How To Ruin A Perfectly Good Lamp With A Nexus 7

Hi Friends!


I hope you’ve all had the opportunity to enjoy your favorite food recently. (I tried to come up with an alternative friendly greeting. I think I nailed it.) This post could alternatively be called “What To Do With Your Nexus 7, When You Crack The Screen”, but, I’m weird.

ANYWAY! (As most of these posts start off) I was browsing eBay a couple months ago for a secondhand Nexus 7, and I learned some things.

  • Once you crack the screen on a Nexus 7, the digitizer will completely stop functioning. (In most cases, but perhaps not all… N7 users can chime in here?)
  • Replacement digitizers are really expensive. ($60+, and I saw as much as $160+ for some.)
  • Due to these facts, people were selling their tablets at what could only be described as “mega-balls cheap”.

Most of my queries turned up an average unit price for an 8GB cracked screen N7 of $50. I managed to snag one at $45 shipped, which is a fantastic price for the specs this tablet carries. Just now, the lowest price I could find was $60. There’s some amount of luck involved. Just to quickly recap the N7s specs:

  • Quad-Core Tegra 3
  • 1GB of RAM
  • ~8GB of Storage
  • Wifi + Bluetooth
  • USB Host/USB OTG
  • Built-In Battery, Charger
  • Audio Out
  • Unlockable Bootloader

So, basically… features that you’d pay a sizable amount more for an equivalent ARM SBC. And, the icing on the cake is that this will run: Ubuntu 13.04, Android 4.2.2, and Ubuntu Touch. I’m sure there’s more that I’m leaving out, but for all my intents and purposes these will do just fine. Out of the box Android 4.2.2 will allow you to use a keyboard and mouse with your N7, provided you have a USB-OTG cable.

I’m sure if you’re trying this out, you’ve realized the problem. In order to efficiently use your N7 with an external keyboard and mouse, you need to prop it up on something. If you’re using it in your lap, it’s falling over a lot, and you’re probably wanting to crack the screen more out of spite. DON’T DO IT, FRIENDO.

Instead, this cute $20 lamp can help you create a new friendly desk (immobile) robot. You’ll be the TALK OF THE TOWN, let me tell you.

Hardware Disclaimer:
If you ruin your Mom’s favorite lamp with this hack, you’ll be in big trouble. Don’t do anything silly. If you drill holes in your $1,000,000 Persian Rug, I cannot help you. I take no responsibility for your actions if you’re following this tutorial, and CERTAINLY NOT IF YOU’RE NOT FOLLOWING IT, since I spent all this time writing these instructions, for you to just IGNORE ME, GAH!

Hampton Bay Architech Lamp (Matte Black) – $20
Nexus 7 – Cracked Screen – ~$40 – $60
Dremel with Metal Cutting Discs
Wire Cutters
Soldering Iron
Philips Screwdriver
Needlenose Pliers
Flat-Head Bolts+Nuts+Crush washers
5V Supply (or hopefully, the Nexus 7 Charger)


1. Unbox poor defenseless Lamp. Attach to base. Promptly break out your Dremel and metal cutting discs, saw off the two rivets that connect the lamphead to the springy-body. Be careful to leave the silver bracket intact, as you’ll be using that for the N7. Once the head is loose, you have to take pieces of the body apart to remove the AC cable. You might be able to get away with chopping it up, and tugging on the cable until it comes free… But, to save yourself some busted knuckles, I suggest you do it the slow way.


2. Your lamp will now refuse to do anything but spring completely upright, as there’s no weight to counterbalance the springs. Measure out where you’d like to mount your N7. I measured to what is roughly the center of my tablet, and made marks on the backplate that correspond to the holes on the silver bracket of the lamp body. Remove your backplate, (You should be able to stick something along the seam and pry it off, it snaps right off, no screws.) and drill the holes. The holes should be the about size of the flat-head bolts you selected. The washers will make up the play, so don’t sweat it if they’re a little loose. Also, don’t drill through the NFC coil, or any of the antennas. That’s important.



3. Thread the washers onto the bolts, and the bolts through the silver lamp-body bracket. Put the bolts through the holes you drilled in your backplate, and secure the backplate with the nuts. Tighten them fully. Use your Dremel to grind off excess bolt, as that’ll press against your N7’s battery/motherboard if left there. Clean dust thoroughly, then apply a dab of hot glue on one of the nut faces, against the backplate. Cover the nuts with electrical tape, (Hahahahahahahaha… Sorry, sorry.) so they don’t short anything out.


4. It should look something like the above. ^ Now, snap in your Nexus 7! Congratulations, you’ve made yourself a cute little Pixar-lamp-buddy.



Software Disclaimer: Look, I hate writing these, but if you brick your device, you’re on your own. These instructions are in no way all-encompassing, or perfect. There is a lot of assumed knowledge. If you need some advice, email me. I’m always happy to help.

