From Minecraft to hardware hacking, the adventures of Dr. T.

21 Jul 2021

As Leonardo Da Vinci once said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”. And simplicity is how Trevor Tomesh likes to keep his teaching, and his tech tools for lectures.

Although it might seem like the University Teacher’s back-to-basics style is merely to shy away from technology, ironically, Trevor is no stranger to understanding the ins and outs of some of the most complex of hardware systems.

As a researcher, lecturer, and self-proclaimed academic hacker at the University of Regina in Saskatchewan, Canada — where he completed his PhD in Computer Science, Trevor’s knowledge of hardware and the theory behind their sophisticated systems will leave most people questioning their own education and intelligence.

Trevor Tomesh is a teacher, researcher, and academic hacker at the University of Regina in Saskatchewan.

Building a career in computing

Growing up, Trevor tells me he had aspirations to get into the field of physics, a desire that led him to achieve a Bachelor’s Degree in Physics and Mathematics from the University of Wisconsin.

With an initial interest in computer programming and a five-year knowledge of physics behind him, Trevor wanted to develop educational physics games. This would eventually lead to studying for a PhD.

“Academic hacker is a term that hearkens back to my PhD work, which is taking apart electronics and putting them back together in interesting and new ways.” Trevor adds that ‘hardware hacking’, as it is commonly known, describes dismantling different technologies, seeing and understanding what makes them work, and then recombining them in different ways to create a mathematical description of the systems that emerge from the mega-culture of crazy amalgamations that wouldn’t necessarily fit together — a framework for those systems.

Trevor uses a selfie-style light as part of his setup with OKIOCAM.

Although Trevor has been sessional lecturing since 2015, he has recently started a three-year computer science teaching contract with the University of Regina.

“That’s something [teaching] I’ve always wanted to do, since I was a kid. It was either that or a Catholic Priest”, Trevor says, “I love lecturing.”

When not orating, Trevor likes to spend his time playing video games, preferring sandbox and open world styles of games, such as Minecraft and Subnautica. The freedom and ability to explore and build, visible even in his downtime.

Double-down on lecturing

The university has been operating a completely remote learning program since March 2020, and whilst it has been challenging, Trevor’s combination of an OKIOCAM T and Rocketbook has proven invaluable during the online lessons, not only for himself when presenting and demonstrating work, but also for the students, who have commented that the lessons and the setup he uses is the closest thing to in-class tutorials they could have.

It seems that the biggest challenge that Trevor has faced is not being able to lecture to his students in person. ”I love teaching and presenting to faces and interacting with them [students] based on their expressions, rather than opting for presentation slides”, he says.

Trevor expects he will be teaching
remotely until at least 2022

Something he’ll have to get used to until at least January 2022, which is anticipated to be the earliest that the institution will reopen its doors to on-campus students.

For someone who has such a high level of knowledge of tech hardware, Trevor likes to keep his technology tools minimal and on the safe side of a 404 error by sticking with the traditional methods of a whiteboard and document camera, although he admits to using Discord, a private chat room server, for uploading and sharing lesson material with his students.

And there have been some benefits that have come from the current teaching situation, as Trevor explains, “one of the cool things that I’ve been able to do, because of being online, is teach at two different institutions at the same time — here in Saskatchewan and the other in Ontario. It has really opened the sessional [lecturing] gig up for people.”

OKIOCAM and teleconferencing making it now possible.

Trevor prefers the simplicity of an
OKIOCAM.

The components of a clear demonstration

Trevor first came across OKIOCAM on Amazon when shopping around for a document camera to replace the one he had on loan from the university. The $2,000 camera was ridiculously bulky and not very portable, being the size of an average school backpack when stored.

Using his OKIOCAM alongside a Linux operating system, Trevor hasn’t encountered any issues with the setup. The only difference is that when using the OKIOCAM Stop Motion and OKIOCAM Time-Lapse apps, they will need to be accessed through the Google Chrome extensions, as Linux isn’t currently supported by the desktop version.

“I’ve been really enjoying using it [OKIOCAM], and I’m thinking of picking up the T Plus. I like the idea of the whiteboard base”, Trevor says.

He adds “even the picture quality is crystal clear”, something that was a factor when choosing the T over the S. “I only discovered yesterday that it’s also really good as a front facing camera. Switching between two cameras [the OKIOCAM and his screen mounted second camera] isn’t easy in Zoom, so if I can use the OKIOCAM as a front-facing camera and then flip it down, that would really solve the problem.”Trevor uses

Trevor uses his OKIOCAM to present and demonstrate work for the students.

Trevor uses his OKIOCAM mainly to display electronic components to his students when demonstrating in lectures and was very surprised at how close up he could get with the camera, and the quality of the image.

When asked what the future of tech is and where it is heading, Trevor ponders for a moment before replying that he thinks decentralised digital currencies and NFTs will become more mainstream and the technologies that will spawn from that.

He then goes on to say that while technology will always be evolving, the question is more about ethics and the push-back that we will see against the big tech platforms of Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, who have overstepped their bounds in many ways, and the inevitable revolution to how we deal with the oligarchs in Silicon Valley and how they behave.


If you would like to connect with Trevor, you can follow him on Twitter at @TrevorTomesh.