Digital sundials

I like sundials. There’s something primal about how they turn time back into a personal relationship between you and the sun. Everything has been so thoroughly digitized and stylized these days, it’s easy to forget where our basic notions of time come from. So it is both cool and oddly disturbing to see that someone has built a digital sundial. There are no moving parts or electricity. Just set it up and off you go.

The basic idea is straightforward: as the sun moves through the sky, its rays form a slightly different angle with the ground minute by minute. Imagine standing at the bottom of a deep well and seeing the sun pass overhead and then disappear within a few minutes. You can think of a tiny narrow channel carved into a plate of metal as something like a well, but it is also like a pixel that will only light up at a certain time of day. Now it’s a simple step to build a clock image out of an array of well-tuned sunlight pixels. Read the patent to see how it works in detail, if you like. Also, don’t miss the pretty pictures.

You know, it is close to Christmas.