On the whole, hackers aren’t overly fond of other people telling them what they can and cannot do with the hardware or software they’ve purchased. Unfortunately, it’s becoming more and more difficult to avoid DRM and other Draconian rules and limitations as time goes on. Digital “eBooks” and the devices that are used to view them are often the subject of such scrutiny, which is why [Joey Castillo] has made it his mission to develop a open hardware eReader that truly belongs to the user.
[Joey] has been working on what he calls the “The Open Book Project” for a few months now, and he’s just recently announced that the first reader has been successfully assembled and powered up. As is usually the case, a few hardware issues were identified with this initial prototype. But it sounds like the device was largely functional, and only a few relatively minor tweaks to the board layout and components should be necessary before the hardware is ready for the masses.
If you’re feeling a bit of déjà vu seeing this, don’t worry. The Open Book Project has taken a somewhat circuitous path to get to this first prototype, and [Joey] had previously developed and built the “eBook Feather Wing”. While they look very similar, that earlier incarnation required an Adafruit Feather to operate and was used to help refine the firmware and design concepts that would go into the final hardware.
The Open Book is powered by a ATSAMD51N19A processor with a GD25Q16 2MB flash chip to hold the CircuitPython code, and a microSD slot to store the actual book files. It also features support for audio output via a standard 3.5 mm headset jack, an RGB status LED, and expansion ports that tap into the I2C interface for adding whatever other hardware you can dream up.
One of the most interesting aspects of this Creative Commons licensed reader is the extensive self documentation [Joey] has included on the silkscreen. Every major component on the back of the PCB has a small description of its purpose and in some cases even a breakdown of the pin assignments. The idea being that it not only makes the device easier to assemble and debug, but that it can also explain to the curious user what everything on the board does and why it’s necessary. It’s a concept that makes perfect sense given the goals of the Open Book Project, and something that we frankly would love to see more of.
[Marc Juul] presented his work on a FOSS operating system for older-model Kindles at HOPE XII as a way to avoid Orwellian monitoring of the user’s reading habits, so it’s interesting to see somebody take this idea to the next level with completely libre reader hardware. Unfortunately none of this addresses the limited availability of DRM-free eBooks, but one step at a time.
You don’t have to be an avid bookworm to find use for an e-book reader. Take your local wedding band for example: with a big repertoire of songs to cover, you don’t really want to drag huge folders full of chords and lyrics around, tediously browsing through them to find the correct one for every new song. Even the biggest tree corpse enthusiast cannot deny the comfort of an e-book reader here. And since turning the page boils down to simply changing the content on a display, you don’t necessarily need to use your hands for that either. With that in mind, [mosivers] built a WiFi foot switch for his musician brother’s Kindle to flip backwards and forwards through the pages.
After jailbreaking the Kindle and installing busybox, [mosivers] set up a web server to serve two CGI scripts that write the previously recorded input events for forward and backward flipping respectively to /dev/input/event0, essentially simulating a touch screen press that way. The foot switch, as counterpart, houses a battery-powered ESP8266, acting as access point for the Kindle to connect to, and requesting those page flipping CGI scripts whenever one of its two buttons is pressed.
One of the biggest advantages of e-readers such as the Kindle is the fact that it doesn’t weigh as much as a traditional hardcover book, much less the thousands of books it can hold in digital form. Which is especially nice if you drop the thing on your face while reading in bed. But as light and easy to use as the Kindle is, you still need to hold it in your hands and interact with it like some kind of a baby’s toy.
Looking for a way to operate the Kindle without having to go through the exhaustive effort of raising their hand, [Alex Mikes] designed and built a clip-on device that makes using Amazon’s e-reader even easier. At the press of a button, the device knocks on the edge of the screen which advances the book to the next page. Going back a page will still require you to extend your meaty digit, but that’s your own fault for standing in the way of progress.
The 3D printed case holds an Arduino and RF receiver, as well as a small servo to power the karate-chop action. There’s no battery inside, meaning the device needs to stay plugged in via a micro USB connection on the back of the case. But let’s be honest: if you’re the kind of person who has a remote-controlled Kindle, you probably aren’t leaving the house anytime soon.