Now, you’re at a crossroad. There’s a lot of software routes to take, and I’ll in no way cover them all. I’m sure you’ll also wondering why I listed all of that USB cable stuff in the Parts section. Let’s start with Android, since that’ll be the default. If you fancy it, you can follow the steps here to flash CyanogenMod, unlock your bootloader and root your tablet. I will not cover CyanogenMod steps, which differ (slightly different kernels), but the general concepts will apply.

The conundrum about this setup is that it’s currently impossible to use a keyboard/mouse and charge your tablet at the same time. The N7 will boost it’s battery power to the USB OTG port while it’s in host mode, which means it cannot be accepting current for the charger. This awesome person named Timur created a kernel for the stock Android 4.2.2 setup that will allow you to charge and host devices at the same time. You can find it here. You want the one for “Fixed Installation”.

You’ll need to unlock your device’s bootloader before you can flash the USB+Charging Kernel. For this, you’ll need fastboot. Here are the instructions for unlocking your device’s bootloader, courtesy of Ubuntu. For Mac and Linux, here is a page that hosts the fastboot binary – you can find it in the zip for your respective OS. You don’t have to run that silly shell script if you don’t want to “install” the binary, you can just invoke it directly.  If using Linux, you may also find it in your respective package repository, which is a better option.

Unpack Timur’s USB+Charging Kernel for Android 4.2.2 ZIP (Make sure you are running 4.2.2….), and grab the boot.img file. Boot your tablet into fastboot mode (following instructions on Ubuntu’s Wiki.), and connect the microusb cable to your Linux/OS X machine.
Now, issue the following command (this assumes that fastboot is in the PATH and the boot.img is in the current directory):

fastboot erase boot && fastboot flash boot ./boot.img

Once fastboot reports success, you can reboot your tablet. It should boot up just fine, and look exactly as before, but now, if you go into your About Tablet menu, your kernel version will be “3.1.10-gdb06546-dirty Timur-USBhost-FI-2013-01-29@hexa #27”. Success!

If your tablet goes into a boot loop, or doesn’t boot at all… Don’t panic. (42) Google has the stock Android images and instructions on how to flash them, here. “Fastboot mode” can always save you if you nuke your device, but… just be careful. And, don’t EVER pull power on your device while a flash is in progress. I should also warn you, flashing kernels/ROMs from the Internet carries some risk, as you can never be fully sure what changes were made. (Unless you diff the source yourself… Good luck with that.) But, I’ve tested Timur’s kernel, and it works as expected.

Timur’s explanation page shows you how to wire your N7 so that you can use the hub and charge it at the same time (with the modified kernel.) It also goes into some more detail about what is meant by “Fixed Installation”. The wiring diagrams are in the “Using An USB Hub” section. I’ve noticed that there are times when I’ll need to replug the USB OTG connector to get the hub to recognize the connected devices again. It’s somewhat fragile, but generally, it works as it should.





My N7 runs Spotify/Clock duties at my desk, and thanks to the lamp arm, can be positioned right above my screens. The lamp arm also swivels, so you can use it in portrait and landscape mode! The USB subsystem will occasionally be confused when returning from sleep, which will require a replug. In your Settings, under Developer Options, there’s an option called “Stay Awake”, in which the screen will not sleep while the system is charging. Be sure to enable “Day Dreaming” aka “Android Screensaver’ though, to prevent any chance of burn-in. That’s about it! It’s a great little machine for extra-desk stuff. The sky’s the limit in terms of apps, THE WORLD IS YOUR OYSTER! (This is also awesome for video chats. Just saying.)


Project eyeMac: Aluminum Dreams

Hello FriendlyNerdFriends,

It’s spring time again, and as always, my collection of spare parts and I get into a turf war, AND SOMEBODY GETS CAPPED (Modded).

And, here begins the saga of Project EyeMac (2): Aluminum Dreams. This is technically the second of these that I’ve built, but the first one isn’t written up. I apologize in advance for the underexposed photos, I blew the ballasts for my overhead lights in a tragic accident involving french toast.




So, I was browsing the eBays a couple weeks ago, when I stumbled upon this beauty right here:


Someone was selling a mint condition 20 inch Aluminum iMac case (with front glass!) for only 35$. It’s one flaw (that I could find) was that it had a chip in the upper right corner of the front glass.
Hardly a deal breaker for somebody like me, so I bought it. It was one of those impulse buys that I knew could be something cool. Worst case, I could make it into a strange lamp or something.
The very next week, I was browsing Newegg for something job-related, and BAM. There was a 20 inch LED slim monitor on sale, from Acer, a reputable brand. The gears started turning,
and off I went. I already had a Core i5 13 Inch MacBook Pro logic board with permanent damage to the battery interface, a perfect candidate for a desktop mod.

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The monitor is impressively thin, thanks to it’s LED backlight. By design, the LCD glass was built into the plastic housing, rather than it’s own independent frame, meaning it wouldn’t be very sturdy without it’s bezel. Another major contributor to it’s thinness. If you can believe it,
the bezel fits perfectly inside the iMac’s aluminum case. I did have to shave it in some places, to clear standoffs, and whatnot, aside from those rather small modifications, you’d think it was made for this purpose.

