Binary Clock

December 07, 2012 By: erik Category: Geeky, Ireland, Marketing, Photos, Programming, Reviews 137 views

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Binary ClockLast Christmas, after seeing me express some coveting interest in a geeky product on the internet, my parents gave me a binary clock. Part of what I love about it is that it reminds me of the very first circuit (with a chip) that I made in my high school electronics class. We had a breadboard – that’s a board with lots of holes to push wires into to connect them, not something to serve a cheese platter on – and a timer chip, a counter chip, a battery, some LEDs, and some wires to connect them. Sure enough, they started blinking and counting in binary! It’s sort of the Hello World of computer engineering.

Of course when I plugged in my binary clock like a child starting to play with his toy on Christmas morning, the lights didn’t come on. And then I started to smell burning electronics. Uh oh! I immediately unplugged it and examined the power adaptor. It said it needed 120 V, 60 Hz AC, in other words, United States power. It seemed very odd to me that it would not accept the 230 V, 50 Hz of Spain, since almost all electronics now can handle both.

I did some research and I discovered that the makers of the clock had decided to save some effort and did not include an actual clock chip, but rather used the alternating current from the 60 Hz power supply to tell time. So even if the power adaptor wasn’t fried and I could adapt the voltage, the clock would run slow in Spain.

It turns out the clock does have a 50 Hz mode, but I was pretty sure that I’d fried my power adaptor. Luckily, the manufacturer of my clock, Anelace Inc., sells European adaptors for their clocks. I tried to order one originally from getDigital, the European version of ThinkGeek (ThinkGeek won’t ship to Spain! ARGH!!!), but they were very unhelpful. Then I contacted Anelace Inc. directly and they were more than happy to ship one to me. As the next Christmas approaches, I finally have my binary clock working.

Binary Clock

It fits right between my two shelves, so I didn’t even have to mount it to the wall! This photo was taken at 23:09:51, obviously.

So what good is a binary clock and how do you read one?

If I’m totally honest, there are really two primary reasons to own one.

  1. It looks cool and important with its blinking lights.
  2. Feeling nerdy superior to other people who don’t know what it is or can’t read it.

One of my favorite one-liner t-shirts they have at ThinkGeek reads:

There 10 kinds of people in the world: those who can read binary, and those who can’t.

I wanted to show you, my readers, how neat it looked and also teach you how to read one, so I whipped up some simple – really, binary is the simplest thing you can do in computer programming – javascript magic to show you. Here’s my clock, displaying your local time:

16
8
4
2
1
32
16
8
4
2
1
32
16
8
4
2
1

The top row is the hour and the middle row is the minutes. Obviously the bottom row is the seconds, but they mainly serve to make the clock look cool and blinky. Just like each column in a base-ten number represents a power of ten (one, ten, hundred, etc.), each column in a binary number represents a power of two (one, two, four, eight, etc.). So for each column, if the light is on, you add that power of two, and the sum is the value represented by that row. To make it easier for you, I’ve specified the powers of two in each “light” if you move your mouse over the clock. Since being Europeanized (though not enough to use an “s” in that word), I much prefer the Centigrade temperature scale and the 24-hour clock, so I’ve got my binary clock in 24-hour mode. At midnight, all the lights are off. Can you read the time?

In the end it’s mainly a cool office decoration, but I like it very much. If you want one, there’s a list of retailers here.

SMBC - 2012 Nov 27

 
  • JoshAGrady

    For extra geek-cred yoou really should have the old-school pseudo-German “blinkenlights” notice that used to be standard in computer labs everywhere (except, perhaps, Germany where they probably wouldn’t get the joke).

    As a quick and dirty way of teaching people binary, I usually use the “how high can you count just using your fingers?” technique. The novelty of being able to count 1014 numbers higher than decimal conventional seems to keep people intrigued enough that their brains stay engaged long enough to get their minds around the concept of a different base system.

    • http://erikras.com/ Erik R.

      Heh. I’d never heard of blinkenlights, but I like it.

      While we’re being geeky, at the risk of you showing me the binary number 4 on your fingers, I must point out that it’s only 1013 higher. :-)

      • JoshAGrady

        Never heard of blinkenlights!? What the heck are they teaching kids these days? That said, you must have spent the time learning how to count. You’re absolutely right, 1013 it is. I stand corrected.