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Microsoft Books Media Book Reviews Hardware

Hacking the XBox 228

Peter Wayner writes: "If you're a handicapped Windows user, Microsoft offers suggestions and assistance -- but XBox users were out of luck until Andrew 'Bunnie' Huang finished his book Hacking the XBox. Don't be fooled by the title. Officially, Huang's excellent book is not about helping the differently-abled. That would be against the law. Huang was forced by the DMCA to hide his humanitarianism under the cloak of 'reverse engineering' because this is one of the few legitimate uses given a small amount of protection by the law. But if you've got an urge to help the handicapped or any other reason to tinker with your XBox, buy this book before the Man sees through this ruse." Read on for the rest of Peter's review.
Hacking the XBox
author Andrew "Bunnie" Huang
pages 288
publisher No Starch Press
rating 9
reviewer Peter Wayner
ISBN 1593270291
summary How and why to crack the seal on your Xbox.

There are many reasons why you might want to take apart your XBox, but one of the best ones I can imagine is making it easier for people who can't see, hear or move too well to play the same video games as the rest of us. Searching Microsoft's web site for documents containing both "handicapped" and "xbox" reveals only a suggestion for how to change the degree of difficulty of your Zoo Tycoon Game.

Someone who might want to retrofit a new pointing device or some other enabling gadget onto the XBox might start with the chapter describing how to fix a real USB cable onto the XBox. The chapter, like most in the book, is heavily illustrated with step-by-step pictures and instructions for clipping the cables in the right place and soldering them back together. Some of this might seem a bit rudimentary, but the detail can't hurt. In many cases, the real challenge is finding a way to take apart the case or the pack of wires in the right way. Smashing it isn't always an option. This is a book about mathematics, electronics, and taking apart plastic boxes.

Alas, just doing a bit of soldering isn't going to be enough unless you can make the right drivers. To help those who might want to reprogram their XBox, Huang devotes much of the book to stripping away the layers of the XBox security system, a story that is part mystery and part journey through the security layers in the system. The book is arranged in a very roughly chronological order. While it is mainly a book that teaches you how to reverse engineer the XBox, it is also a story of how he overcame the obstacles presented by the encryption. He talks as much about the unsuccessful paths as the ones that paid off. (This is, I think, an ideal model for the scientific community. It's much more educational than the terse papers that present the results as fait accompli.)

This part of the book quickly gets quite complicated, because Microsoft obviously tried hard to produce a secure machine that could provide a fair platform for people to play games. Getting the XBox to run any old software is not an easy task, but Huang describes several major techniques for drilling through the various layers of security. Again, he offers detailed pictures and instructions for construction special tools that snarf signals from a bus. Then he explains how he managed to grab the right keys for decrypting some of the most important data. Although it's a technical book, it unfolds like a spy novel.

The book is also very politically thoughtful. While the clueless will equate the word "hacking" in the title with piracy, money laundering, terrorism, and not phoning home on mother's day, Huang frames every step with a discussion of whether it is motivated by good or evil. He's not interested in building a tool to pirate XBox games and points out that many of the modifications aimed at running Linux on the Xbox do not help the pirates in any way. If anything, they make the games entirely unplayable.

Huang does want to defend the right to tinker, citing Ed Felten and others in a defense of something we're rapidly losing. I've heard horror stories from Army Majors about Windows PCs that refused to boot after failing to find a C drive. Do we really want to build machines that can't be retrofitted or fixed in the field? Many war movies are saved by the young private who (like Huang) is willing and able to tinker.

If you don't respond to pulls on the heartstrings, you might want to read one of the concluding chapters from the EFF's Lee Tien about the current legal climate. There are few exemptions for tinkering and many of them are limited. Reverse engineering is okay if you're a big corporation making a competing product, but that didn't help 2600 magazine when they were accused of trying to help people view DVDs on their Linux machine. I can only imagine what they would do to someone with very bad vision who wanted to enable a special zoom feature on their Xbox.

The book was originally going to be published by Wiley, but the company balked when it realized there were stiff legal penalties for helping handicapped people use computers. Even the Massachusetts Institute of Technology felt that it would be better for Huang to disassociate itself from Huang and his humanitarian efforts. The university only relented after pressure from a few good professors who helped the university understand the value in Huang's mission. Huang decided to publish the book himself with the help of his girlfriend, Nikki Justis. The two of them should be commended for turning out such a beautiful, professional book. If you're intrigued by the xbox, interested in helping the handicapped, or just trying to learn how to reverse engineer things before things get worse, check out this book. It's a wonderful contribution to the literature.

To close, I'm offering a pair of cool projects with the hope that Huang's book will inspire people to tinker:

  • Sonic Information -- The sound in games like Quake is pretty good, but what if it was rendered with enough precision to let blind people grok the scene? The echoes from the tapping of a white cane already carry plenty of information to the blind. What if they could compete on an equal footing with the sighted? Who would win?
  • Eye Movement Measuring tools -- Tools exist for sensing the position of our eyes. A quadriplegic game could just look in the right direction and shoot. Clearly some work would need to be done to encode all of the shift-left-left-down-right maneuvers from the games. This could help all of us. The thumb you save from repetitive motion injuries could be your own.
Note: Since this review was written, Hacking the Xbox has found a publisher in the form of No Starch Press. The original self-published version will probably be a sought-after collectable ;)


Peter Wayner is the author of Translucent Databases and ten other books. None rely on the DMCA. Hacking the Xbox is due in July at bn.com; you can also go directly to the book's page at No Starch Press. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.

