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Hacking Esquire's E-ink Cover 205

ptorrone writes "I picked up the Esquire E-inked cover today and took a bunch of high res photos, for the makers out there. It has a programming header, 5-pin ISP, a Microchip PIC 12f629 which is flash programmable, 8 pin, 6 lithium coin cell CR2016s, 3 volts each. Two E-ink screens with flex connections — looks like it was made to be reprogrammed and different screens. The top screen has 11 segments, the bottom has 3. It was designed 2008-06-04. The PCB was made by Forewin, half thickness, 2 layer board (FR4). I think someone out there will likely reflash the PIC and make the segments go on / off at different times and perhaps put other displays on it, there's a little bit of hacking to be had but not that much really."
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Hacking Esquire's E-ink Cover

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  • by rminsk ( 831757 ) on Monday September 08, 2008 @08:00PM (#24927297)

    Most of these magazines are going to end up in landfills with all the toxic materials that are in the display, batteries, chips, and PCBs. Thank you Esquire.

      • by Ctrl-Z ( 28806 ) < minus math_god> on Monday September 08, 2008 @08:29PM (#24927557) Homepage Journal


        All of it can be recycled through your local municipal waste program in the same manner as you dispose of household batteries.

        Last time I checked, household batteries go to the landfill. At least that's what happens where I live. GP has it right.

        • by socsoc ( 1116769 ) on Monday September 08, 2008 @08:50PM (#24927745)
          Maybe Canada allows it, but California has had compulsory battery recycling laws since 2006.
          • "Maybe Canada allows it, but California has had compulsory battery recycling laws since 2006."

            Interesting...what do they do, dig through your trash before they throw it on the truck??

            I don't know of any laws here on what you cannot throw in the trash...I throw everything in there. I've never actually recycled...I have no idea where to take the stuff, and I only have a small 2 seater car, and I'm not gonna be running around town with bags of garbage to drop off somewhere, when I can just toss it all in th

            • by socsoc ( 1116769 ) on Monday September 08, 2008 @09:22PM (#24927997)
              No they don't have enforcement crews digging through your trash, but many business have drop boxes for their employees/customers, especially places like Best Buy. Retailers that sell rechargeable batteries are required to accept them for recycling. It's so easy to recycle them, and there are free programs [], so why not?

              A fear of getting caught isn't the reason people comply, it's to keep hazardous material out of the landfill. The same reason we recycle our electronics through free programs instead of burying them in the backyard (well technically the fee is paid at point-of-sale).
            • by Jafafa Hots ( 580169 ) on Monday September 08, 2008 @09:23PM (#24928003) Homepage Journal
              Radio Shacks will take used batteries for free and send them to be recycled for you. Some other places too (Office Depot maybe?)

              Somewhere there's a website with a list of companies that participate in the program.

              • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                by Jorophose ( 1062218 )

                It would be nice if the post office or local libraries did this. I don't want to go to best buy or radio shack to drop off batteries but I will walk to the library/post office to do so.

              • by srw ( 38421 ) * on Tuesday September 09, 2008 @01:33AM (#24929521) Homepage

                Sure. I used to work at Radio Shack and we had a battery recycling bin by the till. Every couple of weeks our manager would dump the contents into the trash. I protested, but he said that as long as people thought they were recycling, they felt good and they would come in and buy stuff.

                Oh how I hated that job.

            • Recycling sucks! (Score:2, Informative)

              by Simonetta ( 207550 )

              I live near two little restaurants in Portland Oregon USA (the recycling capital of the USA). Every morning there are SIX loud 'big green trucks' that pull up next to my apartment between 5 and 7AM every single day to pick up the recycling. Three trucks for each restaurant: one for glass, one for paper, one for compost. Each loud truck with huge diesels shake the buildings of the entire apartment complex. We complain, but as typical of white-working-class people, the garbage drivers and managers just do

      • All of it can be recycled through your local municipal waste program in the same manner as you dispose of household batteries.

