Tweeks' Alpha Geek Photo Entry


Background: This is Tweeks' entry into the Rackspace "Biggest Geek" contest where Geek Rackers were supposed to take photos and give descriptions of their home labs and offices to see who the biggest geek around is. The grand prize is $2,500 cash! Fun fun.. :)

UPDATE: The final ranking was announced on Wednesday, and I came in tied with another Racker for third place and was awarded $500. The contest was a lot of fun!

Okay Henry..

Here is my submission. They are four photos of my home bench (aka "the lab") and office space. I didn't have the time to photograph all the electronics in the closet and the hardware sitting out on the floor. But that was messy anyway.

My Computer Area

I definitely have a separate "computer area" and a "electronics bench" area in my office. The computer area is where I run the wired network, LAN/WAN router/gateway, wired file servers, printer, PC.s etc.. as well as my reverse wifi-firewall/gateway that serves secure WiFi (b/g) out to the rest of the house including to my MythTV (which I wrote about for "Linux Toys II", Wiley Press 2005 ). My "Open Firewall" also debuted in that book (here's a closeup photo of my custom "Open firewall").

While computers are fun and one of my many hobbies, they're still merely flexible tools that you buy, customize, configure and use. My real love is designing, building and tinkering with electronics as I do in the lab area of my office (below).

"The Lab" and Related Projects

Some of the "lab projects" that I am showing below are newer projects and some are very old..

Here is a montage of the first three projects detailed below...

Lunchbox Server:

This home brew "server in a lunch box" is rather famous around the old timers at Rackspace. It ran in the SAT1 datacenter for a number of years and is famous for it's quirkiness among the old DC-OPS staff. More info on how it came into being is here. That was a fun one, and it still runs rock solid!

Hacking the InfoGlobe:

This cute little consumer caller ID box screams for being used as a system load monitor and just all around fun geek toy for displaying messages on from your desktop's serial port. I've been half heartedly reverse engineering the IR protocol between the main board and the spinning LED daughter board... and have found some interesting tidbits on the inner workings of this cool, futuristic looking called ID box. But hacking the real time internal Ir on this unit is more complex than it needs to be. I think that I've found a much more "elegant solution".. now if I just had some time to implement it. :) Since my original reverse engineering work on the internal communications of the IG, some other IG hacking sites have appeared.

Red Box / Blue Box:

This is stuff I "thinkered with" in my college years... and represents my first (and only) "underground authoring" for some Hacker/Phraker Zines. Just more for fun and education than doing anything illegal. Did I mention that Red Boxing really impressed the chicks?!... well.. maybe not.. but it WAS cool to show other college dorm geek buddies how MaBell's pay phone system works and how that knowledge could (theoretically) be used to place free phone calls (again.. purely for educational perposes ONLY ;).

On a related side note... One of my actual favorite pieces of hardware on the bench is my "Big Blue" PSU/breadboard that is being used here to actually generate the 2600Hz (aka "blue box") clock signal. Big Blue was a unit that I designed and build in Jr. Engineering College back in Norwich CT. Ahhh.. those were the days. I not only had to hand trace (with black tape and acetate), photo/etch and build my own power supply, logic PCBs and circuits for this thing... but had to actually draft out everything (on paper!!!) and fabricate the case from scratch on a sheet metal machine! Liquid Weld Epoxy was my friend! :) It was a really really great learning experience that gave me great insight into what goes into commercial electronics design, and just how easy we have it today (in the day & age of direct computer to PCB fabrication). But still.. that little 10 lb blue box taught me a lot and it represents my "personal graduation" into a much larger world of hardware design, creation and system modification.

LASER based DoS of an IrDA Transceiver:

Cool idea... being able to DoS a laptop's IrDA port... but not that "useful" nowdays in the age of Bluetooth and Zigbee wireless. Still tho.. playing with HeNe Lasers (aka "real lasers") is always a hoot! Getting the beam to be visible for photography's a real bugger tho! I have another geek friend who uses his to create home made holograms in his basement.

Most of these projects that I do are just for fun... I do them because they typically represent an area that I don't know much about, or want to learn more on.. So what's a better way to learn something than just jumping right in?! More recently, some of my projects I end up either lecturing about at my user group meeting ( and other educational venues (see here), however some I just do for myself and show to a couple of my non-Rack engineer type friends. The "for fun stuff" is both personally enriching and, well, just fun! The stuff that I do for outfits like Wiley press and other publishers is mainly for opening professional doors and adding to the resume, as it ends up just being pressure and timelines more than anything else. There's actually not much money to be made in tech writing, come to find out. ;) So this brings me back to the real reason I do this stuff.. because it's fun and personally enriching to figure out how the world around you works.


p.s. please excuse any weird grammar or typos.. this was all typed in the wee hours of the morning.