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Toys Books Media Book Reviews Hardware

Hardware Hacking 189

Posted by timothy
from the no-guarantees dept.
Blaine Hilton writes "Hardware Hacking starts by going over the basics of electronics, just enough so you can understand what is happening later in the book. This gentle beginning means the book is great for people who work with computers on the software side, or people who like to play with electronics. You do not need to be an electrical engineer to understand what they are talking about in this book. As the title suggests, the authors walk you through different methods and processes of modifying common hardware." Read on for the rest of Hilton's review of Hardware Hacking.
Hardware Hacking
author Joe Grand, Ryan Russell and Kevin Mitnick
pages 537
publisher Syngress
rating 8
reviewer Blaine Hilton
ISBN 1932266836
summary Walks anyone through the process of modifying common electronic hardware.

The authors' explanations of many of the terms and concepts used in the book are very good. For example, the description of "power" on page 20 is the best description of the term that I've ever heard or read. From first-hand experience trying to explain this concept to others I wish I'd known such a lucid explanation -- it explained the concept much better than longer, dryer text would have.

Another positive point to this book is the pace and order of the book. It starts with part one, which is an overview of working with hardware; part two is a collection of hacks that one can do on different devices. If, like me, you never really did any thing with the Atari, you could skip those chapters and still proceed with the book. This book is easy to carry because there the authors frequently provide directions to other resources rather than trying to cram everything into this one book.

Like I said, I'm not too interested in Atari hacking, but the idea presented in this book (in an Atari-centric context) for a standard power connector is good for other things too. This is one of the biggest strengths of this book: The examples themselves are highly specific, but the thinking behind them can easily be generalized.

The first part of the book briefly explores tools that are going to be used later in the hacks and how to use them. However I found it a bit odd that the authors tell you to use a heat gun and heat-shrink tubing, but do not list these items in the tools section.

The fun really begins in part two with the actual hardware hacking. I have never really done anything with hardware before. It seems like whenever I took something apart I could never get it back again, and that those times that I did get something back it would never quite work as it should again. Those experiences have taught me to not mess with things I shouldn't and, this is why I think it's great that part two begins with the ubiquitous and cheap CueCat. I had a couple of these lying around and didn't really care about them so I jumped right in, following the many clear explanatory photos.

Starting with something like this gave me the confidence that I can take stuff apart, and if I'm careful, it will go back again.

The order of chapters seemed a bit odd in part two, though. A book must be arranged in some type of order, and my gut feeling is that it should be by order of difficulty. The second part started off great, going over tools and then the CueCat, but then it seems like the chapters that follow are tossed in at random. This could be from my lack of hardware experience, or that the chapters were designed to be random. This fact really didn't distract from anything though. Just don't expect a linear progression.

I was able to appreciate the integration between the hardware and the software. Hardware Hacking also goes over the software side of the hardware involved.

One of the areas I wish they had given more attention to was in the chapter on the Macintosh where they are hacking a CRT monitor. I believe that the safety warning should probably be a bit bolder, especially considering the earlier, prominent advice about static energy and grounding.

The authors have used part three as a technical reference, including some frank talk about Linux vs. Windows in chapter six. Sure, many people like Linux better, however you have to take into consideration who will be using the system. In a system the whole family uses, it has to be user-friendly enough for the whole family to use.

If changing hardware to better suit your needs sounds like something you would like to try, but you don't know how and are worried about what might happen, then this book may just be able to convince you go for it, along with enough information to make your next warranty-voiding attempt a success.


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Hardware Hacking

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  • I might just have to pick it up and brush up on my electronics skills. I'm sure it would come in handy someday.
    • Good review - NOT (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Rick the Red (307103) <Rick.The.Red@gmail. c o m> on Friday April 23, 2004 @02:01PM (#8952266) Journal
      What are these hardware hacks? What is done with the CueCat? Are they removing the serial number chip from the CueCat or are they turning it into a laser pointer or what? What did they do to the Atari, and which Atari? Mod it to play Xbox games? Turn it into a general purpose computer? A home automation control center? What? What other hardware is hacked, and will I need to do the hacks? If I can buy something cheap on eBay and turn it into something cool, great, but if this is just about adding expensive components to expensive or rare stuff, forget it.