To fool the Kindle into thinking a human finger is tapping the screen, the page turner’s arm has a stylus tip on the end. A channel is designed into the 3D printed arm for a wire to run from the tip to the Arduino’s ground, which triggers the capacitive screen to register a touch.
All joking aside, the idea holds promise as an assistive technology for individuals who are unable to lift an e-reader or operate its touch screen controls. With the Kindle held up in a mount, and this device clipped onto the side, anyone who can push a button (or trigger the device in whatever method they are physically capable) can read a book on their own. A simple pleasure that can come as a huge comfort to a person who may usually be dependent on others.
People love books, and if you’re anything like [tjaap]’s girlfriend, you may easily devour your eighty books and more a year. Maybe to keep better track of time during her reading sessions, her wish was to get a clock for the living room, so [tjaap] stepped up. Being a maker at heart, he decided to skip the ready-made options, and instead build one in the most fitting way imaginable: by displaying the time as literary quotes on a jailbroken Kindle.
Unlike your average word clock, [tjaap]’s literary clock displays (almost) every minute a different sentence that, in one form or another, contains the current time. Thanks to the internet, he didn’t have to compile the whole list of book quotes for each and every minute of the day by himself, but it still required some work to put it all in the form he needed. Eventually he had a script that converted each quote into an image, and a shell script on the Kindle to display them according to the time. As a bonus, the origin of the quote is displayed only optionally, turning the clock into a simple trivia quiz along the way.
Free and open source software (FOSS) was a recurring theme during many of the talks during the HOPE XII conference, which should probably come as no surprise. Hackers aren’t big fans of being monitored by faceless corporate overlords or being told what they can and cannot do on the hardware they purchased. Replacing proprietary software with FOSS alternatives is a way to put control back into the hands of the user, so naturally many of the talks pushed the idea.
In most cases that took the form of advising you to move your Windows or Mac OS computer over to a more open operating system such as GNU/Linux. Sound advice if you’re looking for software freedom, but it’s a bit quaint to limit such thinking to the desktop in 2018. We increasingly depend on mobile computing devices, and more often than not those are locked down hard with not only a closed proprietary operating system but also a “Walled Garden” style content delivery system. What’s the point of running all FOSS software at home on your desktop if you’re carrying a proprietary mobile device around?
That’s precisely the thinking that got Marc Juul interested in the possibility of bringing a FOSS operating system to e-reader devices. During his talk “Liberate Your E-book Reader with fread.ink!”, he gave examples such as Amazon’s infamous remote deletion of 1984 off of users’ Kindles as a perfect example of the sort of control these companies exert on our personal devices. Marc believes the goal should be to completely replace the operating system on these devices with a free software alternative that still retains the ability to open electronic book formats. Not only would this keep the likes of Amazon or Barnes and Noble out of our reading habits, but turn these cheap readers into more capable devices in the bargain.
[Kyle Stewart-Frantz] took one look at a black and white photo of a mountain stream, and decided it was way too boring. How much cooler would it be if the water was moving! Like any good hacker worth his weight in 2N2222s, [Kyle] set out to make his idea a reality. After discovering some pricey options, he found a Kindle Paperwhite with a display that had decent resolution and 16 levels of grey. But would 16 levels be sufficient to produce an animation that’s pleasing to the eye?
After stumbling upon a community dedicated to hacking Kindles, [Kyle] got to work. Using a custom Amazon command called eips, he was able to access the display’s memory location and paint images to it. The next trick was to write a script that called the command multiple times to produce a GIF-like animation effect. This… didn’t work so well. He then found some code from [GeekMaster] (thanks for the tip!) that ran a specialized video player on the Kindle that used something called ordered dithering. After a few more tweaks, he got everything working and the end result looks like something straight out of the world of Harry Potter.
The animated picture frame can run for three to four weeks between charges. This is a hack that would make a great gift and look nice in your office. If you make one, be sure to put the skull and wrenches on it first and let us know!
[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.