Monthly Archives: April 2008


Little computers everywhere

I’m pretty interested in watching the proliferation of little computers everywhere. Here’s the latest example I saw: a Linux firewall machine that fits inside your Windows laptop. I don’t exactly love the architecture of this particular beast (redirecting network traffic out to the firewall and back in via a hacked-up network driver), though I understand why they did it that way. But it is an interesting thing to contemplate how such nested/cohabitating computers can add neat little features to the mobile lifestyle.

With my latest mobile computing acquisitions, I’m becoming really fond of little semi-specialized general-purpose computers all over. If I want to go light, I can have my phone with me and still have very basic web browsing and email capabilities. If I want a few more features, I can add the internet tablet to the mix. If I have to do real work, I can add the laptop, or sometimes the laptop and the internet tablet. Pretty much mix-n-match, because they’re all good standalone and they synergize nicely when used together. They also all have some means of accessing the Internet and getting to my servers and a million others, which further extends the synergy.


Evolutionary cul de sac

It’s funny how the evolution of consumer products leads to odd outcomes, sometimes.

For example, my refrigerator has a vestigial ice-maker. I noticed this one night when I heard that clunk-clunk noise you hear from ice-makers. But I don’t have an ice-maker (or so I thought).

I looked in my freezer and noted that there is a sealed-off chunk of space in there that I had never really payed attention to. Likewise, there’s a sealed space in the refrigerator portion. It was sort of difficult to determine if that was the source of the noises I was hearing, but I was intrigued anyway.

I looked up the manual for the appliance online, but there was no mention of the function of these spaces. Ya know how they have the exploded drawing of the appliance with the little arrows and labels describing the various features; well, these spaces were there, little blank rectangular prisms, but no arrows and no labels.

A night of searching around the web finally uncovered the westinghouse-hackers listserv, where people talk about all their cool mods to their refrigerators and discuss the minutia of the various stock designs. Someone disassembled the mystery box in this model and discovered the weirdest thing. Seems there’s an entire closed-loop ice-maker system in there. It makes ice in the freezer, which is then dropped to the fridge, where it collects in a little container. It melts, then the water is pumped back up to make more ice.

The aforementioned investigator talked to some of her contacts at the local appliance repair shop. Apparently, this sort of thing is well-known among repair pros, but not outside those circles. If the ice-maker continues to function properly, the average person would never even really notice it was there; it’s only my sensitivity to those weird nighttime noises that alerted me to its presence.

There’s some debate among those pros about what the value of such a system might be. When called on to repair problems related to this system, most of them will just remove the entire thing, reasoning that it can’t possibly be useful to the user. However, a few, mostly among the ‘holistic repair’ set, will try to keep it running if at all possible. Some will even recommend replacing the water in the system with a special homeopathic preparation that’s said to slow down the melt-freeze cycle (‘metabolism’) slightly in order to increase the refrigerator’s longevity.

The hackers have found various ways to take advantage of this system; for example, one mod detailed on the listserv replaces the white plastic casing of the system with plexiglass and adds neon illumination. Another clever hacker extended that system with a ruggedized WiFi-enabled webcam so you can watch the ice freeze and melt without holding your refrigerator doors open, yielding a significant energy savings.

For now, I think I’m just going to stick with stock.