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Hacking the XBox

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  • What??? (Score:5, Funny)

    by flynt ( 248848 ) on Thursday June 26, 2003 @11:49AM (#6303314)
    Would someone please explain in the "other English" simply what the summary of this article is trying to state? I have unusally high reading comprehension skills, but that paragraph has withstood repeated attempts on my part to retrieve any useful information from it!

    Thanks in advance!
    • Re:What??? (Score:2, Insightful)

      I know what you're saying, but it becomes clear (er) upon reading the rest of the dreadful piece.

      More life wasting content from Dashslot.
    • Yeah, the problem is probably here:

      Officially, Huang's excellent book is not about helping the differently-abled. That would be against the law.

      So, helping the differently-abled is apparently against the law! I wonder if that counts the grammar-disabled? ;)
      • Re:What??? (Score:5, Informative)

        by IWannaBeAnAC ( 653701 ) on Thursday June 26, 2003 @12:36PM (#6303786)
        Yes, that is absolutely true, there is no exemption in the DMCA for reverse-engineering for the purposes of accessibility. If you are blind and the DRM on your new operating system doesn't explicitly allow you to transfer the contents of an e-book to a Braille or audio device, then you are screwed.

        This in in contrast Australian version. which I know for sure allows such reverse-engineering, and the European version, which I am pretty sure allows it.

        • The european one both allows and disallows it at the same time and even if it explicitly allowed it it isnt clear how much it would help because accessibility companies are small and media companies are large and quite happy to litigate legitimate parties out of existance
    • Re:What??? (Score:5, Informative)

      by sheriff_p ( 138609 ) on Thursday June 26, 2003 @12:08PM (#6303528)
      For those of you who don't have to regularly deal with non-native speakers:

      "Officially, Huang's excellent book is not about helping the differently-abled. That would be against the law."

      Apparently helping the handicapped to use the xBox would be illegal (because of the DMCA, allegedly). That is why the book is called 'Hacking the xBox', and not 'Helping the handicapped use the xBox'.

      "Huang was forced by the DMCA to hide his humanitarianism under the cloak of 'reverse engineering' because this is one of the few legitimate uses given a small amount of protection by the law."

      The DMCA does allow some legal reverse-engineering (according to this), which is why Huang's book is meant to appear as a guide to that, rather than as a guide to (illegally) helping disabled people use the xBox.

      "But if you've got an urge to help the handicapped or any other reason to tinker with your XBox, buy this book before the Man sees through this ruse."

      So if you want to help the handicapped, or do other funky things with your xBox, buy this book, before Microsoft sues the author for helping the disabled.
    • by gosand ( 234100 ) on Thursday June 26, 2003 @12:21PM (#6303664)
      Would someone please explain in the "other English" simply what the summary of this article is trying to state? I have unusally high reading comprehension skills, but that paragraph has withstood repeated attempts on my part to retrieve any useful information from it!

      Yes, I can explain this review.

      Ladies and gentlemen of the supposed jury, Chef's attorney would certainly want you to believe his client wrote Stinky Britches ten years ago, and they make a good case. Hell, I almost felt pity myself. But ladies and gentlemen of the supposed jury, I have one final thing I want you to consider. Ladies and gentlemen, (pulls down picture of Chewbacca) this is Chewbacca. Chewbacca is a Wookiee from the planet Kashyyyk, but Chewbacca lives on the planet Endor. Now think about it. That does not make sense...Why would a Wookiee, an eight-foot-tall Wookiee, want to live on Endor with a bunch of two-foot-tall Ewoks. That does not make sense. But more important, you have to ask yourself: What does this have to do with this case?...Nothing. Ladies and gentlemen, it has nothing to do with this case...It does not make sense. Look at me. I'm a lawyer defending a major record company and I'm talkin' about Chewbacca. Does that make sense? Ladies and gentlemen I am not making any sense. None of this makes sense. And so you have to remember when you're in that jury room deliberating and conjugating the Emancipation Proclamation, does it make sense? No. Ladies and gentlemen of the supposed jury, it does not make sense. If Chewbacca lives on Endor you must acquit.

      So buy this book. The End.

  • by Meat Blaster ( 578650 ) on Thursday June 26, 2003 @11:49AM (#6303315)
    Some of the stuff seems alright; putting a green LED on the XBOX instead of the blue one is pretty innocous. But I'm kind of wondering if he's trudging into the grey area with putting a real USB cable on.

    It doesn't seem logical that we shouldn't be able to modify hardware that we buy, but from the business perspective these consoles are being sold at a loss -- if we can turn them into PCs, both the console manufacturer and the PC manufacturers are going to feel the hurt. Not that I'm arguing that the DMCA makes sense, but some of this information probably shouldn't be widely known (thinking of the IDE card that could be changed into a RAID card at one soldier point for 1/5th of the cost of the RAID card from the company.)