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I flipped the LCD control board around, and double-stuck it to the front frame. The monitor has built in auto-off/on and input scanning features, so for the most part, I knew I wouldn’t need the button panel. So, that stayed in it’s original location. It’s my intent in the future to break out some of the buttons, and take advantage of the unused DVI connection, but for now, it’s fine as is. I did a couple small mods in this area, removed the barrel jack connector (It was mega-thick, like… Xbox big.) and re-routed the ribbon cables. I also made a super-fancy rainbow right-angle VGA adapter, because EVERYBODY likes rainbows. The last photo in that set is the final configuration.

Now, some fools are gonna get CUT. With the Dremel, that is. I removed many of the plastic standoffs from the case, and many of the steel ones as well. I also cut some notches out of the bracing center frame, to leave room for my SSD bracket and power supplies. I stripped out as much as I possibly could. The most important detail with the case, is it’s thickness. I wanted to close normally, and ended up accepting “somewhat” normally. I’d use different USB ports next time, as the ones I chose were a tad too thick.

Next up, I grabbed some IO panel USB headers, snipped the connectors and soldered USB-A Male cables to them. I took a tiny USB hub I had, extended the connector, and plugged those males into it, with the exception of one, which went to a root port on the logic. After that, they were mounted to the iMac in the stock locations. The last port is in the Firewire connector hole, which has a similar enough footprint that the connectors fit well. I cut a hole in the IO panel for my RJ45 male to female, to break the GigE out to the panel. I also mounted a 3.5mm Male to Female for the speakers. I left the rest of the IO empty, as those were the only things I needed. I stripped an AC input (with filters) from a busted computer PSU, snipped the end, and patched it into a two-prong adapter fits into the MacBook PSU. I also split this AC input for the monitor PSU. The logic board was mounted on a cutout from the MacBook Pro 13’s bottom case. The standoffs for the logic are intact, but the IO panel was removed. There are bolts that brace the logic to keep it from being bent (as the iMac’s case is beveled). Mounting the logic upside down (as it is on the MacBook) recreates the same airflow pattern, as that was a concern of mine. The SSD is a 256G OCZ Agility 4, and it’s mounted on a 2.5->3.5 Inch Hard Drive Bracket for SSDs. The bracket is secured to the case using bolts, all of which are visible from the back. I like the scattered bolts across the back of the iMac. It gives it the Frankenstein look. The hard drive ribbon is curved, but not crushed at a right angle. These ribbons are extremely delicate, and bending them fully will break them.  The multitude of tape you see in the left upper corner is bracing for the ribbon. Also in that area, the WiFi/Bluetooth module. I ran the iMac’s built in antennas to the upper left corner, and attached them to the WiFi card. Great reception. That’s mounted to the case using a single bolt, through the shaved mounting bracket/heatsink. The DC input board is mounted near the logic, braced by two bolts that go through the case. The grounds for the DC input and logic were tied together using a small wire, unnecessary as it might be. Nothing too special here, the regular MagSafe wire attaches to the DC board as it does in the stock setup.

I attached a set of speakers to the logic on it’s stock connector. These are strictly for the startup noise, as they’ll be deactivated when OS X detects there are headphones plugged in (my 3.5mm male to female adapter). They’re secured using hot glue. I use a Thunderbolt to VGA adapter for the video connection. The MacBook will default to an external monitor connection if there is no monitor detected on it’s internal connector. If your MacBook doesn’t behave this way, try resetting the NVRAM, as I ran into that at one point.

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The power button mod. Next to the SMC on the MacBook Pro logic, there are two tiny little pads. Shorting these pads together will boot the system, without a keyboard! They’re REALLY tiny. I used 28AWG wire, and there was still overhang. Also, once you’ve attached and tested those wires, seal them with something. I made the mistake of letting these wires flap around while I was working on the placement, and I lifted one of the pads. I then had to solder onto the smallest via in the known universe to get it back. We’re talking like, only slightly bigger than a Quark particle here.  Here’s a link to a high-res shot of the pads, with them highlighted in red. Run these two wires to the Power Button on your iMac shell, and you’re golden.


And, that’s it! I removed the iSight and obviously didn’t bother with the SuperDrive, since I don’t have a need for either of those features. Now, I’ve got a machine that maxes out at 16GB of RAM, is powerful enough for all of my daily coding routines, and is pretty damn confusing to most. I love how the Acer logo aligned perfectly above the Apple. It’s…. IT’S ALIIIIIIVE! MUHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

Final Specs:

Core i5 2.3Ghz
16GB DDR3 1333 (G.Skill)
256GB OCZ Agility 4 SSD
Intel HD 3000 Integrated Graphics
4x USB Ports
1x Gigabit Ethernet
20 Inch Acer LED Monitor (Here’s a link to the monitor, if you’d like to try this yourself.)

