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Reverse Engineer Finds Kindle's Hidden Features 108

Posted by Zonk
from the under-the-hood dept.
bensafrickingenius writes "CNET's Crave site has an interesting article on Amazon's Kindle eBook reader, and the extensive reverse-engineering that fans of the device have accomplished. The site specifically points out the work of Igor Skochinsky at the Reversing Everything website. His work on the Kindle's Root Shell has revealed some fascinating goodies: 'Among the ones uncovered and described on his blog are a basic photo viewer, a minesweeper game, and most interesting, location technology that uses the Kindle's CDMA networking to pinpoint its position. There also are some basic location-based services that call up a Google Maps view to show where you are and nearby gas stations and restaurants.'"
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Reverse Engineer Finds Kindle's Hidden Features

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  • Flagged. (Score:5, Funny)

    by headkase (533448) on Friday January 04, 2008 @01:03PM (#21910742)
    ...location technology that uses the Kindle's CDMA networking to pinpoint its position...

    Ok, that's it I'm never buying my "Catcher in the Rye" through Kindle... (Apologies to Mel Gibson).
  • Saver? (Score:4, Funny)

    by ZuluZero (1159015) on Friday January 04, 2008 @01:13PM (#21910858)
    What, no "Don't Panic" screen saver? Who writes these product requirements anyway?
    • by Reece400 (584378)
      If you read further, you can load pictures onto the SD Card, and set anything you like as the screensaver :D, very neat.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      eInk displays can't have images burnt in (short of physical trauma to the screen), and they only use power when the image changes. So using a screensaver would merely eat up all of your battery life, and not really protect the screen at all.
      • eInk displays can't have images burnt in (short of physical trauma to the screen), and they only use power when the image changes. So using a screensaver would merely eat up all of your battery life, and not really protect the screen at all.
        Dag nabit, I want my green lightning [catb.org].
    • by angus_rg (1063280)
      I'd have rather had it come with depressed AI logic.
  • Well, I must say that, again, we've seen some delightful programming coming out of the former Soviet Union. They just make great programmers there. Bravo to this guy for reverse engineering the Kindle.
  • by peter303 (12292) on Friday January 04, 2008 @01:37PM (#21911122)
    With an impressive servo-mechanism to turn the pages and push them real close to the screen class.
  • by Abcd1234 (188840) on Friday January 04, 2008 @01:37PM (#21911128) Homepage
    Honestly, why was it even included in the article posting? It's just a pointless summary of the content present in the original blog postings. 'course, I'm sure they appreciate the additional ad revenue...
    • by Smidge204 (605297) on Friday January 04, 2008 @02:05PM (#21911564) Journal
      This is a problem with the "Blogosphere" in general. The vast majority (not all but certainly most) just echo news from other sources, or worse other blogs. They do not offer any insight, commentary or additional information on top of their source information. It's a crapshoot whether or not they actually write ANYTHING original rather than copy+paste.

      The worst is when you have a blog linking to a blog linking to the original info. FFS people...

      The net effect is old news gets constantly recycled and real news gets diluted. How many times have you seen a new blog post about something that actually happened months ago? The "9V battery contains AAAA cells" thing stands out as the most recent example for me: here [makezine.com] (2 Jan 2008), here [edn.com] (9 Jan 2007), here [blogspot.com] (3 Jan 2007), here [lifehacker.com] (23 Dec 2006). You have a "story" at LEAST a year old that has been copied verbatim at least four times!

      Original here [axecollector.com] (No date) as far as I can tell, since all of the above blogs link to it.

      Plus, all of these blogs have comment sections, which make them twice as redundant because the comments themselves also fail to add anything most of the time. If they do you'll never find them because there are so many other palces that run the same "story."

      Fight the watering down of information! NEVER link to a blog unless it provides something EXTRA to the news! ALWAYS take a few minutes to get as close to the original source as possible! If you run a blog yourself, work to ADD to articles you link to - personal thoughts, additional information, insightful discussion on the topic at hand - be UNIQUE. That's how you get a readership... by having something worth reading.
      =Smidge=
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by glop (181086)
        Exactly. And Slashdot relies on people like you to write insightful comments that add something to the news however old and repeated it may be ;-)

      • I'm afraid the Information Revolution cannot be stopped.You have to learn to live with the Internet .Information spreading in the blogosphere by copying is a GOOD thing. Resilience to censorship and deletion is much more important then your pathetic
        views on originality.
        • by Smidge204 (605297) on Friday January 04, 2008 @04:48PM (#21914296) Journal
          If you want to duplicate and archive that's fine. But copy and pasting the same shit over and over with a new date is at best a lazy effort to get attention and at worst a dishonest excuse to keep the cobwebs off your otherwise worthless website. I would not criticize anyone for making a deliberate attempt to archive news, even trivial news. The "victories" of the Blogosphere are few and far between, and those victories are credited to that vanishingly small percentage of Blogs that actually do something relevant.