    • You can modify hardware you buy. You cant buy something and turn it into an illegal device, though.

      You can buy a handgun, but you cant modify it to be fully automatic, for instance.

      There's absolutely no law that says you can't splice a USB keyboard onto your xbox controller. Thats just a knee-jerk reaction of the reviewers.
    • The only way someone doing this would be hurting the console manufacturer is by lowering the liklihood of buying more games.

      If they truly need to sell more games just to stay "out of the red," they should probably fire the people in their sourcing departments... or raise the console price again.

      • That's just not the way the console wars work. This has been going on with many different companies over the last 20+ years. Almost no one EVER makes money on the console, the business plan is always to: try to make a desirable console that both players enjoy and developers enjoy programming, market it like crazy, make a good number of games yourself and directly profit, and license out games that other game shops develop for your system for a good amount of indirect profit. Except for the NeoGeo, the price
        • Actually consoles are only sold at a loss when they are first released. Once margins pick up they are sold at cost for a while. Eventually the price of the components needed to build the thing falls, and the units are sold at a profit.

          Do you really think it costs the same amount of money to make a PS2 as it did when they came out? Microsoft believed this myth the same way you did and kind of hosed themselves. But they have $40 billion in the bank, so who cares.

          After at least a year they do make a pro
        • It has been stated many times--Since the original Playstation at least, if not before, consoles have made profits for the manufacturers.

          Think about it. There are and have been free PSX development tools, so you don't have to pay Sony anythign to develop games for it. Sony doesn't make their own games.

          By your logic, the PS1 is a complete money hole for Sony. Which it isn't. PS1 hardware has turned a profit from day 1.

          Incidentally, TurboGrafix16 was around $350 when it came out, as was the 3DO, and Seg
    • by realdpk ( 116490 ) on Thursday June 26, 2003 @11:58AM (#6303409) Homepage Journal
      All products being sold can and probably will be modified by someone. If the company choses to sell their product at a loss, it's their own problem if they can't make up for that profit - not the general public's. We have no responsibility to them.

      With regards to the IDE card - the company made a conscious decision to build a cheap RAID card that could act as a straight IDE card. Someone figured it out. Tough nuts to them - they made their choice. They could have, for only a little bit more cost, made the devices incapable of being both (on the IDE ones, the chips destined for the IDE-only boards could have been physically identical, but had the RAID portion zero'd out at the chip fab).
    • by Malicious ( 567158 ) on Thursday June 26, 2003 @12:03PM (#6303480)
      That's like saying they shouldn't publish shop manuals for cars, because people might use them to install illegal nitrous kits, etc...
      If I bought something, it's mine to do with what i like. If i void my warranty, that's my buisness.
      It's when Microsoft starts claiming that you are actually RENTING/Licencing your Xbox from them, that they can claim rights to the hardware.

      This is /. we know it'll happen.

      • That's like saying they shouldn't publish shop manuals for cars, because people might use them to install illegal nitrous kits, etc...

        Nirous kits aren't illegal. Nor is installing one.

        The only thing illegal is not getting that vehilce re-inspected (which it will fail) before driving it on the public roadways.

        Bad example.
    • by Oliver Wendell Jones ( 158103 ) on Thursday June 26, 2003 @12:07PM (#6303519)
      but from the business perspective these consoles are being sold at a loss -- if we can turn them into PCs, both the console manufacturer and the PC manufacturers are going to feel the hurt.

      Tough.

      If businesses feel that the best way to get your product out there is to give it away for less than actual cost, then that is their shoddy business plan (anyone remember :CueCat?).

      Most grocery stores offer what are called loss-leaders, these are the items you see advertised in the weekly newspaper insert that shows 1 gallon of milk for $0.99 and 2 liter Colas for $0.99 each. The stores know that if you come in to buy those items, you'll probably pick up other items while you are there and they can make their profit on those items. Do we really need a law that requires you to purchase X number of non-loss-leaders every time you go to the store for a gallon of milk so the store can continue to sell milk below cost? Nope.

      Most groceries (at least where I live) now require a $10 minimum purchase in order to take advantage of the loss-leaders (alocohol and cigarette purchases do not count towards the $10). There - they found a perfectly legal way to ensure they don't take a huge loss without requiring government intervention.

      If Microsoft wants to continue to sell $500 computer for $180 under the assumption that you're going to come back to them for more software, then that is their problem.
    • by xonker ( 29382 ) on Thursday June 26, 2003 @12:39PM (#6303820) Homepage Journal
      but some of this information probably shouldn't be widely known (thinking of the IDE card that could be changed into a RAID card at one soldier point for 1/5th of the cost of the RAID card from the company.)

      In a word: Bullshit. Manufacturers shouldn't be able to use the law to prop up bogus pricing schemes or to enforce their business plan. If they're selling the consoles at a loss, they take that risk -- the law shouldn't step in to enforce that so a manufacturer can make money. It's the responsiblity of the business to create a workable business plan. If someone can turn a Xbox IDE controller into a RAID controller "for 1/5 the cost of the RAID card from the company" then it means the company is seriously overpricing their cards.

