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Nickname: Clive Maxfield     Articles(278)     Visits(198877)     Comments(55)     Votes(204)     RSS
There is so much amazingly cool "stuff" to see and do that I'm amazed I find the time to get any real work done. In my blog I will waffle on about the books I'm reading, the projects I'm building, and the weird and wonderful websites I blunder across. Please Email Me if you see anything you think will "tickle my fancy."
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Posted: 06:57:59 PM, 02/01/2014

Inamorata prognostication engine design (Part 1)


Since the dawn of Internet, people have used it to share interesting and amusing images. I remember years and years ago seeing the following "Man vs. Woman" image when a friend emailed it to me:


It is, of course, obvious what this represents—man is a simple creature, while women are far more sophisticated and complex. (What? You have a different interpretation? In that case, please feel free to share it with the rest of us in the comments below.)

This image kept on reappearing in my "Inbox" over the years, and each time I would grin and then delete it. Until, one day, I thought to myself, "Hmmm, it might be fun to build one of those." When you come to look closely at the original, however, you realise that it's not all that well made. I'm not convinced that it actually does anything per se; instead, I think its creator simply mounded a bunch of knobs and switches and LEDs on a panel—whatever he (I'm assuming it was a he) happened to have to hand—and took this picture.

For myself, I wanted to create something a little "tastier," as it were. I'm thinking of a piece of furniture involving wood and brass and antique analogue meters and switches—something that would not look out of place around the beginning of the 20th century. As an example, my chum Douglas in California is in the process of building a control console for his recreation of Doctor Who's TARDIS, and the following image is of one of his sub-panels:


This goes some way to explain why, for the past few years, I've been collecting "stuff" in the form of antique meters and knobs and suchlike. Of course, it goes without saying that I also want to have lots of LEDs, but I want them all to be of the tri-colour variety and I want them to be tastefully mounted behind mother-of-pearl-like "dots." The bottom line is that I want the finished unit to look like a piece of fine furniture.

Thus it was that I acquired a 1929 wooden radio cabinet as shown in the image below. This is going to house the "Woman" portion of the device. All of the wood will remain as-is; all I'm going to do is remove the woven speaker grill in the upper middle and replace it with a brass plate that contains my switches and meters and whatnot. Also, there will be a second brass plate filling the hole in the wooden panel at the bottom off the cabinet.


In the fullness of time, the "Male" portion of the device will be presented in a smaller antique wooden box that sits on top of this radio cabinet, but that's a project for another day. Over the years, I've experimented with a variety of different ways to monitor the switches and control the LEDs and analogue meters. For example, one setup involved a PICAXE microcontroller being used to control chains of input and output shift registers, which were intended to monitor the inputs and drive the outputs, respectively.

Unfortunately, my early attempts all quickly grew to be painfully complicated and convoluted, so I put my "Man vs. Woman" project on the metaphorical back-burner. In fact, it was just a few days ago, while I was working on my Mind-Boggling Infinity Mirror project, that I thought to myself, "Hang on, these NeoPixels mean that I could control all of the LEDs on my "Man vs. Woman" project using a single digital output pin on an Arduino." And then I thought, "Good Grief, an Arduino Mega has more than enough I/Os to monitor an array of switches, plus it has enough PWM outputs to drive a bunch of analogue meters, plus it has enough analogue inputs to monitor a cornucopia of potentiometers."

I must admit that I was carried away on a wave of excitement. I used Visio to whip up images of my various switches and knobs and meters and suchlike; then I printed them off, cut them out, and spent a happy time arranging them on a poster-board mockup of the front of my 1929 radio cabinet as shown below:


On the left hand side of the upper portion of this image we have a column of antique toggle switches with small white balls on the ends of the switches (these look really cool in real life). To the right of these, we find a column of 16-way rotary switches or potentiometers (I've not decided which to use yet). Then we have some more toggle switches mounted horizontally, with a strange antique switch "thing" in the middle (this is currently on its way to me from Canada, so I don't have the accurate dimensions for it yet). On the right hand side we have three analogue meters.

In the lower portion of the image we have two more meters and four momentary push buttons. Close-up views of some of these elements are illustrated in the image below, which presents a toggle switch on the left, a momentary push-button in the middle, and a rotary switch (or potentiometer) on the right:


Each of the toggle switches and momentary push buttons will have an associated small brass panel along with two NeoPixel LEDs mounted behind translucent dots. Meanwhile, each of the rotary switches will have a circular brass panel with 16 LEDs presented in the form of a NeoPixel Ring.

The portion of the device that is to be mounted in the radio cabinet is going to be called The Pedagogical and Phantasmagorical Inamorata Prognostication Engine (Mark 1). The idea is to try to manipulate the switches and knobs in such a way as to get all of the analogue meters in their "green zones" at the same time. Unfortunately, although one might get tantalizingly close, it has to be admitted that one's odds are a tad on the slim side, not the least that the system doesn't come with any instructions and the functions of the various knobs and switches may (or may not) transmogrify over time.

On the bright side, the Prognostication Engine will include a real-time clock and have knowledge of the current day and time, and one's chances will improve somewhat around the time of a blue moon (the next three blue moons will occur on May 21, 2016; May 18, 2019; and August 22, 2021; which just goes to show that there's always hope).

I'm sure we will be discussing the underlying algorithms controlling this beast in a future column. In the meantime, none of the various elements or functions are currently defined, with the exception of the Modestly Sized Red Button ("Pusheth Noteth") and the largest Emotional Status meter (which will span the entire range of emotion from "Disgruntled" to "Fully Gruntled"). So, if you have any suggestions, now would be a good time to add them into the pot.


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