Comments from Coworkers:

“What a piece of garbage. That asshole should just go buy an iMac instead of wasting everyone’s time.”

“I like your weird monitor thing.”

“That’s not going to start some kind of fire, is it?”

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Macbook Tablet Project “MessagePad”

It’s that time again. The weather’s getting nice on the East coast, and out comes my modding spirit.

Here are some of the inspirations for this project:

Seeing these projects made me remember the time before the iPad/iPhone and tablet boom, where tablet projects on full size laptops were all the rage. The dynamic of those projects were to fill a gap in a companies offerings, to suit your needs. Apple hadn’t released anything truly handheld oriented since the Newton MessagePad. (Where I decided to pull my project name from.) Every year, there were rumors of the next iTablet. At the time, it was fairly difficult (though, far from impossible) to procure OS X/9 compatible touch overlays for cheap. This project is sort of a “Unicorn” for me. It’s been on the list for ages. And, now… finally finished!

There certainly is a giant continuum of portable, touch-oriented devices that have existed over the years, and where this one fits in, I’m not sure.


Resistive 13 Inch Screen

User Facing iSight Camera

Rear Facing iSight Camera with Colored Flash

Teensy 2.0 (Built In)


Sleep Switch

mDVI Port

USB 2.0 Port

Firewire Port

Gigabit Ethernet Port

Line In

Built-In Speakers

Want to skip my ranting and go to the pictures? Head down to the bottom, Chief.


Once you start cutting into your Macbook’s lid, there’s no going back. Measure everything roughly 4,000 times before you make your cuts. There is some tolerance for error on the viewport for the LCD, so don’t let it bother you if it’s slightly off. Do your absolute best to make it straight, and the Sugru will do the rest. That last part will make sense later, the point is… measure 1,000,000, cut once.

This project entails doing a lot of (nearly) irreversible things to your expensive computer. Going back to stock is going to require replacement of a nice pile of parts. Know this going in.

The touch screen is not a perfect fit, there is a ~25px cutoff on the bottom of the screen. I’ve tried to mitigate this using forced resolutions in OS X, but the LCD’s firmware is programmed to crop to available area, so my efforts have been fruitless. That said, if you position the overlay so the blackout area is on the bottom, there is very little loss to screen real estate. The touch screen is also resistive. (Here for a quick comparison of touchscreen types. iPhones/iPads are capacitive.) Resistive has a couple major drawbacks. It can only accept input from a single point of touch at the time (No multi-touch), it’s affected by heat, it cannot be bent or crushed, and most times, it will have low resolution. Take your expectations for that overlay and take them down a couple of notches. It’s relatively difficult to do precision work (Kiss those dreams of doing Photoshop, or using this as a serious drawing tablet goodbye.) but it’s well suited for day to day work and games. (Plants Versus Zombies on here is awesome.)

Don’t try and use the Bluetooth’s USB port directly. This port, and the bluetooth board itself are both 3.3V. It will not properly power any of the hubs, or devices commonly available.

Parts are very easy to crack or deform. Take time disassembling the computer. Let me be absolutely clear: You can remove EVERY part on this computer without major force. If you’re forcing something, it’s likely you’ve forgotten a screw. Adhesive is used on some parts, which require a slight bit of force to remove. The Apple logo, for example. You should use a heatgun to loosen the adhesive and pop it out. Don’t try and force it out. You WILL crack the lid. I speak from experience.

It’s important to remember that just because computers have the same model number and name does not mean they share parts. Core Duo Macbooks have a completely different motherboard mount and fan vent strut. Core 2 Duos were the advent of ZIF low rise sockets for a half of the connectors on the board. 2009 Core 2 Duos changed the optical drive connector, and who knows what else. Point is, they’re all different, damn it. Get parts specific to your Apple Order Number or Design Year. Mactracker is a wonderful resource for this. Couldn’t recommend it enough.


While this project is nowhere near as dangerous as my Macbook Dye Project, it still is dangerous. Working with Dremels, sharp cutting tools, drills, routers, and other equipment can be very hazardous. In no way do I cover all of the safety steps here, but – goggles, dust masks, gloves, clamps and an apron help A LOT. BE CAREFUL OUT THERE. These things can hurt you/people around you. I’m not responsible if you drill through your favorite desk, your pinky toe, your cat, your laptop, your brand new TV, or anything else that may happen based on what you read here. You CAN ALSO ruin your laptop, if you’re not careful (Which is more important than that life and limb stuff right? Who needs limbs.) Do as I say, and not as I do.

If none of that scared you, then you are an enterprising individual (And also, INSANE) and, you should high five yourself.

With all of that out of the way… Let’s get started!


White Macbook Pre-Unibody (I used the Macbook 3,1 – Core 2 Duo, GMA X1300 – 2007)

eGalax Touch Overlay 13.3″ 16:9

Normally Open Pushbutton

Normally Open SPST Toggle Switch

iMac G5/Intel iSight Board

“Thin” USB Hub – (Try to find a hub that supports high-power devices. These usually have nice sized capacitors on them.)

