Jon Thysell

Xbox engineer. Fiction writer. Returned Peace Corps Volunteer. Ukulele nut. Nerd.

Building the Picade Mini Part V, final touches

In Part I I put together the cabinet, in Part II I got the main electronics installed, in Part III I created a custom rear jack panel, and in Part IV I got everything up and running 95% how I wanted.

After that last post, I took the machine to work to show off. Got lots of people to try it out, and the biggest bit of feedback was people wanted their MAME games. I also really wanted to play six-button Sega Genesis games. So I spent some time updating my secondary RetroPie build to the latest version, which gave me a much more functional Genesis emulator, including save state support and six-button controls. Then I switched to mame4all-pi, and put the correct MAME roms on the box, which finally gave me working MAME games.

Once I was sure the update would improve things without breaking my Picade, I went ahead and switched back to that build. I updated the Picade, and when that was done, it turns out I was using the wrong resolution before. The Picade Mini has a 4:3 screen, and I was outputting widescreen before. Once I fixed that, I changed the splashscreen to use the official Picade art from the Kickstarter.

The last bit of work was getting MAME working. It involved making all of the requisite folders mame4all-pi needs to save configs and high scores. Once that was done, I spent the time to go into MAME and reconfigure all of the controls to use what I have on my joystick. Everything I’ve done is in the updated configs file I’ve attached at the bottom of this post.

Here’s an updated video of the build in action:

And the original video if you missed it:



My Picade Configs [194k ZIP]

I’ve configured my build to use as much screen real estate as possible without compromising on aspect ratios. The buttons are set up such 1-6 on the top map to playing buttons (Y X L B A R), the front are for Start and Select, and the side buttons are Escape and Control. Holding the right side button while I hit another button performs various emulator commands:

  • Left side – exit the emulator and return to the menu
  • B (bottom row, first button) – lower volume
  • A (bottom row, 2nd button) – raise volume
  • R (bottom row, last button) – hits Ctrl+C to forcefully exit any game
  • Y (top row, first button) – load state
  • X (top row, 2nd button) – save state
  • Select – bring up emulator menu

Includes configs for all of the RetroArch emulators, and for mame4all-pi. Feel free to change the configs to support your own needs.

Ten Years without Uncle Teeny

Uncle TeenyDear Uncle Teeny,

I still miss you.

If I can’t say anything else, I just need to get that out first. The writer in me wants to be eloquent, to pick and choose and dance around my words, and maybe halfway into this letter I’ll be able to do that, but until then I just needed to say that first.

Teeny's ObituarySo much has happened in the past ten years, I don’t know where to start. You were there when I moved into the dorms; I wish you could have been there when I graduated. I wish you could have seen me off to the Peace Corps, and been at the airport the day I came back.

When I moved to Washington, I wanted to share the news with you- again when I found Anne, again when I joined Xbox, again and again for every major event in my life.

When I asked Anne to marry me, when she said yes, I wanted to call and tell you.

You were missed at every holiday, every family event. I wish you could have seen Nickolis get married, could meet your grand nephews, could see him now, a young man following in your footsteps or service and public safety. I wish you could see Rachelle grow into a smart, strong, fun young woman.

Uncle Teeny (Young)You touched enough lives to fill a stadium- gave your ear, your shoulder, and the shirt off your back if needed. You helped others stay on the right track, and set an example to all who met you. If I become half the man you were, I’ll be satisfied I’ve done things right.

It’s been a hard ten years without you Uncle Teeny. We all still miss you very much.



In memory of Nick “Teeny” Jones, III
July 19, 1964 — March 11, 2004

Building the Picade Mini Part IV, let’s finish this up!

In Part I of this build, I put together the main parts of the cabinet. In Part II I got the main kit’s electronics installed and tested. In Part III I created a custom rear jack panel.

Next step was to finally install the rear door. The included hinges and latch worked perfectly.

Rear panel attached Rear panel open

With the rear door in place, it was time to install the Raspberry Pi and put into effect my grand wiring scheme.

The goal has always been a single power supply with a single power switch to get me into a ready to play system. With that in mind I installed a single throw, double pole switch.

The first pole is responsible for powering the monitor and customized USB hub directly. For the monitor I used the cut off the barrel-end of the included power supply. For the USB hub I severed the power leads for the host plug (so that it would never draw power from the Raspberry PI itself) and ran new power lines straight out the side. Simple enough, and both devices power up as soon as I hit the switch.

Rear panel wired 2Now for the Raspberry Pi itself, I need something else. If I run power straight from the switch to the Pi, then killing the power threatens corrupting the Pi’s SD card and killing the machine.

