Thursday, March 21, 2013

MAME: At long last, a cabinet update

So I ended up doing a bunch of work on the arcade cabinet last summer, and have *finally* gotten around to writing a post and uploading the photos. First thing was the painting. I went with a solid black overall, combined primer and paint.

Next up were the speakers. I took a set of old Altec Lansing desktop speakers I had. I popped the grilles off, taped over the Altec symbol and spray-painted the grilles and frames black. I mounted the actual speakers on the inside of the cutouts, screwing them into the MDF. The frames and grilles mounted on the outside, giving a nice finished look to the speaker arrangement. The main speaker/subwoofer sits in the bottom of the cabinet.

Next up was the marquee. I used Richard Kirk's excellent MAME marquee and got it printed at Staples. They were able to print it exactly the size I wanted and laminate it, all for about $7. Here it is installed. Not the best picture, as I was trying to show it all lit up.

Then the coin door. I'm still using the Happ Controls (now Suzo-Happ) over-under mini-door system for the coin door and it went it without a hitch.

Finally, I installed some custom-sized side-art from Game On Grafix. That was a bit pricey, but the overall effect is more than worth it. I don't have the skills to stencil or paint on a nice logo, so this is the easiest way. It adhered quite easily, and is still sticking firmly 7 months later.
Getting the TV in was a bit of a struggle, as this cabinet was planned around the 27" Sony, which is long gone. I got the TV all in there and then turned it on and realized it was set to cable input, not the video-in, and of course the remote sensor and buttons were now wedged up against the inside of the cabinet and the TV anchored in place. Fortunately, the remote worked to flip it to the video input.

One final look at the front:

So the whole thing is largely finished now, but I haven't gotten around to uploading the photos yet. The sensing power bar works well--you open the front, flip the PC on, and everything else in the cabinet comes to life--TV, lights, speakers, coin door lights...
About the only thing left to make it fully complete is a bezel around the TV. Coming soon...

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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Thoughts on Kodu session with the kids

Well, the kids loved playing around with Kodu, especially Nicholas (7) and Alexandre (6).

The interface left a little to be desired--it seems far from intuitive for a kid and maneuvering between items was a bit difficult. They've also abstracted the file saving and loading to such an extent that it's sometimes difficult to tell if you're saving over the project you started with, saving in a new place, continuing your last session, etc.

The kids did have a lot of fun with it though, and were able to take the initial game and play around with it quite a bit. I was able to leave them playing around with it on their own for a while, and when I came back, they had Kodu making sounds when certain keys were hit, saying speech bubbles when other keys were hit, and jumping when you hit the spacebar.

One caveat, it takes more horsepower to run than my Eee PC can reliably deliver. The first "Shooting Fish" game worked okay, but once we got into some of the later ones with varying terrain, the machine tanks and the games become so choppy as to be unplayable.

All in all though, a big success. It's nice to see the kids using the computer and not just vegging out playing a game. This is a much more active use of computer time, and they really took to being able to see their results immediately.

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Wednesday, April 07, 2010

New blog: Star Wars IT Tech Journal

I've started a new blog over at:

It's a series of tongue-in-cheek journal entries from the perspective of an IT tech working for the Techno Union and then the Empire.

It covers the years 35 BBY to 4 ABY and should comprise about 50 posts or so by the time it's finished.

I'll be adding new entries every couple of days, so check it out if you're a Starwars fan.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A brief review of Star Trek

I never did post a followup saying what I thought of the new Star Trek film I was all keyed up to see, and I thought, with the DVD release imminent, now was a good time.

In short: it was awesome. It was everything I expected, and more. I'm not a Trekkie (or Trekker if you prefer) by any stretch of the imagination, but I quite enjoyed ST:TNG in its day, and do own them all on DVD. I also watched a fair bit of the original series Saturday mornings on CBC when I was growing up.

On to the film itself...

The opening scene was the perfect birth scene for Kirk, born in the chaotic, adrenaline-filled rush of a space battle. It perfectly encapsulates everything the world has come to know and love about James T. Kirk. It also explains the adrenaline-junkie aspects of Chris Pine's portrayal, which I thought was a nice touch.

