Hackaday Prize Entry: Making A Book Reader That Can Survive Kindergarten

[atomicthomas] is a dedicated teacher. One only has to look at the work he’s been putting into book readers for for the past sixteen years. With hardware like the Pi Zero threatening cheap computers just over the supply chain horizon, he’s begun to set his sights higher.

It all started with headphones and audio tapes. For all of us who got to use tapes and school headphones, we know the flaws with this plan. Nothing lasted the sticky and violent hands of children for long. When video recordings of book became available, DVD players suffered similar fates.

So, he began to rip his tapes and DVDs to his computer. However, the mouse has a warning about small parts on it for a reason, and didn’t last long either. So, he built a computer with arcade buttons and a Raspberry Pi. This one ran a heavily simplified version of a media manager and worked well. Even the special needs children had no problem navigating. A second exploration with an iMac and a Nintendo controller worked even better. Apparently all five year olds instinctively understand how to use a Nintendo controller.

Using the user test data, in his most recent iteration he’s working on a sub-twenty-dollar reading computer in a Nintendo controller. It’s not the most technically in depth hack we’ve ever covered, but it certainly ranks up there for harsh environments.

A Jailbreak For Every Kindle

[Geekmaster] wrote in to tell us about a new hack for the Amazon Kindle. It’s a jailbreak. Universal jailbreak for almost every eInk Kindle eReader eOut eThere.

This jailbreak is a pure software jailbreak for the Kindle Paperwhite 2, the Kindle Paperwhite 3, Kindle Touch, Kindle Voyage, and Kindle Oasis. If you’re keeping track, that’s any 6th, 7th, or 8th generation device, running any firmware version. Already the jailbreak has been tested by over one thousand people, after the cloud served up half a Terabyte of jailbreak image downloads. That’s extraordinarily popular for a device that hasn’t seen much action of late.

Several years ago, [Geekmaster] made a name for himself – and for [NiLuJe], [KNC1], and other developers over at the Mobileread forums – for jailbreaking the Kindle Paperwhite. This jailbreak was, and is extremely simple; just upload a file to the root directory, restart, and the Kindle is jailbroken. The latest development extends this to nearly all Kindle models, while still being as easy to deploy as the original hack from four years ago.

If you’re looking for something to do with a neat jailbroken device with an eInk screen, they make a great serial consolethermostat, and wallpaper.

Easy to Read Bicycle Computer

[David Schneider] had trouble seeing his bike computer in the sunlight and wanted a navigation solution that would be both readable and not require a smart phone. In good hacker fashion, [David] married a Raspberry Pi and a Kindle Touch (the kind with the E-ink display). The Kindle provides a large and easy-to-read display.

[David] was worried about violating the DCMA by modifying the Kindle. Turns out, he didn’t have to. He simply used the book reader’s Web browser and set the Pi up as a wireless access point. One clever wrinkle: Apparently, the Kindle tries to phone home to Amazon when it connects to a wireless network. If it can’t find Amazon, it assumes there’s no valid network and treats the network as invalid. To solve this issue, [David] causes the Pi to spoof the Kindle into thinking it gets a valid response from Amazon.

The other work around was to change how the Python application on the Pi updates the screen. [David] found that without that optimization, the constant redrawing on the E-ink display was annoying. The Pi-related hardware includes a GPS, some reed switches, and a WiFi dongle.

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Old Kindle Upcycled to Emailable Fridge Messageboard

We’ve all got a pile of old devices lying around somewhere that are waiting to be torn down for parts, or turned into something useful. [Peter Voljek] decided to do the latter with an old Kindle eBook reader, turning it into a neat message board that can be stuck onto a fridge. With the addition of some server-side Ruby code, you can send messages to this by email, and it automatically displays the last message received. Throw on some magnetic sticky tape and you have a neat fridge door noticeboard.

[Peter] runs his Ruby web server on a Raspberry Pi, but it should run on any platform that supports Ruby, so you could run it on a NAS device, or pretty much anything that has a web server built in. The Kindle side of the hack exploits some secret commands to disable the screensaver, then uses AJAX and JavaScript to automatically refresh the webpage the RPi is serving.

Hey, why not combine this with the Kindle weather station hack to create a noticeboard that tells you what you need from the store, and reminds you why you shouldn’t leave the house at the same time?