      The DMCA is increasingly being used as a way to defeat competition and enforce shoddy business practices -- not to uphold legitimate rights. If it continues, it won't be long before auto manufacturers are including chips to defeat third-party auto parts from working with their vehicles, and you can look forward to seriously inflated prices when you need to get new brake pads or whatever on your car because they'll be suing the competition out of business.

      Taken to the extreme, I can see a day when you won't even be able to buy inexpensive replacement parts for household appliances -- motor burned out on your fridge? Too bad, buy a new one. Elements burned out in your oven? Hey, a new one from GE will only cost $300!

      When you buy a product, it should be YOURS, period, end of story. If you want to mod your Xbox into a PC, and you have the skills to do it, then you damn well ought to be able to do so. Once you pay your $175 (or whatever they're going for) for an Xbox, Microsoft should cease to have any control over what you do with it -- save voiding the warranty if you decide to take it apart and start modding it.
      • The IDE card in particular is the Promise Ultra DMA66 to which you can flash the RAID ROM image and then solder a resitor and you get a RAID card (see here [geocities.com]. The reason it's 5 times more expensive is because they need to recoup the cost of the R&D on the RAID software you flash to it.
    • these consoles are being sold at a loss

      This is often quoted, but do you have any proof that the XBox is still sold at a loss? I know there was a lot of publicity when it first came out a few years ago but in case you haven't noticed the price for PC hardware has dropped a bit since then. I think it is far more likeley that Microsoft is now making money on every unit sold.

      • > I think it is far more likeley that Microsoft is now making money on every unit sold.

        As long as they have started another production run. If they built 20 Million of them at onset for a fixed price, the manufacturing cost-per-unit does not decrease after time. If, OTOH, they have started another production run afterwards, and bought more parts instead of using left-over ones that were purchased at the same time as the 1st Gen parts, then the price per unit WOULD go down.

        I do not know which case MS
    • it's called The digital millennium copyright act. Not the Digital Millennium Profit act. Putting a USB port on something has absolutely nothing to do with copyright. And thus nothing to do with the DMCA. If Microsoft wants to give away free PCs and dosn't make any money, tough shit. They should have picked a bussness model that worked.
    • Excuse me? If a company is charging $50 for one card and $250 for another card, and the only difference is one blob of solder, that information for damn sure should be widely known! Consumers are being ripped off. So what if the company ripping off consumers loses money on it? That's the principle behind capitalism; you're allowed to spot a rip-off and refuse to buy products when they're priced extortionately.

      And from the DMCA perspective, you reckon a company should be able to sue its customers if it
    • It doesn't seem logical that we shouldn't be able to modify hardware that we buy, but from the business perspective these consoles are being sold at a loss

      So? Microsoft chose to sell them for the price they do. If thats too low of a price, they should not have sold them for that low of a price. Case closed.
  • Can I get some feedback on good / bad experiences others have had with modding? Where can I get the chip?

    I've been waiting for this opportunity to uh... play games with my handicapped brother.

    *ahem* yeah...

  • Please (Score:2, Insightful)

    by stratjakt ( 596332 )
    Couldnt this have been reviewed by someone whos not a knee-jerk reactionary idiot? What a bunch of tripe.

    Tip: If you wanted to develop some sort of controller for the handicapped, you can go right ahead - legally.

    So all in all, is the book informative? Is there any neat technical information that would be of interest to anyone? Or is it a pseudo-politacal RMS-like diatribe about "big gub'ment and how Micro$oft is t eh suck".
    • Re:Please (Score:2, Insightful)

      What exactly do you think is legal?

      I for one will never acknowledge any law that says I can't do whatever I want with my possesions in the privacy of my own home NOT hurting myself OR others directly with said item. Forget legality; think ethically.
    • Wrong (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      You can't just go modding your hardware to help the handicapped. That's not allowed. There are only a few very specific exemptions to the DMCA and even those exemptions haven't been upheld in court.

      Consider the 2600 magazine case. They didn't publish DeCSS, they only linked to it. They claimed an exemption for hardware compatability. They were helping people view DVD's on a Linux machine. That exemption is written into the law. Yet, 2600 magazine lost.

      So buddy. Do you want to try something that isn't exe
    • But not the article :-)

      Published by Xenatera Press though, not No Starch whatever.

      It's great, and relates a bit to what I was looking at recently - I'm a software guy who got sent a few scarey looking boards with FGPAs and stuff on them; I delegated the soldering iron though :-)

      There is a chapter on the law which mentions how scarey it is getting these days, but the bulk of the book is about hardware, encryption and soldering, which was much more interesting than I thought the book would be when the girl

  • by gazbo ( 517111 ) on Thursday June 26, 2003 @11:51AM (#6303336)
    Video games. Uh, huh.

    Also, nice to see the general 'hey, lets take advantage of the good nature people show towards the disabled to get our lame-ass X-Box cracks out' theme here. /. hits new low.