From that opening scene, the film never lets up, going from strength to strength. Seeing everyone as young cadets was great--we get the sense of them attending Starfleet without having to sit through any clumsy exposition. We get a nice sense of Kirk as a ladies man as well, and Kirk romancing a green lady was just icing on the cake (for fans of both the original series and fans of green ladies).

I will definitely be in line for the sequel if it goes ahead. There was talk about that before this first film was released, but I haven't heard much more.

A couple of minor quibbles. I know Anton Yelchin while born in Russia, doesn't speak with a Russian accent, but I think he should have gone for a more natural-sounding Russian-person-speaking-English accent than trying so hard for comedy. Chekov's accent was only rarely played for laughs in the original series. I also thought that while John Cho was good, he lacked the feeling of calm capability that George Takei projected as Sulu. That being said, all the characters were fresh-faced cadets in this film, so perhaps the gravitas is something we'll have the pleasure of seeing develop if more films are made.

Oh, and I only thought once about Sylar while watching Zachary Quinto do his stuff as Spock, which is a testament to how good of an actor Quinto is, and how much he made the role his, while still keeping faith with Leonard Nimoy's portrayal.

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Friday, May 08, 2009

Welcome to Rivendell, Mr Anderson

I'm all keyed up to see the new Star Trek film, but I've been pondering the issues of casting actors who play an iconic role for which they're well known.

The subject of this post reflects what runs through my mind whenever I watch The Fellowship of the Ring and see Frodo waking up in Rivendell after the Flight to the Ford. I know that Elrond says "Welcome to Rivendell, Frodo Baggins", but because of Hugo Weaving's iconic role as Agent Smith in The Matrix (and its two sequels, but let's not mention those), the subject line above is what I hear instead. Oddly, I don't get that effect with V for Vendetta, possibly because Weaving's face is obscured and he has less of a measured and deliberate delivery than he does as both Agent Smith and Elrond.

Anyway, because I've only seen Zachary Quinto as Sylar in Heroes, whenever I see the trailer for the new Star Trek movie, I keep expecting Spock to slice open someone's head with his finger. As cool as that might be, hardly in keeping with flavour of the Star Trek universe. Equally, while I don't believe that Karl Urban as Bones is going to jump on a steed of Rohan and go galloping down the corridors looking for GrĂ­ma Wormtongue, that doesn't stop me from half-expecting it to happen.

Where I'm going with all this is that sad as I was to see Christopher Eccleston leave Doctor Who and gutted as I am to see David Tennant do the same, I'm sure they're right. Sigh.

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Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Risorgimento Represso & sequel going commercial!

* End of day update * Yes, this was an April Fool's joke.

Now that all the negotiations and contracts are in place, I can finally announce this.

Risorgimento Represso and its unreleased sequel are going commercial! Activision are releasing a "Lost Treasures of Inform" compilation to celebrate Zork turning "5 binary years old", i.e. 2^5, or 32 years old. The packaging looks just like the Lost Treasures of Infocom, but with the -com crossed out and "rm" written in.

The idea is to package all the classic Infocom games along with some of the best that the community has come out with over the years. This was all planned for Zork's 30th birthday, but didn't quite come off in time. Apparently, there's still quite a few people at Activision who love the Infocom stuff, and are frequent lurkers in r*if-land. They've had a new compilation planned/in the works for quite some time, but contacting all the different community IF authors and getting rights has taken a while, which is why they've been so silent on the idea of re-releasing any of the Infocom games.

The per-copy royalty isn't huge, but just the privilege of having two of my games (if I can finish Risorg's sequel in time!) released on the same CD as some Infocom classics, as well as the best of the r*if community is just awesome.

Based on sales of previous compilations, Activision expects to sell about 50000 copies... not huge, but they don't have many expenses apart from packaging. Royalties are paid out at $0.05 per game, so with two games on there, I should do all right out of it.

I don't have the full list of the other titles that will be on there, but I know works by noted community people like Emily Short, Andrew Plotkin, Quintin Stone, Adam Cadre, Adam Thornton will be present, along with a host of other names you'll recognize.

Anyway, sorry to drone on so long tooting my own horn, but now that I can finally share this info, I wanted to be the first to break it.

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Monday, March 30, 2009

MAME cabinet non-update

A brief update on the MAME cabinet is probably in order after all these years.

Short story--it remains stalled pending basement development. I put it on hold a number of years ago until I had more of the basement finished.

