Mondays Should Always be so Fun

April 11th, 2006 at 12:00 am by Mark
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     After the “computer fire” last week which was finally resolved the weekend, I was worried about showing up at my clients’ office this morning, even though I was bring him a practically new company.  It’s not good to leave customers hanging due to your mistakes.
     We talked about it for a bit, and I’m still going to attempt to recoved some of the data from the old drive.  Difficult sometimes, but worth it in the end.  It also helps that nobody else locally is able to do any data recovery at all.
     But, being that I was still feeling like complete dolt, I hung around there the whole day today.  It’s a coin-op distributor — jukeboxes, pool tables, video games, foosball tables, etc.  A great place for geeky nostalgia.
     In the past few years, traditional coin-op video games have taken a backseat to the bar-top machines by Merit Entertainment.  If you’ve been in a bar in the last ten years, you’ve seen them with their touch screens and twenty or so games loaded on them — Blackjack, Solitaire, Freecell, and maybe a few small arcade-style games like Tetris.  Being that they’re a good money-maker, there are also quite a few units that come in for repair.

     What’s really interesting about the Merit machines is that not a traditional “video game,” but a well-engineered computer case with traditional components inside.  The first of the MegaTouch systems were based on 386SX-16 motherboards with small hard drives running MS-DOS.  The newer ones today like the MegaLink are outfitted with Socket 478 Pentiums with LCD flat-panels and 20GB hard drives running Linux (IMHO, a mounted filesystem on a bar machine just isn’t a good idea).
     The machine I looked at today was a newer MegaTouch, sporting a Socket 370 CPU and a 10GB hard.  There a few minor things wrong with it, but the incredible amount of fan noise was the first thing I attacked.  It’s hard to work on anything that’s screaming at you the entire time.  After plugging a few things into the proper places, I managed to get it up and running but for the bad tube.  
     Since I was standing around talking to a couple of the old-school game technicians the whole time, I decided to show off a little and save them some money, to boot.

     In the back of the shop, there sat a 15″ Compaq VGA monitor ripe for the picking.  It took a little time convicing them that this would suffice (they’re using to paying upwards of $170 for replacement picture tubes), but once getting into it, they were amazed.  The power boards were all standard sizes, and the only real different was the depth of the tube and the width of the yoke.
     A couple hours screwing around, and we had the whole unit back together, but the hard drive.  A little creativity on my part with a drill resulted in a professional quality refit to a location with less heat, and less chance of reverberation.

     When the moment of truth finally came to turn the power back on, they were amazed at the clarity.  The .28 dot pitch of the VGA monitor blew away the blurry, large dot pitch of the Merit replacement.  Blacks were black, whites were white and reds were reds.  Even when you start off with a working monitor and throw in a VGA, there’s a world of difference in both brilliance and clarity.
     We spent a good amount of time on it today, ensuring that the next few could be switched over painlessly.  Now, they’re scouring the area for 15″ SVGA monitors, and saving $170 a pop. 

     I love tinkering like that.  Soldering, unsoldering, wire-wrapping, drilling, heat-shrinking… It’s good, honest work.  And when you’re able to go in teach somebody something new and different that’ll completely change the way they do things for the better, it makes it all the more gratifying.

     Was a good day.  Good customers.  Good people.

     They even had the decency to wince and not laugh in my face when I told them what happened to the boss’s computer.

     Gotta love ’em.


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