Archives for May 2015

Easy Fixes

Posted May 25, 2015

Arcade gaming at home seems to consist of four components: exhaustively researching a game and its origins, tracking it down for a price you’ve told yourself is reasonable, playing them in a repetitious state to eventually possess it in its entirety, and finally fixing things when they break. Equally enjoyable for me, though I certainly wish I had a special talent for the last two.

I accept that I’ll never know the intricate entanglement of hardware and software like these guys, probably for the same reasons I’m not a programmer. Fortunately, simple repairs seem to solve the most common issues with arcade hardware. This stuff is 20-30 years old, repairs are just part of the deal, and rewarding when it works out.

The first PCB that gave me problems was Strikers 1945. I bought it from an eBay seller I’d had success with, and I really didn’t want to mail it back without at least looking for obvious solutions. All of the sprites were represented by white blocks, like a censored unclassified document. I reseated the ROMs with no change. Next I tried putting pressure on chips to see if one sparked up the missing sprites. It didn’t take long to find one that responded, working 100% when bridging the corner pin to the solder on the board. Cold solder joint! I’d barely heard the term before watching hours of repair videos on YouTube over the past couple years. I didn’t even own a soldering iron at this point, though I’d had a regular cycle of tools arriving from Amazon for the Gyruss restore. A few days later one arrived, I made some quick test solders on a bootleg Puzzle Bobble MVS board, then freshened up the Strikers 1945 surface mount chip. Fixed, and pleased with my first small victory.

Soon another PCB required work when Twin Cobra showed up with a very faint and flickery picture. After some basic poking and prodding I turned to the forums for advice. Within an hour Emphatic and System11 pointed out that it was a bootleg, and required a missing video ground. I took a tiny piece of bare wire and soldered it from pin 14 to the ground plane. Now the image was bright and flicker-free, but somehow the player one stick would only move up and right, and player two controls threw up a strange “tilt” message and reset the game. Looking closer I realized the wire I used was too thick for the JAMMA harness, so I desoldered and tried again with a thinner wire. Fixed, and didn’t need to send back to Japan via YJA, which would’ve never worked out anyway.

One last recent update was to replace a CPS2 A board fan, which are notoriously noisy. Even with the cab door shut and the attract on you could hear the thing whirring away like an old Dell desktop was shoved inside. There’s plenty of how-to videos on this one, though finding the right fan took a few searches to narrow down. The consensus seemed to be an ebm-papst 612FL, and since you only need one of them unless you have multiple A boards, it seemed well worth $25. Maybe a fan isn’t even necessary for home use, obviously engineered to deal with the hot conditions of running all day on location, but I’d rather just do it and forget about it. Since the fan arrived with two exposed wires, I cut the existing fan’s wires leaving the original connector in place. Then I twisted the wires together in parallel, added a little solder, and whoops! don’t forget to add heat shrink tubes first. Even with the A board without its shell the fan makes virtually no noise. I’m on a roll, at least until something, like, complicated breaks.

David Letterman

Posted May 25, 2015

Knowing there would come a day when David Letterman retired was a sad reality that surfaced in my mind less and less, though that didn’t really ease the pain when it finally happened. I must’ve started watching Dave when I was 10 or 11, latching on to this trojan horse manchild who carved my first lasting impressions of comedy and subversion. He was my private thing, as most longtime fans would say. Like early Conan, Dave’s show was scrappy, honest and brave. And unlike Carson, his irreproachable network television father figure, Dave opened up the format well beyond the desk, searching further into America’s indifferent psyche than most viewers cared to examine.

I watched his NBC days until his departure in 1993 for CBS, the year I graduated high school. The new format was shiny and his Adidas were now long gone. On and off I caught the show, but it wasn’t the same as those early years spent watching alone in my room. Fantasies of interning for show, writing for the show, guest hosting the show, evaporated as I grew up and let it go.

In October of 2012, after writing in for tickets 25 years prior with no response, I was in New York and called to request standby seats at Justin’s insistence. That night we sat in the second row, freezing, and watched as Dave and Chris Elliott bantered. My memory of that night was the long buildup to finally taking seats in the studio, a very trim and energetic Dave running out, the bursts of activity off camera between segments, and the show close arriving sooner than I’d hoped.