Monthly Archives: August 2013

The Arcade Machine Mk. II

So awhile back, I wrote on the Hacker Lab blog about how helpful, if not essential, social activity can be to hacking. That is hacking defined as defined as doing something quickly or testing the boundaries of what can be done. As opposed to all the computer-y stuff that flashes through peoples’ heads when I tell them I spend a good deal of time at a place called Hacker Lab.

To help illustrate this point, I mentioned a home brew, jury-rigged, arcade machine I’m working on with a friend. Well now, after one sleep deprived night, we are in business(relatively). Still working some of the kinks out, but I said I was going to have something up by Saturday, and by darn it, something was up on Saturday

On that note, big ups to Gabriel, Gabbi, George, Josh, Jenna, Eric, Barrett, Alex, and to anyone else I may have missed who helped me with that thing. I dont care if you only turned one screw, I appreciate all of you, cause that one screw was one thing I didn’t have to do. And I had to do a lot of things.

The question now becomes where do I go from here. I’m not entirely sure. I suppose I should build another one. I have a couple of things in the works regarding the arcade stuff, but I’ll wait till that gets further along to discuss.

The build is pretty straightforward. It’s really just a bunch of wood held together by angle brackets and wood screws. There is a very established community for arcade cabinet building, and some of those designs look pretty awesome. I suppose I’m going for the “unplugged” look. An old flat screen TV serves as the monitor, and a slightly modified version of the keyboard hack I posted about earlier serves as the interface to the joystick buttons. The joystick buttons and other parts I either ordered online or cobbled together from old joysticks I managed to scrounge up.

Of course, I had to put NBA JAM on it. The machine itself, Josh put Ubuntu on an older PC(I don’t know the exact specs) and did some fantastic work simplifying the setup. So what’s next? The Mark III of course! I’d like to clean up the machine a bit, close it off with a bit more wood, and maybe even paint the thing. Or maybe we’ll just tear it down and build another. Either way, a pretty nice work in progress and proof of concept. Also, there’s a cool partnership related to this that I’m working on, and I should have things to post about that soon as well.

Pacific Rim

pacific-rim-posterI saw Pacific Rim awhile ago, and loved it. Now when I say I love movies like this, it always comes with a caveat: I don’t expect too much. I have basic expectations, and as long those are filled I’m happy. With this movie, I wanted to see giant robots beating up on monsters, and I got that. (For the record, I would have liked a little more robot action, but I will take what they gave me.) Whenever I see a movie like this, it always appeals to the tech geek/engineer/nerdy little kid inside of me. One of the many cool things about the times we find ourselves living in is that the tech exists to do really amazing things in the entertainment realm. I can gripe about corporate soulessness and greediness all I want to, but at the end of the day with a flick like this just shut up and take my money. I recently read an article that detailed the “post-mortem” of Pacific Rim, and what it means for (possible?) future cinema of this type. I link to it because I think it’s a spot-on analysis of the movie, it says what I want to better than I would.

Going back to that engineer inside of me, whenever I watch a movie like Pacific Rim, I am always constantly evaluating it on its technical merits. How good does it look? How detailed does it get? Is this at least partially conceivable? To most, this might sound mentally tiring, but I enjoy it. In seeing this movie, I was blown away by the detail and sense of scale. That effect was magnified that I (generally) make my bread working in 3D mechanical design. So not only am I blown away by the final effect, but also because I have some appreciation for what it takes to create it.

Recently, the work I’ve been doing with 3D printing and related tools has really served to further illustrate how the lines blur between 3D mechanical design and 3D graphic art/design/animation. If you didn’t know, there is a lot of crossover. Autodesk, a leading company in all things 3D, produces various software that handles 2D/3D design in varying ways. There is AutoCAD, which just about everyone has heard of, and many mechanical engineers like myself know intimately. While primarily 2 dimensional, AutoCAD does have 3D capabilities that I’ve become more familiar with recently. Autodesk also makes Inventor, which is pretty good 3D design software from all reports I’ve heard. Next is Maya, widely known as go-to 3D graphic design software.

One company, three applications. Each accomplishing a different task, or rather similar tasks in different ways. I’ve been putting a decent amount of time in to learning 3D graphic design and animation software, Blender specifically. (Hey, it’s free.) The differences in the object creation workflow have been my greatest hurdle. (I thought it was all 3D, right?) However, the truth is that while the end result may be similar, the process that I go through to design-let’s say…a giant robot, is quite different from how a 3D graphic artist would approach it. And tools are built with that idea in mind. The challenge is learning to adapt to the differing methodologies. I’d like to think I’m good at it already, but this 3D creation rabbit hole is pretty deep…