For those who read often, e-readers are a great niche device that can help prevent eye fatigue with their e-ink displays especially when compared to a backlit display like a tablet or smartphone, all while taking up minimal space unlike a stack of real books. But for all their perks, there are still plenty of reasons to maintain a library of bound paper volumes. For those who have turned back to books or whose e-readers aren’t getting the attention they once did, there are plenty of things to do with them like this e-book picture frame.
The device started life as a PocketBook Basic Touch, or PocketBook 624, a fairly basic e-reader from 2014, but at its core is a decent ARM chip that can do many more things than display text. It also shipped running a version of Linux, which made it fairly easy to get a shell and start probing around. Unlike modern smart phones this e-reader seems to be fairly open and able to run some custom software, and as a result there are already some C++ programs available for these devices. Armed with some example programs, [Peter] was able to write a piece of custom software that displays images from an on-board directory and mounted the new picture display using an old book.
There were a number of options for this specific device that [Peter] explored that didn’t pan out well, like downloading images from the internet to display instead of images on the device, but in the end he went with a simpler setup to avoid feature creep and get his project up and running for “#inktober”, a fediverse-oriented drawing challenge that happened last month. While not strictly in line with a daily piece of hand-drawn artwork, the project still follows the spirit of the event. And, for those with more locked-down e-readers there’s some hope of unlocking the full functionality of older models with this FOSS operating system.
Hackaday has been online in some form or another since 2004, which for the Internet, makes us pretty damn old. But while that makes us one of the oldest surviving web resources for hacker types, we’ve got nothing on 2600 — they’ve been publishing their quarterly zine since 1984.
While the physical magazine can still be found on store shelves, the iconic publication expanded into digital distribution some time ago, thanks largely to the Kindle’s Newsstand service. Unfortunately, that meant Amazon’s recent decision to shutter Newsstand threatened to deprive 2600 of a sizable chunk of their income. So what would any group of hackers do? They took matters into their own hands and spun-up their own digital distribution system.
As of today you’re able to subscribe to the digital version of 2600 in DRM-free PDF or EPUB formats, directly from the magazine’s official website. Which one you pick largely depends on how you want to read it: those looking for the highest fidelity experience should go with PDF, as it features an identical layout to the physical magazine, while those who are more concerned with how the content looks on their reader of choice would perhaps be better served by the flexibility of EPUB. After signing up you can download the current Summer issue immediately, with future issues hitting your inbox automatically. Load it onto your home-built Open Book, and you can really stick it to the establishment.
While the ending of this story seems to be a happy one, we can’t help but see it as a cautionary tale. How many other magazines would have the means and experience to offer up their own digital subscriptions? Or for that matter, how many could boast readers savvy enough to utilize it? The reality is many publications will be injured by Amazon’s decision, some mortally so. That’s a lot of power to be put into the hands of just one company, no matter how quick the shipping is.
If you ever looked for open-source e-readers, you’ve no doubt seen [Joey Castillo]’s Open Book reader, but you might not yet have seen the Abridged version he’s building around a Raspberry Pi Pico.
The Open Book project pairs a 4.2″ E-Ink screen with microprocessors we all know and love, building a hacker-friendly e-reader platform. Two years ago, this project won first place in our Adafruit Feather contest — the Feather footprint making the Open Book compatible with a wide range of MCUs, giving hackers choice on which CPU their hackable e-reader would run. Now, it’s time for a RP2040-based reboot.
This project is designed so that you can assemble it on your own after sourcing parts and PCBs. To help you in the process, the PCB itself resembles a book page – on the silkscreen, there is explanations of what each component is for, as well as information that would be useful for you while hacking on it, conveying the hardware backstory to the hacker about to dive into assembly with a soldering iron in hand. There’s simple but quite functional software to accompany this hardware, too – and, as fully open-source devices go, any missing features can be added.
Joey has recorded a 30-minute video of the Pi Pico version for us, assembling and testing the newly ordered boards, then showing the software successfully booting and operational. The Pi Pico-based revision has been greatly simplified, with a number of self-assembly aspects improved compared to previous versions – the whole process really does take less than half an hour, and he gets it done with a pretty basic soldering iron, too!
If you’re looking for updates on this revision as development goes on, following [Joey] on Twitter is your best bet. He’s no stranger to making devices around us more free and then sharing the secret sauce with all of us! During the 2021 Remoticon he showed off a drop-in replacement mainboard for the Casio F-91W wristwatch, and told us all about reverse-engineering its controller-less segment LCD — worth a listen for any hacker who’s ever wanted to bend these LCDs to their will.
