Mostly Harmless background: I provide computers and system support for a local SF convention's (Marcon) art show; at this year's con, I tried out a NAS drive enclosure as the file server. All of the systems could access the drive over the network just fine, but when it came time to start processing data in and out of the shared database, the file quickly became corrupted. I ended up moving the database to a spare notebook system (running Windows XP Pro) to resolve the access problems. I decided then that I needed to assemble a small dedicated file server that would provide some data redundancy and handle the necessary client connections. The other phrase that kept crossing my mind during the setup and troubleshooting was "don't panic..." That started me thinking about using the Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy (AKA HHGG or H2G2) as a case mod theme for the project.

Maximum PC Mod Shop GamesChallange:
Create your best mod featuring a brand, character (or characters), or theme from a game of your choice.
This can be a video game, board game, pen and paper, or card game: anything goes! Upload your rig, including pictures, specs, and a work log, to Mod Shop and tag it "gameschallenge". All entrants must be created from scratch for the contest — no previously-created mods, please!
Your first sketch is due on your rig’s profile by July 4th, 2008 to be considered eligible for the contest; your rig must be complete, with photos, worklog, and specs posted as a Mod Shop rig profile no later than midnight on Friday, August 1st, 2008.
The contest will be judged by a panel of experts and esteemed judges and they will be basing their decision on the following criteria: craftsmanship, design, adherence to contest theme, and originality.

About the game: Hitchhikers Guide is an old Infocom text adventure game published way back in 1984 (shades of George Orwell!) I ran the CPM version on an Osborne CP/M computer back then. (Wow! 64K of RAM – who would ever need more than that?) “In those days spirits were brave, the stakes were high, men were real men, women were real women and small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri were real small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri” [Douglas Adams -The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy]. The red and yellow button came with the game; the blue and white version was passed out by Infocom at Comdex that year.
 
Mostly harmless System Specs:

  • PC Chips M861G system board

  • AMD Athlon 3200+ CPU

  • Zalman CNPS7700 CPU cooler

  • 2GB OCZ DDR-800 memory

  • ATI 256 MB Radeon 9250 Video (*downgrade)

  • Two 160 GB SATA 2.5 in notebook hard drives (*upgrade)

  • Samsung DVD-RW drive

  • Matrix Orbital MX620 PLED (Polymeric LED) display

  • Pyle PLVG7IR LCD Touch Screen monitor

  • Mini-Key USB Keyboard DGPN-570

  • 500 Watt PSU

Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy Game and other references:

An integrated "guide" using a small LCD monitor and keypad

"42" (What do you get when you multiply six by nine?)

"Don't Panic" in large friendly letters (Original "Don't Panic" button from Infocom game)

The little green guy, featured on the game box and early books

A yellow slab-like appearance (AKA Vogon Construction)

A large ("do not push") red button, that does not affect the computer operation - We have problems with kids and other guests pushing buttons on my other case mods which are being used as client systems for data entry.

Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy text game (Infocom) available for play using WinFrotz and special version.

Windows slideshow screen saver with Rod Lord (BBC series) illustrations, game box art, screen grabs from BBC online HHGG game version, and several (custom) related images.

Video clips of original (Rod Lord) animations used in first (BBC) HHGG video series. (Cool! I found a cool Audio/Video/Image screen saver on SourceForge.net; It doesn't have any simple way to set image display timing, but supports mixing all of the various media types. I captured the narrated Guide animations from the original BBC movie and placed these in the same directory as the Rod Lord and other screenshot images. I had to add file type of BMP, JPG, and GIF to the setup, but everything seems to play back just fine. Check out Dave's AV Screensaver.)

Microscopic space fleet landing bay? (skipped)

H2G2 "42" screen saver (available, not used.)

HHGG Screen saver with slideshow illustrations (by Rod Lord) from HHGG series. (available, not used.)
 

Construction Notes for the H2G2 'File Server'


Planning sketches for using a tapered case. The back panel view illustrates system board placement and planned orientation.

Work log 6-28-08
I took a (slightly damaged) small form factor chassis and stripped off about everything I could. The top power supply tray and dual 5.25” drive bays came off clean. I placed the micro ATX system board with heat sink inside and marked its position to get an idea of clearance for drives and the power supply. The angle of the case is such that a power supply unit will just fit in front of the system board and leave clearance for air flow out of the case. However, the power plug and switch will have to be relocated so they are not positioned on the top of the case.


A short desktop case was stripped of the top PSU/drive tray, and the open side cut at an angle. The mini-ATX board was placed in the case and a mark made to determine where other parts could fit.

