Tuesday, July 26, 2005

A 4x8 sheet of 11/16" MDF...

... is extremely heavy!

I got the MDF delivered along with all the wood for the backyard fence. Those sheets are seriously heavy! The guy who delivered the MDF carried both sheets at once into the garage for me, so I figured I should be able to manage one sheet down the stairs at a time, as I've done with plywood before.

No such luck. This stuff is dense. With Michelle steadying one end, I managed to maneuver one sheet down there, but every time I look at the second sheet in the garage, I lose all desire to try again.

Maybe I should do some cutting of this sheet in the garage.

I'm really eager to get going on the cabinet construction, but it's going to have to wait. I have a pile of wood in the driveway that I want to turn into a fence.

All the posts have been set for the fence, and I got all the fence clips in place. Sunday and Monday evening, I got a few of the runners in place, so one side of the yard is "runnered" at the moment. That represents about 29' of fence, so only another 80' to go, and then I can start in on the fence boards.

Fenced lot, here we come.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

No more Scotty...

Just read at WWdN that James Doohan, aka Scotty from Star Trek passed away today at age 85.

He had a good innings, but it's sad to see him go. He was everybody's favourite fictional engineer (fictioneer?), and I can't remember how many times I've wished my engineering job could be more like Scotty's. *Sigh*.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

MAME cabinet: another man's cabinet

I found out about this arcade project in a comment on one of my MAME cabinet blog entries. It looks like they're building a pretty neat little cabinet there, and hitting some of the same stores as me. You've got to love Canadian Tire. They're a little further along on the cabinet end, so I'm going to give a read and see what problems they've encountered.

I am still undecided as to what material I want to use for the cabinet. The plywood option is expensive, but would certainly be the lightest and strongest. MDF is really heavy, and I don't like the way it tends to chip easily. It also tears around screw holes too. Of course, the plywood can be a little harder to work with, and it's easy to chip the top veneer. And there are all kinds of people all over the net building cabinets with MDF, so it can't be that big of a deal.

Monday, July 18, 2005

MAME cabinet: my kids love the control panel

The ultimate goal with my MAME cabinet is to create something that my kids will enjoy. I want them to enjoy some of the same feelings I used to get playing these games.

When I was growing up, I never got to spend as much time in arcades as I wanted to. In fact, until I hit university, I don't think I'd ever been to an arcade as such--more the local 7-11 stores and laundromats that had machines. There was one place in downtown Winnipeg, Magicland, where you paid a flat fee ($5 per hour, I think) and all the machines were set on free play.

I used to go there from time to time in my teens, but it was not the same thing: the games lost their magic when they were on free play. You tended to get hold of a good game and play it to completion, using guy after guy. Or, if the good machines were all taken, you tended to snack: wandering around, taking a nibble at this game, then that game, for just a few minutes each time.

When I was younger, the idea of arcades was also out of the question because, for one thing, my parents didn't view them as a safe place for a 10-year-old to hang out--and rightly so.

At that age, I'd often only see arcades (or just arcade machines) when out somewhere with my parents. I would gaze at them for the longest time, either watching the attract screen or watching someone else play, or just gazing at the vast array of all the machines, if it was an arcade.

It felt like I wanted nothing more in the world than to play those games. I fantasized about my parents noticing and asking me if I wanted to play a few of the games. It never happened, but I dreamed about them handing me a few quarters and telling me to go try some of the games.

Keep in mind that they weren't deliberately stopping me from playing. I suspect if I had asked them for money to play, the answer would have been no, but if I had produced the quarters myself, they might have let me.

That was the other problem, which sounds silly now. Fear. I was nervous about trying these games. I was always a pretty shy kid, and somehow I found it hard to imagine myself boldly walking up and playing. What if someone said something? What if I got kicked off for playing so badly?

So any chance I got to play these games--usually whenever I had a few quarters and could find a place with only a couple of machines--less fear in the smaller places... I played. And really enjoyed it, except for not being very good, due to lack of practice.

When I got to university, and there was a non-smoking arcade in University Centre, and very boring physics classes (it was a repeat of the I.B. physics I'd taken in grade 11) every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning, I spent a lot of time in that arcade. At least, I did whenever my buddy Wayne was also inclined to bail out on physics. If he wanted to go to class, I usually tagged along. I'd sit there listening for a while, and once the professor got to a particularly boring part, or said something I, in my infinite 18-year-old wisdom, found asinine (such as "We're finished now with the meat and potatoes of this course, and we're moving on to the dessert"), I'd extend my hand to Wayne, and say "Book!" and he'd hand me whatever book was in his bag that he was currently reading. I worked my way through Margaret Weis's "Star of the Guardians" trilogy in that class, along with Wayne's entire Time Wars series.

Now that I've rambled on, let me renew my focus. I want my kids to be able to play these video games in safety and comfort. I also want to be able to set reasonable limits on their playing, through use of tokens rather than quarters. And I like the idea of a dedicated arcade machine that they play in the rec room downstairs, rather than a game console that they lock themselves into their room with and play nonstop.

