Original design by Award-Winning designer, artist, engineer Raymond Weisling.
The Four Letter Word is a contemporary reconstruction of an electronic Nixie Tube sculpture that was created by Raymond Weisling in 1973. The original model was based on very elementary digital electronic circuits. Why? Because 1973 was a few years before the dawn of the modern personal computer era and such technology was simply unavailable or was far too expensive for an application like this. As it was, it cost $195---that is about $780 in today's dollar. "Darn dear, that cost." Today it costs a fraction of that. Thank you Silicon Valley.
The original model appeared in Playboy magazine in the June 1973 issue. A well-known Broadway lyricist-composer ordered almost a dozen of them to give away as gifts in 1973-74, and ordered some more in 2003. A starving student wanted one so badly but couldn't afford it in 1973; now an engineer, in 2003 he finally got his wish. Is it that special? Apparently so.
A discovery of thousands of these Nixie tubes in a warehouse just a few years ago prompted the completion of a revised version that was begun in 1994. That 1994 version was to have only been for a limited number, based on a small stock of extra parts from 1974. However, the current availability of these vintage (ca. 1968-1972 production) Burroughs B-7971 Nixie tubes at reasonable prices allows this unique piece to be produced again.
The remarkable thing is that these tubes seem to last forever. A few people who built things with these in 1970-75 have reported to us that their creations are still working. The manufacturer listed a lifetime of 50 000 hours minimum, at the full intensity. This design operates the nixie tubes a bit under full ratings so that it is expected that the tubes will last for years and years. They have to last---nobody makes them anymore.
The reconstructed version incorporates vastly improved criteria for generating interesting words, with considerable attention given to controlling the indeterminate (or random) nature of the display sequences. Words can be displayed one after another, or starting blank with letters or parts of letters added until the whole word is revealed -- a kind of "hangman" type word game. The unit also can display the time, so it is a clock as well.
Words are created by a statistical method based on analysis of several thousand English four-letter words. Using this method many letter combinations that statistically could be real words---but aren't---are generated, such as DILE, VAKE, RULL, and THOD. These are interesting because you can imagine possible meanings for them. Many real words are also created by this process. But the process has limitations, so to balance this method there is a Word Bank of over 2400 real words and common abbreviations that also supplies words for display. It even has a four-level obscenity control, spanning the range from full censoring of certain vulgar words to adding them every few minutes---something for all tastes. After all, the English four-letter word is famous for being abrupt, harsh, and even obscene, but this device proves that these words are only a small part of this rich language that is sweeping the world.
Raymond Weisling, who designed versions in 1973, 1994 and 2002, listened to suggestions from previous owners of the Four Letter Word, and developed the current model with these features:
Optional Nixie Tube Mounting on the solder or component side of board, to optimize case designs. Unique to Four Letter Word and GeekKlok.
New High-Priority clock mode with 16 user-selectable ratios of time and word duration.
Clock shows seconds on underline segment, simulating a left-to-right progress bar.
12- or 24-hour clock modes available.
Original 1973 version Four Letter Word box emulation mode.Step back in time.
User setting to suppress the Word Bank so only rule-generated words appear.
NEW: User setting to only have Word Bank words appear.
Speed adjustment option now available.
Optional Serial RS232 Interface for overriding word display.
RS232 interface may be easily ganged to multiple units for longer messages.
Transformerless switchmode power supply for high voltage---simplifies power supply requirements
Use of original B-7971 nixie sockets or individual socket pins from AMP/Tyco or Mill-Max.
High-quality, professional, double-sided printed circuit board with plated-through holes, on FR4 laminate.
Here is a documentation of the clock