Before we plunge headfirst into the fray with gusto and abandon (I hope you’re wearing appropriate attire), I thought I’d show the current state of play with regard to my Phrankly Phenomenal, Pedagogical and Phantasmagorical, Inamorata Prognostication Engine (I recently got a rather resplendent photo of the little scamp, so I’m showing it off whenever I can).

The Prognostication Engine (Click image to see a larger version — Image source: Max Maxfield)

As a rapid reminder, the body of the beast is housed in a sumptuous wooden radio cabinet dating from 1929. Since this cabinet wasn’t sufficient to house all of the engine’s awesomeness, my chum – Master Carpenter Bob – hand-crafted an additional upper portion for me, including the hand-carved rosettes. Bob did such an amazing job that you can’t tell the two portions of the cabinet didn’t start out mated in this way.

The control panels are festooned with toggle switches, pushbutton switches, knife switches, knobs, and analog meters. The engine is purported to be powered by the LED-illuminated furnace in the upper chamber, thereby explaining the presence of the vintage copper and brass fire extinguisher mounted on the right-hand side of the main cabinet.

Each of the toggle switches and pushbuttons is accompanied by two tricolor LEDs. Meanwhile, each of the knobs (which are attached to motorized potentiometers) is complemented by a ring of 16 tricolor LEDs.

I’m dreadfully busy at the moment, so I only get to work on the beast for a few moments at a time here and there (sad face). One of the things I’m currently engaged on is the various lighting effects for the LEDs on the switches, pushbuttons, and knobs.

This led me to think about what I would do if I had only a single unicolor LED associated with each switch (just saying the words “single unicolor LED” brings a little tear to my eye).

As a result of my cogitations and ruminations (fortunately, I was wearing lose clothing), I started to write a mini-series of articles about LED effects for my monthly column in Practical Electronics, which is the UK’s premier electronics-computing-maker-hobbyist magazine. The first of these columns appeared in the March 2020 issue, which — paradoxically — hit the streets at the beginning of February (something to do with the perceived “shelf-life” of magazines).

This initial column introduced some of the effects we could implement using a single unicolor LED with our toggle switch. As you may recall from my blog Hurray for the Cool Beans YouTube Channel, I created this video showing the toggle switch and single unicolor LED (sob sob) in action.

Well, I just sent my second column off to the publisher. In addition to a bunch of other stuff (I’m easily distracted and I tend to wander off in multiple directions), this column discusses some of the effects we could implement using two (count them, two) unicolor LEDs (I can hear you gasp in astonishment at the thought). To accompany this new column, I just created this video showing the toggle switch and the two unicolor LEDs in action (“Ooh” and “Ahh,” I can hear you cry).


I know this may not seem to be too earth-shattering thus far, but writing these columns is certainly making me think about all sorts of things. Also, it’s prompting people to email me with thoughts and ideas. For example, my chum Tom Burke told me that when he was a junior engineer, he jokingly proposed that they should add LEDs to their products to indicate when they were turned off, never dreaming this would one day become the de facto standard.

Similarly, my friend Steve Leibson reminded me that that pinball machines have something called the “attraction mode,” in which an unoccupied game sings a siren song to passing punters using flashing lights and inviting sounds. I’m definitely going to endow the beast with this mode. What I’m thinking is that, if no one operates it for some period of time, it will enter a “snoozing mode” in which all of the LEDs dim down and become somewhat subdued. Periodically, however, the machine will enter an “attraction mode” where it springs to life to remind you that it’s there and invites you to come over to play.

In the fullness of time, the beast will be equipped with proximity detectors so it knows if someone is approaching or passing by. I’m also planning on adding artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities, including facial detection (plus age, gender, and emotion recognition) and embedded speech (recognition and generation), but all of these will be tales for future columns.

In my next column for Practical Electronics we’ll be looking at bicolor LEDs, and — eventually — tricolor devices, at which point our creative juices will really start to flow. Until then, as always, I really appreciate your comments, questions, and suggestions.