The two boys are only 2 and a half and 1 year old at the moment, but they've already shown a propensity for MAME. While the control panel was plugged into the desktop computer (for "testing" purposes), they were forever pushing buttons on it, causing random keypresses during my attempts to use Windows, with the requisite hilarity ensuing.

So with the leftover laminate, and some pieces of 1/4" panel I had kicking around, I decided to do something fun for them. I got a bunch of switches, some that I had sitting around, and some that I picked up from Radio Shack The Source, and a few different types of LEDs (clear, red and blue) and wired them all up to a little 9V battery. So now the kids have this laminated panel with 6 buttons of various types on it. Toggle, rocker, momentary, push-on, with each wired up to a different LED. They love it. The 2.5 year old played with it for almost an hour the first time. The 1 year old loves it too, but after a few minutes of playing, he always wants to turn it over and look at the insides to see how it works.

Must be a second son thing: my dad's an engineer. I'm the second son and I became one, and now my second son looks like he's heading the same way... not that it's a problem, just interesting.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Component video goodness

My component video cables arrived, so I got them hooked up last night and watched a little bit of LOTR:FOTR, swapping between watching through S-Video versus component video. The difference was incredible: far more significant than I thought it would be.

So now I get to be all pleased about my new television purchase all over again.

In other news, I'm going to put the fence up in the backyard in the next little while, so plans for ordering a bunch of lumber are proceeding, and I think I'll throw a couple of 4x8 sheets of MDF into the order, so that I can get started on some serious MAME cabinet building. Upright cabinet, here I come.

Monday, July 11, 2005

MAME cabinet: television selection

My ultimate plan is to use a 27" TV in the MAME cabinet, for cost reasons.

A large computer monitor is cost-prohibitive, and a large arcade monitor is pretty pricey too. A large TV will give a great screen size, and offer video that looks similar to what the arcade monitors look like. It's not perfect--it's a compromise.

The target television needed to have S-Video in, and a nice 27" size, with a fairly flat screen. I also wanted something with a minimal cabinet, i.e. no silly speakers mounted on the side--a look I hate and one that would make the TV too big for the proposed cabinet.

I wasn't planning to get this TV right away, as I'm nowhere near starting work on the cabinet, but with our current Sony displaying more problems every time it's turned on (thanks to kids who like nothing better than switching it on and off) when the Toshiba 27A34 went on sale at Sears for $260 CDN, I decided to spring into action.

It's a pretty nice television. It's got component video inputs, which is unusual on that size of a tube TV. The screen isn't pure flat, but pretty close--it's flatter than my 16-year-old Sony. It also has quite a smaller cabinet than the Sony, and is about 40 pounds lighter (at 80 pounds) than the Sony, so I'll feel better about putting it into the cabinet.

It's even, in theory, controllable via the universal remote that I have on my digital cable box. Unfortunately, the Toshiba setup codes for the universal remote all start with 0, and I can't enter 0 on that remote anymore, thanks to the day my 1-year-old introduced the remote to a tall glass of water. Numerous buttons never recovered from that incident, the 0 among them.

So for the time being, the new Toshiba is replacing our Sony upstairs, the idea being that I'll switch back when the arcade cabinet is closer to completion... or perhaps not. Maybe I'll find a way to make the Sony work in the arcade cabinet on a temporary basis... until we can get our dream TV purchased.

So I ordered a component video cable from RP Electronics, who sell a 6-footer for $15, a far cry from the $50 that most retail stores want. Seeing I was ordering, I also grabbed a couple of 120mm AC fans for the MAME cabinet. They've got some nice ball bearing AC fans with metal impellers, which should help them last a little longer. I also ordered a few other miscellaneous goodies that will be useful in the guts of the cabinet (AC plugs with wire leads, power bar with EMI/RFI filtering, external AC socket that will allow me to plug computer power-supply style cords into the cabinet to power it--much nicer than having a static cord sticking out of the box).

As it stands, the TV gives a very decent picture, even though, due to someone, most likely one of the boys, or maybe even me, treading on the end of the S-Video cable from the amp to the TV while it was unplugged and bending the shell, it's only running on a composite cable at the moment. Colours look bright and vivid and it was great to fire up LOTR:FOTR the other day and look at Orthanc without it being all squiggly.

The gun on the Sony was off, so most straight lines were squiggly, though you'd be amazed at how well the brain ignores that sort of thing and just sees the line as straight. I used to have to pause the image to verify that it was happening. It was really noticeable on vertical wipes though, where a straight object was being drawn on the screen, and you could see the bits of it shift as the picture was wiped on to the screen. Most noticeable on the boys' Baby Mozart DVD. Maybe I should drop that in and check it.

A parent *and* a geek: using a kid's video to check out my new TV. Sigh.