    • by dr_dank ( 472072 ) on Thursday June 26, 2003 @12:08PM (#6303534) Homepage Journal
      Video games. Uh, huh

      If you think thats bad, I donated my old car to Federation for the Blind last month.
    • The guy makes pretty damn clear it's an obvious blind. Play fair. I have mates who play games using special pointers - obviously it does happen.

      Anyway, why shouldn't anyone crack/alter/smash/whatever something they have paid for as much as they damn well like? If MS are selling the X-Box at a loss it's their choice, not my problem! That's why they have made it hard to do, but it's still something I should be allowed to do.

      Hell, only the US has a DMCA anyway: rest of the world just goes right ahead ;

    • by dgoodman ( 51656 ) on Thursday June 26, 2003 @12:28PM (#6303723) Homepage
      I had this next door neighbor once, who liked to come over to my apartment for two reasons: the first was to hit on cute girls, the second was to play our copy of "Punch-Out" on our vintage Nintendo. sometimes he would combine the two.
      Invariably, he'd come over, sit himself down, and start playing Punch-Out. No one would really pay attention, because there was always someone playing the nintendo: it was something we were used to.
      Eventually he would make it to Mike Tyson. This is where people would start paying attention; a murmur would rise up: "hey, he's about to beat the game again! let's watch!". And he'd beat Mike Tyson. Then whoever hadn't been to my apartment before would be informed that the player was totally blind, and he would either play the game again just to annoy the person, or hit on her if she was cute (how would he know, you ask? well, that's a different story. let's just say my friend was pretty damn smooth...)
      Turns out Punch-Out provides lots of audio cues; since he wasn't distracted by the images on the screen, he was actually much better than most. He hated that most games' use of sound was of no use to the blind...
      • I had this next door neighbor once, who liked to come over to my apartment for two reasons: the first was to hit on cute girls...

        What's your address?

      • Not only audio cues, but most controllers today have "vibrate" functions for when a player is hit, large explosions, or whatever.

        I know that after playing a game for a while, I don't need to look at the menus anymore, and I'm used to using my eyes. I'm sure if some thought were put into a game's design in this area, it could work at least reasonably well.

      • It would have been really funny to replace the TV with just a speaker one day, and see how long everybody else could pretend that nothing was unusual. "Hmm... everybody else really sucks today. I wonder why?"
    • lets take advantage of the good nature people show towards the disabled

      Actually, I think their point was that the outrageous laws the content industries have purchased are making some benign activities. That is, the disabled are being written off as collateral damage in the copyright wars.

      What you call taking advantage of sympathy, I call exposing the reckless disregard of our laws for the disabled and others to the sympathetic who otherwise might have missed it.

    • NetHack for example is perfectly playable by blind people through a Braille interface. I've seen blind people who play far better than me, and I can see.

      I do agree that this "let's help the handicapped" thing was a little weird to say the least, but don't you ever underestimate the gaming prowess of blind people :)

      Hope I'm not posting something redundant, way too early in the morning to read posts that are below 3.
  • Just an idea.

    Many people run Windows solely for the games.
    Without the games, switching to Linux is easier.
    Now move all the games to Xboxes.

    Voila! The desktop is now unencumbered and can
    move to Linux easily.

    So stop trying to hack the XBox and promote it
    instead. Port all those cool Windows games?

    Yay, go XBox!!
    • Except that Microsoft's goal (IMO) is not to move games to XBoxes. Sure, they want the XBox to sell well as a game console, but that isn't their true purpose behind the thing.

      The XBox is, in reality, a "testing ground" for creating a computer that a user has no control over whatsoever.
      • Dude, you best get you tinfoil hat back on before they read your mind! =p

        And image, it got modded up..

        • by gamgee5273 ( 410326 ) on Thursday June 26, 2003 @01:54PM (#6304545) Homepage Journal
          No, he's right. If you look at some of the interviews, etc., you'll learn that the motivation is to get into the living room - not to create great game consoles. They want to create an uber-Xbox that does all soerts of things. Let's look at a few things:

          1) "Xbox" is a pretty generic name (about as generic as "iPod" - but I'll leave that where its at). It doesn't really bring games to mind. A "PlayStation" and a "GameCube" definitely do, but an "Xbox?" They chose a generic name for a reason.

          2) Both Xbox 1.5 and Xbox 2 are rumored to have PVR capability (Xbox/Ultimate TV, anyone?). There is talk of media center-like uses for the Xbox (yep - like the computers MS worked with HP on...embrace, extend, extinguish...). The Xbox is already a DVD and CD player, and Bill Gates has begun to make noise much the same to Steve Jobs's "digital hub" talk.

          3) What's missing? A browser and e-mail...WebTV. Just drop some of that into the mix while you're at it...your Gamer Tag can be your "@xbox.net" e-mail address or somesuch...

          With all of that, MS has its hands in your recreational and entertainment activities. They want to do so - just dig around, you'll find it.

          MS wants all your base.

      • The XBox is, in reality, a "testing ground" for creating a computer that a user has no control over whatsoever.

        Do you wear a tin foil hat or an aluminum foil hat?

        Seriously, though. If it's a testing ground for a computer that the user has no control over, we can breathe a sigh of relief. Only a couple of years after its introduction, and we can hack it to do all kinds of things we shouldn't.

