Archive for November, 2007

Backup solution

Friday, November 30th, 2007

In these days of digital memories, it’s important to have a proper backup solution for your family. So I’ve invested in a Dlink DNS-323 (a network storage device) and a couple of 500GB hard drives. Plugged it into my network, turned it on, and formatted the drives as RAID 1, which gives me 498GB of striped storage. It mounts as a drive using smbfs. I have an automated backup for my main machine on a cron job, and I’ll set up a backup of Mrs Elbeno’s laptop too.

The only other thing to do is to get a USB/eSATA enclosure for my other 500GB drive, and every month backup to that and keep it at work. An offsite backup solution is an important part of a backup regime.

A night at the Magic Castle

Thursday, November 29th, 2007

Tuesday night, my colleagues and I spent the evening at the Magic Castle as a treat for hitting a recent milestone. It was a great night out.

I arrived at about 6.30 after braving the rush hour traffic (there’s really no good way to get there quickly from my workplace – the 405 and 101 are best avoided at that hour) and got in line for the first close-up show of the evening, scheduled to start at 7. Amazingly, the first person I bumped into was an ex-colleague, also there with his company. While in line for the show, I chatted to a man who was an associate member, and the spitting image of a doctor I’m acquainted with. He turned out to be a doctor too. I explained that it was so busy because of two videogame companies visiting that evening.

The Close-up Gallery opened, but I just missed getting in (it’s the smallest theatre there and seats only 22). Instead, a group of us headed downstairs for some alternative close-up entertainment from Wayne (“the intern”) and Rob, who showed us a card trick and some ventriloquism. I was marked as “the skeptic” in the audience!

After that, I headed over to the Parlor of Prestidigitation for a show from Chris Capehart. He had a very engaging patter and did stock tricks (cards and linking rings) but with incredible skill. Really a good show. Then it was time for dinner, which was decent, but not what we came for. I had prime rib and cheesecake for dessert. After dinner, one of our group gave us a tour (he is an amateur magician and member of the Academy of Magical Arts – whose clubhouse is the Magic Castle). He also did a couple of card tricks, one of which didn’t go too well because of the lack of attention of the mark (our EP).

As the tour was finishing, the main show was starting. This was the show in the big theatre at the Magic Castle, the only show that we had tickets for. The magician was John Calvert, a 96-year-old who has been doing professional magic for 8 decades. Unfortunately I must report that he should probably have stopped a while ago. While I can appreciate his experience, wisdom, and magical history, his skills have atrophied, and his tricks were not wonder-provoking in the least. Honestly, I felt embarrassed for the guy as I watched him completely fail to hide the watch in a variant of the “smashed and restored watch” trick. When he asked for a gentleman’s pocket handkerchief I knew his act must have barely changed in 50 years.

I got out quickly at the end and rushed back to the Close-up Gallery to just catch the 10.45 close-up show. In the Close-up Gallery and the Parlor of Prestidigitation, they feature two performers a night, one doing 3 or 4 early shows, and one doing the same number of late shows. This was the later show, with David Minkin – and it was brilliant. The audience was a rowdy bunch which made for extra comedy and a great rapport. He amazed us with coin and card tricks and some superb sleight of hand. It was the best show I saw that night, and I won’t soon forget it.

Next up was yet another show – this time once more in the Parlor of Prestidigitation, where Todd Robbins was performing. No tricks here – just amazing technique and years of practice. Todd is a sideshow performer – a dying breed – and he swallowed swords, ate a lightbulb, and drove a six-inch nail into his nose (“the human blockhead” act). Besides the act, he has an acerbic wit and thought-provoking insights.

The last show of the evening (12.15) saw me heading back to the Close-up Gallery for more David Minkin. Second time around, since I knew what was coming, I was able to appreciate his amazing dexterity and skill at misdirection. I figured out a few of the tricks, but that isn’t the point. The real magic to me is in the skill of the magician, the years of honing his craft. I found it interesting that the tricks which got a big reaction from the audience were not necessarily that difficult – taking nothing away from his skill, but some of the biggest gasps were achieved with a relatively simple piece of misdirection and a trick prop. Far more impressive, I thought, was the constant display of manual skill which was necessarily not what the audience was paying attention to, but which must have required years of practice.

Building a MAME cabinet 18

Monday, November 26th, 2007

Bit of a slow week – the family was here for Thanksgiving, and I didn’t work much on the cab. Here are some pictures from last weekend. The woodwork is all but done now, and my next task is to wire the control panel. This is actually non-trivial, and I need the right tools for the job.

Control Panel construction

Control Panel topside

Control Panel underside


Wednesday, November 14th, 2007
  • Eating out on expenses three days this week.
  • Put a coat of varnish on my cabinet boards tonight.
  • Kind of annoyed that libgtkglextmm is missing from gutsy packages.


Tuesday, November 13th, 2007

I went ahead and bought an XO laptop, aka “One Laptop Per Child”. It’s just the job for kids, and hopefully will bring about some real change in the developing world. It is also just the thing for mini-Elbeno as he grows up – built sturdy but lightweight, with rubberised keys and nifty software. Python, Squeak and Logo – how cool is that?

It’s quite depressing to think that for the amount of money spent by the Bush administration on war, everybody in the world could have bought one of these laptops.