8GB Flash Drive

22 AWG Multi-Strand Wire

28 AWG Single-Strand Wire

Spare Set Of Macbook Lid Magnets (or any flat Neodymium magnet that will fit)

Electrical Tape

Gorilla Glue

Any Dremel with Cutting, Buffing and Smoothing Discs


Cake! (To eat in stupendous celebration when you’re done!)

(For the Rear Facing Camera Flash Only)

ShiftBrite Module (I used a 1.0 module, but I’m sure a 2.0 module would work just fine.)

Teensy 2.0


First off, remove your Macbook’s display and optical drive. I’m not going to detail taking apart the computer here, I’ll leave that to the mages at iFixit. Their take-apart guides are the absolute best on the interwho. Follow them and you’ll never lose your way.

Set the bottom case, battery, and their assorted counterparts aside for now. Focus on the display. So, the basic idea behind this, is that we turn the LCD around in the lid, and use the lid as our new display bezel. Remove all of the guts from the display housing. But, leave the lid magnets alone, and save the sleep magnet for another project or your fridge. Once you’ve got the LCD out with it’s mounting frame – Remove the mounting frame from the LCD by unscrewing the handful of small screws around the edge. Remove the iSight from it’s aluminum frame, but leave it’s plastic bezel attached. Remove the hinges from the lid. Where we’re going WE DON’T NEED HINGES. Your lid should now be (mostly) empty.

Place the frame back into the lid, but don’t screw it in. Use the frame as your guide for marking where you have to make the cuts in the lid. The end goal, is that we turn the LCD around and reattach it to it’s normal frame, giving it a nice stable mount, and relieving us of some  fabrication work. Once you’ve made the markings, triple check that it looks right. If so, cut the lid where you marked. Check fitment of the LCD in the new hole. Using the frame as the cutting guide will actually leave a small boarder of dead LCD space (Black boarder + LCD’s frame). Later on we’ll use the Sugru to fill this gap and add stability to the touch overlay.

Choose the orientation of your touch overlay, and ascertain where the ribbon cable will have to surface. Use your Dremel to remove any plastic standoffs that may be in the way. Make sure you smooth it out, as those ribbons are very fragile. You may have to make a small notch in the LCD mounting frame to allow the ribbon to pass through. Once that’s done, attach your LCD to it’s original mounting frame in the reverse direction, so it faces the new hole in the lid. There are a couple ways of doing this part. You can drill holes in the LCD’s mounting frame and use the LCD’s original screws to reattach it (None of the original holes will match up in the reverse direction, have to make your own.) Or you can Gorilla Glue it to the frame in the reverse direction. I chose the latter, but I recommend the former.

Now, while your glue is drying (or you’re reveling in your frame drilling powers) use your smoothing wheel to thin out the plastic around the inside of your new bezelid (Awesome word, yeah? Bezel + Lid.) The touch overlay cannot be smooshed between the bezel and the LCD, and presently there isn’t enough clearance to fit it in there. Shave 1mm or so off of that bezelid around the overlay, and you should be good to go. If in doubt, test your overlay and LCD in place, once your glue is dry. If the touch seems to be wonky, or sticking to one side, there’s likely to be a crease. Test and test again.

Once there seems to be enough clearance, tape your overlay to your LCD+Frame. Run tape around the edges, and I ran a strip over the “dead” area on the bottom of the LCD to protect it. Make sure the overlay is stable and in the right position on your LCD. (This is where the overlay’s short comings become apparent, it is too short vertically to fill in.) Mount the LCD inside the bezelid with the taped on overlay. From the front of the bezelid, you can see the electrical tape boarder now. These are the areas where you should apply your (White or whatever color you want) Sugru. It creates a nice soft boarder, and you can taper the boarder so that you can reach the very edges of the LCD to touch. It’s a hard thing to describe, but just use your best judgement. Sugru is a lot like Playdoh, only it hardens into a permanent rubber-like form. It will hold the touch overlay in place inside the bezelid firmly, and be nice and soft on the user’s fingers.

Test your overlay again! Looking good? Try the 25pt Calibration inside the eGalax Touch menu. Better? Awesome. Hard part is almost done. Give yourself a second to be proud of your work there. NOW! Let’s mount the user facing iSight. The iSight cannot fit in it’s previous position due to the framing change. So, instead, we’ll use the part of the frame where the hinges were previously mounted, as it has ample space. Use your Dremel to smooth out a surface dead center of the “bottom” of the bezelid. Find a drill bit the size of the iSight lens, again, drill dead center. This is going to take a little trial and error. Remove the plastic bezel from the iSight. The lens can float freely attached to it’s PCB, or be disconnected as well, the Microphone will stay attached to the bezel. Align the bezel in the smoothed area with the hole you drilled for the lens, and glue it in place. When it’s dry, pop in the iSight and you’re good to go! You should probably tack down the iSight PCB with some tape, screws or glue. But, I’ll leave that up to you.

