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Kindle hacking

I’ve got an unhealthy obsession with e-paper devices I think.

I love that they’re low-power and only require power when the page changes! Why don’t they make a linux machine with an xterm as the primary interface that only uses e-paper and has a runtime of weeks instead of hours?!? I’d love one of those to be honest.

I bought a non-working kindle DX (the big kind) at a garage sale for $10 last summer. Turns out that the battery was dead and the Wi-Fi/3g network doesn’t work anymore (not supported because all the 3g networks are gone now).

Solution: new battery for $8 (easy install) and hack the Kindle OS, so I can side-load books onto it.

End result: I can read books on a nice, big kindle now, and it cost me $18 and some time.

Custom cover page option was part of the Kindle hack. I made the actual cover page in Gimp on Linux.

the others

The Kindle keyboard 6” model (middle).

The Xiaomi Inkpalm 5 (right) which is an awesome Android e-ink device that has a fantastic battery life, but android loves to ‘scroll’ things in apps, which requires the e-ink display to do multiple updates when it could only do one. Android needs an option to just scroll one page at a time with a single refresh instead of smooth scrolling. Sorry android, your pretty scrolling feature that you’ve been working on perfecting for a decade now, isn’t good for e-ink displays. Sorry.


All devices have been modified to be more user-friendly and/or work when purposefully bricked by their original developer.

E paper PDA

I bought an e-paper arduino device that has buttons, wifi, bluetooth and a pretty slick e-paper display on it. The arduino even supports micropython!

I worked with the Chinese devs and printed out a case for it using my 3D printer and really wanted to make a working PDA from this unit.

But in the end, I ended up going a different direction. :(

Arduino LCD display

Initially built as a etherium/bitcoin ticker

Now a date/time/weather display!

I lost this code, but the device is still running, so … does anyone know of a way to extract the code from a running arduino?

Location based android game

During the early days of Covid-19 (before everyone was sent home), spurred-on by the popularity of Ingress and the Pokemon Go mobile games, I decided to write my own. I had been tinkering around with Unity and I knew it well enough to start to tinker around with things.

The first version of it was able to track my movement and I grabbed some sample data from Ingress to use as “portals” in the game.

I built a 5-node docker swarm cluster and built the entire back-end using docker containers. I had a staging environment and a production environment (even though I’m only a one-person dev team) but it was pretty good for testing new ideas without interrupting the current version of the game.

I ended up scraping all the Ingress portals in the whole game for the USA and importing them into my game.

This was the look of the ‘final’ product. I put it on the Google Play store for a couple of years and I managed to get a few dozen regular players and testers for me to bounce ideas off of. I moved the back-end into AWS and let it sit for a while.

In the end, I figured that I should take down the server to save money. After a few years, the user activity dropped off and I took the service offline and off the Play Store. :(

Growing meat eating plants

2020 attempt

Worked pretty well. Grew 3 different Venus Fly Traps in a semi-sealed, high-humidity environment.

I eventually forgot to water the plants for a couple of weeks and they all died almost immediately.

I learned a few lessons. Don’t feed like 30 crickets to just 2 VFT plants. It’s too much. :)

2023 attempt (update)

Bought a “ping” (butterwort) which is much more stable and easier to grow. It doesn’t have moving parts, but sticky leaves instead which the bugs stick to. I might end up just growing these instead of VFTs at all.

Bought seeds for lots of different types of meat-eaters and none of them took. I think that I got scammed on Amazon. :(

Elon Musk's Mars Colony (1M humans in 10 years) Notes


I'm a huge space nerd.  My father was a EE in the space industry and designed countless circuits for Ball Aerospace and Hughes over his 50+ years in the industry.  I grew up with pictures of satellites, the space shuttle and other space stuff all over my house.  I'm also a huge Elon Musk fan.  I think that he's a wonderful visionary and I'd buy a Tesla for every member of my family if I could afford one.

That being said, I just can't wrap my head around how a permanent Mars colony can ever happen.  There are simply too many obstacles.  Elon Musk's "1M people on Mars in 10 years" (written in 2020) project was great when I first thought about it, but when I did some initial research, the numbers just don't add up to me (at all - not even close).  Assuming power, oxygen, water and food are easy problems to solve (they aren't, but just for fun, let's say they are), the numbers still don't really work out in my opinion.