          And that is still no excuse for not adding to it. You can copy an article verbatim and still improve it's value by making some addition to it, either as a personal comment, further research into the topic, or a retrospective analysis of the article itself.

          The "Information Revolution" is more like an "Information Echo Box" - Plagarism is not revolutionary.
          =Smidge=
      • It's all about reach, it's the same with newspapers they repost things years after it happens, as long as it's news for their readers. But usually blogs are better because you can actually trace where the source is.
      • This is a problem with the "Blogosphere" in general. The vast majority (not all but certainly most) just echo news from other sources, or worse other blogs.
        Hey hypocrite, you seem to be a big enough fan of "Slashdot", a site which rakes in ad revenue doing the same exact thing.
        • by Smidge204 (605297)
          Slashdot differs from a blog in two important aspects.

          First, articles are user submitted. Most blogs have one person or maybe a small group of people who add all the "news" to the site. This technically makes Slashdot a news aggregation site, not a blog.

          Second, Slashdot has structured and filterable discussion. This, along with a strong and generally knowledgeable user base, ADDS VALUE to the news in the way of useful comments. A threaded discussion model enhances this greatly, over the typical "list of rep
  • "Fiona"? (Score:3, Informative)

    by autophile (640621) on Friday January 04, 2008 @01:50PM (#21911280)

    A root password of "Fiona"? Wasn't that the name of the girl in Neal Stephenson's novel _The Diamond Age_? The one who was educated by the nanotechnological Primer book?

    --Rob

  • by spaceyhackerlady (462530) on Friday January 04, 2008 @01:50PM (#21911284)

    ...location technology that uses the Kindle's CDMA networking to pinpoint its position

    All current CDMA chipsets have location capability, due to E911 requirements for cellphones. They go through all sorts of gyrations to get a fix quickly when starting the GPS from cold (can't leave it running all the time or it would kill the battery), and to get a fix in "difficult" environments like urban canyons. They get a rough location by triangulating on cell towers, determine available satellites, doppler and code phase estimates, then tell the GPS what it should be listening for. Instead of taking several minutes from a cold start, they get a fix in a second or two.

    When you get a cellphone the service agreement will say that you agree to be located if you call 911 (read it, it's there). Any other location must be initiated by you, or with your permission, due to privacy issues. I did software for dedicated CDMA location devices and users got a special service agreement from Sprint. It said if you buy and use this thing, you are agreeing to be located.

    It's pretty slick.

    ...laura

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Are they really "triangulating" using cell towers? Or are they doing something like finding a rough area for the phone by which the cell the phone is associated with and which towers can see the phone? So if towers X, Y,and Z can see your phone, but X has strongest signal, you are probably in a certain area and closest to tower X.

      Triangulation, technically, is using the angles to a target from two known locations to determine the target's location. I don't know if the base stations have the ability to

      • by spaceyhackerlady (462530) on Friday January 04, 2008 @02:47PM (#21912300)

        Do a search for "AFLT". They estimate the travel time from multiple cell towers (easy with CDMA) and work from there. They call it triangulation, though it's a lot closer to hyperbolic navigation.

        ...laura

        • I believe that in addition to AFLT, the Qualcomm chipset used in the Kindle has GPSOne/AGPS built in.
          AGPS uses the AFLT to ask the towers to download almanac data to fast-start an actual GPS satellite receiver, or process the fragments received by the satelite to narrow down the location to the same resolution as a standalone GPS, without the startup time and delays.

          This means that within a 3 seconds, you'd have a general idea which 1 mile block you're on, within a 7 more seconds, you should have an actual
          • I believe that in addition to AFLT, the Qualcomm chipset used in the Kindle has GPSOne/AGPS built in. AGPS uses the AFLT to ask the towers to download almanac data to fast-start an actual GPS satellite receiver, or process the fragments received by the satelite to narrow down the location to the same resolution as a standalone GPS, without the startup time and delays.

            They all do. gpsOne uses a number of methods to determine location.