Actually, we now have our combined media room + playroom area finished in the basement, and after I install the baseboard trim in there, finishing up the MAME cabinet is probably next on the agenda.

It's a good time to tackle that--with the new TV downstairs, that frees up the 27" Toshiba that I bought for the cabinet to actually be used for the cabinet.

All that's really left is installing the TV, the fans, painting it, and then installing the marquee and display plastic (already cut and fitted). Oh, I also still have the coin door to slap in there. So there's not really a lot of work to do, and now that I have the media room done, there's a corner to stick the cabinet in all ready and waiting.

Pictures will, of course, follow once this stage is reached.

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Friday, January 16, 2009

A neat Ask/Tell change

* EDIT * In order to alleviate some reading confusion, the below post is in regards to Risorg2, a sequel to my first game of Interactive Fiction, Risorgimento Represso. Specifically, this post deals with some methods I came up with during development for simplifying Ask/Tell conversation topics for characters within the game.

I struggled with my original Risorg with the idea of being able to ask characters about everything in the game. I go for the complete experience, and it always seems wrong to me when the guy in the shop north of the town square either claims to know nothing about objects in the town square or has some equally silly response of "There's not much I can tell you," or "I don't think you need to worry about it."

Real people don't act like that. Ask a merchant who's got a shop in the market square what he thinks of the market square and darn right he'll have an opinion.

Of course, with Risorg1, trying to do this resulted in LOTS of quoted strings in characters 'Ask' routines, even to the extent of running into Inform limits. I compromised for game objects by having NPC's Ask routines run WordInProperty on the common game objects I wanted to ask them about. This worked okay, but with collisions from time to time, and still meant a lot of coding. There were also holes, as I wouldn't put a WordInProperty for every item into every character's Ask routine.

In between Risorg1 and Risorg2 development, I played around a lot with ways of attaching topic information to the objects themselves. After a fair bit of work, this is working *really* nicely. For objects in scope & held, we now get nice things like this:

>ask old crone about threadbare
Which do you mean, the threadbare red carpet or the threadbare woollen socks?

"Definitely not interested in buying," says the old crone. "I've got a drawerful of my own."

So we get the regular parser disambiguation for items in scope, which is nice. This ends up calling an item.information() routine within the object, and the parameter passed is the NPC doing the asking.

So each object that I've got of class "Askable" just lists all the NPCs and their response to the item. It makes it really easy to do it this way. Previously, with each NPC, you had to think of all the items in the game and code responses. Now, with each item, I just think of all the NPCs (a much more manageable number) and make sure the ones I want are accounted for in this object.

The other nice part is if you ask about a game object that isn't in scope, WordInProperty is then used to try to find a game object being asked about. If a game object is found, the same information routine is run.

So in the socks/carpet example above... if the carpet had been left outside the shop, asking about 'threadbare' would have resulted in the socks getting matched. Asking about 'threadbare carpet' would result in the carpet getting matched, even though it's not there. A simple TestScope in the carpet's information routine allows me to craft different responses from the shopkeeper if the carpet is not in scope.

Finally, if no match is provided by any object in the game, it falls through to an AskGeneral action that matches quoted words within the NPC, in the same old way.

All in all, it's a pretty neat and tidy solution and lends real verisimilitude to the game, being able to ask NPCs about any object in the game.

Of course, all this being said, I'll release the game and someone will promptly find the one object that they can't ask person X about.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Megaupdate (the kitchen sink post)

So what exactly has been going on around here and what's with the general abandoning of the blog?

Well, as I'm largely writing this for my own diversionary amusement, it's fallen by the wayside in the wake of more important things. I still want to write here, I'm just having problems finding the time--it also turns out that small children are capable of consuming limitless amounts of spare time, though admittedly delivering the goods in the emotional rewards department.

The MAME cabinet work stalled out a while ago--the intent is still to finish it. I've got the back door installed and on, the TV shelf is there, holes are cut for fans, coin door, etc. The light fixture is installed and working, though the lamp is back out pending final assembly.

I also cut the plastic for the front and for the marquee area. For mounting the marquee, I've got the marquee retainer as mentioned previously. For the front glass, I bought some quarter round moulding with 90-degree edges and installed it with one flat edge attached to the cabinet, and the other flat edge facing the front of the cabinet to make a perfect resting place for the glass. I'll probably caulk the left and right edges to reduce noise and vibration and then maybe use some more marquee retainer at the top and bottom.

