece of electronic junk, for me, was another thing to tear apart, and salvage any usable junk from it.

    I don't remember the make or model of this calculator - it may have been a Texas Instruments, not sure. I do remembe

  • well, it certainly would appear that someone isn't very really retro-future cool

      I, for one, am working on a 35-mm film base camera watch. Don't be left behind in the dust man, - get with the retro-future cool movement you square.
  • Good prop for a Lensman movie. I think E.E. Doc. Smith would be pleased.

BLISS is ignorance.