In previous columns I may have mentioned some of my on-going hobby projects in passing (in all honesty, the real trick is to get me to stop talking about them LOL). The thing is that these projects will actually prove relevant to future postings, so I thought it might be useful to bring us all up to date with the current state of play.
Let's start with my Infinity Mirror , which — as you can see in this video is one of the few projects I've actually managed to carry over the finish line.
I described the construction of this little rascal in a three-part mini-series: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. In fact, it was while working on this little scamp that I suddenly realized that I now had the necessary technology at my fingertips to implement my Pedagogical and Phantasmagorical Inamorata Prognostication Engine (Pedagogical = Educational; Phantasmagorical = It's pretty darned fantastic; Inamorata = The woman with whom one is in love; Prognostication = Predicting the future; and Engine = Machine).
Inamorata Prognostication Engine
This little beauty started off yonks ago when I saw that now-classic “Man vs. Woman” image bouncing around the Internet. At some stage I thought “I'd like to build one of those,” but the original one was a bit “rough around the edges” when you come to look at it closely — by comparison, I wanted to create something that would make you say “Ooh!” and “Ah!”
So I started pottering around in the background. Over time I acquired some really nice antique knobs and switches and analog meters. I also picked up a very tasty wooden radio cabinet circa 1929. However, implementing the control system proved to be a tad tricky. The thing was that I wanted to use at least 120 tri-colored LEDs, and controlling these little ragamuffins the traditional way required a lot of shift registers. I ended up spending a lot of time creating prototypes that grew ever-more complex, like the one discussed in my Awesome Art of Bodacious Breadboards blog as shown below.
Unfortunately, all of my early prototypes grew to be unwieldy and ended up being set to one side for future consideration; i.e., to gather dust in the dark corners of The Pleasure Dome (my office).
Then, as I mentioned above, while working on my Infinity Mirror , I suddenly realized that it would be possible to control all 120 tri-colored LEDs using a single pin on an Arduino MCU. Similarly, I could control all of my antique analog meters using the Arduino's PWM (pulse-width modulated) outputs.
Thus it was that I leapt back into the fray with gusto and abandon. The following image shows the two brass front panels in my prototype jig, which allows me easy access to work on the wiring harness and suchlike.
Thus far I've written three main articles on the Inamorata Prognostication Engine : Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. There's also this column on the associated Phrankly Phenomenal Ultra-Macho Prognostication Engine .
Now I come to look back on this, I realize that each on my projects tends to spawn a variety of ancillary tasks and associated columns. In the case of my Prognostication Engines , for example, some of the additional columns were as follows:
- Video: Vacuum Tubes Lit With Tri-Colored LEDs
- A Universal Screw-Block Proto-Shield System for Arduino
- Can You Solve This Mind-Bending Conundrum?
- Where Are the Ceramic Vacuum Tube Holders of Yesteryear?
- Aging Brass: Cow Poop vs. Horse Doo-Doo
- The Moon is a Harsh Mistress & Malt Vinegar is a Harsh Corrosive
- Are Today’s Designs Bound by the Constraints of Yesteryear?
In fact, there are host of additional columns related to the use of antique analog meters, but these are common to multiple projects, so we'll gather them together into their own special collection as presented later in this column.
Another ongoing project is my Bodacious Acoustic Diagnostic Astoundingly Superior Spectromatic (BADASS) Display . The main discussions for this were presented in five columns: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.
Unlike my Prognostication Engines , which boast real brass panels and antique wooden cabinets, I wanted my BADASS Display to be constructed from affordable, everyday materials that anyone could easily lay their hands on.
As you can see above, the main cabinet is constructed from plywood that has been stained to make it look old. Meanwhile, the front panel is formed from hardboard that's painted to look like brass. I also added brass acorn nuts to add to the overall effect, and each LED has an associated brass washer and plastic Fresnel lens.
Of course, this project also spawned a number of ancillary columns. Some of the more general ones were as follows:
- Should the Golden Ratio Be Used in Industrial Design?
- Pointers, Functions, Pointers to Functions, Eeek!
- Linking Two MCUs: I2C, SPI, or a Home-Grown Interface/Protocol?
