Brian Ho (brianho) wrote,
Brian Ho

A rather busy, somewhat productive weekend

I seemed to have lots of project fires burning this past weekend. Lissa and I talked about getting some people together for poker, but I kinda gave up after the first 5-6 people I called couldn't make it. Not a good weekend to be spontaneous, I guess.

So instead, I ended up spending most of my time at home working on various and sundry projects. Lord knows I've got tons of them floating about--many of them have been out there for months and even years. Of course most of those amount to low priority curiosities that may not even matter if I never actually get around to.

I've got a pretty good start at resurrecting my car MP3 player. I had built one several years ago out of old PC parts I just had lying around. In-dash players that would play MP3s were not very common back then. What I had built was pretty homebrew, but it was great to have several days worth of music in the car with me without ever having to swap discs. Unfortunately, my car got broken into and it was stolen. I doubt the people who stole it even knew what they had or were able to make it work. It was pretty tempermental--definitely not ready for primetime. Gee, that was probably 4-5 years ago already. I've had an in-dash player with MP3 capability in my car(s) since then. It's decent, but my capacity is considerably smaller and requires swapping discs periodically. I also really miss the crossfading and volume normalization plug-ins I had been using on my home-built player.

I've toyed around with building a new one for awhile but just haven't taken the time. I knew that if I did it, I wanted to base the system on a laptop. My biggest problem with the old system was power since it was based on normal desktop PC parts--and pretty old ones at that. It's a lot easier to power a laptop off the power available in a car--adapters to do so are common, off-the-shelf parts. A laptop is probably also better equipped to take the abuse of traveling around in a car and doesn't take up as much space either.

xnolenx recently gave me what was left of his old laptop whose screen was broken. This seemed like just the base I was looking for to put together a new car PC system. This weekend I was able to get it up and running and loaded with the software I'd need. It has basically the same capabilities of my former system from years ago. I just need to load it up with some music and I can take it on a test run soon.

In the meantime, I've been tinkering with the idea of adding an actual display for the computer this time. On my old system and the way the new one is currently configured, I can control it with a remote, but I can't actually see anything. I'm considering an in-dash touchscreen monitor, which would make the system way more sophisticated than it ever was before. Distracted driving, here I come!

Brandon came by this weekend and we continued some of our long-standing DDR hacking projects. He's been working on an adapter to turn the DDR machine's RGB video output into something that we could record: component video, s-video, composite, etc. He had the start of a device that might be able to do it, but the initial test unfortunately merited no results.

However, he made great progress experimenting on the stage I/O boards in our quest to build a nice adapter to play console DDR games in the DDR cabinet. I already have this ability today, but it's just hardwired to a couple PS2 controllers. We're looking to make it more configurable, include the cabinet buttons, and make the lights work. After these experiments, it looks like we should be able to accomplish such goals.

More progress was made on Pump hacking. With Pump being PC-based hardware, and with the discovery that it's actually running Linux, Brandon feels right at home. We learned four interesting things. Given the amount of time we've been working on it, progress is markedly faster than DDR hacking has been.

First up was enabling the s-video (TV out) jack on the nVidia card that provides the graphics for Pump. This should give us the ability to cleanly record the on-screen displays. Next, we connected a keyboard to the keyboard port and found that several functions were assigned to various keyboard keys. You can't play the game that way, but you can add credits, clear credits, abort a game, skip parts of attract mode, and enter and use the operator menus. We also were able to boot from an external HD connected via USB. But once the game starts, it reverts back to the internal HD. Lastly, and most comically, Brandon found the high score data and was able to inject a bogus score just for grins.

Notice that the top score is actually lower than the #2 score...and not a particularly realistic number at that.

A footnote to this weekends projects was the installation of Windows Vista Beta 1. More than anything I was just curious what it looks like. Well, it's very pretty...and pretty useless--at least on my system. I'm sure it's just a beta thing, but the mouse wouldn't even track smoothly on my 2.4 GHz Athlon. It may be something that can be fixed, but I'm not really in the mood to waste time on beta software at the moment. Perhaps I'll just wait until the next beta to really take it on a test drive. As it was, the install took well over an hour (I didn't time it, I just walked away to eat). Startup and shutdown were both very slow. All I really did was open a couple windows, but I decided that trying to do any more was just going to be more frustrating than interesting. It looks promising...but it's still too early for me to form any real opinions.

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