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Failed Projects - Lessons Learned #1



In my life I've undertaken many personal projects and there are a few I would qualify as failures.  After working on my latest MAME cabinet project I realized I had learned some important lessons from those projects.  In the hope that maybe others can learn from my mistakes...


Decades ago I had an idea for a circuit which would remove Macrovision copy protection from an analog video signal.  IIRC it was based around a sync separator and I was positive it would work.  So I ordered the parts from Mouser, wired everything up on perfboard, connected to my DVD player and... nothing.  It was at that point that I realized I did not have the equipment necessary (e.g. a digital storage oscilloscope) to determine why it was failing.


The lesson was to plan for failure and before starting the project make sure you have the tools necessary to debug any issues.  (In particular any hardware project.)


For example, I considered trying to build a portable Wii (Wiiboy).  However, I could easily wind up with the same problem - something doesn't work and I don't have the tools to debug the problem.  (Especially since a big part of the project is to physically cut the Wii PCB, so there's a very real risk of something going wrong.)


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Never thought about having enough (or the correct) debugging tools ahead of time. Only what was needed to get realtime information as I proceeded along a project. Always have on-hand the basics and meter and scope.


If I needed to fix something I'd use those basic tools and only those I had at the outset of the project - because I'd never wait till I could afford something super advanced like a logic analyzer or vectorscope. Make do. Repurpose. Find innovative ways to work with that ya'got


Parallel this to software emulation like MAME and other emus. The tools are message boards and a general good rapport with the developer. And knowing how things work and where to find information. That's all the troubleshooting stuff you need to know. And it seems to evolve and accumulate over time, like physical tools. But sometimes those drop off the radar with time, too. It's a moving window.


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Yep, but while there's a bunch of stuff you can figure out with nothing more than a basic multimeter it doesn't cut it for signalling issues.  Admittedly these days there's USB dongles with software which are a decent alternative to a DSO depending upon what you're debugging.  However, the lesson I learned is to at least consider what might be necessary to troubleshoot issues before diving in and spending $$.


Admittedly software is a lot easier, although there an still be challenges.

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