Books You Should Read: The Car Hacker’s Handbook

I just had my car in for an inspection and an oil change. The garage I take my car to is generally okay, they’re more honest than a stealership, but they don’t cross all their t’s and dot all their lowercase j’s. A few days after I picked up my car, low and behold, I noticed the garage didn’t do a complete oil change. The oil life indicator wasn’t reset, which means every time I turn my car on, I’ll have to press a button to clear an ominous glowing warning on my dash.

For my car, resetting the oil life indicator is a simple fix – I just need to push the button on the dash until the oil life indicator starts to blink, release, then hold it again for ten seconds. I’m at least partially competent when it comes to tech and embedded systems, but even for me, resetting the oil life sensor in my car is a bit obtuse. For the majority of the population, I can easily see this being a reason to take a car back to the shop; the mechanic either didn’t know how to do it, or didn’t know how to use Google.

The two most technically complex things I own are my car and my computer, and there is much more information available on how to fix or modify any part of my computer. If I had a desire to modify my car so I could read the value of the tire pressure monitors, instead of only being notified when one of them is too low, there’s nowhere for me to turn.

2015 was the year of car hacks, ranging from hacking ECUs to pass California emissions control standards, Google and Tesla’s self-driving cars, to hacking infotainment systems to drive reporters off the road. The lessons learned from these hacks are a hodge-podge of forum threads, conference talks, and articles scattered around the web. While you’ll never find a single volume filled with how to exploit the computers in every make and model of automobile, there is space for a reference guide on how to go about this sort of car hacking.

I was given the opportunity to review The Car Hacker’s Handbook by Craig Smith (259p, No Starch Press). Is it a guide on how to plug a dongle into my car and clear the oil life monitor the hard way? No, but you wouldn’t want that anyway. Instead, it’s a much more informative tome on penetration testing and reverse engineering, using cars as the backdrop, not the focus.

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An Improvement to Floating Point Numbers

On February 25, 1991, during the eve of the of an Iraqi invasion of Saudi Arabia, a Scud missile fired from Iraqi positions hit a US Army barracks in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. A defense was available – Patriot missiles had intercepted Iraqi Scuds earlier in the year, but not on this day.

The computer controlling the Patriot missile in Dhahran had been operating for over 100 hours when it was launched. The internal clock of this computer was multiplied by 1/10th, and then shoved into a 24-bit register. The binary representation of 1/10th is non-terminating, and after chopping this down to 24 bits, a small error was introduced. This error increased slightly every second, and after 100 hours, the system clock of the Patriot missile system was 0.34 seconds off.

A Scud missile travels at about 1,600 meters per second. In one third of a second, it travels half a kilometer, and well outside the “range gate” that the Patriot tracked. On February 25, 1991, a Patriot missile would fail to intercept a Scud launched at a US Army barracks, killing 28 and wounding 100 others. It was the first time a floating point error had killed a person, and it certainly won’t be the last.

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Book Review: The Good Life Lab


Stop whatever you’re doing and get this book. I’ve just finished reading it and I have to say that [Wendy] and [Mikey] could easily be the poster children for modern day hacking, and this book could be the manual for a life built on hacking.

When I visited [Wendy] and [Mikey] last year I was blown away.  Their little homestead was a veritable smorgasbord of hacks. Everywhere I looked, things were cobbled together, modified, repaired, and improved. There wasn’t a single piece of their lives that wasn’t somehow improved by their efforts to play an active role in their own living.

That sounds a bit cheesy I know. We all play an active role in our lives right? Sure. But what they have done is created a hacker’s homestead. My projects tend to live on my workbench, occasionally poking into my daily life, but they went were there was virtually nothing and hacked together everything they found they needed.  Their life is their workbench.

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Review: The Manga Guide to Electricity


“The Manga Guide to Electricity”, part of “The Manga Guide” series by No Starch Press, is a novel approach to the old problem of getting over the initial mental block when trying to learn electronics.

We decided to compare this book to another introductory text: “Getting Started in Electronics” by [Forrest M. Mims].  [Mims]’ book is a handwritten masterpiece of electronic literature. The writing style is friendly and concise, the examples are simple, and the drawings are excellent. It also makes sure to keep the learning process as application based as possible. Unlike other books, it doesn’t bog the reader down with math and theory that is only useful to advanced students. Since its original printing in 1983, [Mims]’ has become the de facto standard for beginner electronic literature. Continue reading “Review: The Manga Guide to Electricity”