Last last month, a post from the relatively obscure Good e-Reader claimed that Amazon would finally allow the Kindle to read EPUB files. The story was picked up by all the major tech sites, and for a time, there was much rejoicing. After all, it was a feature that owners have been asking for since the Kindle was first released in 2007. But rather than supporting the open eBook format, Amazon had always insisted in coming up with their own proprietary formats to use on their readers. Accordingly, many users have turned to third party programs which can reliably convert their personal libraries over to whatever Amazon format their particular Kindle is most compatible with.
Native support for EPUB would make using the Kindle a lot less of a hassle for many folks, but alas, it was not to be. It wasn’t long before the original post was updated to clarify that Amazon had simply added support for EPUB to their Send to Kindle service. Granted this is still an improvement, as it represents a relatively low-effort way to get the open format files on your personal device; but in sending the files through the service they would be converted to Amazon’s KF8/AZW3 format, the result of which may not always be what you expected. At the same time the Send to Kindledocumentation noted that support for AZW and MOBI files would be removed later on this year, as the older formats weren’t compatible with all the features of the latest Kindle models.
If you think this is a lot of unnecessary confusion just to get plain-text files to display on the world’s most popular ereader, you aren’t alone. Users shouldn’t have to wade through an alphabet soup of oddball file formats when there’s already an accepted industry standard in EPUB. But given that it’s the reality when using one of Amazon’s readers, this seems a good a time as any for a brief rundown of the different ebook formats, and a look at how we got into this mess in the first place.
For people who can’t lift a finger to turn the page on their ebooks, a solution is at hand. Seoul based technology company Visual Camp has adapted their eye tracking algorithms to an ebook reader. (Video, embedded below.) Reportedly this is the first time an ebook reader has been so equipped.
If your eye lingers on the page turn button, it will turn the page. While this particular application seems innocuous, some of the other applications being touted seem a little contrived if not invasive. For example, applying gaze analysis while you are reading a book, they claim to be able to make targeted recommendations for other books.
We’ve discussed eye tracking devices before, but they have utilized hardware. Visual Camp claims their AI-based technology only requires a color camera and can be integrated into existing camera-equipped devices, such an this ebook reader. They also offer a SDK for developers who want to add eye tracking control into their apps. Eye tracking is hard, though, and the devil is in the details. It’d be neat to see what they’re up to.
While the COVID-19 pandemic at least seems to be on a downward track, the dystopian aspects of the response to the disease appear to be on the rise. As if there weren’t enough busybodies and bluenoses shaming their neighbors for real or imagined quarantine violations on social media, now we have the rise of social-distancing enforcement drones. These have been in use in hot zones around the world, of course, but have only recently arrived in the US. From New Jersey to Florida, drones are buzzing about in search of people not cowering in fear in their homes and blaring messages about how they face fines and arrest for seeking a little fresh air and sunshine. We’re all in favor of minimizing contact with potentially infected people, but it seems like these methods might be taking things a bit too far.
Out of all the people on this planet, the three with the least chance of being infected with SARS-CoV-2 blasted off from Kazakhstan this week on Soyuz MS-16 to meet up with the ISS. The long-quarantined crew of Anatoly Ivanishin, Ivan Vagner, and Chris Cassidy swapped places with the Expedition 62 crew, who returned to Earth safely in the Soyuz MS-15 vehicle. It’s a strange new world they return to, and we wish them and their ISS colleagues all the best. What struck us most about this mission, though, was some apparently surreptitiously obtained footage of the launch from a remarkably dangerous position. We saw some analysis of the footage, and based on the sound delay the camera was perhaps as close as 150 meters to the launchpad. It’s hard to say if the astronauts or the camera operator was braver.
And finally, because neatness counts, we got this great tip on making your breadboard jumpers perfectly straight. There’s something satisfying about breadboard circuits where the jumpers are straight and exactly the length the need to be, and John Martin’s method is so simple you can’t help but use it. He just rolls the stripped jumpers between his bench and something flat; he uses a Post-it note pad but just about anything will do. The result is satisfyingly straight jumpers, ready to be bent and inserted. We bet this method could be modified to work with the stiffer wire normally used in circuit sculptures like those of Mohit Bhoite; he went into some depth about his methods during his Supercon talk last year, and it’s worth watching if you haven’t seen it yet.
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.