Work log 06-29-08
A panel is cut out of sheet steel and attached to the bottom of the case with a length of piano hinge. Aluminum angle provides reinforcement along the cut-off sides and provide a flat surface the panel will close against. The original side panel of the case is cut to add an extension to the bottom on the opposite side, and triangular sections of sheet steel added at the front and back. Aluminum angle is riveted to the sides to additional provide support. Screw holes are then drilled and tapped at the top edges of both panels.
The power supply was opened and mounted to the internal motherboard tray. Power wires are run to the rear of the case and wired to the power connection and switch. Push buttons are installed for the system board power and reset switches. (One for power and two for reset.)


Power supply is installed in case, power connection and switch is extended to rear panel connectors.

 
Side panels are attached with length of piano hinge. The original case panel is recycled and steel sheet is used for the other. Aluminum mesh covers the top.

Work log 07-05-08
A slot is made in one side panel for DVD drive to eject through. Openings for a Matrix Orbital MX620 LCD display and a big red button are made in the front panel.

After these minor modifications, I started construction of the base plate assembly. This is made from two sections of 1/2 inch MDF with a thick acrylic core. The clear core is made from two pieces of 0.20 inch acrylic glued together with rough-ground edges to scatter the light. 36 yellow LEDs are hot glued into the hole in the acrylic panel, and wired together in 12 groups of three.

The MDF needs to be sealed to accept paint similar to plastic or metal, so a coating of epoxy is applied, thickened with talc and tinted with a little yellow tempera paint.

 

Work log 07-06-08
The guide is assembled from a small 7" LCD touchscreen and a tiny USB thumbpad that tested fine as a basic PC keyboard. I attached the keypad to the screen with a dab of superglue, and then trimmed a piece of PVC sheet to round out the lower section. A plastic floor protector is attached to hold one of the HHG badges. An on-off button (yellow) and momentary-contact button (red) are installed for the LED base and DVD tray. Gaps are filled with epoxy colored with aluminum powder.


The Guide -- before and after touch-up with silver paint. A magnet from an old hard drive is hot glued into the disk to hold the badge in place without glue or damage.

Work log 07-13-08
Drive preparation: The switch and LED are removed from the optical drive and wires attached to connect to the button on the guide. Although two standard drives could be wedged inside the chassis, I elected to install a pair of 2.5 inch notebook drives. The drives are mounted slightly offset to keep the cable connector spacing close. Case prep: Sheets of thin plastic are attached with epoxy to the sides and front of the case.


Wires are attached to the DVD-RW drive and will be connected to an LED and button assembled into the guide. Two small 40GB drives mounted with an air gap for improved cooling and offset to keep the cable connectors closer. Sheet plastic is attached with epoxy to the metal shell.

Work log 07-20-08
Kit bashing and other stuff: Using cutout pieces of white styrene sheet, printer parts, and assorted pieces of plastic stuff in one of my scrap boxes, I built up some patterns and symbolism from the Hitchhiker books and game. Additional parts were used from some Walthers Cornerstone Series kits (933-3114 - piping kit and 933-3126 - transformer kit.) Douglas Adams fans know the ultimate answer is "42" so this was used for the first layer. Other variations such as patterns of four and two, and even a binary version appear on this side of the case.
 
Bottom fan: A small 80 mm fan is added on the bottom, positioned in the opening that was left in the MDF and acrylic base. Power still needs to be run for the lights and fan, but it's one more thing out of the way. The DVD drive is mounted in the base of the case and the light assembly reattached. The DVD tray is shimmed out to the level and angle of the side panel. Kit bashing continues on the Guide side of the case...

 
Some various printer, toy, and other parts were used to add detail to the case panels. Sheet styrene is used to form the shapes and patterns.

Work log 07-22-08
Well, that's not going to work... While I was working on adding detail to the sides, I realized that the large cover on the optical drive would prevent opening that side panel of the case. Ripping off the cover plate, I modified it with two pairs of magnets and a strip of plastic to keep the panel aligned. The drive cover can now be removed to access that side of the case or to get to the tray-ejection hole in the drive.

 
The drive cover was glued on until I realized I wouldn't be able to open that side panel with it there. Magnets and a strip of styrene allow the cover to pop on and off as needed.

Work log 07-24-08
Prime Coat: I finished up the panel detailing during the week and masked out the openings and embedded hardware to prepare for painting. A grey printer went on first, followed by a single coat of yellow. Since I will be aging / weathering the case detail next, I deliberately used only a single coat of yellow, creating a slightly uneven, shaded appearance. Some final touch-up and dry-brush work should finish off the shell.


Prime coating the shell and base panels.


A single coat of yellow over the prime coat.