        I don't know about anyone else, but my town had an entire shed at the local transfer station for putting batteries.

        Ie, you can't "just" throw them out, even into the recycle bin at the end of your least, not in most municpalities. You're not supposed to dispose of batteries as part of regular trash, regardless of whether they're lead-acid car batteries, lithium,

        • Ie, you can't "just" throw them out, even into the recycle bin at the end of your least, not in most municpalities. You're not supposed to dispose of batteries as part of regular trash, regardless of whether they're lead-acid car batteries, lithium, alkaline, etc.

          You can in Cleveland [], at least for regular alkalines.

      • by FireFury03 ( 653718 ) <slashdot@nexusu[ ]rg ['k.o' in gap]> on Tuesday September 09, 2008 @08:43AM (#24931401) Homepage

        "Simply tear off the cover and dispose of the display unit in your recycling."

        Colour me very surprised if the council don't just landfill the thing because it is too much effort for them to split it up into it's component parts...

    • by dbIII ( 701233 ) on Monday September 08, 2008 @08:20PM (#24927483)
      We need a new mod catagory for posts like the above: "blatantly obvious that they did not read the finagaling article".
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Jason1729 ( 561790 )
      Wow. And here I was hoping I'd still be able to pick up a couple at the newstand tomorrow before they sell out and I have to pay $20+ each on eBay.

      Someone would have to be an idiot to throw these out when they can sell them for well over cover price. There's a large group of people who have been drooling over these for 2 months.
    • by Kamokazi ( 1080091 ) on Monday September 08, 2008 @09:28PM (#24928039)
      For fuck's sake. Why not worry about all those greeting cards with sound chips in them, or all the alkaline batteries, or printer ink cartridges thrown away? Esquire doing a one-time limited run of these is nothing compared to all of the other sources of toxic landfill materials. Quit being a pessimistic asshole and pissing on the downsides of the current popular topic and worry about some real problems.
    • While I agree that most of these are probably going to end up getting tossed, why do we reserve our flack for this one application? Every last electronic device is in the same position. Do you mention this about every electronic device?
  • by Aussenseiter ( 1241842 ) on Monday September 08, 2008 @08:02PM (#24927333)
    I really need to stop mentally pronouncing it "E-squire".
  • by CitznFish ( 222446 ) on Monday September 08, 2008 @08:09PM (#24927393) Homepage Journal

    who cares! until the magazine can read to me while I'm on the toilet, and answer my questions, or rebuttal my comments, I don't care how much technology goes into the cover.

    Then again if Playboy gets a digital cover that talks dirty to me then I have the option of recanting my previous statement.

  • what a waste (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TheSHAD0W ( 258774 ) on Monday September 08, 2008 @08:18PM (#24927461) Homepage

    Why are e-ink based e-books so expensive, while Esquire can afford to use it as a cover for their magazine? Something's missing here.

    • Re:what a waste (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 08, 2008 @08:26PM (#24927525)

      My guess would be that this "screen" is not able to display arbitrary images, rather it can only display those images pre-burned onto the "e-ink". The PIC controller merely flips switches on and off at set time intervals or by button presses. Although interesting and indeed hackable, the hardware necessary to do this stuff is already quite cheap (something like $25 for a USB pickit 1 from

      • Re:what a waste (Score:5, Informative)

        by MBCook ( 132727 ) <> on Monday September 08, 2008 @08:35PM (#24927613) Homepage

        Right. The display is just like old Game & Watch games (or any other cheap LCD display). They have a bunch of segments (in this case mostly blocks of words) that can be turned on or off. I'd expect that just like LCDs the more segments you have the more expensive it is to manufacture the thing (not including the cost of controller).

        If you watch the little video that the Make blog post links to, you can see how limited it is.

        That said, it seems to refresh quite fast, which the e-books have problems with. I don't know if this is a consequence of the controller (I doubt it, Amazon/Sony would do better), the size of the pixels (smaller pixels switch slower for some reason, perhaps the small traces prevent higher current that can switch things faster), manufacturing (faster switching is too expensive to make an 800x600 screen), or just perception (since the elements are so large it's not noticeable like when you change small blocks of text).