One last part for the new top case, and then you’re done! Take your spare set of lid (neodymium) magnets, and glue them in place in the two magnet-less corners of your lid. Try to align them against the other two ones mounted in the bezelid’s frame. We’re going to use these later on to attach the top case to the bottom case! Magnets make it easier to do maintenance in the future, but also provide a strong bond for carrying around. The aluminum iMacs are held together by magnets! Kinda neat, huh?

Top case – Done! Time for some cake! Not too much. Don’t want to go into a sugar-coma. YET.

Now, set your awesome new top case/bezelid/thingy aside. Bottom case time. I’d take this opportunity to take off your heatsink, replace your thermal grease, and clean out your fans. Remove the logic board from the bottom case. Place it on a soft surface (Foam works well) until you’re ready to do your soldering. Now, I attached my power button and sleep toggle to the solid metal area in the fan vent, near the Bluetooth board. It’s notable because air cannot pass through it. Use your Dremel/Drill to cut holes in this area the right size for the switches you chose. Screw your button and switch in, and fill in any gaps with white Sugru. Take care not the bend the metal strut that’s build into the bottom case. After cutting this, make sure to thoroughly clean the bottom case. This cut produces aluminum dust, which is very bad for the logic board/electronic components.

We will not be re-using the optical drive. Chances are your’s doesn’t work anymore anyway. (They’ve got a shelf life of 2 years in these machines. :/) Now, if you’re looking to save weight, and don’t care about the rear facing camera, 8GB recovery drive, or Teensy, you can skip the hub installation, tie your touch driver board into your Trackpad/Keyboard USB port, route the power and sleep buttons, and you’re done! But, that way isn’t anywhere near as much fun.

Now, by far the hardest part of this, is soldering onto the Trackpad USB connector. There we’ll pull signals for the power button, and the USB hub to host our other add-on devices. Use a fine soldering tip, watch a bunch of soldering YouTube videos and take your time. Here’s the pinout. The power button is active when it’s pulled LOW to ground. So, whenever you ground that pin, the computer will boot. Attach the power signal wire to one side of your power button.  Attach the other side of the button to a grounded area. USB ground works just fine. Test! The other 4 pins listed are an internal USB port used by the MacBook’s trackpad and keyboard. We’re going to take that and attach it to a hub to add some devices. Solder your hub onto those pins and place it into your empty optical drive bay. Use small wires so you can route them in the lanes on the logic board. Make sure to double check the pins to be sure they’re matched properly. Now! Boot it up and test. Hub works? Rock on. [An alternative method for this part, is to use one of the external USB ports. I won’t detail it here, but those pins are a lot easier to solder onto.]

Strip your 8GB flash drive of it’s casing, wrap it in tape or heatshrink and attach it to the hub. Glue your hub down in the corner of your empty optical drive bay out of the way. Take this time to tape your touchscreen controller to the bottom of your LCD panel. Keep it out of the way, shorten the USB cable that attaches to the hub to the shortest length possible without making it ballshard to connect when you’re reattaching the top case.

Now’s the time to install your rear-facing camera! For this part, I used an iSight from an Intel iMac 17 inch. You can use an iSight from any iMac G5 (15, 17) or (White) Intel iMac (17, 20) using this guide. But, you can use just about any iSight (or even just a USB webcam, using something like Maccam.) where the pinout is available. Since almost all iSights are just USB, it’s fairly easy to ascertain the pinout. Go crazy. The world is yours. I won’t be covering that here though. Grab your iMac iSight, and pop the clips out for the plastic bezel holding the lens. Detach the lens from the bezel (It may be glued. Some I’ve encountered were not, but some were.) gently. The lens and ribbon can be damaged very easily. Cut the bezel using snips so it can be turned down at a 90 degree angle, instead of forward. Drill a hole in your optical bay roughly the size of the glass lens protector (This piece does no image modulation, just protects the lens from debris/dust.) and pop the bezel/lens protector in. Check your orientation and then glue the bezel in place. Since the glass is a cube shape, rather than round, there may be some space in between the two. If so, use a little Sugru and neaten it up. I used a couple of foam pads to lift up the board to the right height, use your best judgement to determine that. Once everything is dry, attach the board! Now, it’s time to wire it up.

I know it’s tempting to plug that iSight into an iLink (Firewire) cable and fire it up, but DON’T DO IT. The board is not actually Firewire, despite that connector, it’s USB. Check the wire colors if you don’t believe me! You can actually just snip off that end, since we’re not going to use it. Get a male USB A end, and solder it onto the iMac iSight, matching the wire colors. Done! For sanity, you should boot up your system (or another) and plug your iSight in to double check. If everything’s good, tack your lens to the plastic bezel, tack the board down and clean up those wires!

I cover the ShiftBrite flash module in another article.

Just a tip, I seal all of my solder connections with hot glue, just to prevent shorts and give the wires some strain relief. I use a full size hub to make components/wires easy to change, but it does occupy a significantly larger amount of space. You could do better by removing all of the USB female A ports, and just soldering directly to the hub PCB.

