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Well, I'll tell you. A "Zen Machine" or "Zen Box" is a device that contemplates zen. A good one will display it's progress in contemplating zen, as well as it's status in contemplating zen.


I'm glad you asked. :) Let me answer a question with a question (and then an answer)... What is one of the most basic concepts in Zen? Well, I'll tell you. It's "nothingness of mind", or in a broader sense "nothingness". There is your answer.


These days it's become rather common for people to modify their computer cases, to tweak them out and make them glitzy. Sometimes we geeks just like lots of blinky lights and LEDs (aka blinkenlights). It's all about making your computer area dazzling to the eye. Besides, we're computer geeks and we want more flashing lights, switches, and knobs!!!

People do all sorts of things to make their computer case spiffy... like adding window kits, internal lighting, and creative fan grills to their cases in places they were never intended to be. This of course requires a lot of drilling and cutting, and can potentially damage your case, or worse yet it might look silly or be considered a little overboard. Zen Devices aren't all glitz... OK yes they are... But they're not so silly... OK they're silly too. But the point is they can look really cool without costing a fortune or requiring cutting holes in your computer.

This page will illustrate some ideas. It's not meant to be a tutorial or step-by-step instructional, just merely a demonstration of some ideas and perhaps give you some inspiration to do a little creative work as well.

Here we'll discuss true Zen-Devices, as well as some devices you can purchase which actually serve functions, but you might be tempted to add more for effect than for actual use (especially since some are only mildly useful, depending on the application).

Zen Box
External Zen-Box

The external zen-box is always a nice addition to any work-space. The trick is to find decent enclosures that look OK, and decide on a good method of powering it. In the picture shown here, I used "modem enclosures" from Radio-Shack, and it's powered by the computer it's standing on by running one of the drive-power-cables out the back of the computer with extension cables. The lower enclosure takes the power from the computer, and through other wires provides power to the other two boxes.


Internal drive-bay devices are nice for several reasons...

  • No mess of wires associated with the zen machine to add to the already messy mass of wires you probably already have behind your computer.

  • Nothing to snag, pull apart, or knock over.

  • Makes use of those extra drive bays that look so empty otherwise.

  • It goes anywhere your computer does. I'd never take the external devices to LAN parties, for instance, but the ones in the drive bays are sure to be conversation-starters!

  • If you're industrious enough, you might actually be able to build a REAL function into your device in some way... Perhaps a thermal sensor or clock or something?

In my first drive-bay zen-device project, what I did was start with a drive-bay kit for mounting hard-drives into 5.25" bays. By attaching a perf-board and integrating a power-cable Y-adapter, I could easily start wiring up some circuits, and drill a few holes in the faceplate for LEDs:
Hard-Drive mounting kit Beginning of assembly Half-way complete Zen-Drive in place Zen-Drive Light/Dark

I may add a few more things, since I still have room left on the faceplate, but what I have looks pretty cool already. The pics above don't do it justice, since all the lights flash at different speeds, and the two horizontal "bar-graph" LED arrays are sequential flashers.

Zen Box
Bay 1: VFD Text-Display
Bay 6: ASUS iPanel
Bay 8: Numeric Password Panel
NON-ZEN DEVICES (mildly useful components)

There are many interesting devices you can get that might serve a purpose, but also function to add interesting blinking lights, flashing LEDs, and alphanumeric displays to your otherwise cold and plain computer case.

Some examples:


These are free-standing devices that are self-powered, either by batteries (yick!) or directly off of an AC socket (yum!). These machines can operate completely separately from your computer, though a data-connection via serial port or something might be cool.

The concept here is to have something that is similar to props used in movies and TV. Remember those big mainframe boxes that used to be in shows like Buck Rogers and Star Trek and the like, with lots of blinky lights and rocker-switches? Ohh yes, those were quite cool.

I have yet to build one of these. Finding or making a good enclosure can be problematic, and in my small house I'm not sure where'd I'd put these things. :) But if I do make one, pictures will be forthcoming.