I help with Melbourne Perl Mongers.
I spend an awful lot of time talking about Perl, and have had my picture in the Australian newspapers with a camel. That's rather scary.
Mod your own home-made dance mat
This blog entry comes with photographs. If you're viewing this on use.perl, advogato, planet anything, or blog mirrors, you probably can't see them. Try viewing them on my main blog here .
At linux.conf.au we volunteered one of our playstation dancemats to be used in a talk by Tamara Olliver on how to build your own dance mat. What was given back to us was an awesome, cork tile and wood creation that did an excellent job, and worked much better than the old slippery dance mat that it used to be.
Unfortunately, the mat had a problem. The start and stop buttons were mapped to the back-left and back-right pads, which made them easy to hit by accident while playing. This was generally a bad thing, since they could pause the game, quit the song, or otherwise cause a dancing hero like myself to "lose one's groove". Yesterday, I decided it was time to fix it.
Being too lazy to take a trip down to the hardware store and buy mesh, cork, and insulating foam to build more buttons, I looked around the house to see if I could find anything I thought suitable to adapt for some new start/select buttons, that could be mounted separately on the board above the main mat. I discovered a number of old Commodore-64 joysticks, and with them my most favourite of them. This is a large, dome-shaped contraption with two very large buttons. I loved it not only because it was so comfortable, but because the buttons had such a satisfying click when pressed. This would make an ideal addition to my mat!
After quite some effort with a screwdriver, and some brute force, I managed to get the top off the joystick, and promptly went off to get my soldering iron. Unfortunately for me, I haven't done any soldering in years, and couldn't locate it no matter how hard a tried. However I did find my Star Trek: The Motion Picture Little Golden Book edition tape, which I think is ample evidence that my parents were supporting my geekdom from a very young age. "You know when it's time to turn the page when you hear the communicator beep like this..."
One trip to jaycar later, and I'm back with a new soldering iron; except it's not just a soldering iron. This wonderful (and cheap) creation is a blowtorch, soldering iron, hot cutting tool, hot chisel, hot air gun, and some other attachment all-in-one! The tool runs off butane, which meant I could work outside without having to worry about power cords, as well as looking awesome. It'll probably impress my friends almost as much as my satisfying-click buttons.
The new tool made desoldering my switches easy, as well as slicing through the hard plastic casing of the joystick housing. Unfortunately, the tool made melting and cutting plastic a little bit too easy, and I discovered after slicing the bottom joystick plate that the hot exhaust had melted and damaged some of the button supports. This was a very important lesson for me; the exhaust is really hot, and should be kept pointed away from plastic, electronics, fingers, and tabletops.
Switching my tool into hot-air-gun mode allowed me to re-melt and re-shape the plastic supports, although it took a few attempts for me to get it right. The second button still wobbles a little oddly, but time and patience got things back to how they should be. However after discovering that the housing for the LEDs that normally fit into the buttons was damaged, I gave up on my secondary objective of having a satisfying light to go with my satisfying click. Perhaps if I'm eager I'll try that another day.
With the buttons fitting back into their housing, it was a simply matter of reassembly and soldering the new pieces into the controller board. Determining the functions of the controller contacts was extremely easy: the big one in the middle with the black wire was ground, and everything else when connected to ground would switch on a button. A pad of paper, a piece of wire, and the controller hooked up to my PC allowed me to easily determine which button mapped to which contact, and how I wished to rearrange them.
Re-soldering was extremely easy, and the whole rig worked first time. A bit of glue, some gaffer tape, some electrical tape, and a big book to hold things in place, and the job was done! I now have an awesome, home-made dance mat, with extra buttons where I want them. Now I just need to build a second, so my dancing opponents won't be too jealous.
Photographs are available on flickr for anyone who wants a better look on how things were done.