            If the network can tell the GPS approximately where it is with AFLT,

            • Question from someone not totally up on cell-phone technology: do SMS messages include location information when sent ?
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Tintivilus (88810)

        Are they really "triangulating" using cell towers?... Triangulation, technically, is using the angles to a target from two known locations to determine the target's location.

        Actually it's trilateration -- using the distances to three points, rather than the directions. The basic effect is the same and most people don't really care about the gorey details. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trilateration [wikipedia.org]

  • by foo fighter (151863) on Friday January 04, 2008 @01:53PM (#21911346) Homepage
    OMG, Amazon is tracking Kindle users' physical locations via GPS!

    It seems there is a location capability (GPS?) in the CDMA module. I cannot check it as I'm not in USA but the following shortcuts are programmed inside the browser.
    Alt-1 show current location in google maps
    Alt-2 find gas station nearby
    Alt-3 find restaurants nearby
    Alt-4 request department of homeland security respond to current location to investigate suspicious brown-skinned person
    Alt-5 find custom keyword nearby
    Alt-D dump debug info to the log and toggle highlight default item
    Alt-Z toggle zone drawing and show log
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by SQLGuru (980662)

      OMG, Amazon is tracking Kindle users' physical locations via GPS!
      Yep, all four of them!

      Layne
    • by Slashcrap (869349)

      OMG, Amazon is tracking Kindle users' physical locations via GPS!
      User's current location: Bent over a barrel and being anally violated by DRM.
  • by charlie763 (529636) on Friday January 04, 2008 @01:56PM (#21911396) Homepage
    Okay, I's like to explain what makes ebook readers so bad and what needs to be done to fix them. Most Slashdotters will recall the days of the internet appliance (remember the i-opener?). What made them so bad is exactly what makes ebook readers so bad: they are only slightly less costly than computers, but are not nearly as useful. The internet appliances were essentially full computers with low specs because they only needed to browse the web. This made them almost as expensive as real computers. Their functionality was limited. They were proprietary and one had to purchase a service plan from a specific vendor. Now we see the same thing happening with ebook readers. They are as complex as computers and are just as expensive. They have limited functionality. They are proprietary. Here is the device I would like to see. A Bluetooth/USB ePaper display. Let a person's smart phone, computer render everything and tell the display what to do. The display wouldn't have to implement all sorts of complex file formats, the external device will take care of it. A display like this could be useful beyond ebooks. You might want one sitting next to your desk or in the server room displaying information. You might attach a keyboard to it with extra battery power and processing power. Maybe a bluetooth keyboard with extra battery power for charging your smart phone and ePaper display, allowing your smart phone to handle all the processing. The main point is that someone needs to produce a simple ePaper display around which others may innovate.
    • by i.r.id10t (595143)
      Except the iOpener was $100 (plus monthly subscription) and a "cheap" Dell at the time was still over $1000... and the iOpener was extremely useful, esp. once the hardware hacks were documented.
    • by ubuwalker31 (1009137) on Friday January 04, 2008 @02:16PM (#21911766)
      <i>Okay, I's like to explain what makes ebook readers so bad and what needs to be done to fix them.</i>
      <p>
      Thanks to that first sentence, I read the rest of your insightful comment with a really freakin annoying Jar Jar Binks voice.
      <p>
      Thanks

      PS
      Meesa gonna upmod yousa comment, since Isa hava mod points...
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by orclevegam (940336)
      Except you've totally missed the point. Why bother with e-Ink in a fixed location like a server room? If you have access to a computer you don't need an e-ink display, and even more so if you have a regular power supply nearby. The beauty of e-Ink is that it's incredibly low power, high contrast, and portable. The drawback is that it's got a really slow refresh rate, so it's poor for interactive or animated content. None of that fits well with a smart phone or computer (well, maybe for reading e-mail on the
    • The market that can use these devices is any area where manuals must be referenced or should be referenced throughout the day. Think car repair. No way can anyone know everything about any car out there. Build a more sturdy form of these machines (grease/solvent/drop resistant) and let it load books on the fly from a local server. Instead of having to have bulky stations fixed throughout the center, let alone paper manuals or such, they can now follow the worker...

      e-books need a business use first, then
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by ASBands (1087159)

      A Bluetooth/USB ePaper display. Let a person's smart phone, computer render everything and tell the display what to do.

