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To Hack, or Not To Hack

Shawn Powers

Issue #211, November 2011

Of course, here at Linux Journal, we choose “hack” every time. My wife doesn't always agree with my world-modding attitude, however. She seems to think switches, and not cron jobs, should be used for turning lights on and off. She doesn't understand why a person would want to mount a broken laptop on the wall as a digital picture frame. And, of course, I'm not allowed to use the ultimate adhesive, duct tape, on anything our guests might see. Because she's also the reason I'm dressed, fed, shaved and showered most days, I'm really not complaining, it's probably for the best.

This issue is all about hacks. If you're smart and ambitious, you usually can make an awesome thing even better by hacking it a bit. Reuven M. Lerner starts off with a book review for 2011. Reading is one of the best ways to get better at hacking, whether it's hardware hacking or programming. Reuven reviews his favorite programming books and lets us know what he thinks. Dave Taylor follows him up with part II of his series on working with images within scripts. Hacking the command line is cool, but hacking graphics with the command line? Even cooler.

As one of my favorite television characters, Sheldon Cooper, says, “Everything is better with Bluetooth.” Kyle Rankin and Michael Nugent show us some interesting Bluetooth hacks this month. Kyle addresses the problem of forgetting to lock your workstation when you walk away from it. In a home office, that's no big deal, but in cubicle-land, it can be an open invitation for pranks. Kyle shows how to lock your workstations automatically by setting up a dæmon to monitor when you (or more specifically, the Bluetooth-enabled phone in your pocket) wander away. Michael Nugent takes the opposite approach, and using Bluetooth proximity, he explains how to make your media PCs play music to certain speakers based on your location. It's a little like having the party follow you wherever you go!

Daniel Bartholomew takes a hack at his power bill this month and writes about the Trim-Slice server. If you like the power savings a NAS device offers, but want the power of a full-blown Linux server, Daniel's article is right up your alley. He manages to run his new server with only 15% of the power his last one took. As someone with a server rack in my home office, I'm seriously considering scaling back the power.

No hacking issue would be complete without some talk about Arduino. Amit Saha teaches how to program the little buggers and bend them to your will. Arduino boards come with USB nowadays, which makes interfacing with them a snap. And, while we're talking about USB, it's the perfect time to mention Adrian Hannah's article on USB Flash drives. Adrian manages to hack multiple Linux distributions into a single USB drive, while providing persistent storage as well. Along the way, you'll become a GRUB expert to boot. He'll make you Lord of the keyRings, even if you're not a hobbit!

A few years back, the One Laptop Per Child Project took the world by storm with its aggressively priced laptops designed for kids in areas that are lacking in technology. The OLPC Project has taken its share of hits along the way, but it's still going strong. Sameer Verma provides an update on the OLPC initiative and describes the new hardware. Sugar is still alive and well on the OLPC computers, and, of course, so is Linux.

Don't think we just hacked this issue together though; we have the full lineup of Linux and open-source-related goodies you've come to love. Matt Davis describes how to create a vDSO (Virtual Dynamic Shared Object). John Knight demonstrates PdfMasher, a tool for converting PDFs into HTML, and James Coyner shows how to tweak the Android memory management system. Add to that countless other geeky goodies, and you have an issue that's bound to please. Oh, and if you want to use duct tape in your hacks? Don't worry, I won't tell.

Shawn Powers is the Associate Editor for Linux Journal. He's also the Gadget Guy for LinuxJournal.com, and he has an interesting collection of vintage Garfield coffee mugs. Don't let his silly hairdo fool you, he's a pretty ordinary guy and can be reached via e-mail at info@linuxjournal.com. Or, swing by the #linuxjournal IRC channel on Freenode.net.

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