The base panels are masked and a coat of gold is added to improve the reflectivity of the LEDs.

Green Guy: The front of the case (with the red button and Matrix display) will have the round, green, grinning character logo near the top. I considered a couple of different approaches to his creation, and decided to do one in clear acrylic with LED backlighting. Three layers of 0.20 in. acrylic were glued together. A print-out of the logo was taped to the back, and the shape rough-cut on the band saw. This was then rough-shaped using metal burrs, and then detail added and smoothed with fine burrs. A good rubbing with brass brushes results in a soft, frosted finish that will diffuse the LED lighting better. Paint over the rear gives the acrylic color when the LEDs are off, and some black and white paint accent the mouth and teeth.
A matching hollow opening behind the mouth is carved to embed the LEDs in. A 3 mm Red LED is embedded in the base of the tongue, and three wide-angle, green LEDs are positioned in the opening. Hot glue fills the opening, holding the LEDs in place and insulating the contacts. A Molex connector is attached to feed 12 volts to the three green LEDs (connected in series) and the 5 volts connects to the red LED. I toyed with the idea of connecting the red LED to the hard drive LED pins, and could still do this at a later time by wiring things separate.


Work log 07-26-08
Don't Panic! (Just kidding...) There were only a few glitches during the final stages, most were stupid mistakes like forgetting to move the Clear CMOS jumper (Nothing gets the blood pumping like a no-POST during the last week...) The shell appearance is aged by dry brushing the yellow paint with several different "dirt" tones.

Wrap-up: Component installation wraps up with wedging the motherboard into the case (wow, was that a tight fit!) Last of the case prep involves wiring up all of the switches, LEDs, and feeding the cables that cannot be run internally, such as the combined VGA / USB touch screen wires. A cable runs from the big red button to the COM port in the rear; a pair of cheap "sport" speakers is wedged in beside the fan underneath using some stick-on Velcro (these still need upgrading, but work for sound tests.) All exposed cables and some internal ones are concealed with yellow split-loom tubing (which is also dry-brushed on the external cables.) Hard drives are mounted on the door, and all cables and power connections made to the components. Installation of the Operating system went well, and all utilities for the touch screen and Matrix panel seem to be working fine.

 
Hard drives are mounted on the side panel; exposed cables are covered in split-loom tubing to assist air flow. The USB thumbpad and Matrix Orbital display are connected to a USB connector left inside the case. The VGA cable and touchpad USB cable pass out an open in the rear panel. The exposed cable will also be covered in more tubing.

Detail Views (click for high-resolution)


 

Work log 08-09-08
* Up- and downgrades

I originally had XP Pro installed on the mod to get it up and running - but this is limited to 10 LAN connections and did not do anything for data redundancy, at least not while I was using the pair of PATA drives. I swapped out the two 40 GB PATA drives for a pair of Fujitsu 160 GB SATA drives. The system board has onboard VIA chipset SATA RAID support, so these were installed  in a RAID 1 (mirrored) configuration using the hardware. I still have to load the SATA RAID driver for the OS to see it during setup, but this was not really an issue, since I "downgraded" to Windows 2000 Server to handle the additional CALs. I lost a few bells-and-whistle shell features, but nothing critical; I did run into an issue configuring the ATI Sapphire X1650 512MB Video support- apparently there is a known issue with the secondary display support under 2000. So I also "downgraded" the video to a 256 MB ATI Radeon 9250.To make the mini speakers more useable, I added an internal amplifier removed from a pair of small desktop speakers. 7 volt power is from the last Molex drive connector, (connect negative to the red and positive to the yellow for ~7 VDC output.)


SATA drives in a RAID 1 configuration. Speaker amplifier installed in a rear slot drives to two mini-speakers attached with Velcro to the bottom of the case.

 Finishing Touches

Screen saver: The default screen saver for the internal display has been set to the common Windows Slideshow screen saver; the directory it uses for the source images contains a selection of Rod Lord illustrations (from the original BBC video series), screen shots from the on-line BBC version of the HHG adventure game, and several images that I assembled based on text phrases from the game or related to the HHG 'universe'. Screen shots from the online game were enlarged to better fill the 800x600 screen size of the guide-display and combined with text commentary from the game.