Now, I’m sure you’re thinking right now… Where are we putting this inverter? YOU CALL YOURSELF THE BRAIN? YOU ARE NOT. Well, gee. Calm down. I’m getting to that. I moved my inverter to the empty optical drive bay with the rest of the components. It’s a four wire connection, and can be extended without knowing the pinout. Cut a single wire at a time, and attach it to your extension. Seal the connections with heat-shrink tubing. IDE/Floppy (40 pin. 80 pin don’t work very well.) ribbon cables are the perfect form factor for these extensions. Quite easy to deal with, as well.

Now, we need to make sure the top case has 4 magnetic objects to attach itself to when we go to close the case. I took a water damaged scrap top case I had, and popped the two metal alloy pads that the lid uses to grip the bottom case off. I glued them in their respective places on the bottom case. That covers the lower area. Now, the top… I used razor blades with tape over the blade. I don’t recommend you use these. Any rectangular piece of metal (preferably not sharp) will work, but not all alloys are magnetic! Glue them in place (corners of the fan strut). Done!

Home stretch here. Solder two wires onto the pins of your sleep switch. I have a picture of which pins here. Run these two wires to your toggle switch. Now, when the switch is in the on position, the system will “think” the lid is closed, and go into sleep mode. Open the switch, and the computer wakes up.

I used Sugru to seal the optical drive slot, and smooth out the side of the system, as well as seal the areas where the hinges previously were. You can also protect the bottom of the user-facing iSight with a bit of Sugru. It really works wonders.

Install your SSD (Install OS X on here, if you haven’t already.), RAM cover and battery… Attach all of the cables for your top case, route the cables so they aren’t stressed when the bezelid is shut… Let the magnets hold the two pieces together and… you’re done! Boot it up. Revel in the glory and wonders of your own Mac OS X tablet, install some software that’ll make using this thing easier (and possible.)

Now for some neat software!

MacFlip (Accerometer-based Screen Orientation App, Made for the Axiotron Modbook.)

How To Enable Ink On Touchies

Enable On-Screen Keyboard for OS X (10.4, 10.5) – (Note: In 10.6 Snow Leopard: The System Preferences Item is called Language And Text, then Input Sources, then check the Keyboard & Character Viewer Textbox at the top.)

SmcFanControl – (Use this to tweak the speed of the fans to vary based on power state.)

What I Learned:

Pecking at the on-screen keyboard is a bit of a bother. The touch overlay doesn’t support multiple touch points at the same time, so using modifier keys is impossible. The tablet’s battery life is about 4 hours or so under load. Later generations have better sleep-power consumption, and should be able to sleep for long periods of time. The generation I used does not, but can sleep for a week or so before depleting it’s battery. The system is surprisingly light, definitely comfortable to hold. It’s large, but nice. I enjoy using it. Tap to click is an absolute must, double clicking on things is tiresome using the touchscreen. The LCD should be protected under a layer of lexan. Right now, pressing on the overlay is pressing on the physical screen glass. Very bad for the screen. It works in this configuration, but could be much better with some protection. Could even be made waterproof with a significant amount of work. Speakers don’t quite reflect sound towards the user without the lid. When placed on a surface though, very loud, good.

It gets moderately warm, but nothing uncomfortable. MacFlip is not able to do vertical screen orientation… Just scrambles everything. It will also bury the menubar in the deadzone if it’s flipped the opposite direction. A higher quality overlay would make this even more awesome. Using Photobooth to switch between the cameras (and controlling the flash by sending characters to a ttyUSB) was so cumbersome I wrote an app in Processing to do it for me. It’s not quite done yet, but I’ll update when it’s complete.

Software Projects Inspired By This Work:

Shake To Exposé (Built-In Processing – Allows easy switching between Front/Back Cameras, Flash duration/Color)

PriTunes (Processing implementation of iTunes API. Allows quick song searching, play/pause, visualizer. Good for Carputers.)

Future Features:

SD Card Reader (In Optical Drive Slot)

Portrait Mode

ALL DONE! Hug pandas. Eat cake. INITIATE SUGAR COMA. Enjoy your MessagePad‘s big brother. And, hey… This runs Adobe Flash. 😉

Macbook Dye Project

So, I’ve decided to start my mod-blog-whatever, with my Macbook Dye Project, aka ‘Hallowbook’.

There are some examples of previous projects here that inspired this work:

The project follows in the footsteps of the iBook RIT dye procedure, but with a sandpaper-based twist.

I’m just going to come out and say a huge thanks to my girlfriend M3L, for letting me attempt this madness in her kitchen.

Want to skip my ranting and go to the pictures? Head down to the bottom, Champ.


The MacBook’s polycarbonate lid, bottom case, clutch cover and fan vent cover are all sealed with a strong gloss layer. That means that unlike the iBook, the plastic will absorb dye slower, and will resist the color. The display bezel is made of a softer plastic, and will absorb the dye very quickly. The keys will also, as they aren’t sealed the same way. (The newer black Macbook Pro/Unibody line keys are sealed with a gloss layer.)