Permanent Mars colony talking points and issues:

  • basic numbers about the mass of materials needed to be shipped to Mars

    • From what I've read: 54,000 StarShip 1.0 launches in order to get enough cargo to support 1M humans (much less the people themselves) - is one StarShip launch every 2 hours 24/7 for 10 years (not to mention the in-orbit refueling missions or the short window every 2 years to get a rocket to Mars).  54000 / 10 / 52 = 103.8 launches a week.  Elon is saying that he is targeting 3 StarShip launches a day, but even this super-aggressive target is still only 1/4 of the 54000 launch number.  Adding in the fact that there's only a couple-week window every 2 years to do these launches seems to make this not feasible at all.  Watching Musk's video, he is talking about staging 1000-ish StarShips in Earth orbit waiting for the transfer window to launch as many StarShips at once, but this is really not enough to support the 1M mark.

    • Starship 2.0 (announced summer 2022): increases the cargo capabilities 8x.  So, assuming the same numbers as above, this will only require 675 StarShip 2.0 vehicles to bring all of the required resources

  • power

    • Solar power on Mars is only 50% the strength of that on Earth (at the equator) due to the distance from the sun.
    • Habitats will need to be near the poles for water, so solar energy will be even less near the poles (say 20% that of Earth) if habitats are near the poles for better water mining.
    • Nuclear is the best bet for power on Mars for a large population - all of the existing problems with nuclear on Earth will be the same on Mars.
    • Possible alternative fuels (thorium reactors, geo-thermal, wind) are possible but probably not practical.
  • food

  • Biosphere2 ( )

    • With a *lot* of planning for Biosphere2, cherry-picking the perfect plant species, insects, etc over a decade with all of the resources of Earth available with 3 acres of 'land', Biosphere2 was a spectacular project that still didn't technically work for 8 people to go without outside oxygen for 2 years (1991-1993) (one medical issue and one infusion of oxygen due to the cement issue) even though there was a CO2 scrubber inside Biosphere2 during the first 2-year experiment.
    • Biosphere2's experiment found that the cement in the building was responsible for creating most of the carbon dioxide.  Much of the current plan for creating structures on Mars is to use the Mars soil (regolith) as clay or brick-making material (not plastics).  Mars colonies built from the Mars soil would have to compensate or coat any exposed regolith with plastic or something to not allow the leeching of CO2 from the Martian soil bricks.

    • NOTE: A shorter stay inside of biosphere2 (6 months in 1994, initially meant to run for 10 months) after fixing the CO2 and other issues, also failed but was largely due to political issues (Guess what? Steve Bannon was involved!  Very interesting story).  This second mission was however, able to become 100% food independent.

    • The other human issues (factions, politics, etc.) that came out of the experiment don't instill confidence that putting people in extreme situations like this cause psychological and mental issues that can't be planned for and these factors alone can cause severe problems in a delicate environment like this.
  • differences in gravity

    • Mars children will grow slightly taller than the average Earth children due to the small difference in Martian gravity compared to Earth.
  • oxygen

    • Mars has very little Oxygen in the atmosphere.  Extraction from the atmosphere would be possible, but not energy-efficient.
    • The easiest way to create oxygen is to grow plants, which require power or sunlight to grow.  Algae is the easiest to transport/grow and grows quickly.
    • The MOXIE project on the Perseverance rover can convert the Martian CO2 to O2 at the same rate as a single, small tree.  The MOXIE device is the size of a lunchbox and has worked continuously for one year without issue.

    • Weirdly, this is the easiest problem to solve at large scale.

  • water

  • radiation

    • One of the more difficult issues to work to solve

    • Due to the lack of magnetosphere and atmosphere on Mars, the amount of radiation that a human would receive on the surface of Mars would contain primarily Solar (Beta, Gamma and Neutron) radiation.

