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Meter Clock Roundup

December 7, 2010 Leave a comment

Meter clocks are interesting works of geeky art that display the time using analog panel meters driven by a microcontroller. They can be strikingly artistic – and are getting to be very popular. There are a lot of homebrew designs that use a microcontroller and some small digital-analog converters to produce a signal for a variety of meter types. I’m working on one myself, but in the mean time, there are a lot of other ideas out there!

A gentleman named Andy has made this beautiful Geeky Clock that made it all the way to Hack a Day:

Servo Meter Clock

Andy has built his clock using servo motors to position the needles instead of meter movements, effectively making his meters from the ground up. I could see some advantages to this approach (more accurate control), but just driving an appropriate meter directly is a bit less work.

Another very interesting example of a meter clock comes from Len Bayles at ChronWorks, sellers of interesting clock merchandise including scopes and nixie tubes in addition to meters. He uses three 1 mA scale meters in a cluster and some DACs to drive this unusual set of gauges for hours, minutes and seconds. The full write-up including source files and parts lists is available over at his dedicated site for the meter clock, Meterclock.com.

These gauges draw more power (1 mA full scale) than the microcontroller or DAC alone could drive, so they are powered by a small amplifier to make sure they can move accurately.

There’s also the classic meter clock featured on Embedds.com using some seriously powerful meters – 50 mA full scale. In contrast, the meters I’m working on to build my small meter clock are 50-150 μA, about a thousand times more sensitive. These are mounted on a panel and it looks like a piece of test equipment or a rack mounted indicator display – interesting and industrial.

Another entry from Hack a Day shows off this elegant and incredibly wide arc meter “Clock for Geeks“, using a single face with a large area to allow it to display the time using a single servo-driven movement. A little big for my tastes, but very interesting!

from Chrass Landing comes the Anachronistic Chronometer. This one features some very stylish antique meters in the mA full scale range, one originally an ammeter and the others volt meters that can be driven the same way. The only unfortunate thing about it is he ruined an early 1920s vacuum tube radio to build this one:

“Meanwhile, I was checking Ebay for something steampunk-ish to put my clock into. Eventually I got the idea of using an antique radio. Not exactly steampunk, but the idea of an anachronistic “clock radio” seemed pretty funny to me. I settled on a home made 1920’s radio.” I think that radio was a kit radio from the 1920s, probably not an entirely homebrew one. But, whatever it was, he had the right idea with the meter placement. There were originally already viewing holes behind where those meters were mounted to let you look in at the tubes and see how brightly they glowed (and adjust their power using the knobs right below where the meters are now.) If left intact, that radio probably would have been worth a couple hundred dollars as-found or considerably more working.

But it does make a pretty neat clock.

Finally, one of the first meter clocks I discovered was several years ago, the original Chronulator. A kit you can piece together with μA-scale meters, I’m using it as the base of my clock project. Other people have made beautiful examples of Chronulators too, including this fine Steampunk Chronulator example made by a French designer:

As well as other craziness made from the same kit:

I wonder how long the Bombulator was left sitting by that planter. It looks like it could really attract some attention.

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Last Exile – Steampunk Anime

December 2, 2010 2 comments

Update 1: I’m working on getting the Greek script translated where possible. Progress here.

I just finished watching Last Exile, a 2003 Steampunk anime series set in an alternate universe combining the normal varieties of steam-powered machina with inspiration from the Golden Age of Aviation. The series is visually stunning with beautiful clockworks and intricate attention to detail; the characters are well-rounded and multidimensional and the episodes are only 24 minutes long so it was very easy to watch one or two, or have it playing in the background, and not really have to spend a lot of time on.

I’ve never really been interested in anime before, having only watched a few examples of the genre while in college at the urging of my roommate at the time. I’m finding, however, that I may have dismissed it too readily. I started out watching a fan-subtitled Japanese version, but the text translations were so poor I wasn’t accurately able to follow the story so on the third episode, I switched to watching the American version which happens to be available on Netflix. Super convenient!

Spoilers are no fun, so I won’t give away the ending or any of the central plot twists but I will go over the broad strokes a bit.

Last Exile Splash Screen - Clockwork

In a divided world, warring nations Anatoray and Disith engage in massive air battles using airships powered by “Claudia units”, technology provided by the secretive and all-powerful Guild who act as something of overseers. “Your planet can’t support so many of you!” their leader says. “If you were allowed to do anything you wanted, you’d breed like rabbits and then you’d go extinct! That’s why only myself and a privileged few are allowed the pleasures of life.”

Following this pattern, the people generally live in filth and fight over access to water. Climate change has cast the nation of Anatoray into a deep drought, while turning Disith into a frozen wasteland and the nations are at war over resources. Anatoray capital airships are the most compelling in the series, striking corrugated metal sides, many heavy guns, the large crests and the words “dikaios” (“righteous”) and “poleo” = (“trader”) in Greek. All of the text in the series appears in Greek, and there’s a lot of it. I was lucky to find the translation of the Greek on the air ship; there are other translations out there I have not been able to locate yet.

As operated by Duke David Mad-Thane

Large-scale airship battles are frequent throughout the series and are always visually impressive.

Disith on the left, Anatoray on the right.

While not explained outright in the series, in the ephemera it was assumed that the Disith would be invading Anatoray from the Grand Stream above; this is why the guns on Disith warships were primarily on the bottom, with Anatoray warships guns being primarily on top with the expectation of firing upwards at incoming attackers. This configuration made ship-to-ship combat in the same plane somewhat difficult, though. There were also several special ships:

Most personal transportation is in the form of a “vanship”, an airplane-like vehicle that is very quick and maneuverable. Styled with the wide grills and corrugated siding common to 1920s aviation:

I highly recommend the series. It’s not without a few things I felt could have been improved upon, however.

Pros:

  • Visually stunning.
  • Steampunk.
  • Fast-paced action.
  • Compelling story driven by complex characters.
  • English translation is quite good.
  • Interesting technical application of non-photorealistic CGI combining hand animation with computer effects which, according to my reading, was actually fairly difficult at the time.

Cons:

  • Some of the voice acting is a bit strained, but this tends to be the style of Japanese shows, extra vocal emphasisin places.
  • A couple of places in the show, the plot didn’t really connect up well. I was left wondering “how’s I get here?” for 10-15 minutes before I figured it out.
  • The ending felt a bit rushed. There was 24 episodes of build-up, then it was just sort of over.
  • Battles with the Guild ships weren’t nearly as “epic” as they could have been, seeing how they’re basically an unstoppable force.

Overall, I’d say I give the series a 7.5/10. Definitely worth watching, if you like steampunk stuff and don’t mind anime.

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