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Airman Builds ‘Frankenstein’s Monster’ Computer

By Tech. Sgt. Sonny Cohrs, USAF
Special to American Forces Press Service

SOTO CANO AIR BASE, Honduras, Nov. 1, 2007 – In the spirit of Halloween, an airman here built his very own version of “Frankenstein’s monster.”

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Air Force Tech. Sgt. Robert Russell, Armed Forces Network Honduras chief engineer, shows off the "Frankenstein computer" he built from spare parts and a shipping box. The computer took about two weeks to build. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Sonny Cohrs, USAF
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Air Force Tech. Sgt. Robert Russell, chief engineer for American Forces Network Honduras, is somewhat of a computer guru. When his wife called and said she needed a new computer, he combined his know-how, spare parts, cardboard and a few dabs of glue to create his “monster.” Yes, he used “cardboard” and “glue.”

“Tinkering with computer hardware is one of my hobbies,” he said. “Usually I’ll upgrade my (personal) computer one piece at a time and keep all of the old stuff.”

Russell has a treasure chest full of spare parts -- hard drives, video cards, motherboards -- in his bedroom. He was lacking only one critical piece to bring his creation to life.

“I had all of the pieces, but I didn’t have a case,” he said. “But it’s really expensive, because it costs just as much to ship a case here as it does to buy it. And why spend 50 bucks when I can just use what I have?”

With “Plan A” being an expensive off-the-shelf computer from a retail store, Russell nicknamed his creation “Plan B” -- any good monster has to have a name right?

After a quick sketch-up of his project, the Seattle native headed to the base exchange to purchase the remainder of his supplies: glue, three cardboard shipping boxes and a box cutter. Inside the box, “Plan B” sports an 80-gigabyte hard drive, a DVD burner, a gigabyte of memory, a laptop mobile processor and an AM/FM/TV tuner card.

The computer took about two weeks to build, since he had to wait for the glue to dry and cure after each computer component was added. The irony is that the computer, built from a shipping box, may not survive the trip to his wife’s address in Texas in once piece.

“I’m afraid to send it, because I’m afraid it will break in shipping. It will just be a ‘box of parts’ when it gets there,” he said with a laugh.

For now, the computer serves as his personal juke box and an interesting conversation starter.

Russell’s regular duties as chief engineer include maintaining the technical radio and television equipment for AFN. He and his co-workers maintain 24-hour broadcast capabilities for Soto Cano.

Adding to his resume, Russell also has started sitting in as a co-host for the afternoon rock show. At 6 feet, 5 inches tall, the sergeant’s unofficial disc jockey name is “The Big Show.”

Russell joined the military on April 17, 1996, and enlisted as a broadcast maintenance troop. Joining the Air Force, he said, seemed like a natural choice to build on the engineering skills he learned in community college.

“I didn’t want to landscape for my uncle any more, and I wanted to use my engineering skills,” he said. “My step-dad was an Air Force pilot, so I grew up on a lot of Air Force stories.”

Although he cross-trained a few years ago to work as an intelligence analyst, Russell was pulled back into his old career field to take this remote tour to Honduras. He’s slated to leave here in December for Menwith Hill, England, where he’ll work in intel again.

Fortunately, after his move, Russell will have plenty more boxes to go with his extra computer parts; maybe a “bride of Frankenstein” is in the future.

(Air Force Tech. Sgt. Sonny Cohrs is assigned to Joint Task Force Bravo Public Affairs.)

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageAir Force Tech. Sgt. Robert Russell, Armed Forces Network Honduras chief engineer, makes an adjustment to the "Frankenstein computer" he built from spare parts and a shipping box. The computer took about two weeks to build. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Sonny Cohrs, USAF  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageAir Force Tech. Sgt. Robert Russell, Armed Forces Network Honduras chief engineer, addresses the "shipping box" computer he built from spare parts to his wife. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Sonny Cohrs, USAF  
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