        And even if they are developing with Intel a perfect computer, one that you can't hack no matter what, it still w

    • by gspr ( 602968 ) on Thursday June 26, 2003 @12:05PM (#6303498)
      Well, selling it at a loss means that MS is slowly gaining a higher and higher game console market share. With Sony and Nintendo out of the way in a few years time, and a continued shift by game developers towards the Xbox platform instead of the PC, Microsoft will have created their own, controlled platform. Yes, the Xbox is just a PC, but maybe that will change... What about the next Xbox? With the ever-increasing popularity of the console, Microsoft is slowly making their dream come true; control of the hardware.
      • Microsoft may (and this is debatable) be aiming for control over a trusted hardware platform. Applying Occam's razor suggests they want to lock down the Xbox to prevent piracy of their games.

        Honestly: does anyone here believe a large company can build a secure system? Security (be it in hardware, software, or bricks) depends on human beings, and the larger the company the more weak links there are.

        Microsoft cannot be so stupid as to actually believe a secure box is possible. It is not.

        And... if it was
      • You're missing something. The market has room for first place, second place... and Nintendo. Sometimes Nintendo has been first place, but back in those days (HINT: NES) there was room for more contenders because Nintendo paved the way for the insurgence of the video game into everyone's homes. Oh sure, you'd think it was the Atari VCS, but the NES was the first really compelling platform. The 2600/VCS brought games home to the wide markets to begin with, but the NES brought them to people of "all walks of l
  • by TWX ( 665546 ) on Thursday June 26, 2003 @11:53AM (#6303360)
    I would think that the Americans With Disabilities Act, combined with the many lobby groups for the disabled, would stomp all over anyone or any group attempting to block someone assisting the handicapped...
    • Allow me to rephrase what I believe the original author intended to say. He or she did say that helping the handicapped was illegal, but I don't think that's what the intent was. Here is a translation.

      Officially, Huang's excellent book is about helping the handicapped, not about hacking the XBox, since that would be against the law. Huang was forced by the DMCA to hide his hacking under the cloak of 'humanitarianism' because this is one of the few legitimate uses given a small amount of protection by t
      • Actually, I think a better translation is:

        Officially, Huang's excellent book is about reverse-engineering, not about hacking the XBox, since that would be against the law. Semiofficially, it is about hacking to help the handicapped, because while that is still against the law, it makes it sound like a good and moral cause to support. In reality, we suspect it's all about hacking the X-box for fun and cranking up its capabilities, from acting as a generic PC to playing pirated games, but as this is both p
      • by autopr0n ( 534291 ) on Thursday June 26, 2003 @01:29PM (#6304260) Homepage Journal
        No, the traslation is

        Officaly, I am an idiot who knows nothing about Intelecual Property law and the DMCA. I remembered that one of the arguments made by Elcomsoft's protected-acrobat cracker was that it allowed the blind to access protected PDFs. It also let you do other things, like copy the files far and wide. But I ignored that and came to the asinine conclusion that helping the handicapped was illegal under the DMCA.

        Now, I'm going to try, and fail, to use sarcasm to make a point about how helping people who are handicapped is illegal by saying that this book is not 'Officaly' about helping the handicapped because if it was about helping the handicapped it would be illegal. In fact, the book has absolutely nothing to do with helping the handicapped. That was a joke. Unfortunately, rather then laugh, everyone got confused.

        In conclusion. The book has nothing to do with helping the handicapped. I am an idiot. I am not funny.


        I think that about sums it up.
    • I would think that the Americans With Disabilities Act, combined with the many lobby groups for the disabled, would stomp all over anyone or any group attempting to block someone assisting the handicapped...

      Sorry, but that argument ranks along side publishing techniques for duplicating PS2 games but claiming it's only a technique for "backing up". You can't hijack a particular group's interests and use them to advance your own like this. Example: you can't steal something from a store and offer as your de
      • Those two things are very different. Backing up PS2 games is one thing and used to be covered under fair use doctorine untill the DCMA. Now making modifications to hardware for the purpose of enabaling the handicapt is allowed under the DCMA one of the few things that is. When you get into things that have significant other uses thats wehre you can get into things the courts need to decide.

        Now personaly hack the Xbox make it play nitendo games for all I care. The fact they are sold below cost is not mi
  • by kahei ( 466208 ) on Thursday June 26, 2003 @12:00PM (#6303441) Homepage
    A quadriplegic game could just look in the right direction and shoot.

    This is a good example of the 'hey, I know what I mean, so if I string together a few kind of related words I'm sure you'll know what I mean too' school of self-expression that has done internet discussion so much good over the years :)

    That or it's a a terrifying new plan to create games that can shoot back at you, even after you chop their limbs off.

  • by MrFredBloggs ( 529276 ) on Thursday June 26, 2003 @12:01PM (#6303449) Homepage
    "Many war movies are saved by the young private who (like Huang) is willing and able to tinker."

