The everyday ramblings of one nerd.


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Not Quite a Phoenix : Raising my MAME Machine From the Ashes.

I've been meaning to sit down and write this for some time now, but have always managed to come up with some sort of convenient excuse not to. Well now, coffee in hand, I'm going to make this happen.

I built a Mame arcade machine back in the summer of 2003 with my father. It was a ton of fun and I at least learned about the large whole of my knowledge and experience involving woodworking. However me being a student at the time, and now a graduate (arcade machines, while awesome, don't travel well or fit within a student's nomadic lifestyle), and my own parents having moved twice in that time, means that this little arcade machine has traveled many miles, and we unfortunately didn't design some aspects of the machine to handle the stresses of the average move.

About the third move was when things started to go south. This move was done by “professional” movers, and apparently the entire cabinet was dropped or something. The monitor yoke had fallen off the back of the monitor tube and smashed into the PC motherboard at the bottom of the cabinet. It looked worse than it actually was, and it didn't take too long to get it running again. Lucky for me there.

The next move happened while I was busy away at college, no idea what happened there, but I came home after college and the machine wouldn't boot up at all. After a few diagnostics, I decided that well, the parts were ancient when I built it, they must have finally given up the ghost, so I chucked the motherboard in the bin, and went about scrounging some new parts. This was the first step in legacy hell.


The boy with a screw in his bellybutton.

Once upon a time there was a little boy born in a little town. He was perfect, or so his mother thought. But one thing was different about him. He had a gold screw in his belly button. Just the head of it peeping out. Now his mother was simply glad he had all his finger and toes to count with. But as the boy grew up he realized not everyone had screws in their belly buttons, let alone gold ones. He asked his mother what it was for, but she didn't know.He asked his father, but his father didn't know. he asked his grandparents, but they didn't know either. That settled it for a while but it kept nagging him. Finally, when he was old enough, he packed a bag and set out, hoping he could find someone who knew the truth of it.

He went from place to place, asking everyone who claimed to know anything about anything. He asked midwives and physickers, but they couldn't make heads or tails of it. The boy asked arcanists, tinkers and old hermits living in the woods but no-one had ever seen anything like it.

He went to ask the Cealdim merchants, thinking if anyone would know about gold it would be them. But the merchants didn't know. He went to the arcanists at the University, thinking if anyone would know about screws and their workings, they would. But the arcanists didn't know. The boy followed the road over the Stormwal to ask the witch women of the Tahl but none of them could give him an answer.

Eventually he went to the King of Vint, the richest king in the world but the king didn't know. He went to the Emperor of Atur but even with all his power the Emperor didn't know. He went to each of the small kingdoms, one by one, but no one could tell him anything.

Finally the boy went to the High King of Modeg, the wisest of all the kings in the world. The high king looked closely at the head of the golden screw peeping from the boys belly button. Then the high king made a gesture and his seneschal brought out a pillow of golden silk. On that pillow was a golden box. The high king took a golden key from around his neck,opened the box, and inside was a golden screwdriver.

The king took the screwdriver and motioned the boy to come closer. trembling with excitement the boy did. The high king took the golden screwdriver and put it into the boy's belly button.

Then the high king carefully turned the golden screw. Once: nothing. Twice:Nothing. Then he turned it the third time and....the boy's ass fell off.

-From The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

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DIY Steam Cloud

One of my favorite uses of Dropbox is not something they advertise on the tin.  Currently Dropbox will only sync files are are actually in the dropbox folder, however with a little magic, you can trick all kinds of programs to saving their data to dropbox for you.

I like to use it to keep my saved games safe and synced between my various computers.  I'll guide you through how do do it for VVVVVV which was recently updated to actually have external save files (as opposed to the flash cache).

1) Find the save files.  Most windows games are going to keep their save game files in one of two places.  Either in the document library (or the My Documents folder, if you are still on Windows XP), or in the directory where the game is installed.  When in doubt, a Google query will usually turn up where the files are hiding.

2) Make a directory in dropbox.  I've made a folder hierarchy called Steam/GameName

3) Move the save files from the game's directory to dropbox, then delete the folder from the game directory.  Don't worry, your saves are safe on dropbox now.

4) Create a symlink where the original folder was, pointing back to dropbox instead.  Here's the magic folks.  Symlinks work like a shortcut to a different file or folder, but at the filesystem level.  Programs don't "see" the difference.  Once I've created a symlink, VVVVVV will see all the save files exactly where it expects to, but the are now actually stored in my dropbox folder.

The easiest way to do this (especially if you are going to be doing this for several games) is to install the Link Shell Extension, which will let you add symlinks in a drag and drop fashion. As I'm doing here:

If you don't want to install the extension, you can also use the command line, the command for the example I'm using here would be this:

C:\Users\Brandon Kiesling\Documents>mklink /D VVVVVV "C:\Users\Brandon Kiesling\Dropbox\Steam\VVVVVV\"

5) Test it.  Try launching the game, if you are able to load your existing save games, you're golden.  If you save again, you should see dropbox sync briefly though depending on the game, it may not sync until you exit the game.

6) Repeat.  For each computer you want to sync the saved games for, repeat these steps.  Note that in step 3 you may not want to overwrite the files already in your dropbox, if that's the case, just delete them.

A few more notes:

  • You can symlink a single file instead of a whole directory.  Some games keep their save files as a single archive file or similar.
  • Make sure you have enough storage on dropbox for the files.  Some modern games, especially RPGs can have some pretty huge files.  (800mb for my Witcher saves, for example.)
  • Depending on the game, it might be disastrous if you attempt to play the game at the same time on multiple computers.
  • Both Mac and Linux support symlinks in this manner too. Assuming that the various cross-platform editions use the same save file format, you can have cross-platform sync as well.

Don't have dropbox?  I can help with that part , get it here.

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