my nerd story

Hi! I'm Oona Räisänen, and following Crystal Beasley's example, this is my nerd story.

[Image: A plastic robot toy standing next to a My Little Pony.]

As a kid, I was always fascinated and surrounded by electronics. A Philips cassette player was among my first toys. I would take things apart to see how they worked, like how the tape winds itself around the heads in my dad's reel-to-reel recorder. I didn't necessarily know how to put everything back together though. I borrowed children's electronics books from the library and experimented with my own circuits.

My dad used to work with electronic music research and instrument building, so there was no shortage of parts at home. This is when I had my first wonderful trips into parts stores as well. My mom, a carpenter, was also a source of DIY mentality at home.

Among my favorite books were Kuinka kaikki toimii (How Stuff Works) and Keksijän käsikirja (Science Fun).

Signals came into play a little later. Our family used to spend summers at our summer place that had a radio with a shortwave band. Of course, the band was full of beeps and boops that I was eager to find an explanation for – a perfect way to spend rainy days. Eventually the sunny days, too. Pranking truck drivers with illegal Russian walkie-talkies was among those activites as well.

(All this happened to also coincide with me seeing the movie Contact.)

As a teenager I saved up for my own SW radio and started listening to numbers stations and other mysterious signals. That's how I also got interested in government intelligence, SIGINT, TEMPEST, laser microphones, and all that neat shady stuff.

This wasn't a popular children's hobby where I lived, and coupled with my social awkwardness it didn't bring me too many friends. But it didn't really matter.

Getting my Windows machine 'hacked' got me thinking about encryption, skript kiddies, tinfoil hats, and Linux.

[Image: Part of a screenshot of a program; boxes with text in them resembling programming instructions, and lines connecting the boxes to each other.]

As a 10-year-old, I had started programming with Max (pictured), a visual programming language that I used for making simple text adventures and blinkenlights. Max was a Macintosh program intended for realtime music and signals programming, but it happened to be quite accessible for children to play with. I even borrowed one of the Usborne children's BASIC game books from the library and tried translating the code listings into visual Max diagrams, which worked to some extent.

Later we got our first PC and I'd learn QuickBasic, which I soon s///'d with Perl, after someone caught me writing CGI web pages with it. (Yeah, QB CGI, it's possible.) I still use Perl for quick scripting and prototyping.

An electronics class in eighth grade taught me the basics of soldering and DIY PCB manufacturing.

I went to a science high school, majoring in physics. In college I took some classes in computer science, but wasn't extremely enthusiastic about it; my major was in biosciences, though I never graduated. New signals needed decoding, and I studied digital signal processing for fun at home. Worked as a coder at the same time.

During the past couple of years I've learnt there's a scene full of hackers like us, and they're quite a funny bunch.

18 comments:

  1. Another inspirational story. There can never be too many of these. Unfortunately not every hacker with potential find their way during their childhood or even early adulthood. I think I've mentioned this before, but reading blog and following your YouTube videos has helped me rediscover myself and the joy of hacking stuff. :) Thanks.

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  2. keep yourself curious, keep on sharing your findings, keep inspiring people ;)

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  3. you wrote:"I would take things apart to see how they worked, like how the tape winds itself around the heads in my dad's reel-to-reel recorder. I didn't necessarily know how to put everything back together though."
    I did the same with my father's tape recorder! (Unfortunately, he lost his temper one day, and threw out many of my audio tapes including one of my musical compositions played by a then-7 year old cellist named Yo-Yo Ma.) My favorite place as a child was the laboratory of Lovett Garceau (co-inventor of the electroencephalograph) up in Vermont in the late 1950s-early 1960s. You seem to have made a pure pursuit your interests without any impediments, and the results are a joy to read. You're way beyond me, but I understand enough of what you're saying to find this one of the most fascinating sites I've ever come across.

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  4. Juuri luin Hesarista tuon juttusi, kun puoliso hihkui aamulla että siel on juttu Jaakko nimisestä naisesta. Ymmärsin vitsin kun luin artikkelin - taisin nimittäin lukea omaa elämääni, ei muuta kuin s/Oona/Jaakko :D Keksijän käsikirja, Salapoliisin käsikirja, kaikki muut mahdolliset kirjaston 61/62 luokituksen alta ja netistä lisää.

    Ja se isosiskon radio jonka purin osiin vaahtosammuttimen kokoisena elektroniikasta kiinnostuneena? Vieläkin osissa :)

    Mahtava blogi, mielenkiintoisia juttuja vaikka (D)SP meneekin yli ymmärrykseni ja kyllä huomaa että joku on löytänyt "sen juttunsa" <3

    Mikäli tietotekniikan salauspuoli ja mekaaninen lukitusturvallisuus kiinnostaa, niin LockCon on syyskuussa Hollannissa ja voin suositella sinua jos kiinnostusta on :)

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  5. Yes, I also think you'd like LockCon. Lots of lock geekery, and with the incoming wave of networked and, in particular, Bluetooth enabled locks, I'm sure your DSP background would lead to some interesting exploits.

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  6. Hi Oona, you rock!!
    Found your pages by chance. Was looking for RDS decoding. Very impressive....
    73 de Roland DF3LZ

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  7. Awesome blog - bookmarked, I'm going to lose some time reading your articles and cross reading so I can understand them!

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  8. I enjoy reading about your discoveries and your development.

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  9. Yeah,

    but do you like Synthesizers ...of the Musical variety? eh? :]

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    1. I used to make MIDI music but haven't had an inspiration for years. For me, synthesizers aren't interesting per se if I don't know what to do with them.

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    2. Thanks again for sharing,
      I used to enjoy the numbers stations too.
      Sadly too many states have changed and many are off air. Maybe to return soon? But the messages are still sent thru other means. Maybe like your whistle example?
      Victor

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  10. Good story! Follow your heart.

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  11. Good to read your stuff. Don't stop!

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  12. This is a great story! Brings back memories of me taking things apart as a kid. Thanks!

    You are beautiful and smart. :)

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  13. Greetings Oona
    We have just one word to say to you and about you.
    Talent.
    And you have lots of it.
    G8 site btw.
    Stay in touch and thank you for following us on T.
    All our best
    AnonymousScandinavia
    Expect us

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for the kind words, wishing great success and all the best.

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  14. Hienoa shittiä.

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  15. Thank you for being you......It's hard to find like minded people among the sea of people and to be publicly open to such...Thank you!

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