[ntp:questions] Building/cannabalizing a WWVB radioclock...
pete+usenet at heypete.com
Fri Aug 3 08:25:37 UTC 2007
First off, I apologize for the length of this post.
This evening, I was perusing
http://www.buzzard.me.uk/jonathan/radioclock.html as I'm considering
building a WWVB reference clock as GPS isn't viable here to due
environmental conditions (buildings) and CDMA receivers being too
I considered the cost of purchasing the various items needed on that
list and the various electronic work needed. Me, being lazy, thought
that there must be something cheaper, easier, and more practical.
Thus, I present my RadioShack Radio Controlled Clock With Thermometer
(Cat. No. 63-973). I partially disassembled it, and the interior can be
seen in picture . The ferrite core antenna is in the lower right, and
is connected to the small green circuit board in the top right. Four
wires then run to the main circuit board and then connect to the
Fortunately, the nice folks at the clock factory in China have labeled
all their connection points. There are four solder spots: VCC, PON,
WWVB, and GND.
GND is obviously ground, and WWVB is (I presume) the modulated clock
signal. Does anyone know what VCC or PON are? I'm not familiar with the
terms, but I would imagine they had something to do with power (the
whole clock runs on 3V DC provided by two AA batteries in series).
My intuition tells me that the VCC wire in my clock corresponds to the
VSS wire in the website's schematic, and that PON is also ground. It
also tells me that my WWVB wire corresponds to the MSF wire in the
schematic. Does this sound reasonable?
My intentions are as follows:
- Remove the antenna, small board, and wires relating to the radio
receiver from the clock housing.
- Connect the wiring to a serial connector.
- Connect the serial connector to the computer.
- Use the software at the above site to allow the clock to communicate
with NTP via the shared memory reference clock driver.
As always, destruction is easier than construction. Removing the stuff
from the clock housing is the work of a few minutes and a pair of
scissors. The only thing I'm worried about is remembering which wire is
which (another reason why I took the pictures).
I have a few questions (and no doubt will have more), so please bear
1. Does the radio receiver draw power from the batteries, or is there
any current provided by the antenna? There doesn't seem to be any power
converting apparatus on the circuit board, so if power is provided by
the batteries, it would seem to be 3V. Is this common for WWVB radio
2. The schematics say that it is necessary to connect the VSS wire to
the DTR (pin 4) of the serial cable for power. What voltage does the
port supply? Would it cause any problems to use this voltage with the
3. If the serial line voltage would be excessive, I could easily supply
power from a set of batteries (probably a pair of D cells for long life)
or a 3V AC-to-DC adaptor. If this is necessary, how would go about
modifying the schematics for this?
4. The website and schematics show various capacitors, resistors, and
other such components wired in with the circuits. I presume that the
necessary components are already wired into my circuits by RadioShack
and that the addition of these components would not be necessary. Can
anyone confirm (or speculate, if you have anything more than a wild-ass
guess) if this is the case? The green box on my circuit says the
I'm not sure of that's LO (ell-oh) or L0 (ell-zero).
The two black cylinders (capacitors?) both say:
Do these markings mean anything to anyone?
5. When working as a wall clock, the clock periodically syncs the time
with the WWVB signal. I would imagine that the clock circuitry is what
initiates the sync -- there doesn't appear to be any switching mechanism
to turn on and off the radio receiver, so I presume the radio is
receiving continuously. Obviously, for use as a reference clock, the
radio would need to be receiving continuously and I presume the radio
does run receive on a continuous basis and the clock only listens to the
clock at the periodic times. Does this sound reasonable?
6. Assuming I can successfully make a working reference clock in this
manner and fudge it to take into account transmission distances,
processing by the receiver circuitry, and OS handling of interrupts, how
accurate a time signal could one reasonably expect to get? I can get +/-
10ms accuracy from internet time servers, and would hope to get ~1ms
accuracy from a radio clock. This would be suitably accurate for my
purposes, and hopefully accurate enough for internet users of my time
I realize that WWVB is not quite as precise as GPS, but according to
NIST WWVB can provide an uncertainty of less than 100 microseconds. I
would be satisfied to get within 1ms, as it'd be a 10x improvement over
my current setup, and I wouldn't have to pester internet time servers
anymore. Tucson is 1006km from Boulder, so according to my back of the
envelope calculations, there's about a 3.353ms delay for the radio
signals to travel this distance. Does this math seem right? Assuming I
can get consistent results from the radio, I can fudge it relative to
better time standards (the local university has an NTP server with PPS
input from a Trimble Palisade GPS receiver, so if I lug it over to
campus I can sync it with almost no network delay) to get it more
precise if necessary.
Anyway, thanks in advance for all the answers folks. These last few
weeks have been a huge learning experience for me -- I've tinkered a bit
with ntpd over the years, but nothing really serious. In the last
several weeks I've managed to successfully get a Linux system up and
running in a real (not virtual) machine, learned more than I ever
thought possible about precision timekeeping (and there's still tons
left to learn), and now have a disassembled radio-controlled clock on my
desk and am hoping to turn it into a reference clock. That's a lot to do
in a few weeks. Thanks again!
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