    Although most are saved by extensive use of special effects, and bags of red liquid which splish and splash when detonated by small amounts of industrial explosive.
  • "Sonic Information -- The sound in games like Quake is pretty good, but what if it was rendered with enough precision to let blind people grok the scene? The echoes from the tapping of a white cane already carry plenty of information to the blind. What if they could compete on an equal footing with the sighted? Who would win?"

    I can see it now in a deathmatch:

    ...tap...tap...tap.....BLAM!!!!

    So what does the echo of a rocket up your ass sound like? Huh! Huh!

    I think we can all agree that, while this projec

    • I disagree. I think seeing anyone getting "blowed up" is hilarious, provided they're not a friend of mine, and I don't get any on me.

      But you're right about one thing; Cane taps won't help with an incoming rocket. Of course, it IS possible to have a sound to let people know when a projectile is incoming... But that won't really help you shoot people halfway across the map. You'd have to implement some kind of sonar that gave you an idea of what was under the crosshairs, and then you'd have to be able to pl

  • by jkeegan ( 35099 ) on Thursday June 26, 2003 @12:26PM (#6303711) Homepage Journal
    I'd heard about the Hacking the Xbox book before Wiley dumped it, because Wiley is publishing my Hacking TiVo [amazon.com] book and it came up during conversations. When the news hit it was a shock - I was sorry to hear his book got canned, and have been following his story since.

    With regards to my book, I'm obviously glad it didn't get similarly cut (since I've spent a lot of time on it), but now Andrew has given me another reason to be happy it wasn't cut.

    These pictures from his site [hackingthexbox.com]
    (the links at the bottom of the page)

    I can see my wife's reaction now... :-O
  • by LostCluster ( 625375 ) on Thursday June 26, 2003 @12:30PM (#6303745)
    Somehow, I think this book is more about hacking hiding under the ruse of helping the disabled than the other way around like the review implies.

    The fact is, blind people can't play video games very well and nothing's going to really be able to fix that. I'm not sure what kind of hardware hack is gonna fix that. The avenue of having an first person shooter that can be played having sound give away the locations of other players for those who can't see video is really more of a challenge to the software developers... an off the shelf technology like QSound should make such a game possible, but would it be particularly playable is still unknown.

    There's no need to hack the X-Box to make an eye-movement control. Pay your license fees to Microsoft and you can make almost any kind of controller you want, plug right into the front of the box without a "true USB" mod needed. BTW, for those of you who don't know, quadriplegics can't do hardware mods anyway for some strange reason.

    The legal contraversy around this book has to deal with the ongoing fight over reverse engineering information from being publsihed. There's nothing contraversial about helping the disabled, and there's no stiff legal penalties for helping handicapped people use computers. The DMCA doesn't talk about handicapped people at all, but it has a lot to say about reverse engineering...

    The book is called Hacking the XBox, not Helping Disabled People Use the XBox.
    • Well, it may not say anything about helping the handicapped, but that's the problem. If there's no exemption, then <deep-authoritarian-voice> it's against the law </deep-authoritarian-voice>. Have you checked the size of the penalties? Those college student who thought they were doing "nothing wrong" by swapping a few files are going to be paying off their debt for a long time. They're lucky they weren't saddled with a million dollars in penalties.
    • Somehow, I think this book is more about hacking hiding under the ruse of helping the disabled than the other way around like the review implies.

      The book has nothing to do with the handycapped. The reviewer was trying to make a joke and failed.
  • by aderusha ( 32235 ) on Thursday June 26, 2003 @12:51PM (#6303939) Homepage
    ok, i preordered this book 3 months ago, and read it cover to cover the day it came in (great book btw).

    not once did i notice any mention of accessibility. plenty of info on reverse engineerings, useful soldering tips, insight on IP law, and lots of other fascinating stuff - but nowhere does the author mention anything even remotely close to making the xbox usable to people with disabilities.

    the author of this review asserts that "Don't be fooled by the title. Officially, Huang's excellent book is not about helping the differently-abled. That would be against the law. Huang was forced by the DMCA to hide his humanitarianism under the cloak of 'reverse engineering' because this is one of the few legitimate uses given a small amount of protection by the law."

    i think maybe the reviewer is reading into the book what he wants to hear, and not what the damn book is about. (here's a hint: i starts with "r" and ends with "everse engineering").

    claiming the Huang was forced by the evil minions of the DMCA to "hide his humanitarianism" by pretending that the book is really about reverse engineering is not only stupid, it's doing a disservice to one of the best books for beginning hardware hackers i've ever seen.
  • hmmm, "handicapped Windows user." rather redundant, don't you think?
  • Peter Wayner is the author of Translucent Databases and ten other books.


    hehe "Umm... I need a translator and 45 cases of red pens?" At least he can sort of spell
  • From the blurb:
    "The sound in games like Quake is pretty good, but what if it was rendered with enough precision to let blind people grok the scene? The echoes from the tapping of a white cane already carry plenty of information to the blind. What if they could compete on an equal footing with the sighted? Who would win?"

    My money is on the guy with the stick.
  • ... OR BOTH? Being interested in the inner workings of this 'mysteriously powerful black box' I eagerly voided my warranty early on my xbox. Bunnie, did sooo much more ...