Since it’s a common enough problem, and since I didn’t want to reinvent the wheel, I simply used a Mausberry shutdown circuit. In concert with a small script that runs on the Pi itself, what the shutdown circuit does is uses a pair of GPIO pins on the Pi to monitor when the Pi is running. When the switch is thrown, the circuit tells the script to tell the Pi to perform a clean shutdown. After the shutdown occurs (killing the script), the circuit finally cuts power to the Pi.

So essentially I wire power straight from my jack to the shutdown circuit, and attach the second pole of my switch to the designated spots on the shutdown circuit. (There’s also room for an emergency swtich to reset the Mausberry circuit itself, but I didn’t bother).

Rear panel wired 1Sum total is that when the power switch is turned on, everything is powered on. When the switch is turned off, power is cut immediately to the monitor and USB hub, and a signal is sent to the Pi to shutdown cleanly. About 2-3 seconds later, the Pi shuts down and power is cut to the Pi.

So as long as I don’t physically pull out the jack, I can safely hit the power switch to power off the machine, even in the middle of a game, as long as I wait for a few seconds before pulling the actual plug. The speakers pop when the Pi loses power, so I know I’m safe to unplug.

The last bit of hardware setup was to connect the Pi in to everything. I connected the shutdown circuit and Ethernet jack to the Pi and both the rear USB jacks and the Picade controller to the USB hub (I’ll explain why later). I connected the HDMI from the monitor to the PI and the audio out from the Pi to the Picade board.

Finally, time to start playing with the software!

My first attempt at building an emulator rig with Raspberry Pi used the wonderful RetroPie Project. Since I had already gotten that up and running on another build, (with lots of games working) I decided to take a shortcut and clone that SD card as my starting point for my Picade.

First I tweaked the config.txt to optimize the display for the Mini’s screen (I’ll attach my config at the end of the post). Then I configured the Picade joystick as the new (and only) device. Again, I ended up needing to reprogram the Picade controller, as the default key selections, while great for MAME, actually caused all kinds of problems with RetroArch, which is the framework a lot of my emulators were using. (Again, I’ll add my configs to the end of the post).

The last real configuration (and it still needs some work) was for audio. By default, if you have HDMI connected, the Pi won’t output audio from the 3.5mm jack. I fixed that with the Raspberry Pi sound troubleshooting guide. (Hint, it’s amixer -c 0 cset numid=3 1).

The only audio hiccup I still have is that by default the sound is at max volume at boot. And it is LOUD. Even worse, it seems like potentially something is shorting on the Picade board- such that if the Picade board is wired directly to the Pi, and a loud sound plays, the controls straight up die. The solution I found for the controls was to connect the Picade controller board to the USB hub instead. As for the loud sound, my current workaround is to go in and out of the settings for Emulation Station (the front-end UI for the emulators) after boot. For some reason this resets the audio to regular ranges until I reset or power down.

After figuring that out, the box pretty much runs the way I want it to. I can play NES, SNES, GB, GBC, and GBA without any problems. Master System doesn’t work too well. Genesis works but the emulator (Picodrive) for some reason is locked to 3 button mode only. I haven’t gotten MAME to work yet- none of my roms are the right version it seems.

At this point the project is basically done. I might add a headphones jack, but the joystick itself is super loud anyway. The whole thing fits comfortably on my lap to play, but the front edge is sharp on the wrists so I might grind that down a bit.

Anyway, hope you enjoyed following my build!


My Picade Configs [4k ZIP]

I’ve configured my build to use as much screen real estate as possible without compromising on aspect ratios. The buttons are set up such 1-6 on the top map to playing buttons (Y X L B A R), the front are for Start and Select, and the side buttons are Escape and Control. Holding the right side button while I hit another button performs various emulator commands:

  • Left side – exit the emulator and return to the menu
  • B (bottom row, first button) – lower volume
  • A (bottom row, 2nd button) – raise volume
  • R (bottom row, last button) – hits Ctrl+C to forcefully exit any game
  • Y (top row, first button) – load state
  • X (top row, 2nd button) – save state
  • Select – bring up emulator menu

Feel free to change the configs to support your own needs.

Update: See the video: Picade Mini build running RetroPie.

Update: Part V is up.

Chordious 0.6.0 available, now with an integrated chord finder!

It’s been five months since I last released Chordious, my free app to generate beautiful chord diagrams for stringed instruments. Version 0.4.0 brought the first public iteration of the graphical chord designer, greatly simplifying your ability to create diagrams to meet your own style needs.

The problem was, you still needed to know what chords you wanted to make diagrams for. The biggest ask then was for an integrated chord finder.

It took me some time to bone-up on music theory, and then figure out exactly how to implement a chord finder in an efficient way. Other apps have done it before, but it’s a non-trivial problem to solve, and so I wanted as efficient, complete, and flexible solution as possible.