      A review should tell me why I might want this book; this review did not.

      • Re:Good review - NOT (Score:5, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 23, 2004 @02:18PM (#8952429)
        Table of Contents [grandideastudio.com]
      • Ok, my bad. (Score:4, Informative)

        by Bill, Shooter of Bul (629286) on Saturday April 24, 2004 @12:26AM (#8957089) Journal
        To be honest, I quickly skimed the writeup because I was in a rush to see if I could manage to get a fp. At least I didn't troll. I was actually suprised I wasn't modded down. In any case its not the best review. I also went down to B&N and reviewed the book myself. Its not good. The Cue cat is "hacked" to remove the unique identifier. The Atartis are "Hacked" to modify their controllers ( 2600 is rotated 90 for lefties, they modify a nintendo (NES) controller to work with it, make a 5200 paddle wheel, and replace a red led with a blue one. Other chapters are equally disapointing. The one on Tivo replacements is a simple myth tv howto and a section on doing the same on windows. The Terrabyte drive was by far the coolest hack, but I wouldnt' consider it very cool simply because of the high cost of the supplies. For some unknown reason the last chapters are on Operating system archetecture ( where they reveal that drivers are used to control hardware!) and an intro to programming (variables are used to store data in memory!). Craptacular. On the front their is a quote from mitnik that makes absolutely no sense he's quoted to the effect "If I had this book ten years ago, the FBI never would have caught me". WTF? Was he captured using the UID of the Cue Cat? Or maybe it was because he couldn't use the right handed 2600 controler! So unless you want to build a terrabyte firewire raid drive, I wouldn't reccomend it.
    • Re:Good review (Score:4, Informative)

      by ejaw5 (570071) on Friday April 23, 2004 @02:29PM (#8952552)
      A good book to pick up is _The Art of Electronics_ by Horowitz and Hill. It goes over a lot of circuit theory and digital computer architecture. It's straightforward and easy to read. I recently checked it out from the library and it covers a lot of things I've learned in my theory classes. It gives many examples of good circuit design ideas and bad ones. I may end up buying a copy to keep as reference.
      • I'll second that is's a good electronics book. The one place it's lacking is it's coverage of the newer GaAs and InP transistors (mostly MESFETS used in communications). Then again I don't know of a book that DOES cover that stuff well....

        Also if you need a general EE reference (circuits, filtering, fields, compatability, etc) I'd go with Kaiser's Electromagnetic Compatibility Handbook. It's not released yet but I have a pre-press edition for review and it is THE most thorough book on basic EE that I have

      • I'll second that. Horowitz and Hill is the book for anybody wanting to learn about electronics. If you can find a copy at the right price, buy it - you'll never regret it.
  • Sample Chapter (Score:5, Informative)

    by ryanr (30917) * <ryan@thievco.com> on Friday April 23, 2004 @01:43PM (#8952062) Homepage Journal
    Sample chapter here [syngress.com] if you're interested (.pdf). That's Joe's intro chapter. I did the HTPC chapter (the Linux vs. Windows Chapter 6 mentioned.) :)
  • more info (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    this review needs more specific info on the different hacks
    • It really doesn't matter.

      I picked up the book recently and was disappointed by it. It really doesn't provide the indepth knowledge anyone would be looking for.

      All in all I would say if you never touched electronics before, then go for this book. If not, your just gonna take it back like I did.
  • Mouse hack (Score:1, Funny)

    by tcd004 (134130) *
    Here's a great hack for fixing a broken mouse [lostbrain.com]

    Tcd004
  • Shrink Tubing (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    If for nothing else, this book is good because the authors mention heat shrink tubing. Good lord do I hate electrical tape. As a "tool" it's a shitty one.
    • ...Good lord do I hate electrical tape. As a "tool" it's a shitty one.

      Just slightly above duct tape in the "tool" chain. And everyone knows nothing defines quality like wrinkles in the duct tape.
    • Re:Shrink Tubing (Score:3, Informative)

      by Cpt_Kirks (37296)
      Dammit, it's not harware hacking without electrical tape. Lots of it. Rolls of it. I buy the tubes of 5 rolls.

      Heatshrink is a *BITCH* to remove. It tends to harden when heated so a razor will barely cut it.