There are a few reasons for the stall-out though--the next step is going to be lifting the TV up there and adding supports in the appropriate places. However, while I have a spare, heavy 27" Sony television that I could use there, it's not the ultimate TV I want in the cabinet. That would be the (much lighter) 27" Toshiba I purchased a few years ago, currently in use in the living room, the only area of the house suitable for TV watching right now. But now that the finishing of our basement rec room is likely to happen before the cabinet gets finished, I'm holding off fitting the Sony into the cabinet, in anticipation of getting a new TV in the rec room and then upgrading the MAME cabinet to the Toshiba.

So yes, the basement finishing is the other part of this equation. We decided to finish the main rec room area rather than tackling the whole basement at once. That's one giant 16x30 area where the eastern 16x11 will be designated the kids' playroom, the western 16x11 the TV area, with a handy 16x8 DMZ in the middle. I'm debating some sort of invisible barrier that will keep children from wandering over into and otherwise messing with the TV area and the suppositional new TV. I'll post pics as soon as the barrier is installed so you can all look at it and echo R2-D2--oops, I mean Fidgit from Time Bandits by saying, "Oh, so that's what an invisible barrier looks like." Sorry for the mistake. Fidgit is only played by R2-D2. Apparently, it used to take several hours for R2-D2 to get into his Fidgit costume before filming, and of course, all R2's dialogue was redubbed...

The DMZ is also going to be the location of the roleplaying table. Not precisely KoDT though--although the table in question did indeed live a former life as a dinner table, we're playing pulp Rolemaster, so everyone's an investigator, not a knight.

I'm using a mix of homebrew adventures, CoC adventures and even some Shadow World modules for any sequences involving translation to alternate dimensions.

Finally, in order not to give the lie to the title of the post, I'll just have to mention the shortsighted construction of the kitchen sink. Firstly, the left hand sink drain comes down and joins the drain for the right hand side, but it does so at a nearly horizontal level. After several years of washing in the left sink and stacking for drying in the right sink, this horizontal part of the drain was clogged with all manner of really disgusting things. One stomach-churning cleaning later, and we now wash in the right hand sink, with its vertical drain, and dry in the left hand sink. The other daft thing about this sink is that the trap is placed so low that there is zero clearance from the bottom of the trap to the floor of the cupboard, meaning that the U-bend can't even easily be opened let alone easily drained/explored/etc with any kind of bucket underneath it. Frustrating.

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Monday, June 02, 2008


So I went to watch the North American premiere of the score to The Fellowship of the Ring (non-extended), with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra. What happened here was the film was played on a high-def screen at the MTS Centre while the score was played live by the WSO.

It was absolutely incredible. The music was superb and seeing the film again with a large crowd of Tolkien fans reminded me of how amazing it was to see it in the theatre as a communal experience. The dynamic range was awesome, and blew away listening to it at home.

It was also really neat, as a lifelong Tolkien fan, to be sitting there in a packed concert hall (well, arena) and listening to a choir sing in Elvish.

I also wasn't the only one impressed with the whole... mission... quest.... thing.

I'm now all a-gog waiting for TTT and ROTK to be given the same treatment.

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Monday, November 13, 2006

The Spirit of Radio

So Wil Wheaton has a piece up about the decline of radio and I couldn't help thinking of Rush's incredible song The Spirit of Radio, dedicated to Toronto's (okay, Brampton's) CFNY radio station, which wasn't afraid to play alternative music and music that wasn't radio-friendly.

When you consider that The Spirit of Radio was written in 1980, it really puts in perspective how long the recording industry has been dictating exactly what becomes popular and what doesn't. As Rush say in the song, "the words of the profits are written on the studio wall."

There's another aspect to the idea too, of course. It's not just about the RIAA and its cronies choosing what will become popular, but also forcing artists to change their work. The power they must wield is somewhat frightening--you want us to release your record? Well, then change these lyrics here, cut out this part, sell your soul to get your record cut.

Rush again, who say it better than I ever could:
But glittering prizes
And endless compromises
Shatter the illusion
Of integrity

I really believe that digital recording and distribution, once it really starts to take off, will revitalize the music industry and get us back to the basics--artists getting their music heard, and getting rewarded fairly for that.

