21 September 2014

Today, in "Retro Frustration"... []

I present the 72-pin connector for a Nintendo Entertainment System (front-loader style)...

These things are what cause so much rage, given that when they wear out, you have to load cartridges in just so to avoid the blinking screen of death (console continually resetting because the anti-bootleg chip didn't get the signal) or garbled graphics because something isn't lined up right...no amount of isopropyl alcohol and q-tips can save you when this goes bad.

This right here is actually a replacement one I got off eBay...lasted all of a month. So much for quality.

It's a real pain to have to replace these things too: you need to remove five screws to take off the top, seven screws to take off the metal shield over the cartridge slot, then six more to take off the Zero Insertion Force (ZIF) loader (the springy thing which, despite the name, actually does require a nonzero amount of force). Then you must pull up the motherboard to slide off the pin connector, then slide the new one on, then re-screw all the screws. And if you re-tighten them too tight, the loader will no longer function. 

Also, new 72-pin connectors have a ridiculously tight fit for the first week or so. Takes a firm shove to get the cartridge in and then a jaws-of-life grip to pull it out until you break it in a bit. And then the thing breaks.

Oh, the pain of the retro collector who prefers the original NES over the top-loader.  

EDIT: I should note that it is actually possible to repair these things, so long as they're not actually completely broken. But it's still a pain to take them out, do so, and replace them.


P.S. If you're interested in some awesome Top 5-style videos that also feature more Nintendo than I usually cover, check out 2MooglesGaming on their blog and YouTube.

11 September 2014

Cool Thing of the Day: Business Card Math...[]

Okay, hear me out on this one, because I know the title isn't all that exciting. But I promise that, so long as you're the right kind of geek, it's at least something that will pique you're interest and maybe occupy you for a few minutes, or hours possibly.

Warning! Incoming Math content from a former English major!

If you're offended by mathematics or by a Creative Writing major doing mathematics, feel free to skip this post.

So I work in an office. I'm not ashamed to admit it; it pays the bills and keeps me productively busy. But I get bored sometimes (especially after an eyes-bleedingly long day staring at Excel spreadsheets), so occasionally I will reach for something to recharge my brain. Often, I grab a spare sticky-note pad and sketch something (like Batman, or ninjas, or whatever), or maybe I'll grab a piece of paper and pretend I'm good at origami. Among the things handy to snatch for compulsive paper folding are business cards:

They're small, somewhat sturdy (and so stand up to repeated re-folding), and common enough that I don't feel like I'm wasting anything (plus I have a stash of my own blank ones that I made into a glue-bound notepad a while ago). So naturally, they're a common target.

I noticed something a while ago, though, which really caught the side of me that likes to mess around with math (though another side always reminds me that I never want to do math for a living): it's really easy to fold these things into equilateral triangles.

Check this out: the standard business card in the US is 2" tall by 3.5" wide. It just so turns out that this ratio is nearly perfect* for folding into 60° angles, which create equilateral triangles, and thus also for dividing into thirds.

* The ratio isn't exact. It would need to be 3.5" × ~2.02726" or ~3.464102" × 2" to be perfect, but it's certainly close enough. 

Folding Instructions

Step 1: Obtain an ordinary 2" × 3.5" business card. [/obvious] 

Step 2: Fold one corner over to the corner diagonally opposite (e.g. bottom left to top right) so that the corners touch. Try to get this as accurate as you can.

At this point, you've just made the crucial fold. If you unfold it, you'll see that the diagonal crease intersects the long edges so that the crease is ⅓ away from either end. So now you get to pick your own adventure:

If you want to fold it into thirds, go to Step 3.
If you want to make equilateral triangles, go to Step 5.

Step 3: Stick your thumbnail on one of the spots where the crease intersects a long edge and fold over at that point so that the edge meets itself (i.e. so it's not folded over at an angle).

Step 4: Now flip it all over and fold the other edge so the short edge meets the crease you made in the previous step. You may have to finagle it a bit so that it lines up (since the ratio's not completely exact).

Step 4 (alternate): Repeat Step 2 from the other side, so that there is now an X-shaped crease in the center. Then repeat Step 3 from that side. Again, also depending on how accurately you did the folds, you may have to finagle it a bit.

You're done!

Step 5: After you've done Step 3 and folded one corner over to the other, fold over the "wings" on either side, using the "top" point, which is where the two corners meet each other and one of the "bottom" points, which is where that side hits the crease, as your end points. When it folds over, the short edge of the card should go vertically down the middle and the other edge should be flush with the crease from Step 2. Repeat this step on the other side.

You're done!

Math Content

So here's what's behind this: equilateral triangles (i.e. those with all three sides the same length) have all their internal angles at 60°. When you make that first fold, you make a rough approximation of a 60° angle with the long side of the card.

More detail: You'll notice that when you finish up Step 5, the two end flaps are right triangles (meaning one angle is a 90° corner) half the size of the big ones. In fact, they're a rough approximation of a special type of right triangle, the 30-60-90 triangle. Click that link, read the Wikipedia page, then come back, if you're not familiar.

If you're like me, you've already drawn a diagram and mapped out how the different lengths relate to each other. If you're further like me, you set up some worksheet formulas (Excel or LibreOffice) to calculate side lengths for future triangles. But that's a bit beside the point.

The main math thing that has to be true for this to work is for the ratio of the long edge to the short edge of the card being 3:√3̅, or ~1.732051. So if you do the math, you'll see that the business card dimensions aren't exact, but they're pretty close.

Anyway, hope this was at least somewhat entertaining for you. I tried to add photos of me doing the folds, but my cell phone's camera refused to focus [/badexcuse].


05 September 2014

That certain kind of morning... []

My favorite kind of morning happens in late summer, when the sun is still rising early due to daylight saving time and the sun hasn't yet had its coffee. It's cool but not cold, still full of summer, and everything feels like it's just rained even if it hasn't.

There's a certain smell about it that reminds me of going to camp with my grandpa as a kid. I'd wake up in the cabin, next to which the camper had been parked, push open the door, and walk out towards where the fire had been.

It's the deep and enveloping smell of dirt and dew and gravel parting under my tennis shoes. It's the heavy blanket of mist and dampness held close about the earth: the world waking up after a long nap still hot and sticky with sweat under the bedsheets.

That smell, that perfluence of aromas and gathering of old memories, always makes me expect to see that same salamander, bright and orange, that I found underneath the camper that one morning.

Above all, it's quiet. I mean the kind of quiet that you get in the suburbs, with the shush of cars along the pavement in the distance and the neighbor's dog barking. But it still feels quiet and close and personal.

It's the kind of morning where I just want to take in as many slow, lazy breaths as I can as I swim through the thick atmosphere and feel the occasional whispering breeze sliding through my shirt sleeves, up one arm and down the other.

Just a pity those mornings only last for such a short space of time, before the world turns cold once again.