So I built a funky alarm clock out of an old Nintendo console. Why? Because I was at Value Village with my girlfriend and my sister, and while they were browsing through miles of clothing the only thing of interest I could find were two broken Nintendo units without paddles, and I had to do something with them.
I started by gutting a little alarm clock (based on the Sanyo LM8560 digital alarm clock IC) and the NES unit. I secured all the components inside the console, glued the speaker to the inside of the top where the air vents are, and cut a little faceplate to mount the LED display in out of black plastic (from a VHS case). I wired the Player 1 controller port to wires on the clock that would allow me to set the clock from the outside with a rewired paddle. I also wired the Reset button to the snooze input on the clock's main IC. I wired the Power button to the output for the alarm indicator, and would have wired it directly to the Alarm On input on the IC as well, but there were two problems with that: one, the Power button is a SPST switch, and two, a quick check on the IC's data sheet showed that the Alarm On input is actually an Alarm Off input.
Strapped for components, I did the ultimate kludge job and the crown jewel of this hack: I soldered the prongs of a 24V DC adapter directly to the mains, and used it (switched by the Power button) to drive a 24V DC relay controlling the Alarm Off input as well as the Power LED and the alarm indicator in parallel. Yep. Needless to say, as soon as I finished this part, the box was screwed shut never to be opened again.
Rewiring the paddle was a cinch. I just desoldered the communication chip, scratched a few traces to break some unwanted connections, and soldered the conductor leads to be switched by the appropriate buttons. One complication: there aren't enough conductors in a standard NES paddle to actually use all the functionality; pushing A and B alone will set the hours and minutes on the time, and holding either Start or Select will switch to setting the alarm (originally I wanted Start and Select for setting time and alarm respectively). I was also going to have the D-pad as an alternate snooze, but oh well.
Other nifty features include the ability to shut the flap and cover up the potentially annoying red glow of the LED display (without cutting off access to the alarm light or the all-important snooze), and the standard 3-pin shrouded power connector (like a computer's power supply) that in my opinion every electrical device should have.
In case you think this is some kind of hoax, here's a little demonstration of how I get up in the morning. Yes, I really do use two stacked milk crates as a nightstand.
For the sharp-witted among you who noticed that the clock goes from 11:41 to 11:43 in a 52 second video, just be glad I didn't make you wait.
This hack was slated to appear in a Popular Mechanics story in the February 2005 issue, but they apparently decided that an article about cheap laptops was more interesting. Oh well. I've since rebuilt the clock completely, and updated this page to reflect the minor changes to the design.
About a year later, someone threw this up on digg, and it was the top story on the front page for a while. Groovy! I'm glad I brightened your day.
Probably as a result of that story, the clock was also featured on the Make Magazine Blog, Hacked Gadgets, 4 Color Rebellion, Joystiq, Kotaku, Boing Boing, Ars Technica's Opposable Thumbs, and DIY Mods.
It was also a User Friendly Link of the Day on February 20 2006! So cool. I met Illiad at the first two Penguicons, and I've been reading his strip for almost as long as it's been impairing productivity.
Some time later, I did an interview for La Presse, a major Quebec publication, to be included in an article about retro hackish type stuff. The article ran on May 24, 2006; check out the online version if you read French.
Quite a few people seem put off by the fact that I call the controller gamepad thingies that came with NES paddles on this page. For clarification, I do call them paddles in real life, and I continue to use the term paddle for every controller gamepad thingie that has yet come out (e.g. PlayStation Paddle, XBOX Paddle, etc.).
I realize that under the strict Sacred Rules of Orthodox Gaming Vocabulary, the term only truly applies to those potentiometer-in-a-box jog wheels for Pong and Breakout, such as those that came with early Atari and Commodore systems. It's not that I don't know, it's that I don't care. If it goes in your hand, has buttons on it, and is used to play a game, I will call it a paddle. Unless it's a joystick or a mouse. :)
Last modified Monday, November 10, 2008 (21:03 UTC)