- Modifying an Arduino Mega and chipKIT Max32 for 5V Operation
A large part of this project was taking a stereo audio stream and separating out the frequency data for display, all of which resulted in the following columns:
- Building a Low-Cost Frequency/Function Generator
- Determining the Signal Characteristics of the iPad/iPod/iPhone Headphone Output
- MSGEQ7-Based DIY Audio Spectrum Analyzer for BADASS Display
- MSGEQ7-Based DIY Audio Spectrum Analyzer: Construction
- MSGEQ7-Based DIY Audio Spectrum Analyzer: Testing
- MSGEQ7-Based DIY Audio Spectrum Analyzer: Software & Timing
Now, I don't know about you, but a lot of my projects evolve over time, and some of this evolution is sparked when I have a “D'oh!” moment. This explains the most recent blog in the BADASS Display saga: Max's BADASS Display: A Comedy of Errors.
With the exception of my Infinity Mirror , all of the projects above are on-going, although — if the truth be told — the BADASS Display requires only about one more weekend for completion. The problem is that I'm easily distracted (“Ooh, Shiny!”), and I got side-tracked by the thought of creating a Vetinari Clock based on antique analog meters.
Above we see the prototype jig, which is made out of MDF; the final cabinet will be made out of ebony (or ebonized pear wood) while the front panel will be formed using a wood veneer that has an aluminum look-and-feel. Also, there's a ring of tri-colored LEDs mounted underneath the antique vacuum tube on top, and I'm currently having a lot of fun experimenting with different lighting effects (this will be the topic of a new column, which I hope to post in a couple of days).
As an aside, and as was explained in the first article in this series — Creating a Vetinari Clock Using Antique Analog Meters — this clock is based on one found in the office of Lord Havelock Vetinari from Terry Pratchett's Discworld book series. Lord Vetinari, the scary dictator of the city-state of Ankh-Morpork, has a strange clock in his waiting room. While this timepiece does keep accurate time overall, it sometimes ticks and tocks out of sync: “tick, tock, tick, tock… tick-tock-tick… tock…” In fact, it occasionally misses a tick or tock altogether. But we digress…
As usual, this project has spawned a slew of columns, some of which are as follows:
- Vetinari Clock: Decisions, Decisions, Decisions…
- Vetinari Clock: Additional Possibilities
- Vetinari Clock: It's Crunch Time for Locking Down the Final Layout
- Vetinari Clock: Ask Not For Whom the Bell Tinkles
- Mega-Cool Sound Effects Shield for Arduino
- Sound Effects Shield for Arduino: The Specification
The most recent column in this series is Feast Your Orbs on My Vetinari Clock Prototype, but I don’t think it will be giving the game away if I tell you that you can expect to see some more columns discussing the design of the electronics for this clock in the not-so-distant future.
Antique analog meters
One of the things a really like using in my projects is antique analog meters because they just look so cool. You can find these little beauties for just a few dollars apiece at Hamfests and electronic flea markets, but there are some tricks involved in using them. Yes, you guessed it, I have penned the occasional article about this as follows:
- Creating New Faceplates for Antique Analog Meters
- Oh, No! My Antique Analog Meter Has Twitched Its Last
- Analog Meter Faceplate Solution for Vetinari Clock
- The Solution to Your Analog Meter Woes
- Priceless Nuggets of Knowledge Re Antique Analog Meters
- Analog Faceplate Design Decisions: Art or Science?
- Yummy Scrummy Antique Analog Meter Faceplates
Wowsers! It's only when I see all of these columns gathered together like this that I realize how much time I spend doing this sort of thing, but it's better than being bored (LOL). I also have a few “back-burner” projects, like my Animatronic Robot Eyes, but I think we'll leave those for another day.
What about you? Do you have any interesting projects currently on the go? Or, if you are completely not like me, do you have any interesting projects that you've actually finished (LOL)? If so, please share some details in the comments below.
Join over 2,000 technical professionals and embedded systems hardware, software, and firmware developers at ESC Boston May 6-7, 2015, and learn about the latest techniques and tips for reducing time, cost, and complexity in the development process.
Passes for the ESC Boston 2015 Technical Conference are available at the conference's official site, with discounted advance pricing until May 1, 2015. Make sure to follow updates about ESC Boston's talks, programs, and announcements via the Destination ESC blog on Embedded.com and social media accounts Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+.
The Embedded Systems Conference, EE Times, and Embedded.com areowned by UBM Canon.