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0t--Dalibor Farny's NASA Nixie instrument


Oct 8, 2005
western washington state
Dalibor Farny is premier builder/restorer of Nixie apparatus
he recently completed bespoke build of measuring instrument for NASA
NASA specd Nixie display--like one used 50 years prior

Farny instrument incorporates analog meter i have not previously encountered--displaying uncertainty

Calibration display for NASA


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Oct 14, 2010
Oregon, USA
Nixie tubes were probably the first electronic digital display. (There were mechanical clocks with digits as opposed to analog hands a long time ago.) However, in this application, they are absolutely not a relevant aspect of the instrument's function, and these Nixie tubes could have been replaced with LED digital displays with longer life, much higher reliability, and much lower power consumption.

I do understand the "mil-spec" or "aviation certification" process requirement that says "This is the only authorized way to do it. So any repairs must do it the same way." But it seems unusually needless in this case.

The exception would be if this instrument is primarily intended to be a museum piece, rather than a piece of lab equipment. In that case, a faithful restoration is indeed appropriate.

From the labels, this device is obviously displaying a duration or time interval of some kind, with a range up to 1000 days and a precision of 1/10,000ths of a second. The "uncertainty" is labeled in microseconds with a log scale, and presumably is showing the current expected accuracy of the measurement (or conversion) process.
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Greg Menke

Feb 22, 2004
Baltimore, MD, USA
Design looks like an old-school Mission Elapsed Time display. No need for that kind of thing to measure IRIG, but maybe I could see it useful for the camera testing mentioned if the nixie segments illuminate in some more suitable way than a LED. OTOH I wonder how much that really matters.

IRIG is a reasonably convenient method to distribute time to a microsecond, back in the day used to propagate it over a wide geographical area. Nowadays its more a legacy thing, derived from GPS. It could be the uncertainty accumulates if the device freewheels, or perhaps indicates how well the device is synchronizing- the IRIG signal facilitates syncing down to microseconds. I wonder why bother with those small meters- even if the nixie tubes are important why not just put led digits in place of the meters so the exact values are known. And a massively awkward footprint too- should fit in a rack if its going to play in a real lab.

I keep thinking whoever spec'ed it mostly is fixated on vintage looks.
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Hot Rolled
Jan 16, 2007
Annapolis, Maryland
Super cool. I have an old DRO that uses some other type of filament based display - similar to a nixie, but not, as far as I can tell. Its a very old accurite if I recall correctly.

Chip Chester

Dec 13, 2007
Central Ohio USA
Balancing the propagation delay of integrated circuits, software latency, and Nixie tube responsiveness is a fairly unusual set of constraints. Kudos.

Plus, Dalibor Farney will surely be a character name in the next Wes Anderson film.