      A bluetooth monitor? Bluetooth can transmit at up to 2.1 Mbit/s. DVI can transmit 3.7 Gbit/s in single-link mode and 7.4 Gbit/s in dual-link mode. A 320x240 @ 24bpp would ideally take .9 seconds, but could easily take 5 seconds to fill the screen. And that is a tiny screen. 320x240 @ 8bpp would still ideally take .3 seconds. At a more standard resolution (1280x1024 @ 8bpp), a simple

      • Current eInk displays have a resolution of about 1024x768 in 16 shades of grey and take around 0.9 seconds to update. 16 shades of grey requires 4 bits per pixel, giving a total of 3,145,728 bits per frame. At their maximum refresh rate the displays can handle, that means 3,495,253.33 bits per second. To squeeze that through a 2.1Mb/s bluetooth connection you'd need a 1.66:1 compression ratio which is pretty trivial with lossless compression for most images. More realistically, you'd want to run somethi
        • by ZorbaTHut (126196)
          Microsoft's RDP protocol, with 300kbit upstream, is quite responsive (as long as you aren't trying to display heavy graphical images). I've heard that it's better than old-style X, but there are better open-source equivalents that are being worked on.

          The one problem with this is that as the protocol gets more and more complex, the horsepower needed on the clientside gets larger and larger - and eventually you end up sitting there thinking "why didn't we just put an OS on this thing in the first place".
      • One additional possible application is a driver that only updates changed pixels, for applications in which most of the screen doesn't change between paints.
    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Old Slashdot Proverb read: Opinion with no paragraphs not worth reading.
    • by SharpFang (651121)
      No.

      No external appliances to render the screen data.

      First, you need an expensive smart phone or even more expensive laptop to have it working.
      Second, battery life of the display would be moot, the laptop/phone would die hours earlier.
      Third, you'd waste lots of battery life of the device on transmission.

      I don't agree with any external device to render the contents. The reader, in 'reading mode' should be totally self-contained and portable. It can (and should) depend on a number of external devices for uploa
      • by Dare nMc (468959)
        even just making the Kindle show up as a USB printer, would be perfect for me, Ctrl+P away goes my current browsing for offline/sideline useage.

        Rest of your points are valid, but..

        Second, battery life of the display would be moot, the laptop/phone would die hours earlier.
        Third, you'd waste lots of battery life of the device on transmission.

        1)suggestion was make it a USB device, that would eliminate any power load on the display, if completely USB powered display, means 2 displays, one plug in at the airpo

    • by earlymon (1116185)
      You've identified what you're troubled by - Kindle's like the old internet appliances and what's wrong with that - and what you'd like to see. I want to comment only on the first part.

      I disagree that ebook readers are bad because they cost only slightly less than computers but do so much less.

      The Kindle, like the 16GB iPod touch, both go for $399 - but so does one incarnation of the ASUS eee PC via quick search on Amazon. I'd have to believe that the eeePC does WAY more than either of the other two, but n
    • I used to download and read books on my Sony Treo. Especially the free ones, I had a huge library of text that was perfectly legible in most areas so I could turn off the backlight and read for hours. It was small enough I could carry it in my pocket, and was useful enough that I could justify taking it with me everywhere iPhone/Google phone ... you paying attention???? Too bad I carried it around in my pocket ... eventually bent it slightly and it would reset all the time.
    • by solitas (916005)
      Here is the device I would like to see.

      The device _I_ would like to see would be along the lines of a $59.99-$79.99 DVD player with a 6" diagonal screen (like I can buy now) that could read TXTs and RTFs and PDFs off of a CD. I, probably like many others, don't need to be able to USB-load everything interactively onto a device but can do perfectly well with carrying one or two CDs, CD-R/Ws, DVDs, etc. with LOTS of books on them. The storage is cheap and long-lasting and swappable/tradeable.

      Give the devi

  • by Anonymous Coward
    At least my books don't secretly track my position. I mean really, this is way over the top.

    ...location technology that uses the Kindle's CDMA networking to pinpoint its position.
  • that fans of the device

    From what I've seen, there's only one fan of this device, and his name is Jeff Bezos.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Whats the name of this guy? Is he always driving in reverse? Walking in reverse? How, what and why would one become a Reverse Engineer?
  • Is documented in Berke Breathed's latest comic:
    http://www.comics.com/wash/opus/archive/opus-20071230.html [comics.com]
    • Nope... (Score:3, Informative)

      by Junta (36770)
      Seeing as how the Kindle doesn't even have a backlight, it wouldn't help with that.
  • Personally, I wouldn't mind if there was a way to track lost or stolen items - especially if they contained any sort of account information whatsoever.
  • A lot of printers these days seem to run Linux internally, so I'm sure there's one somewhere where they forgot to cull the installed packages and ended up with stuff like freeciv installed.

    Danny.

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