It took a few months to plumb the whole thing through, but Chordious 0.6.0 now features an integrated chord finder! Check out these lovely screenshots:

Now you can simply pick your instrument, tuning and search parameters and then search for chords! Right now you’re limited to the instruments, tunings, and chord types that I’ve entered- to start I just added some of the more popular banjo, guitar, and ukulele tunings. In the future I plan on making the list user editable. Same thing with the chord qualities- right now you’re limited to major, minor, augmented, diminished, 7th, 6th, and some of their variants.

Though the chord finder is the meat of the release, there are also plenty of other new features as well, including:

  • Export: Export images as PNG or JPG for easier use
  • Diagrams: Strings can be “muted” by setting them to -1 (and they show as x’s above the string)
  • Diagrams: Strings left open can optionally have an O at the top of the diagram
  • Diagrams: If Barre is set to -1, the diagram will make an “educated guess” where the barre should go
  • Diagrams: Barres can now be partial (only crossing the minimum number of marks) or cross the whole fret
  • Diagrams: If Baseline is set to 1, don’t show the 1 fret number (just remove the nut line, great for creating blank diagrams)
  • Bug fix: Fixed an issue where the app kept running in the background when you closed with an unsaved document open
  • Lots of other clean-up and code reduction

For download links, check out my Chordious page, or the Chordious project page at Launchpad. You’ll find links for both the binaries and the source. Be sure to download the right binaries for your system (Windows or Linux / Mac OS X), and follow the installation instructions carefully.

Happy strumming!


Note: Chordious is still beta software, so please be sure to backup any ChordDocuments and diagrams you create. If you run into issues, let me know! I’ve still got plenty of room on the road-map to version 1.0.

Update (02/16/2014): I finally fixed the StartChordious.cmd script to work on Windows XP, so I’ve updated the 0.6.0 windows binaries zip to include the fix.

Building the Picade Mini Part III, with a custom rear jack panel!!!

Time for another Picade Mini update! In Part I of this build, I put together the main parts of the cabinet. In Part II I got the screen’s faulty driver board replaced and the screen and control electronics tested.

Now, according to the instructions, my last construction steps are to install the rear door and mount my computer. Then I should be good to start setting up the software. But, you don’t own something until you’ve modify it, so let’s modify this cabinet.

Starting pieces for a jack panel

I wanted to have a cleaner rear interface than just a bunch of cables sticking out the pre-cut slots in the bottom of the rear door. My idea was to install some jacks, so my first step was to create a template of the jacks that I want- 2 USB, 1 power, 1 Ethernet, and a nice power switch.

Template board Port layout on the template

At first I saw two choices: cut individual ports directly into the rear door, or cut one large hole and make a separate jack panel to mount there. Either way I’d need a template, so I did just that with a thin sheet of wood with graph paper glued to it. Then I traced out and labeled the jacks where I wanted them on the graph paper.

Drilling the power jack with the drill press Filing out hoels for the jacks

I used a drill press to cut the hole for the power jack and for the screws of the other jacks. Then I used a jigsaw and file to make the holes for the jacks themselves.

The jacks successfully mounted to the template front The jacks successfully mounted to the template back

All in all, I was pretty happy with the template. It was a nice compact arrangement of everything I wanted. Next it was time to decide whether to start cutting holes in that rear door, or make a separate panel. Given the thickness of the rear door, I chose to make the separate panel.

The next question was what material to use? My first idea was to use a thin sheet of metal, or even to use another thin panel of wood. Instead my future father-in-law (whose workshop and tools I was using for this part of the project) suggested I try plastic, specifically a light switch blank. He thought it’d be easier for me to work with and look better than what I could make out of wood or metal.

Sizing up a light switch panel to the rear door Drilling ports into the panel

Home Depot carried them in black for $0.89, so we picked up two and I got to work. He was right; the panel was really easy to work with. I transfered the template design onto it like a stencil with an awl and cut away. I’ll have to keep light switch blanks in mind when I’m working on electronic enclosures in the future.

Sizing the completed panel to the rear door Drilled holes in the door to cut out with a jigsaw

After cutting out the holes and making sure everything fit, it was time to  figure out where I wanted to mount it on the rear door. I chose the center bottom as the place to give me the most room inside the cabinet.

A hole in the door!

It was time to cut a hole in that beautiful rear door. I drilled holes to mount the panel and drilled out the corners so I could take the jigsaw to it. I cut out the smallest square I needed, and then for the moment of truth…

Finished jack panel front Finished jack panel rear

Viola! My custom jack panel installed perfectly, and looks way better than I expected! I realize it’s a little dirty in the pic- it got some glue stuck to the panel and I was too excited to take a photo to clean it off first. Now all I have left for the physical part of this build is to wire everything up and get that rear door installed onto the cabinet.

Stay tuned for the next part when I do just that!


Update (03/05/14): Part IV is up!

Update (03/05/14): See the video: Picade Mini build running RetroPie.


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