      • Also, you can use tape in places where heatshrink won't fit. Ever seen any Y-shaped heatshrink? No, I dont'think so...
        • Re:Shrink Tubing (Score:3, Informative)

          by Grishnakh (216268)
          Ever seen any Y-shaped heatshrink? No, I dont'think so...

          Actually, yes, I have. It was used in some mil-spec fiber-optic connectors. But you certainly won't find any at Radio Shock.
      • with no shops for electrical parts in town i found it easier to use just standard medical tape which is given away for free here. What can i say? I am lazy and cheap :)
  • by Anonymous Coward
    .. same book, but reviewed by someone different. I didn't read today's review and I'm too lazy to do a search (Slashdot's search engine sucks), but wasn't this same book reviewed by someone else not too long ago?
  • However I found it a bit odd that the authors tell you to use a heat gun and heat-shrink tubing, but do not list these items in the tools section.
    Because the kind of people reading Hardware Hacking will probably extrapolate that "heat-shrink" requires you to apply "heat" to it in order to make it "heat", using some kind of "heating" apparatus.

    But you're right, it is a pretty big leap to expect people to grasp what the "heat gun" does...
    • 'in order to make it "heat"'

      Should of course be: 'in order to make it "shrink"'.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Hrm?

      If there is a "tools" section at all, then it should be complete. Having an incomplete tools section is worse than having no tools section at all.

      Whether I can figure out "heat-shrink", has little to do with whether I have some lying around for when I get to that point.
  • by donnyspi (701349)
    When I saw the word "hacking" in the title, I should have guessed Kevin Mitnick would be involved in some way :)
  • Good for beginners (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Grant29 (701796) * on Friday April 23, 2004 @01:48PM (#8952117) Homepage
    While it's always good to learn some of the basics, the real hardware hackers have a drive that most people don't have. You have to be willing to break a few things beyond repair while making mods. Also, the creativity of some of the hardware hacks I've seen is outstanding. You can't learn the truely unique hardware hacks from a book. The unique ideas are often the hardest part.

    --
    Hot Deals [retailretreat.com]
    • by dslbrian (318993) on Friday April 23, 2004 @02:04PM (#8952304)

      Actually for relatively small scale projects, and working with embedded controllers (from "basic stamps" to 8/16/32-bit controllers, ie. 8051 and such) I've found that Circuit Cellar [circuitcellar.com] is a pretty good magazine. They've had articles on wireless apps, robotics, and other stuff with a focus on hardware and practical details. A pretty fun read if your into tinkering with hardware (disclaimer - I'm speaking as a EE, so your definition of "fun" may differ).

      • (disclaimer - I'm speaking as a EE, so your definition of "fun" may differ)

        This is a little off-topic, but if you're an EE and you think hardware hacking is "fun", then you're certainly not a typical EE. I work in a huge company full of EE's, and I've never met anyone here that actually cared about tinking with anything electrical (or anything at all really). I think I'm the only EE I know that does.

        Basically, I think that spitting out "EE" like that is perpetuating a bad stereotype, that engineers are
        • This is a little off-topic, but if you're an EE and you think hardware hacking is "fun", then you're certainly not a typical EE. I work in a huge company full of EE's, and I've never met anyone here that actually cared about tinking with anything electrical (or anything at all really). I think I'm the only EE I know that does.

          Agreed. I'm another one of those few. Most of my classmates in school were there to get the grades and then go get some stupid programming job (maybe firmware instead of high level

          • I disagree. When you're working for a big company, it doesn't matter much how much you like tinkering with stuff; your job isn't going to be like that. It'll be about working 10 hours/day at your computer running simulations, because your job is just a tiny, narrowly-focussed portion of the overall design. This is when you aren't wasting time in pointless meetings discussing when you should have other meetings. The company can just open a new design center in India to do this, and even if they aren't ti
        • I work in a huge company full of EE's, and I've never met anyone here that actually cared about tinking with anything electrical

          This is similar to almost any field, whereby you generally don't have hobbies that are TOO much like work, because it comes across as the same as working. However that said, I know quite a few EEs who are the 'build your own hardware from scratch' kind of people like myself. My day job is analog/wireless IC design. The mag that I referenced was primarily embedded design (disc

          • This is similar to almost any field, whereby you generally don't have hobbies that are TOO much like work, because it comes across as the same as working.