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by neonsignal ( 890658 )

          The problem with refreshing a pixel based e-ink display is that it has to be erased first (otherwise you get ghost images of the previous page). The erase setting has to be held long enough to achieve a stable and consistent state across the pixels. Some display modes of the ebook readers (eg, the mp3 player updating the play timer on the screen) don't do an erase first, and the update is quite fast (but you do get ghosting).

          For a simple segment display, it doesn't matter if there is ghosting, especiall

    • by SuperBanana ( 662181 ) on Monday September 08, 2008 @08:51PM (#24927747)

      Why are e-ink based e-books so expensive, while Esquire can afford to use it as a cover for their magazine? Something's missing here.

      11 very large segments versus 480,000 very small segments. PIC programed to go "turn on segment 1, then 2, then 3. Pause. Switch all them off. Repeat"...versus "fully fledged operating system and electronic document presentation system."

      Oh yes, and Equire printed roughly 233,300 of them (one in three of their circulation of 700,000) in one go. That's roughly equal to the 240,000 Kindle units Amazon has supposedly sold in about 10 months.

      Still, the biggie is the simplicity...

      • The hardware specs make a big difference, but the "fully fledged operating system and document presentation system" can be had for essentially nothing, if they pick open source solutions and tweak them a bit if necessary. That's what the Chinese [] are doing, for example.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      It's called loss-leading promotions. Bars will sometimes book big touring bands hoping to only break even, mostly for the bragging rights of saying that band played their room.
  • But... (Score:3, Funny)

    by christurkel ( 520220 ) on Monday September 08, 2008 @08:20PM (#24927487) Homepage Journal
    Does it run...? Imagine...oh never mind.
  • by Bananatree3 ( 872975 ) on Monday September 08, 2008 @08:49PM (#24927729)
    Esquire welcomes hackers []

    Greetings hackers: Esquire's special E-Ink cover includes two flexible displays that should last for a few months. But the flashing could last longer if you want to try to replace the embedded batteries or find other sources of power. If you come up with inventive ways to extend the power or to hack the circuit board, displays, or the E Ink technology itself, let us know by sending an email to and we'll post your results here on We should tell you, it's not easy and requires some expertise... but you're pretty clever, right? Show us something we don't know.

  • <blink>? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Hurricane78 ( 562437 ) <deleted.slashdot@org> on Monday September 08, 2008 @08:50PM (#24927735)

    Great. The <blink> tag made it to real life!

    Why?? Whyyyyyyyy........??? ;)

    • Re:? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Overzeetop ( 214511 )

      Same reason the original blink made it to HTML - because the can. Reminds you a lot of the Jurassic Park line..."they> were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should."

    • Re:? (Score:3, Funny)

      Well, for centuries brave men and women were trained in the arcane arts. Each spend decades learning how to fight the evils that lay beneat. But then there was a budget cut...
  • by up2ng ( 110551 ) <<chucklepatch> <at> <>> on Monday September 08, 2008 @09:21PM (#24927989) Homepage
    "Putting this cover together really started seven years ago, when deputy editor Peter Griffin..."

    "Hey Lois, Look I'm flashing an Esquire, he he he hehe"
    Stewie: "Oh, good going fat man way to show it to the 21st century"
  • by Goaway ( 82658 ) on Monday September 08, 2008 @09:22PM (#24927993) Homepage

    Is this entire thing about how there really isn't any point at all in hacking this thing?

    Gee, thanks for telling us!

    Even the summary has lost interest by the time it reaches the last sentence.

    • Well, saying that it is hard to hack is a good article nonetheless as most of us if we saw an e-ink display would buy it to try to hack it, if it wasn't able to be hacked most of us would have wasted the price of the magazine.
  • E-reader. (Score:2, Informative)

    by Ostracus ( 1354233 )


    All these comments and you all missed this beauty [] from the last story.