You can play the graphics-enhanced HHG game on the BBC Radio 4 website at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/hitchhikers/game_nolan.shtml

The BBC version compared to the text-only WinFrotz version
 

Red Button: The red button uses a micro switch with a common, a normally-open, and a normally-closed connection. When a 25-pin COM port is enabled in a Visual Basic application, pin 20 (DTR) goes 'low' while pin 4 (RTS) stays 'high'. My program monitors pin 8 (Carrier Detect) and sends a random text message to the Matrix Orbital display, which also appears as a COM port in Device Manager. So, the button connects three wires to the system's (9-pin) COM port: Common goes to CD (pin 1), Normally-Open goes to DTR (pin 4), and Normally-Closed goes to RTS (pin 7).
Phrases to be displayed on the PLED display are limited to two lines of 20 characters each. I compiled a list of phrases from the text game along with a few from the books and made up a few that seemed relevant. The program is written such that phrases could be added to a text file. Or the original list be rebuilt on demand from the application itself. If the file does not exist, it will be created the first time the application runs. A configuration file also is created, specifying the COM port assignment for the Matrix Orbital display and the Red Button port.

 

Earth:
Mostly harmless.

President Beeblebrox
is a Swell Guy

Guaranteed to work
normally for life.

What do you get when
you multiply 6 by 9?

I'm Your Plastic Pal
Who's Fun To Be With

DON'T
PANIC!

010101 010101 010101
010101 010101 010101

The Secret: Bang the
rocks together, guys

G.S.A.: THERE IS
NO SUCH AGENCY

You have no tea.

Please relax, you
are perfectly safe..

Another fine product
of Sirius Cybernetic

6 * 9 = 42
(in base 13)

Go stick your head
in a pig - SCCMD

The ultimate answer
is 'forty-two'

Mostly
Harmless

NUTRIMAT
MAIN MEMORY OVERLOAD

How many roads must
a man walk down?

WE APLOGIZE FOR THE
INCONVENIENCE

NUTRIMAT RESERVE
MEMORY OVERLOAD

Share and
Enjoy...

The Universe:
Avg. Population = 0

NUTRIMAT PROCESSOR
OVERLOAD

Sense, Common:
order part #31-541

Space:
really big.

WAIT...Checking Sub-
Etha-Net database...

Resistance is
useless!

Please do not press
the red button.

NUTRIMAT
GOING ON LINE

Can YOU afford a
Magrathean Planet?

Please do not press
this button again.

SHIPBOARD COMPUTER
ACCESSED

Babel Fish: Small,
yellow, leechlike...

It has little pink
and blue flowers.

Happy
to be of service

The Universe:
Monetary Units: none

Out to lunch. Please
Come back in 2 years

Buy Santraginean
Mineral Water

G'GUGVUNTS=0 DOG=
VL'HURGS=0 3800

If Life or Death, go
ahead and PANIC.

Please do not block
the tiny robot panel

Petunia Articulation
Oh no, not again...

Legendary planets
can be dangerous

Avoid Vogon poetry
appreciation chairs

I THINK
THEREFORE I AM

Improbability Factor
= 2^39,745:1 against

You are in Galactic
Sector ZZ9 PLURAL ZA

Look at me, brain
the size of a planet

This is the
thanks I get?

That was NOT the
autopilot Button!

You should know I
feel very depressed.

This routine check
will take 14.9 years

This SCC product has
a lifetime guarantee

Press for Advanced
Tea Substitute

Don't even think
about leaving...

NUTRIMAT RESERVE
MEMORY ACCESSED

This SCC lifetime
guarantee is expired

Is that a babel fish
in your ear?

NUTRIMAT PARALLEL
PROCESSORS ON LINE

Zaphod Beeblebrox is
just this guy-y'know

Support the Galactic
Anti-Litter Program.

** NUMBERS BEING **
** CRUNCHED... **

Please do not press
this button again.

MegaDodo Publication
HHG Model Mark II

Pressing the red
button won't help.

FOOTNOTE 12: Famous
recursive footnote.

Get Joo Janta peril-
sensitive sunglasses

(We were lying about
the exit to port.)

Pleased to meet you.
I'm your computer.

Ravenous Bugblatter
Beast of Traal-AVOID

Thank you,
thank you.

Digital Watches
are neat.

Space, is big.
Really big.
A bypass: You've got
to build bypasses.
6 pints. The world
is about to end.
Time is an illusion.
Lunchtime doubly so.
Want a Pan Galactic
Gargle Blaster?
Towels are massively
useful to have.
Ask a glass of water
about being drunk.
Please do not be
alarmed...
Microscopic Space
fleets: Use rear bay
Life. Don't talk to
me about life.
Pardon me for
breathing...
Do you call that
Job Satisfaction?
This is a recorded
announcement...
Life, loathe it or
ignore it...
So long, and thanks
for all the fish.
Reality is often
inaccurate.
Don't you try to
outweird me
What a depressingly
stupid machine
one's never alone
with a rubber duck.
Think of a number,
any number. - WRONG!
Who is this God
Person Anyway?