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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Automatic Book Scanner To Bring Knowledge To Ethiopian Students

In 2013 the dean of an Ethiopian university addressed Maker Faire Hannover and outlined one of his concerns; that the high price of developed-world textbooks was holding back the cause of education for universities such as his own in developing countries. He was there to ask for help from the maker community to solve his problem, and a group of his audience took up the challenge to create an affordable and accessible automatic book scanner.

Their scanner builds on the work of Google engineer [Dany Qumsiyeh], whose open source linear book scanner turns pages by traversing the opened book over a triangular prismic former such that pages are turned by vacuum as they pass over carefully designed slots in its surface. Their modification replaces the vacuum with the Coandă effect, to more gently tease open each page and it is hoped reduce the chance of damaging the volumes being scanned.

The whole machine is controlled by a Raspberry Pi, and the scanning is performed by linear scanning optics, sensors, and electronics taken from flatbed scanners.

An important design goal of the project was to ensure that the scanner could be built without special tools or expertise that might be difficult to find in a developing country, as well as that it should be as inexpensive as possible. The frame of the machine is off-the-shelf extruded aluminium, and the body is acrylic sheet which can be cut to shape with a hand saw if necessary. It is estimated that the device will cost in the region of 500 Euros (about $568) to build.

More information can be found at the project’s web site (German language, Google translate link), including a selection of videos such as the one below the break showing the device in operation.

Writing from the perspective of having been peripherally involved in a professional book scanning operation at a large publisher the benefits of this machine are immediately apparent. Removing the binding and automatically scanning each page as an individual sheet produces a very fast and high quality result, but by its very nature damages the volume being scanned. This machine promises to deliver a solution to the problem of book scanning that is considerably less intrusive.

It is also worth noting that the project does not address any copyright issues that might arise from scanning commercially published textbooks, though this is more of a concern for the end user in terms of what they scan with it than it is for the maker.

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Directional Booklight Invisible to Everyone But You

Consistent contributor [Ken] has cooked up another contraption with his directional booklight. Combining an LED strip and privacy screen filter inside a wooden enclosure, this handy tool is made for someone who wants to read in bed without disturbing anyone else. The booklight sits on top of the page, the LEDs light up just the given area, and because the privacy screen only allows light to come straight off the page, only the reader can see any light and any other viewing angle is obscured.

[Ken] thought of everything. Rather than have the light stay on while the booklight is lifted to turn the page and possibly flash an unsuspecting slumberer, a tactile switch on the underside turns the light on only when it is pressed against the page, allowing very little light to escape.

Future upgrades include another switch on top to detect when the book is closed, and an accelerometer to detect when the reader may have fallen asleep.

We’ve reported a few of [Ken]’s projects before, like his 3D popup cardsunique weather display, and semi-real-life Mario Kart

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The Art of Electronics, Third Edition

For any technical domain, there is usually one book held up above all others as the definitive guide. For anyone learning compilers, it’s the dragon book. For general computer science, it’s the first half of [Knuth]’s The Art of Computer Programming. For anyone beginning their studies of electrons and silicon, it’s [Horowitz & Hill]’s The Art of Electronics. This heady tome has graced workbenches and labs the world over and is the definitive resource for anything electronica. The first edition was published in 1980, and the second edition was published in 1989. Now, finally, the third edition is on its way.

The new edition will be released on April 30, 2015 through Cambridge University Press, Amazon, and Adafruit. In fact, [PT] over at Adafruit first announced the new edition on last night’s Ask An Engineer show. [Ladyada] was actually asked to provide a quote for the cover of the new edition, an incredible honor that she is far too humble about.

The latest edition is about 300 pages longer than the second edition. It is thoroughly revised and updated, but still retains the casual charm of the original. Real copies do not exist yet, and the only critical review we have so far is from [Ladyada]. There will be few surprises or disappointments.

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Fail of the Week: Secret Agent-Style Book Hideaway

Ah, the movies are an inspiration for so many projects. How many times have you seen a spy movie where a cutout in the pages of a book are hiding something? This was the inspiration which led [Paul] and his crew to try using a laser cutter to remove a handgun-shaped cutout from the pages. The fail began before the project even got started. The sacrificial book they had chosen was too thick to cut directly so they tore it in thirds for the cutting process.

The hijinks are portrayed well in the clip after the break. The infectious giggling as this first trace of the laser cuts the outline makes the video worth watching. As they try to go deeper, the success falls off rapidly. This makes for a great Fail of the Week discussion: Why can’t you cut through multiple layers of a book with a laser cutter? Is this merely a focal length issue that would be solved with a higher-end cutter or is there something else at play here. Let us know what you think by leaving a comment below.

 

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Popup book includes a playable piano keyboard

pop-up-book-has-playable-piano

This popup book contains several interactive electronic elements. It’s the creation of [Antonella Nonnis] using mostly scrap materials she had on hand. Of course there are some familiar players behind the scenes that take care of the electronic elements.

Her photo album of the build process sheds light on how she pulled everything together. Instead of adding switches for interactivity she built capacitive touch sensors on the backs of the pages. Strips of copper foil serve as flexibly traces, moving the connections past the binding and allowing them to be jumpered to the pair of Arduino boards which control the show. That’s right, there’s two of them. One is dedicated to running the pop-up piano keyboard seen above. The other deals with Art, Math, and Science elements on other pages.

This continues some of the multimedia work we saw popping up in popups a few years back.

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Wherein books are judged by their cover

Yes, Kindles are wonderful, a computer full of PDFs are awesome, and [Tim Berners-Lee] will probably go down in history as more important than [Gutenberg]. That doesn’t mean there’s not something intangible about books that brings out the affections of so many bibliophiles. Even a book filled with blank pages can be a work of art unto itself, and most of the time these volumes are handmade.

 This video of a hardbound volume made by Smith Settle bookbinders covers the entire process from words on a page to a finished book. No, they’re not using movable type; the folios are created using lithography, but sorting, gluing, sewing and binding the folios is done in much the same way as it was done in the middle ages.

Next up is a wonderful film from 1968 by Iowa state university on creating the gold tooling on fine leather-bound volumes. You’ll be hard pressed to find a book with gold tooling nowadays, but it’s still a technique accessible to the industrious amateur bookbinder.

First, gold leaf is applied to the leather spine of a book. Then, custom-made tools are heated to a few hundred degrees  and pressed into the leaf. The heat bonds the gold with the leather, and with custom-designed tools designs are burnt into the leather. After that, the excess leaf is simply wiped off, and a fine tooled leather book is born.

What’s really cool about bookbinding is the fact that just about anyone can do it. Go to a craft store, pick up some hardboard and paper, and bind yourself a book. You could make a blank journal, or for the nerds out there (myself included), make a hard bound volume of the NASA wiring standards.

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