  • Just got one (Score:3, Informative)

    by dmitrygr ( 736758 ) <> on Monday September 08, 2008 @09:46PM (#24928169) Homepage
    Just bought one. There is a PIC - 12F629 for logic, and 2 8-bit shift registers. There are 6 3-V batteries, whose combined voltage of 18V is used to change eInk state. The e-ink displays show greyscale quite well, if you do not take the full specced time to get them to change state.
    • Wow. I think I would've looked into using a DC-DC converter to generate the 18V instead of 6 batteries - I hope they at least considered it. The e-Ink can't take that much current. The PIC is spec'ed to run from 2.0V to 5.5V, so it can run off 1 battery.
  • Adn so it begins... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jmorris42 ( 1458 ) * <> on Monday September 08, 2008 @10:00PM (#24928255)

    Yes this first feeble attempt is fairly lame, a few segments that will burn out in a couple of months and took a fair investment in hardware to pull off. But it won't end here.

    Soon they will put solar collectors on the things to keep it going indefinately, add more segments, etc. Hell, it won't be a generation before they are printing complex enough circuits on the damned things that they will be doing full motion video. On cereal boxes. Or having generic advertising, think shopping carts, seatbacks, etc updating their ad copy over slow radio links. And they already know how to make flat paper speakers so they damned things will be talking whenever somebody is in range.

    • You just summerized "high-tech" advertising for the next 50 years! May I ask, where did you get your crystal ball?
    • by Hal_Porter ( 817932 ) on Tuesday September 09, 2008 @01:38AM (#24929551)

      And they already know how to make flat paper speakers so they damned things will be talking whenever somebody is in range.

      If they had video cameras, they'd be vandal resistant too.

      "Watch Big Brother! Tonight of ABC! Watch Big Brother Tonight on ABC! Mr Morris, please do not touch this advert, it is the property of Orwell Advertising Inc. Mr Morris, video of the incident has been sent to law enforcement"

  • Not so impressive (Score:4, Informative)

    by Lord Byron II ( 671689 ) on Monday September 08, 2008 @10:13PM (#24928355)
    When I read this, I immediately ran down to Borders to take a look, since the video link on Esquire's site seemed to be broken. It is not very impressive at all. It's very small, maybe 2" by 4" at the most, and it just flashes. It's kind of a neon light sign effect - you can still read the text even when the segment isn't on.
    • Video worked for me but I had to temporarily enable Javascript and Flash for and

      It could have been slashdotted when you tried, though.

    • Because you expected them to pack it with an Intel Atom CPU, a 1 GB SSD, 128 MB of RAM and a nice color LCD? Seriously, what did you expect? Its hard enough to get E-ink as it is, yet alone without substantially increasing the price.
    • I was able to get the video working.

      This looks about as cool finding one of those floppy records designed for a needle turntable inside a computer magazine. No. Wait. I actually remember being pretty darn jazzed about that, since that was a period when you had to key programs in by hand and the magazines published miles of BASIC code. It was novel AND useful.

      Sorry, big, slick magazine publisher. Nice try, but perhaps you should have waited until your 80th anniversary.


  • To paraphrase Vince Lombardi: next time you make it to the future, act like you've been there before.

    Wouldn't it have been cooler had they done something badass? Or even interesting? Christ, I want to find a quick way to hack these and run around fucking them up on news racks!

    It's sooooo frickin juvenile to have an obnoxious blinking thing saying "Welcome to the 21st Century".


    I'm sorry you missed out on the last eight years. You're gonna be absolutely fucking horrified to see what has happened si

  • Assuming you can still find a bookstore, who on earth would still have this one in stock?

  • More details (Score:5, Informative)

    by tehaynes ( 853811 ) on Tuesday September 09, 2008 @03:59AM (#24930139) Homepage
    When I first read the Engadget post about the magazine being available I knew I would be driving around all day to find a copy that I could hack. I finally got a few copies and ripped one to shreds as soon as I got home.

