Thursday, December 26, 2013

A New Years Resolution Completed (just in time)

Ice Tube Clock Kit v1.1

In the fall of 2012 I ordered an electronics kit.

I heard about the kit from Leo Laporte of the TWiT network when he interviewed the sites founder Limor "Ladyada" Fried. She was a great guest and one of the kits they mentioned was a clock made from a retro Russian display tube! The site is

Well it was earlier that same year that I become a licensed amateur radio operator and my interest in vacuum tubes and electronics was just beginning.

I had the best of intentions, this would be one of my winter projects. When I hadn't even taken the parts out of the box by Christmas it was suddenly one of my 2013 New Years resolutions that I would get it done by spring... NOT!

Well this morning (Dec 26th 2013) I woke with a grand ambition to do nothing. I have been at two family Christmas events in two days and now it was Boxing Day, also known around my house as Pajama Day! I wasn't gonna leave the house, I wasn't gonna exert myself, the only plans I had was for some TV and gaming, and relaxation. I started the morning with a couple relaxing cups of coffee, and I hopped online and spent all my Christmas gift money. Then I settled in for some video gaming until my buddy informed me that he was only gonna be available for an hour or so and then he was watching Hockey with his family for the rest of the day.

My wife and I watched a movie, and by 2:00 in the afternoon I was BORED. I went into the 'shack' and saw the old kit sitting on the shelf. I remembered New Years resolution, and I saw six days left on the calendar year. Suddenly, I did a quick inventory of tools and other required materials and I figured let's get at it. At best I might get it started and finish it sometime over the next week or so.
I took over the kitchen table and dragged a small tote full of tools upstairs. I had hoped the lighting at the table would be brighter, and the front windows might also let in some winter sunshine in.

The kit ended up being much smaller then I thought. And I mean smaller on ALL scales. The parts were smaller, the solder points were smaller, and the finished product was smaller. This meant I should have used a better light and a magnifying system of some kind, something I don't currently own.

Lucky for me I had one solder tip with a very very fine tip and I think it saved the day. The kit had no SMT parts, but it was a very tight board with very small thru-hole parts. The toughest might have been the 19 thin wires from the display tube threaded through tiny holes in a circle the size of a dime and spaced so tight together that the solder wanted to flow from one to the next. Squint, blink, breath, squint, blink, breath.

The instructions on the website were GREAT, lots of pictures, lots of warnings in places where other people frequently mess up. Having a tablet right in front of me with the step-by-step guide proved to be a handy tool.

Suddenly I lifted my head and 3+ hours had gone by. The kit was done and the clock was working perfectly. Wow that was fun, and obviously very focusing of my attention. I didn't get bored, I didn't get up and walk about, I was in a kit building trance.

Like I said, that was fun!

Now I have a cool new glowing clock on the desk in the Ham Shack. It's set to UTC, and it fit rights in.