Posts Tagged with "new-life"

The Second Day of a New Life

April 18th, 2006 at 10:08 pm by Mark
Tags: , , , ,

I was asked if I’d like to help move a bunch pool tables and a few other machines today.  Since I enjoyed moving things and getting a sunburn last week, I told them, “Sure, why not!”

A “game room” in the area was closing their doors, so a bit of extra brawn was in order to move everything from that place to the relative safety of the warehouse.  The 14-foot truck wasn’t big enough to haul it all, even with two trips, but an aging Dodge came to the rescue with a bed large enough to fit an 8-foot pool table.

As anyone who’s ever played pool in a bar knows, coin-op tables are heavy as hell.  Three people and some well-made carriers make the job bearable.  You slide the carrier over the side, put the table on its side, and move it where you need it.  Not much you can say about that.

Pool tables are tricky, tho.  You swing them around, put the back two legs on a swing-out dolly, and lay it back.  Getting them down, however, it an issue.

After loading two trucks one trip, loading one truck the second and unloading three times at the warehouse, I helped carry a bunch of junk and throw it in a dumpster.
Even broken pool table slates are heavy, so aid of a forklift was required.  That made an easy job of it.

Finally, I helped clean up a bunch of scrap metal and wood and toss in the dumpster out back.

Parked the forklift … I haven’t driven one of those since I was ten.

There’s not much you can say about all that.

But I got my required sunburn.  And I have the sore, burning muscles of an honest day’s work.

Now if only I could get Dire Straits “Money for Nothing” outta my head…

The First Day of a New Life

April 17th, 2006 at 6:23 pm by Mark
Tags: , , ,

     Per my last post, today I went and worked on an intermittent problem on an Arcade-style Golf game, Interactive Technologies’ “Golden Tee 2005.”

     The internals were pretty cool: a 486-based motherboard specifically designed with a single, heat-resistant PCI slot, two 32-Meg DIMMs and a JAMMA card-edge to provide access to Video and Controls.  A completely customized 250-watt power supply, which appeared to be loosely based on ATX, powered the board, controllers and 10GB hard drive at the top.
     In the PCI slot lived a very unhappy 3DFX Voodoo3 card.  I hadn’t seen one of those in years, but there it was, in all it’s 60-degrees-celciius glory.  

     The problem was, that were intermittent problems.  The game would play fine for hours, and then spontaneously reboot.  Sounds like a PC, but I digress… It wasn’t.

     After the technician adjusted the monitor to an acceptable level (it’s old and needs to be replaced), I screwed around a little while tracing out the wiring.  Eventually, I found a loose ground hanging from the monitor that would just reach a couple of components when the drawer that help the CPU was pushed in.  I deduced that this may have been causing a short.
     A couple twists of the screwdriver fixed the loose ground, but not the problem.  I dug a little deeper.

     At some point, I noticed that the hard drive had been plugged into the second Molex connector coming from the power supply.  It was quite loose in its socket, so I unplugged it and pushed the metal sleeves inside back together.  It fit tight after that, but when I continued to trace to the end of the cable, I found that it wasn’t connected to anything.  Instead, it was hanging down at the edge of the CPU drawer.
     Every time someone pushed the drawer in and down, the loose connector was hitting the support beam and snagging the mechanism.  The effect was similar to tying a a fiften pound weight onto your hard drive power cord, holding the drive sideways, and dropping the weight.  That’s why the connector sleeves got loose, they would make intermittent contact, and short when reconnected, exactly they do in your computer.

     I couldn’t resist pulling out the 3DFX card to give it a once-over.  It was permanently mounted, but due to its handing upside down, gravity had taken its toll a bit and pulled to just the edge of contact.  The CPU was giving enough heat to make the metal expand at the card edge, and reboot the machine.  I put it back hard, tightened up the nuts on the flagnge that held it in place, and away we went.

     Pushing the drawer and in out no longer resulted in a reboot.  Graphics seemed to be fine.  But there’s no clear way to tell until you play it for a hours… and that’s what we did.
     5:30PM came fast.  Hours of abuse, and not a single reboot.

     What a cool day!


Figure Out What You Love, and Do It

April 13th, 2006 at 9:02 pm by Mark
Tags: , , , ,

     The title says it all.  But no, Beavis, I’m not talking about sex.