The Magic Castle Awaits

Monday, November 12th, 2007

As a reward for hitting a major milestone recently (without crunch, woot), the company is taking my team to the Magic Castle. A fortnight tomorrow night we’ll be putting on our glad rags and heading up to Hollywood for a night of wonderment!


Sunday, November 11th, 2007

It’s been a while since I posted any food, so here’s a sandwich I had today. The bread was Von’s French bread, but with a slight difference today. The crust was lighter in colour, crustier, and more floury than usual. The sandwich filling was an old standby, but nonetheless delicious: ham, westcountry farmhouse cheddar, and a few chips.


Building a MAME cabinet 17

Saturday, November 10th, 2007

Another weekend, and more cabinet work. Staining and varnishing I’m still putting off until I have all the woodworking done. In the week, I picked up some Lexan from Home Depot and today I finished the control panel. First, I routed the area for the trackball mounting plate, since I want to lay the Lexan on top, and I sunk some holes for the bolts that will hold the joysticks in place. Then I cut the Lexan and clamped it to the CP, ready to transfer the required holes. I’m impressed with Lexan – it’s very easy to work with. I used some sacrificial wood on the bottom for the button hole drills and trackball area routing. I feared the trackball hole would be the trickiest part, but in the end it was easy – I fitted the mounting plate, routed the rough hole, then used a sanding bit on my drill to work towards the plate. Anyway, here are some pictures:

Control Panel after routing for the trackball mounting plate

Lexan CP top complete

Having finished the CP, I turned my attention to the keyboard tray, and routed my planned groove for the super-slim Apple keyboard to make it insanely low profile. Here it is: designed by Apple, and Elbeno, in California.

Keyboard tray routing

Keyboard fitted to tray

Building a MAME cabinet 16

Sunday, November 4th, 2007

Today I tackled the control panel. I hadn’t done anything on paper; I just laid out the controls on the board I had cut. This turned out to be quite easy, although I had to pay attention to the mirrored-ness of the thing when I made cuts from the other side.

I started off by drilling some button holes (1-1/8″ spade bit) on the piece that I’ve codenamed “CPX” – the 3-1/2″ high piece that sits below the monitor bezel and directly above the CP. This is where I’m mounting the 1P and 2P start buttons, the Insert Coin button, and the Power button (which I’ll hook to the PC power switch). I had previously had mixed success using the spade bit with test drills, but I learned how to better do it: use a fresh battery in the drill, turn up the torque, and keep the bit at high speed.

I found a high speed is the key to the bit effectively clearing chips, and when I didn’t have the speed high enough, I frequently had to stop and clear the chips. Also, don’t press down too hard. The oak ply I’m using is 11 layers thick, and drill progress tends to go in layers. On a good drill, I’d be through in 15-20 seconds. A slow drill would take a minute or two. I also learned from my first hole that (as I suspected, really) the underside was torn up a bit on breaking through. I wasn’t drilling against sacrificial wood, which would have helped that. A couple of times, the drill jammed as only half of the hole snapped away at the bottom and the remaining half was too thick to snap away, leaving me having to chisel the piece out from underneath.

Here’s a shot of the CP with some initial button holes. I popped some buttons in as a test and to make the picture interesting.

Control Panel Initial Construction Detail

Here’s the same shot from the underside of the CP. You can see the exit wounds, and some of my layout design on the flip side.

Control Panel Underside Detail

The trackball is huge: the ball itself is 3″ in diameter, and the mounting plate is 7-1/2″ square. I routed and jigsawed the slot for it after drilling the button holes, and finally routed holes for the joysticks. Here’s the completed (as far as holes) panel.

Control Panel: holes complete

Building a MAME cabinet 15

Saturday, November 3rd, 2007

After many weeks of what seems like slow progress, the project is now accelerating. Today I stood up the cabinet for the first time and cut all the remaining boards. I decided to stand the cabinet up with the boards I won’t need to stain and varnish, and I decided to do this step before varnishing the sides, although I still plan to stain and varnish everything else before assembly proper.

Initial assembly

Standing up for the first time

As you can see, I also fitted the keyboard tray runners and the remaining ledgers for the control panel, monitor shelf, and bezel. I slotted the base into the dado on one side and secured it with brackets and 1-1/4″ coarse thread drywall screws. Then I secured one side of the monitor shelf on its ledger. After this I was ready to put the other side on top and likewise secure it. This gave me a good framework although it was still wobbly in the sideways direction of course, so I mounted the back panel to give it some proper strength. The base, monitor shelf and back panel will all be out of sight in the final cabinet, so these were the parts I didn’t need to stain and varnish.

I discovered that drywall screws are surprisingly hard to screw into (un-pre-drilled) oak plywood, but with a bit of brute force and the help of some clamps (clamps are my best friends in this project) I managed to get everything sorted. I also discovered that a circular saw baseplate angle of around 40 degrees is difficult to make a decent cut with, and that my initial top board was cut too long. That’s no problem though – I can always take more off!

I also slot-cut the edges of the boards that I plan to expose in the final assembly. Next steps are to cut the control panel holes, the speaker holes, and the subwoofer hole. I have a coin door, but I’m thinking I’ll skip mounting that for now. Once I have everything cut (hopefully tomorrow), I’ll be ready to stain the remaining wood (during the week if I can), varnish everything (next weekend), rig the control panel and assemble the cabinet just in time for Thanksgiving week when the in-laws arrive.