Although many people enjoyed reading the “Harry Potter” series, Trey Bagley III took his passion for the books a step further. The senior—who is majoring in computer science with a visual and media studies minor—has recently made national headlines by creating a replica of the Weasley clock, a timepiece owned by the Weasley family throughout the series that identifies the location of each family member. The Chronicle’s Rob Palmisano spoke with Bagley III about the inspiration behind his project and his future plans for the clock.
The Chronicle: How did you first get the idea for the clock?
Trey Bagley III: It was through the innovation co-lab on campus. They held a class on how to use the microcontroller chip I used—the photon chip—and the class was designed so the professor would show you some things you could do with [the chip]. So, we could send texts to [the chip] to connect to Wi-Fi, and [the chip] would change the color of one light it was wired up to. I started to wonder what else I could get it to control, and what other information I could send in, or what other kinds of parameters I could set up.
TC: Were there any influences that led you to choose to construct a Weasley clock?
TB: I can’t really find where I got the idea of the Weasley clock from. The first record of it is me asking my sisters if they would opt-in to the system if I were to build it, because I needed them all to be on board before I went ahead and made the thing, which took some persuading. I then looked at a bunch of projects online that similarly used this photon board. This one guy used a text-based clock. It was this big, square face with a bunch of letters on it, and [the clock] would light up the ones that spelled out whatever the time was. I think I got the idea at some point to use an LED string, and a clock got crossed in there.
TC: Can you walk me through the basic process of constructing the clock?
TB: Everything really hung in the balance until I could get the right clock body. I searched around on eBay trying to just find a broken, cool-looking clock, and you’d be surprised how there aren’t that many cheap, broken clocks for sale online. Then, after Thanksgiving I was driving back to Durham and I stopped in this roadside antique store. It was a massive place—I nearly got lost in it—with just incredible amounts of clutter and twisting turns, and in this back corner, I found this unpriced clock and it was falling apart, its pendulum was lying off to the side, so I haggled down for that.
And once I had [the clock], I felt [the idea] was sealed, and I couldn’t go back on it now. So from there, I did all of the measurements I needed, and started figuring out how I could fit all of the electronics—including the display features—inside this clock frame. The general system is that this photon-board chip microcontroller is directly wired up to a big string of lights, and I can turn any one of the 51 lights on or off, or change any of their colors, and that’s really all of the electronics inside the clock. It’s just this board and a string of lights, and they’re connected. The rest is all just a nice body for it—the laser-edged wood, some acrylic with lettering—and the lights are all just stuck into a styrofoam board so they stay in place. Then, [the clock] plugs into a wall for power.
TC: Has anyone approached you yet about the clock, and do you have any plans for it moving forward?
TB: Yes. The reason this took off originally was because I posted about it in a sub-community on Reddit and I thought [the clock] would amuse them. So back in December, I posted a little album of [the clock] there, going through the process, showing the final product, and [the idea] just kind of blew up overnight. I had a bunch of messages saying, “Oh, I would pay $300, $800, $1,000 for this clock!” Some guy approached me saying, “Hey, I have this manufacturing company, do you want to go into business over this and mass-produce these?”
So most people seemed to value the work and wished they had one of their own, but really what I liked was people who messaged me saying things like, “Hey, I want to build my own iteration of this, do you have any tips, or a full set of instructions that I could use?” So I made the code public; the setup was obviously very specific to me, between the precise clock body I was working with and my family of six and their initials, but I’m just trying to encourage other people to build their own, unique iterations. People have mentioned brilliant modifications they want to incorporate: a little sound module so that [the clock] can speak or chime whenever a light is about to change or an infrared wand that could control the clock through gestures. So it was really exciting to see how this could inspire people to make their own, unique takes on this project.
TC: [“Harry Potter” series author] J.K. Rowling is currently finalizing the eighth installment to the series, but what was your favorite of the first seven books?
TB: I remember the fourth one being really exciting, down to the cover art. I remember as a kid just looking at all these characters and creatures on the front, and [the book] had these crazy challenges in the Triwizard tournament, all these mythological monsters, and lots of dense stuff that didn’t even make it into the movie. It’s also where the series sort of turned on its heel and became really dark, so it was like a very dramatic thing to read as a child, and it was kind of a turning point of that whole series.