     Last week has made me a little gun-shy as far as tweaking around on customers’ computers.  Sure, that’s only a small ten percent of my job, anyway, but some days, I just feel like IT is a lost cause.
     The reasons I feel that way are numerous.  It isn’t just that people ask me for recommendations, pay good money for the consulting, get something entirely diferent and then ask me to support something I know nothing about — I’m great at that, and I enjoy learning at lightspeed.  Or that when I spend a great deal of time waiting on people, while they expect me to have everything done in five minutes — I usually do, or at least get things started in the right direction quickly.  Or that I have a couple of employees who quit and come back two days later with all the consistency of a well-strung yoyo — I still only pay them for the days they actually do something for me, anyway.
     No, instead I’m looking at it from a more practical perspective.

     On the average day, the only time I get to go outside is during the car ride to a client’s place and back.  Some days, I don’t get to go outside at all.
     Tuesday, for instance, after that totally fun Monday, I got to sit in the office and spend a grand total of ten hours on the phone.  Ten hours of my day talking to people, sorting out billing problems, giving advice, helping fix problems, etc. etc. etc.
     Wednesday, I went to fix an IP cam in the morning, and then returned to the place I was at Monday and screwed around a little with Merit-style machine built by a company in South Carolina.  That machine was fun — it gets hot and dies, but it’s got a funky ATX power supply which actually has a speed-sensor on the fan.  Never seen that on a power supply fan.  At 5:30, one of the guys and I left to take a look at bunch of equipment someone wanted to sell them.  The trip was a bust, but at least I got to drive through the mountains.

     Today, I messed around in the office until 3PM, and then headed back to the mountains to help a friend move a bunch of woodworking tools from a carving seminar held the weekend before last.  On the way back, I picked up a Washer and Dryer and loaded that up, too, before taking it all and dropping it where it needed to go.
     Sweaty, hot, sticky work.  And I was outside.  And I got sunburned.  Like a normal person.

     It’s been an experimental couple of weeks for me.  Doing “different” things has been wonderful.  I feel like myself again.
     But I’ve never been one of those people to say, “____ is what I do, and ____ is how I define myself.”  I’ve had a life full of doing different and exciting things, running around the world at a moment’s notice, doing sound for a band here, unlocking keys from parked cars there, re-wiring a house somewhere else, working on racecars over there, running fibre optics for a telecom somewhere else, and engineering and implementing an 800 user corporate network over there, and then working on some bar’s electronic dart machine over here.

     After getting married six years ago, all of that changed.  I started down a stagnant path, while I was in that armpit of a foreign country, mostly because they won’t let you do but one thing — they like to pigeonhole your career, your race, your sex, your nationality, and if you don’t fit into the boxes, you will sink.
     After returning to the US almost four years, I continued pigeonholing myself like that.  It is simply not good for me, and there was no cause for me to do it.

     It’s one of the cool things about growing up in the South: you learn a lot of different things from a lot of different people.  Some are hobbies, some are work, but you’re exposed to it all:  it’s being a Jack-of-All-Trades, and if you’re doing it right, you’ll still do a better job than half the “professionals” out there.
     I mean, that’s what I doThat’s who I am.  And it’s something that’s been missing from my life for the past seven years.

     They used to say about Dream Jobs, “Find what you love to do, and do it.”
     For me, there is no Dream Job.  The variety of chasing all those hobbies is where it’s at. 

     I’ve had another thought recently, about my company, that even though I am more meticulous than the guys are, it doesn’t mean I do a better job — they’re all perfectly capable.  And I know damn well that if I let them have the flexibility to do what they want to do, the company’s gonna grow exponentially.  It’s a win-win.
     And I should knock my involvement down to one day a week doing IT.

     That gives me four other days a week to screw around chasing some potentially money-making hobbies, and two days on the weekend to go to the lake, fish and drink beer.  I’m pretty sure nobody except my immediate family knows that I actually love doing that.

     Variety … it’s where it’s at.

Mondays Should Always be so Fun

April 11th, 2006 at 12:00 am by Mark
Tags: , , , ,

     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, which is something I learned by reading online, which made me ask me; Should I Major in Computer Science? taking advantages of the courses that are given online.

     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, trying different welders, 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.

Stock Photos