Building the MONOCHRON kit

So, a while ago, I took an interest in the MONOCHRON kit from adafruit, which is a lovely, fully hackable, open source clock kit, powered by an Atmega328 MCU. You can get other fun firmwares for it including fun adaptations of Pong and Space Invaders — or simply code your own, if that tickles your fancy.

However to much of my chargin, it was sold out. I clicked the magical button at the bottom of the page to be notified when it would come back in stock, and then promptly forgot about it. There is something magical about ADHD in that sometimes you get small bouts of excitement as you remember something you were yearning for actually exists. It’s like a mini christmas.

Two weeks ago, an e-mail came into my inbox, telling me they were available again, and I was given a top secret link to order it before that fact went public. I clicked on it and was led to a form where I was guided into parting with my hard earned money, filled it, ordered the new kit (which now comes with an xdaliclock-like firmware, and a lovely FTDI controller into which a mini-b USB cable can be fitted), and then — again — promptly forgot about it.

Until it arrived today, that is. I had another mini christmas as I read “Adafruit Industries” off the sender label as the package arrived. I then went off to assemble the kit, a process I thought would probably be blog-worthy.

Read on for pictures and a retelling of the epic adventure, including the part where I did not set fire to my place nor did I release the magic smoke, against all my expectations. I’m not particularily handy with a soldering iron.

After unboxing the kit, I spread out the components on my desk and made sure everything was there. As usual, Adafruit ensures you have everything ready for a smooth experience. For some reason my kit included an extra battery holder, but I am not going to complain ;)

I warmed up the soldering iron, wet the sponge, prepped the multimeter, and went ahead with it.

Soldering everything went really well, as the documentation adafruit put together was, as usual, more than stellar, guiding even the most insecure nerds like me every step of the way.

The design is awesome enough to include a safety diode that only let current flow one way. This is handy should you be like me and easily mistake your center positive power supplies for center negative ones. Instead of releasing the magic smoke, it will just refuse to work, with no further ill effects. <3

After successfully soldering the last part, the LCD, I powered it on and it promptly lit up, and booted the pre-programmed firmware. That experience alone made the entire ordeal worth it. :)

The only difficult part was coercing everything in the acrylic case, which would require at least three hands to be efficient, but I managed anyways. According to the last picture I took after successfully booting the clock for the first time and the time displayed when I booted it again after putting it into the case, that step alone took nearly 40 minutes. But, no matter, it is beautiful.

A rather important hint for anyone else not feeling very secure about their own soldering abilities: It is incredible how much of a difference using a proper soldering iron and quality solder makes. Seriously, toss that shitty radio shack soldering iron in the trash, and get a proper, temperature adjustable one. If you’re just starting out like I am, I wholeheartedly recommend the Lady Ada’s Electronics Toolkit. Contains everything you’d possibly need, and none of it feels cheap or shitty. Do yourself a favor, and use the right tools.

You will find below a lovely gallery of the clock in various states of being assembled. Now excuse me while I run off to install avrdude and and an avr compiler toolkit on my workstation…

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About Alexandre Gauthier

A freelance network guy, sometimes programmer and overall tinkerer. Said to be a decent writer, in both english and en français. Wears fancy pants with torn t-shirts on sundays. Enjoys writing long, vitriolic diatribes and short stories. Lives inside a unix shell, favorite text editor is vim.
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6 Responses to Building the MONOCHRON kit

  1. Mathieu says:

    That’s friggin’ cool! Kinda thing that gives the whole nerd persona a sense of satisfaction.

    Thanks for sharing =)


  2. Pingback: Building the MONOCHRON kit « adafruit industries blog

  3. Lafier says:

    That’s really cool,makes myself want to have a try!

  4. Waikiki says:

    I want it, I need it! :D Can’t wait to buy it. So much fun ^_^

  5. Ido says:

    Wow this is so awesome, if I had any of these tools I’d get one myself~ Even though I already have two clocks lol.

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