            I got into EE because I wanted a job that I actually liked. But the reality was that companies find a way to take something interesting and make it into drudgery. My day job involves validation of ICs in the pre-silicon design stage. I can't say this is exactly what I was shooting for when I was in college; it's just what happened to have open positio
  • atari hacking (Score:4, Interesting)

    by millahtime (710421) on Friday April 23, 2004 @01:49PM (#8952125) Homepage Journal
    Like I said, I'm not too interested in Atari hacking,

    Who wants to hack an Atari. They are so hard to come buy that if you screw it up you'll be kicking yourself for months. Trust me, I know.
    • Are they really that hard to come by? I think my brother has 1 or 2 that he was trying to decide what to do with.
      I thought about taking 1 but decided it would probably just add to the collection of junk in my closets/basement that I had when I was a kid.
    • Well, if it's broken, you'll -want- to hack it. I've got a 600XL (my first computer *sob*) and a 130XE, and the power supplies have both fizzed (pretty common problem). I wired up a new unit out of an old AT PSU...ugly, but it works. It's nothing impressive, but it was a minor hack, and it got my old machines up and running again.

      And *then* I could play Super Cobra!
  • by jkitchel (615599) <jacob_kitchel AT hotmail DOT com> on Friday April 23, 2004 @01:49PM (#8952138)

    Another positive point to this book is the pace and order of the book. It starts with part one,...

    That struck me as kind of funny. I'd hope that all books start out that way. God help us when books start at part two.

  • Mitnick (Score:5, Informative)

    by vasqzr (619165) <vasqzrNO@SPAMnetscape.net> on Friday April 23, 2004 @01:54PM (#8952202)

    I seen his name, instinctivley picked the book up, and read a few chapters, spent nearly an hour leaned up against the shelf and Barnes and Noble. I guess they have chairs there for a reason...

    It's a pretty good read, but it's not quite for the 'Tech TV' crowd, it's actually kind of advanced and detailed.

    • Re:Mitnick (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      I seen[sic]...
      I automatically read the whole post as if you were a Tornado witness.

      An then ah just heard this roar like this.... WAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH.... that's when I thought it gawt ma!
  • by linzeal (197905) on Friday April 23, 2004 @01:55PM (#8952211) Homepage Journal
    Personally I think the far more interesting engineering that geeks forget to study is the human one [amazon.com]. As we have evolved larger brains most humans have neglected to study some of the proposed methods [amazon.com] one can learn to change it with. Besides the obvious future augmentation with nanotechnology or its ilk we have a scant few that have pondered its intracies. Most of them are flakes, all of them are partially 'out there' but maybe you have been a little 'out there' to get 'in here'.

    Hardware hacking of all kinds is cool, but as I more intimately familiar with mechanical engineering and know that I have to take electrical engineering courses beginning next year perhaps this book will help. Can anyone second the review?

    • I get my info on wetware hacking here [erowid.org].

      As I'm sure someone will complain if I don't mention it, I will warn you that the Web site is very poorly designed. However, if you're willing to dig for it, there is a wealth of information in the Erowid Psychoactive Vaults on how to use drugs without getting killed, which drugs to use for what ends, and where to look for more information on a given drug.

      Happy tripping!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 23, 2004 @01:59PM (#8952251)
    I had to take a shower after handling this book at my friendly Bookstar, so dirty I felt just from reading these recipes for being an ILLEGAL COPYRIGHT and PATENT violating criminal! I see nothing but wicked intructions on violating the legally and rightly conferred DMCA rights of the benevolent corporations of this country. I will be referring this unholy tome to the proper authorities so that this matter is handled promptly.
  • by joespandex (759954) on Friday April 23, 2004 @02:08PM (#8952337)
    Thanks to Blaine for the no-nonsense review. It's nice to hear people's thoughts without being sugar-coated.

    For what it's worth, the full title of the book is "Hardware Hacking: Have Fun While Voiding Your Warranty".

    As for the real mindset of a (hardware) hacker, true, that cannot be taught. But, it doesn't mean that more mainstream readers are not curious about tinkering with hardware. Getting people to think outside of what they are normally taught is the important thing and hopefully they'll benefit from the book.