Unlock Your Demo Kindle Paperwhite

If you’ve been holding off on upgrading your kindle, this project might inspire you to finally bite the bullet. [WarriorRocker] recently saved quite a few dollars on his Kindle upgrade by using a demo unit. Of course, it’s not as simple as just finding a demo unit and booting it up. There’s some hacking involved.

[WarriorRocker] found his Kindle Paperwhite demo unit on an online auction site for just $20. Kindles are great for reading but also make popular displays for your own projects. This used display model was much less expensive than a new unit, which makes sense considering it had probably received its share of abuse from the consumers of some retail store. The problem with a demo unit is that the firmware that comes with it is very limited, and can’t be used to sync up with your Amazon account. That’s where the hacking comes in.

pwdu-01The first step was to crack open the case and locate the serial port. [WarriorRocker] soldered a small three pin header to the pads to make it easier to work on his device as needed. He then connected the Kindle to his PC using a small serial to USB adapter. Pulling up the command prompt was as simple as running Putty and connecting to the correct COM port. If the wires are hooked up correctly, then it just takes a press of the enter key to pull up the login prompt.

The next step requires root access. The root password for each unit is related to the unit’s serial number. [WarriorRocker] obtained the serial number by rebooting the Kindle while the Serial connection was still open. The boot sequence will spit out the number. This number can then be entered in to an online tool to generate possible root passwords. The tool is available on [WarriorRocker’s] project page linked above.

Next, the Kindle needs to be rebooted into diagnostic mode. This is because root logins are not allowed while the device is booted to the system partition. To enter diagnostic mode, [WarriorRocker] had to press enter over and over during the boot sequence in order to kill the automatic boot process. Then he checked some environment variables to locate the memory address where the diagnostic mode is stored. One more command tells the system to boot to that address and into diagnostic mode.

The last step of the process begins by mounting the Kindle as a USB storage device and copying over the stock Kindle firmware image. Next [WarriorRocker] had to exit the diagnostic menu and return to a root command prompt. Finally, he used the dd command to copy the image to the Kindle’s partition bit by bit. Fifteen minutes and one reboot later and the Kindle was working just as it should. [WarriorRocker] even notes that the 3G connection still works. Not bad for $20 and an hour or two of work.

Kindle Gets Downgraded to an Expensive Thermostat

E-readers are awesome, don’t get us wrong — but if you have an old one collecting dust, why not use it for something? [John] decided to hack his old Kindle  to act like a thermometer!

The Kindle’s Linux OS is re-purposed to use the Freescale CPU’s internal temperature sensor as a thermometer — since it’s not doing anything most the time, it should be relatively accurate of the ambient temperature.

Unlike some of [John’s] earlier hacks, this one is completely self-contained and reversible. In fact, it’s just a few scripts that check the temperature every minute and then display it in large digits on the screen. The buttons allow you to convert units or reverse boot to the original Kindle software. It can even graph the recent temperature! It makes for a very easy to read outdoor thermometer.

And not to waste all of its hardware features, [John] also set it up to act as a web server, sending the temperature data via port 8014.

You could also take it a step further and have a full weather station, in a nice wooden frame.

3D printed Kindle page turner

kindlePageTurner

The slim page turn buttons on a Kindle may serve as an elegant, out-of-the-way design for a generation raised with and saturated by technology. For older folks and the disabled, however, those buttons can be a pain. [XenonJohn] fired up his 3D printer to find a solution, building this Kindle page turner. The Kindle slides in from the top while two flappy paddles offer a larger, unmissable target to replace the usual thin page-turn buttons. [XenonJohn] designed the levers to function with only a light touch, and included “bump stops” underneath the levers to absorb excess force from any harsh, accidental smacks.

Construction is simple and straightforward: print pieces, clean pieces, put pieces together. The levers attach via 3D printed hinges, which [XenonJohn] glued to keep in place. The relevant 3D files are available at the link above, and stick around after the break for a quick video of the paddles flipping some pages. [XenonJohn] is no stranger to Hackaday; take a look at his Google Glass alternative, “Beady-i.” Also check out the Frankenkindle, one of the inspirations for [XenonJohn’s] project which required a much more invasive process for getting at the page turning buttons.

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