    This book is a good read for anyone interested in system architecture, console hardware, or just getting the best bang for your $buck$. I gained more respect for the system once I knew more about it via ,"Hacking the Xbox". I would say that he did a good job putting in content for just about everyone interested. From simple soldering tips
  • by autopr0n ( 534291 ) on Thursday June 26, 2003 @01:13PM (#6304134) Homepage Journal
    Back when the US had crypto export laws, the book applied cryptography could still be exported. Why? Because it was a book. The first amendment trumped any crypto export laws. It was only when the code was put on a computer that it became illegal.

    In fact, the text of the DMCA EXPLICITLY allows you to DISCUSS the circumvention of copyright. It only becomes illegal when you apply the idea to a physical device (or, based on the DeCSS trial, a compiled computer program) and then distribute it.

    A lot of people here seem spew random crap (like the completely non-sensical intro paragraph) about the DMCA without actually knowing that much about it(and the GPL, as we've seen in these SCO stories).

    I mean, would it kill you people to read the thing?
    • In fact, the text of the DMCA EXPLICITLY allows you to DISCUSS the circumvention of copyright.

      So how'd 2600 lose their linking case then? From what I understand, they only DISCUSSED DeCSS.
    • In the case of the DeCSS and MPAA v. 2600 trials Judge Kaplan stated that it was a distinction without a difference whether you link to a file that violates the DMCA or distribute that file yourself. In other words it could possibly be illegal in the eyes of the court to show someone how to copy a DVD. Hey, judge Kaplan said it, not me.

      I have lost faith in a 3 branches of the government. The only thing shielding us from all out corporate control is our judgicial system. And I personally believe most of
  • My two cents (Score:5, Informative)

    by inflexion ( 3981 ) * on Thursday June 26, 2003 @01:30PM (#6304269) Homepage Journal
    That review sucked, but don't let it stop you from buying the book. I got my copy last week and can say it is definitely worth the money. It's a quick read (~2 nights) but will help you out with a lot of the basics of electronics that you never pick up in school or more formal textbooks. I don't even own an X-box nor do I plan on ever buying one and I still found this book interesting. Take that for what it's worth.
    • Re:My two cents (Score:5, Insightful)

      by silentmusic ( 146378 ) on Thursday June 26, 2003 @02:02PM (#6304623)
      I'm a hardware engineer, and I was given this book by somebody (Thanks Jimi) who bought multiple copies to support "bunnie."

      I basically skipped to the end because that's where he discusses some of the more interesting hardware hacking. I think that it's very well written and he offers some really useful advice. He even mentions details like why you don't necessarily want to use a heat gun to remove a part that has absorbed moisture.

      I could offer a few little suggestions here and there (minor things like recommending Metcal soldering irons) but all-in-all he did a really good job.

      Anyways I think that it's a good read for people that want to learn how to modify modern electronics equipment. Even if you're a EE major you'll probably learn some practical information by reading this book. If you're a software engineer that doesn't want to touch a soldering iron, then some parts may seem a bit baffling.

      BTW: The Slashdot overview of this book is totally bizarre.
  • IANAL, so I can't say whether hacking an X-Box is legal or not. I can say for sure, however, that it should be.

    Helping the handicapped, while theoretically noble, is not the reason why it should be legal. The reason we need to be able to hack our X-Boxes is because... they're ours! We bought 'em with good money and we should be able to do whatever we want with them within reason. This is a fundamental principle of a free society.

    What next? Is someone going to tell me that it's illegal for me to invit
  • ... prevent me from reading a book by a guy who nicknames himself "Bunnie."
  • There are more positive Microsoft articles than Linux articles in the past month. This is not a good thing. Pretty soon this will be a 24/7 Microsoft XBox site. Man, this is what dreams(nightmares) are made of.
  • Er, what? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by dasunt ( 249686 ) on Thursday June 26, 2003 @06:45PM (#6307074)

    I've heard horror stories from Army Majors about Windows PCs that refused to boot after failing to find a C drive.

    Isn't this to be expected? Hell, I don't yank out /dev/hda in my linux box and expect it to boot either.

    Computers 101: If an OS expects to find operating files in a certain location, removing that location is going to confuse the operating system bigtime when booting.

    Windows does boot from primary-master, primary-slave, secondary-master, and secondary-slave HDD positions. (I'll test with SCSI as soon as someone donates some new hardware). What more do you want?

    Next week: Criticizing cars because some refuse to run without gasoline. *Gasp!*

  • Dear author,

    could you please describe in detail how I could share my MP3 music collection over the net to help the deaf, the blind and the disabled and to cure terminal diseases? If it requires overcoming sophisticated CD copy protection mechanisms would you please be so kind as to describe how to crack them. thank you.

    Tomorrow we shall investigate how to hack the government's bank accounts to help the poor.
  • He talks as much about the unsuccessful paths as the ones that paid off. (This is, I think, an ideal model for the scientific community. It's much more educational than the terse papers that present the results as fait accompli.)

    I agree with this, but it's sadly not how it works, and there are reasons why it's true.

    Conference reviewers and journal editors don't want to public papers about failing to do things, even if it's useful information. If you've got a surplus of papers to publish, what are you

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