    I wanted to try and include something for everybody in this book. So, the introductory EE, coding, and OS chapters are for people who might not have a sense of those things (to tell you the truth, I use the EE chapter, which I wrote, as a reference guide all the time). The hacks range from easy (changing the LED in a Macintosh mouse or Atari 7800 Power indicator) to complex (Marcus Brown's Playstation 2 Independence Day hack). And, there's a wide range of hardware to play with, too.

    I'd like to think there is something for everyone (well, almost everyone). You don't have to have extreme hardware skills or have an engineering degree to enjoy the book and rip your products apart. The worst you can do is break something, but that's part of the fun! :)

    Joe

    PS - PDFs of the TOC, Foreword, and Introduction can be found here [grandideastudio.com].
    • Some comments on your website. I'm using Firefox.

      First, my monitor is huge. Frickin' huge. And it's set to a really high resolution. Your website, though, seems to be set to an absolute height (592 px) and width (770px), and so is this tiny box taking up about a third of the screen, centered. Wouldn't be so bad, except I have to scroll down. A lot. With all this blank space around, unused.

      Second, 'Books & Chapters' is confusing placed underneath 'Computer Security', which makes it difficult to
  • But is there a chapter on Hacking your dead badger linux box?

    I know, I know, I brought it up again... So kill my karma.
  • by Jonah Hex (651948) <hexdotms&gmail,com> on Friday April 23, 2004 @02:24PM (#8952481) Homepage Journal
    I've been a long time OS tech, working my way up since the days of DOS and BBS's, etc. After I took a 6 month course in the basics of electronics and TV/VCR/Computer repair back in the early 90's I've found that diagnosing and/or understanding how the underlying hardware works helps greatly. I'd definately recommend to all you puter techs out there to learn the basics of electronics, if it be via this book or a cheap course at the local CC. (of course my best advise for aspiring techs is to learn the scientific method and good troubleshooting skills)

    Jonah Hex
  • I remember my first job out of college where they made their own circuit boards for a medical device. While something compiled on my 286, I watched the EE do all kinds of tests and simulations at his desk. Finally I said, "That looks boring. Fire that bad boy up and see what happens."

    He looked at me, pointed at a chip and said "See that? Those cost $100 apiece. I have 4 of them, and they take 3 weeks to order. I can't afford to blow it up." And went back to his work.

    I always remembered that as the best demonstration of the difference between hardware geeks and software geeks. Software geeks abide by neither the laws of physics nor economics.

    • I always remembered that as the best demonstration of the difference between hardware geeks and software geeks. Software geeks abide by neither the laws of physics nor economics.

      Yeah, and if you didn't have some real engineers around to understand and operate within the constraints of those laws, you wouldn't have had that precious 286 on which to compile.

  • by AtariDatacenter (31657) on Friday April 23, 2004 @02:31PM (#8952567)
    So which Atari hacking are we talking about? Arcade PCBs, 2600s, home computers, Atari Calculators, Atari UNIX boxes [!]. what?

    Regarding hardware hacking in general, I think one of the best ways to get started is with a BASIC Stamp, like from parallax [parallax.com]. It really lets you expore the interface between software and hardware.

    I kind of wish the review gave me a better feel for the book. I'm getting better in my hardware, but I'm not beyond a good textbook to lean on for some things.
    • So which Atari hacking are we talking about? Arcade PCBs, 2600s, home computers, Atari Calculators, Atari UNIX boxes [!]. what?

      For those who think a mere link to the books TOC isn't actually an answer to the question, the book seems to concentrate on mods for the early Atari consoles, like the 2600, 5200, and 7800. Other notable devices listed as subjects in the TOC include:

      PlayStation 2
      802.11 devices
      iPod
      Nokia 6210
      Palm devices

  • Review of the Review (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Totally positive review. Only a small area or two which says, "...odd...". Aside from that, there's nothing negative about the book. Why is that? Is the book perfect? Is the reviewer out of their realm and isn't qualified to review it?

