It's not uncommon for me to see engineer friends of mine working on these sorts of projects and to find myself envying the apparent complexity of such projects - nothing (kernel hacks, ATMEGA projects, large C++ (shudder) systems, crypto/security work, ...) feels as though it requires the same level of knowledge/expertise as working on even relatively simple engineer's projects like this.
Might this just be a standard insider's view of one's own field?
To put it in context, Alec (M0TEI) is a student of engineering at Cambridge and a friend.
Case in point; I've been helping a coworker with software only background (I started out as an EE) with a very simple circuit that he could not get to work. As I explained how to debug it, I began to realize that there was a a lot of required background knowledge I simply took for granted and that most hobbyists didn't have. And that made explaining what to do very difficult.
And my day job is a large C++ system. Trust me, this kind of stuff is easier and more relaxing ;-)
The "combination" of the two then yields reverse engineering chips. See SRLabs presentation on low cost chip microprobing for some of the challenges:
Say, finding and replacing some part in an aviation radio is a lot more fun, than spending time annotating insides of some executable.
The indicator light styles are kinds I have seen around in years on military a/c. That doesn't really mean much, though. Slightly interesting, nonetheless.
You can easily build an atomic clock once you have such a frequency standard. The confusion probably stems from the electronics term 'clock' for square wave used to clock other digital circuitry but the general public would definitely misinterpret the term atomic clock to mean something different.
That said, very nice find and very nice hack!