And leaving the fat cats out of the loop.

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Wednesday, September 06, 2006

A font of wisdom...

My laptop is a Dell (and though a candidate for it, mercifully free of the battery problem). Actually, I've had that battery problem explained in painstaking detail, as I designed a LiIon pack into a product we're developing, so people at work were a little concerned lest we fall victim to the same problem as Dell--so I've been brushing up, with our battery cell vendor, on exactly what happened at Sony and reasons why it shouldn't concern us.

In any case, this Dell machine I've got has some not-too-shabby Radeon X1400 graphics built-in (with 128MB of dedicated video memory, thank-you-very-much), and a screen resolution of 1280x800. I'm using ATI's custom driver for X (bad free software supporter) and Mandriva looks pretty good.

However, I didn't realize what I was missing until I read this piece on the Optimal use of fonts on Linux, and installed a version of Freetype that included a proper Truetype byte code interpreter.

The results are quite astounding, and I've fallen in love with doing my writing on the laptop all over again. Sigh.

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Monday, August 21, 2006

If the shoe fits...

... then you'll wear them a lot, and they'll eventually start falling off your feet.

Just before I got married, I bought a new pair of shoes. The dress shoes I had fit, but tended to give me sore feet after only a couple of hours--they had very poor arch support, and I've got freakishly high arches. As I was going to be wearing these from morning to night on the day of my wedding, I wanted something comfortable.

On the advice of my best man, I picked up some Rockports, as he declared them to be the most comfortable shoes he'd ever owned. Astoundingly, right next to Scerbo Formals at St. Vital Shopping Centre, where we had gone to get fitted for tuxedos, was West Point Shoes, which sold Rockports.

They weren't cheap: $220, at a time when I was trying to save money for the wedding, and the anticipated expensive bliss of marriage. The soles were also a bit overkill for dress shoes, as these were sturdy, waterproof outdoor shoes, but I figured the state of my soles wasn't likely to interest anyone at the church (duck).

So fast-forward through 4.5 years of said married bliss, and I have worn my Rockports every single day. I have not cared for them particularly well, with only a few scattered polishings here and there, but they've stood up admirably to the test of time. And they're comfortable too---in fact, I've never had a more comfortable pair of shoes.

But they were finally breaking down. The stitching on the heel was starting to come loose, there were cracks in the leather at the balls of the feet.

I loved my old Rockports. I haven't been wearing them long (2.5 hours now), but I think I love my new Rockports too.

And no, I'm not affiliated with Rockport in any way. Except as a rabidly loyal customer, of course.

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Friday, August 18, 2006

MAME cabinet: slow but steady march of progress

In the midst of enjoying the summer, I have managed to get a bit of work in on the game cabinet.

For the coin door, I opted to get a brand-new one from Happ Controls, rather than dig around for a used one in questionable condition that might not be exactly what I wanted. I ended up getting the Over/Under Door Mini System, as it seemed the most cost- and space-effective double door I could find. Rather than dealing with Happ directly, I ordered through Starburst Coin in Toronto. That eased any unexpected customs woes. I was able to order it without the default USA coin mechs, and with some Happ Ultimech coin mechs instead, configured for .984" tokens instead. I also got 10' worth of video game marquee retainer, seeing I was placing the order. It looked to be the easiest way to attach the marquee to the cabinet.

I was going to order some of the .984" Happ tokens, but Starburst Coin doesn't carry them, instead offering custom tokens from the Royal Canadian Mint. The price was excellent at $0.12 each, but I would have had to purchase 1000. Instead, I opted to purchase some MAME tokens from Arcade Tokens (now Arcade Replay). Sadly, the nickel ones are not available, so I had to settle for brass. Going with the MAME tokens was more expensive, but I love having something unique.

All these things arrived quite some time ago, and I'm pleased to report that it all works. The only problem is that the slot on the coin door is large enough to accept a loonie, but the coin mech is not. So inserting loonies into this is currently a no-no.

I've now built both the front door and the drawer, and both are installed. I still have to install the key on the front door. I'll install it just to get the holes cut, and then remove it until after the cabinet's painted.

Next up is the back door, and then all the internals--intake fan for the back door, internal wiring, marquee lamp, outlet fans, TV shelf and all that. It's slowly starting to come together.