    I'm leery of any reviews which are completely positive. A reviewer should sit down and make a list of topics they expect should be in a book based upon what's presented on the book's cover and introduction. How high|low should the skill level be? How about themes|elem
  • Chapter on the DMCA? (Score:4, Informative)

    by David Hume (200499) on Friday April 23, 2004 @02:33PM (#8952594) Homepage

    From the Publisher [barnesandnoble.com]:

    Modern game systems, too! Hack your PlayStation 2 to boot code from the memory card or modify your PlayStation 2 for homebrew game development


    Which makes me ask, is there a chapter on your potential liability under the DMCA? [eff.org] --

    Section 1201 Impedes Competition and Innovation.

    Rather than focusing on pirates, many copyright owners have chosen to use the DMCA to hinder their legitimate competitors. For example, Sony has invoked section 1201 to protect their monopoly on Playstation video game consoles, as well as their "regionalization" system limiting users in one country from playing games legitimately purchased in another.

    * * * *

    Sony Attacks Playstation "Mod Chips"

    Apart from using the DMCA against vendors of personal computer emulators of Sony's Playstation, Sony has sued a number of manufacturers of so-called "mod chips" for alleged circumvention under the DMCA. In doing so, Sony has been able to enforce a system of geographical regional restrictions that raises significant anticompetitive issues.

    So-called "mod chips" are after-market accessories that modify Playstation consoles to permit games legitimately purchased in one part of the world to be played on a games console from another geographical region. Sony has sued mod chip manufacturers in the U.S., the U.K., and Australia. In the U.S., Sony sued Gamemasters, Inc., distributor of the Game Enhancer peripheral device, which allowed U.S. Playstation users to play games purchased in Japan and other countries. Although there was no infringement of Sony's copyright, the court granted an injunction under the DMCA's anti-circumvention provisions, effectively banning the use of a technology that would permit users to use legitimately-purchased non-infringing games from other regions.


    Drinkers Purgatory [purevolume.com]
  • Will this book be banned under the DMCA? Will the author be held without trial or media attention? Will the new European DMCA laws mean even Europe can't read it? find out in next weeks exciting episode of "When Fucking Corporate Asswipes Dictate Stupid Laws to Corrupt Senators!"
  • by computational super (740265) on Friday April 23, 2004 @02:53PM (#8952812)

    ... hacking a CRT monitor. I believe that the safety warning should probably be a bit bolder, especially considering the earlier, prominent advice about static energy and grounding.

    I suddenly have this mental image of Wile E. Coyote standing over an open monitor, covered in black soot, smoke swirling off of his head...

    • Thats actually pretty accurate, huge fuckin caps and other HV stuff in CRTs. Not something i'd want to open...
  • The XGameStation (Score:2, Informative)

    by Langley (1015)

    Check this out some time: XGameStation [xgamestation.com].

    This may have been posted to Slashdot before, but it is worth bringing up again since its been at the "Pre-Orders Coming Soon!" stage to quite some time now.

    This is Andre LaMothe's little project (little?), that when it comes to fruition will be a bad-assed tutorial on not only hacking together your own computer but all the neat programming that goes into getting it up and running as a fully functional console game system.

    Anyway, I can't wait to get my hands

  • I'd *love* to see a nice, step by step explination as to how to mod my PS2, speaking of hacking. As is, I had to ship it to a guy who did it (and he did a perfect job putting in a DMS3 chip), but I would've liked to be able to do it myself. As is, there's virtually no information on how to solder those little tiny connections yourself out on the web that I could find.
    • I'd *love* to see a nice, step by step explination as to how to mod my PS2,

      Web search for "thebroken", an amateur "TV" show devoted to hacking. The episodes are downloadable. On one show, they walk through installing a mod chip for each of the 3 videogame consoles.
  • furby? (Score:2, Funny)

    if this is the book im thinking of, it will tell you how to hack a "furby". pretty slick. turn your furby into funzo!
  • this from amazon.co.uk [amazon.co.uk]:

    "Hacking in this sense refers to modifying these devices to perform in a manner not originally intended; not compromising the security of the devices"

    shame that Amazon assume that people will immediately read "Hacking" as "Cracking"
  • When you list a multimeter as a tool for "Hardcore hardware hackers only", well that when my interest for the book drops from 5 to 0.

"Irrationality is the square root of all evil" -- Douglas Hofstadter

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