This Portable Pi May Not Be What You Expect

In the years since the Raspberry Pi and other similar inexpensive Linux-capable single board computers came to the market, we have shown you a huge variety of projects using them at the heart of portable computers. These normally take the form of a laptop or tablet project, but today we have one that starts from a completely different perspective.

The “Kindleberry Pi Zero W” from [Ben Yarmis] does not attempt to create an enclosure or form factor for a portable computing solution. Instead it’s fair to say that it is more of a software hack than a hardware one, as he’s created something of an ad-hoc portable Raspberry Pi from other off-the-shelf pieces of consumer hardware.

The Zero W is a particularly useful computer for this application because of its tiny size, lowish power consumption, on-board Bluetooth, and wireless networking. He has taken a W and put it in the official Pi case, with a portable battery pack. No other connections, that’s his computer. As an input device he has a Bluetooth keyboard, and his display is a jailbroken Kindle Touch tied to the Pi using his Android phone as a WiFi router. We suspect with a little bit of configuration the Pi could easily serve that function on its own, but the phone also provides an Internet connection.

The result is a minimalist mobile computing platform which probably has a much longer battery life and higher reliability than portable Pi solutions using LCD displays, and certainly takes up less space than many others. Some might complain that there’s no hack in wirelessly connecting such devices, but we’d argue that spotting the possibility when so many others embark on complex builds has an elegance all of its own. It has the disadvantage for some users of providing only a terminal based interface to Raspbian, but of course we’re all seasoned shell veterans for whom that should present no problems, right?

Notable portable Pi solutions we’ve shown you before include this beautiful Psion-inspired project, and this one using the shell of an old laptop.

Easy to Read Bicycle Computer

[David Schneider] had trouble seeing his bike computer in the sunlight and wanted a navigation solution that would be both readable and not require a smart phone. In good hacker fashion, [David] married a Raspberry Pi and a Kindle Touch (the kind with the E-ink display). The Kindle provides a large and easy-to-read display.

[David] was worried about violating the DCMA by modifying the Kindle. Turns out, he didn’t have to. He simply used the book reader’s Web browser and set the Pi up as a wireless access point. One clever wrinkle: Apparently, the Kindle tries to phone home to Amazon when it connects to a wireless network. If it can’t find Amazon, it assumes there’s no valid network and treats the network as invalid. To solve this issue, [David] causes the Pi to spoof the Kindle into thinking it gets a valid response from Amazon.

The other work around was to change how the Python application on the Pi updates the screen. [David] found that without that optimization, the constant redrawing on the E-ink display was annoying. The Pi-related hardware includes a GPS, some reed switches, and a WiFi dongle.

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How the Kindle Touch jailbreak was discovered

The Kindle Touch has been rooted! There’s a proof video embedded after the break, but the best part about this discovery is that [Yifan Lu] wrote in-depth about how he discovered and exploited a security hole in the device.

The process begins by getting a dump of the firmware. If you remove the case it’s not hard to find the serial port on the board, which he did. But by that time someone else had already dumped the image and uploaded it. We guess you could say that [Yifan] was shocked by what he found in the disassembly. This a ground-up rewrite compared to past Kindle devices and it seems there’s a lot to be hacked. The bootloader is not locked, but messing around with that is a good way to brick the device. The Javascript, which is the language used for the UI, is not obfuscated and Amazon included many hooks for later plugins. Long story short, hacks for previous Kindles won’t work here, but it should be easy to reverse engineer the software and write new ones.

Gaining access to the device is as easy as injecting some HTML code into the UI. It is then run by the device as root (no kidding!). [Yifan] grabbed an MP3 file, changed its tag information to the HTML attack code, then played the file on the device to exploit the flaw. How long before malicious data from illegally downloaded MP3 files ends up blanking the root file system on one of these?

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