    • The human body can stand 4 years of this Mars-level radiation before needing medical attention (approx 50x (per year) that of radiation exposure on Earth) unless shielded by some type of insulation (would have to be pretty thick) martian soil, so burying structures in several feet of martian soil would probably be necessary for survival.
    • Martian travelers would also be exposed to radiation during the 6-8-month flight to/from Mars.
    • Great video addressing the radiation on the surface of Mars and during the flight to Mars:
    • Since the human body could only handle a few years exposed to this radiation, the question of return trips from Mars to Earth after a certain amount of exposure is a concern.
  • communication

    • Current Mars probes have a very low-bandwidth option for direct communication w/ Earth.  Relay bandwidth is 2Mbps but the window is only a few minutes per day due to the orbit of the relay satellite.
    • A new relay satellite network would have to be created around Mars for permanent high-speed communication back to Earth.
    • Many on-planet devices will have to communicate with each other and with Earth.  Probably mostly wireless.  Infrastructure for this will have to be designed/built.  802.11 wifi and ham radio (consumer off-the-shelf solutions) wouldn't cut it.  Enterprise solutions would have to be implemented.
  • navigation

    • GPS doesn't exist on Mars.

    • Easiest solution is to create a GPS network around Mars.

    • Musk's rockets depend on technologies like GPS for navigation, automation and landing.

  • dust

    • Dust will get everywhere.  There are designs like spacesuits that attach to the outside of a structure, so you don't have to bring the suit into the structure, that can limit the dust.
    • Mars dust is very fine (it's been blowing all around the planet for millions of years just getting smaller and smaller) and can get into gears/wheels/bearings.
    • Dust and wind will be the primary reason for mechanical failures.
  • construction / shelter

  • jobs

    • robots to do most of the work 'outside' due to exposure (lots of jobs repairing and de-dusting the robots after a day's work)
  • trash

    • recycling would help a LOT to conserve the rare materials that were shipped from Earth
  • human factors

  • return fuel:

  • cost

    • Nasa estimates that today, it costs $10,000 to put 1 pound of material in orbit -
    • Elon Musk wants to reduce that cost to $1M/ton with Starship 1.0.
    • Starship 2.0 (very few details at this time) will have 8x capacity and cost similar (just slightly more) than Starship 1.0 (maybe $1M/8 tons?).
  • housing

Early 2024: After SpaceX's StarShip2 launch, there's talk of a StarShip v3, which will be even larger. The main reasons are to reduce the number of refueling launches, but larger ships will help with the overall "getting tons of mass to Mars" issue in general.

My rendition of what reality would be like for the first family/team sent to Mars.  Not quite as glorious as people are imagining.

Moon lander game

I remembered that when I was a kid, one of the first video games that I ever played was “lunar lander”. Does anyone remember that game? Black and white vector graphics? Very asteroid-esque? I figured that if I wanted to write a video game, I’d start simple, so I decided to start with a lunar-lander-type game to start with.

I wanted it to be 3D (because I like 3D games), so I decided to build a base “lander” using “blender” (because blender is free and works well with the Unity object exporters). Also, I wanted other people to play it without having to install it, so I used Unity’s webgl exporter to build it into a 3D web application that anyone could run.

It didn’t take too long to make an environment for it and get basic physics working with it.

I wanted to make bouncy legs (like with shock absorbers) because I was thinking if I was a passenger in the lander, I’d like a nice, soft landing compared to the rigid landing legs that I had been using.

Also, I found a nurbs modelling package which I used to make a more smooth lander (inspired by the SpaceX passenger capsule that they use to bring people back from the International Space Station nowadays) and made the ground a little more Moon-y:

I wanted to play with making a mobile version of it, so I added buttons.

Of course, I didn’t save the project anywhere and I don’t have the final WebGL version of it anywhere, so all I have is memories.

WiFi in the house

It was time to change away from the old WiFi router that I set up centrally-located in the house to a more enterprise-y solution. I found some used 2.4Ghz ubiquity WiFi transceivers for cheap on Craigslist that were previously used in an elementary school. It took me a weekend to get it all set up and well disguised in our house. Three transceivers covers every inch of our house with a very acceptable WiFi signal.

Power box

After getting my HAM radio license, all I could find on the internet was people taking their HAM radios mobile and running them off solar power. Most of the ones that I had found online for purchase were super expensive, so I decided to build my own.

Also, it was a pretty simple concept and I got my son interested in it a bit. Even got him to do a little work on it!

I started simple with a tool box, a small solar panel, a solar charge controller and a battery.