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.

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?

Raspberry Pi and Kindle Together Again

We’ve seen a lot of projects recently that take advantage of the Raspberry Pi 2’s augmented abilities. With the increased processor power and double the memory, it puts a lot more utility in the user’s hands. The latest project that takes advantage of this is the Pi-nk, which combines a Pi with a Kindle for some text-based awesomeness.

[Guillaume] has put together this detailed how-to which, unlike other builds we’ve seen in the past, uses wireless instead of USB for almost all of the connections, including the keyboard. Granted, this isn’t a new idea, but he’s presenting the way that he did it. To that end, all of the commands you’ll need to use are extremely well documented on the project page if you want to build your own. When everything is said and done, you’ll be SSHing into the Pi from the Kindle and using the popular “screen” program to get the Pi to use the Kindle as its display.

Additionally, [Guillaume] has posted some schematics for custom enclosures for the Pi-Kindle pair if you’re more ambitious. He points out that the e-ink display is great if the Pi is being run in text or command-line mode, and we’d have to agree. This is a very clean pairing of these devices and puts the strengths of both to great use!

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.

Stripping Kindle DRM with Lego

DRM

Consider a book sitting on a shelf. You can lend it out to a friend, you don’t need a special device to read it, and if you are so inclined, you can photocopy it. This isn’t true with Kindle eBooks that place severe restrictions on what you can do with a book via DRM. Although it is possible to strip eBook DRM with a few programs on your computer, [Peter] came up with a fool-proof way that’s an amateur engineering marvel. He’s turning Kindle eBooks into plain text using Lego.

[Peter] is using a few bits of a Lego NTX system to press the, ‘next page’ button on his Kindle, then smash the space bar on his Mac to take a picture. These pictures are then sent to a cloud-based text recognition service. After a few hours of listening to plastic gears grinding, [Peter] has a copy of his eBook in plain text format sitting in his computer.

As impractical as it looks, using a robot, camera, and OCR is actually a really, really good way to turn eBooks plagued with DRM into a text file. Even if Amazon updates their DRM to make the current software cracking methods break, [Peter] will always have his Lego robot ready to scan a few hundred pages of text at a time.

Continue reading “Stripping Kindle DRM with Lego”

Kindle hack adds value to the wallpaper

What if your Kindle displayed useful information as the “screensaver”? Now it can thanks to this extension of the Kindle weather display hack we covered a year ago. [Pablo Jiménez Mateo] figured out how to display time, date, weather, and tasks as his Kindle wallpaper while retaining the original functionality of the device as an ePaper reader.

The hack isn’t strictly standalone. Like the Kindle weather station hack on which it is based, you need a computer to act as the server. We see this as a good thing. The server generates a vector graphic which is used as the Kindle screensaver. This process of scraping and packaging the data is just too much for the computing power of the Kindle alone.

Now that [Pablo] got this working without disrupting the normal function of the device, you can remix the hack with your own information sources by working with the server-side code. For those that aren’t familiar with the Linux commands needed to get the Kindle ready, don’t worry. This is reasonably non-invasive. You do need to Jailbreak your device. But once you do, the steps used simply load a small script to grab the images.