The Hardware Hacker – Andrew “bunnie” Huang
The Hardware Hacker
Andrew “bunnie” Huang
adventures in making and breaking hardware
This is a rather interesting book to land on my doormat, for several reasons. Firstly, this is the first “proof” of book I’ve had the pleasure to review, so as with anything, it is quite exciting to get a preview.
As it happens, the “uncorrected proof” and minimalist cover style adds a certain charm to the whole thing, and as it is proof, the paper and printing is rather more rustic than the standard high quality finish No Starch Press typically provide. Again, given the subject (as you’ll see) it fits rather well, and think I’d keep this version over any other.
Secondly…after having flicked through the book and read a few extracts, I soon realised it was rather familiar…particularly when I spotted the explanation of the Chinese word “gongkai”, the Chinese approach for open-source. I’d read Andrew “bunnie” Huang’s blog already!
In fact, I remember I liked the article so much I shared it with my co-workers, as it demonstrated how to approach reverse engineering of hardware and embedded software and wanted them to get an idea of what that means. So by now I was rather happy…a whole book along the same lines…that is truly excellent. Flicking through a few more pages, and yes, I realise I must have spent more time that I thought I had on this guys blog, as more familiar topics spring up!
The book talks about hardware and components, the modern-day electronics that come in everything…but not the technical side of how they work, what they do, or how they fit together but how they come to be in the real world. The author “bunnie” tells us about the practicalities of building electronics in the upside-down (and occasionally grey/dodgy) world of China, where approaches are somewhat different and at times contradictory to typical Western businesses and manufacturing.
So you might be thinking, well if you’ve read this before then what is the point of the book?
Well, to me it just confirms that I want to read the whole thing, get the full story and see the full picture. I know I loved reading the articles, but they were just that, single articles providing a snippet or a glimpse, the book, as I am finding, reads very much like a biography. It very much lives up to the tag line “[an] adventure in making and breaking hardware” and “bunnie” keeps throwing in all the lovely detail which techies like myself simply love to hear. You get the full adventure, the highs and the lows and the winding road between. For instance, an error on the production line caused by an incorrect component polarity (fitted back-to-front), becomes a major headache because the factory fixes it…twice (so eager they are to resolve the problem, it ends up still the wrong way around). If you’ve done any kind of engineering, you’ll have shared his frustration many times over…the face-palm moment when you find that bug sitting right there where you left it, staring you in the face…grinning at you!
Unlike many of the No Starch Press books I’ve had, this book doesn’t need you to do anything, learn anything, you just sit-back, read and smile!
It makes you rethink about the items we buy, where they come from and how they end up the way they are, and the story of the many people who make them. The words “made in china” take on a different meaning, often a jumble of ultra high quality and perfection, right down to shaving off the last cent/penny off a product and the dark murky underbelly of the grey markets. A fusion of high-tech and low-tech processes, of highly skilled but internet illiterate staff and where profit margins can (and often do) blur the letter of the law.
So who would this book suit?
Well, essentially the kind of person who regularly takes things apart “to see how it works” or to “fix it”. The person who isn’t afraid to get the screwdriver out and pry that nearly dead laptop/phone/dvd-player/tumble-dryer apart to find out where the mojo has gone.
Give this book to an engineer, a hardware hacker, or electronics engineer and I swear you’ll not hear a peep out of them until they reach the final page (actually…that is a lie…because they’ll be chuckling in the corner…they be wanting to tell you all about it…or anyone else willing to listen).
I can imagine this would be the perfect book to open up on a Christmas afternoon (or even boxing-day), when all the other presents have been opened, the floor covered with wrapping paper and the kids have long finished pulling you over for another round of monopoly, and have been put to bed.
[Print version is available in January, but however the ebook is available on eairly access.]
I would save my copy until then, but I just go to this really interesting bit where…ah spoilers!
More details: No Starch Press – Hardware Hacker