home network

Our Happy Little Network

Our domain name,, is derived from atropine, the heart stimulant that makes "deadly nightshade" so deadly. (Atropine ... @ropine ... get it? Well, it seemed clever at the time.) All of the machines on our network, therefore, are named after plants in the nightshade (Solanaceae) family.


Thanks to the generosity of Andrew Greene, Heather Greene, Nomi Burstein, Michael Burstein, Jon Kamens, and Andrea Kamens, we are the proud owners of a Linksys BEFSR11 router and firewall. (They're geeks. We're geeks. They wanted to give us a house-warming present. What could be more appropriate?) Having this device between (most of) our computers and the DSL line will spare me a valuable learning experience.


This is an ancient 486 machine that I salvaged from Unique Simchas. Before I got tomato, I was planning to use this machine as a firewall. It serves static Web pages with publicfile and lets us log in through ssh. It uses xntpd to keep track of the time, thanks to the stratum-2 NTP servers at the University of Massachusetts at Boston, the University of Delaware, and Columbia University.

Using qmail, it accepts email to and from, and runs a Courier IMAP server, so I can read my mail remotely.

This machine also runs dnscache, so it can be a caching proxy server, and tinydns, so it can be the primary nameserver for

In order to provide DNS service to the rest of the Net, horse-nettle can't run within the firewall (tomato's implementation of NAT doesn't Do The Right Thing with inbound DNS queries). To reduce its exposure to 31337 h@x0rs, horse-nettle runs OpenBSD, the OS of choice for paranoid geeks on low budgets.


This is my workstation, a 350 MHz Pentium II, which we bought in July 1999. The retailer, by the way, was PCs for Everyone -- if you're in the Boston area and want a custom-built x86 computer, I strongly recommend them.

One of the features that distinguishes petunia from its neighbors is the case: after sliding it off, I can reattach it without wrestling a square meter of metal. Maybe the name-brand PC boxes are equally well-constructed, but eggplant and horse-nettle were assembled by NPC (a shop in Newton) and DTK Computer (I've never heard of them, either), respectively, and they obviously cut corners on the quality of their cases.

It runs the "unstable" distribution of Debian GNU/Linux, as well as PostgreSQL and Apache. For a while, I was using it to host an RT server for our group's bug-tracking system.


Jen got this computer, a Pentium 100, back in 1996. After the traumatic experience of writing an eight-hundred-page dissertation in Microsoft Word, she defenestrated Windows 95 from it, and we installed Red Hat Linux 6.0. Then, trying to use StarOffice 5.1 to keep track of the family finances, she suffered a further trauma, but we couldn't find our Windows 95 CD, so we just decommissioned the computer, bought a new Windows PC (so that Jen could play Command and Conquer), and moved its hard drive into petunia.


This is a Compaq Presario 710US laptop that Seth bought in the summer of 2002. It has a wireless Ethernet card that communicates with an AirPort base station behind the firewall. It runs the "stable" distribution of Debian GNU/Linux.


If you want to know more details about our hardware, here are the dmesg printouts for horse-nettle, petunia, eggplant, and belladonna.

Seth Gordon -- -- February 2003 -- comments?