Book Review: Hardware Hacking Projects for Geeks

by Christopher Murphy

O'Reilly & Associates, 2003

$29.95 US

ISBN: 0596003145

Rare is the nerd who enjoys voiding the warranties of his toys with more glee than myself. As someone who devoured Forrest Mims' Engineer's Notebooks as a kid, you can imagine my anticipation when I heard that O'Reilly was publishing a book focused solely upon one of my favorite subjects, hacking consumer hardware into new, if not terribly useful, forms.

Hardware Hacking Projects for Geeks, by Scott Fullam, has a lot of good things to offer. The book features a great selection of projects sorted by level of technical prowess and ability. These include a coffee machine with a Web server, a wearable computer and a video periscope for a car.

For the larval hacker, Fullam provides a good overview of not only how to use mandatory tools such as a soldering iron and a multimeter, but also how to read electronic circuit schematics. For more advanced readers, the author provides jumping-off points at the end of each chapter, suggesting potential variations for each project. He also suggests methods of integrating several of the projects together.

On the other hand, the book suffers from a lack of consistency in its organization and content. The beginner overviews are divided unnecessarily between the sections of the text, rather than being consolidated at the beginning (or in appendices) for easy reference. Projects such as the water-cooled PC include a long list of URLs for further research on the Web, but other projects don't include any. In addition, some projects, such as the one on hacking a Furby, mention only a few potential variations or expansions. Many possible alternatives for spending more money but decreasing build time or saving money by avoiding non-critical options aren't mentioned.

In other situations, X-10 video cameras and other components that are perfect for projects such as the video periscope are omitted, only to be referenced in a later chapter about hacking remote control cars. It's also important to note that many of the projects, such as the Macquarium and the MAME-based arcade system, already are available freely on the Web.

Beyond this, however, from its over-engineered cubicle detection system to the Internet Toaster, Hardware Hacking remains a good read if not an extensive reference for the budding hobbyist.

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