    Firstly, they did not use the active matrix version of the E-Ink display. It is a segmented version. This means that you can not make it do kindle like things. You must use the existing segments. The magazine contains two of these 2x5" displays. The cover display has 11 segments while the inside display has 3. They are both black and 'white' (aka grey) displays although several shades seem possible by varying the switch voltage timing. The color areas are created with a transparent overlay that, of course, is always present.

    (Note: These probably do not match the CN1 and CN2 pin outs)
    1. "THE 21ST CENTURY"
    2. "BEGINS"
    3. 1st box after "BEGINS"
    4. 2nd box after "BEGINS"
    5. 3rd box after "BEGINS"
    6. Both boxes (left and right) of "NOW"
    7. "NOW"
    8. The circle arrow
    9. Bottom box 1
    10. Bottom box 2
    12. Bottom box 3

    1. Left side + 2 of 6 'wheel' segments on both 'wheels'
    2. Middle + 2 of 6 'wheel' segments on both 'wheels'
    3. Right side + 2 of 6 'wheel' segments on both 'wheels'

    The cover display uses a 12 line ribbon connector while the inner display uses a 6 line ribbon with only 4 lines that are completed. One line on each display is a common connection while the others are simple on/off lines.

    The circuit board is very simple with only a few components. There are six CR2016 3V batteries, 2 connectors, 2 HEF4094BT 8 stage shift-and-store bus register chips, 1 12F629 Flash based 8bit CMOS microcontroller, 26 resistors, 2 capacitors and 3 transistors. The 12F629 controls 3 transistors that drive the STROBE, DATA and CLOCK pins, at 15v, of the HEF4094BTs. The HEF4094BTs are connected in a cascade fashion to provide 16 latching registers that directly drive the EInk displays.

    The Batteries:
    5 of the 6 batteries (B1-B5) are connected in series to provide the 15v driver voltage that is used to change the segments from black to white and back. The other battery (B6) supplies the 3 volts needed to run the microcontroller. The B1-B5 series and B6 both share a common ground.

    The PIC
    U1 is the Microcontroller. This device controls the sequence of the changes.
    Pin 1 is Vdd (+3vdc).
    C1 is used as a noise filter for the power.
    Pin 2 is not used.
    Pin 3 is not used.
    Pin 4 is used for initial programming only.
    Pin 5 drives Q3 through R5.
    This drives the U3 and U3 STROBE (STR) lines causing the shift register data to be stored in the storage register.
    Pin 6 drives Q2 through R3.
    This drives the U2 and U3 CLOCK (CP) lines which allows serial programming of each register bit prior to storage.
    Pin 7 drives Q1 through R1.
    This drives the U2 DATA (S) line. U3 Data is connected to the O's (PIN 10) of U2 which is a serial output.
    pin 8 is Vss(GND).

    The Transistors
    Q1 drives the DATA (D) line of U2 and is driven by U1 Pin 7.
    Q2 drives the CLOCK (CP) lines of U2 and U3 and is driven by U1 Pin 6.
    Q3 drives the STROBE (STR) lines of U2 and U3 and is driven by U1 pin 5.
    Q1-Q3 base pins are connected to common ground.
    R1,3,5 are used for current limiting to protect U1 outputs.
    R2,4,6 are pull-up resistors for Q1-3 causing
    the output to be 15V when off and ground when on. C3 is a noise filter for the pull-up power rail.

    The Shift Registers
    U1 and U2 drive the displays. They are programmed by U1 via a serial bus. The parallel outputs we'll look at from the perspective of the CN1 and CN2 connectors. These work as a marching train of bits. When the clock goes HI all bits are shifted right and the first one is set the whatever DA
  • ...then how about just putting "T'Pol & 7 of 9 in naked shaving foam waterbed romp inside" in black ink on the cover.

Who goeth a-borrowing goeth a-sorrowing. -- Thomas Tusser