The only way to remove the gloss layer, is with sand paper. This can create a coarse surface, if done improperly. But, if properly wet-sanded and grit-stepped, can almost mirror the original finish. Personally, I chose to leave it coarse as I don’t like gloss, and prefer matte. To each their own. Note: You don’t NEED to remove the gloss layer to dye the plastic, but I’ve found that the color is absorbed more evenly (and quicker) when sanded.

Another caveat is that the because the display bezel is made of softer plastic, it is also more susceptible to heat. Get it’s temperature up too high and it’ll become deformed. Like a Shrinky Dink, no coming back from that.

Parts are very easy to crack or deform. Take time disassembling the computer. Let me be absolutely clear: You can remove EVERY part on this computer without major force. If you’re forcing something, it’s likely you’ve forgotten a screw. Adhesive is used on some parts, which require a slight bit of force to remove. The Apple logo, for example. You should use a heatgun to loosen the adhesive and pop it out. Don’t try and force it out. You WILL crack the lid. I speak from experience.

It’s important to remember that just because computers have the same model number and name does not mean they share parts. Core Duo Macbooks have a completely different motherboard mount and fan vent strut. Core 2 Duos were the advent of ZIF low rise sockets for a half of the connectors on the board. 2009 Core 2 Duos changed the optical drive connector, and who knows what else. Point is, they’re all different, damn it. Get parts specific to your Apple Order Number or Design Year. Mactracker is a wonderful resource for this. Couldn’t recommend it enough.

You will ruin pans, oven mitts, spoons and anything plastic within a 1 mile radius. (Okay, not that last one. But, hey, shoot for the stars.) Try to keep the destruction to a minimum so your Mom/Girlfriend/Boyfriend/Roommates don’t want to kill you. I also wouldn’t use anything you use for this again for food. RIT dye is toxic, and is meant for clothes/fabrics/things that don’t normally touch your mouth. So keep that in mind.

Unlike other previous models, my Apple logo was painted white, so in order to change the color, I needed to sand off that crappy paint. (Apple lid designers, if you’re reading this: Dude, come on. Changing the color of the logo was fun. Do you people hate fun or something? C’MON.)

You cannot remove the keyboard from the inner top case without a lot of work. You can take the keys off, but you need to split plastic mold in order to remove the keyboard. It’s possible, but I went with black accents instead of attempting that split. I’d recommend painting that part with the keys and trackpad removed, if possible. If you’re more adventurous than me, do it big. And, make sure to post a link in the comments here if you do. I would LIKE TO SEE.

On color consistency specifically, just because the dye says a color, doesn’t mean that’s what you’ll get. M3L picked out a “Teal” and got what I’d like to refer to as “Pine Green”. Still looks awesome, but not quite the expectation.


Just throwing this out there, I accept zero responsibility for your actions based on anything you read here. If you dye half your stove, your cat, your hands, and permanently ruin your computer, it rests on you. “With great power, comes great responsibility.” Also, the water is boiling hot. Do I need to show you my burn marks/scars? DO I? BE CAREFUL AND TAKE CARE. Do as I say, and not as I do.


3 Boxes of your favorite RIT Fabric Dye color (Powder, I haven’t tested the Liquid.)

A Deep Pan

A Cookie Pan Roughly The Size Of That Deep Pan

Running Water (I recommend a slop-sink or shop sink. Nice and roomy.)

White MacBook

Rubber Gloves

Wooden Spoon


Sandpaper (120, 200, 400, 1600 Grit for Grit Step or just 120 for Rough Mode)

Denatured Alcohol or cleaning solvent

Stove or sustained heat source

Lots of cookies (To eat in glorious celebration when you are finished!)


Well, first… Take apart your computer and separate the plastic parts from their metal counterparts. Take care not to leave any electronic parts in the dye pieces, or you’ll be replacing those parts. I’m not going to detail taking apart the computer here, I’ll leave that to the wizards at iFixit. Their take-apart guides are the absolute best on the web. Follow them to a T, and you’ll be butter.

All of the glossy plastic pieces need to be sanded down until the gloss layer is completely gone. The best way to tell, is they will no longer glimmer in the light. I used 120 Grit sandpaper for this. If you grit-step, 120, 200, 400, 1600  is the way to go. By the end, you should have a very smooth finish. I’m not patient enough for that, so I stuck with 120 all the way through.

Once the parts are sanded, they should be thoroughly cleaned. Denatured alcohol and a paper towel works well, and dries quickly.

Go get a pair of rubber gloves, and put them on. RIGHT NOW. I don’t care if you aren’t even contemplating this project, you should be wearing gloves.

Get a pan (An inch or so deep, if possible.), and fill it with water (4 cups of water per packet, 8 cups.)  Add two boxes of RIT dye of the color of your choice into the water. Add 2 tbsp of table salt into the water and stir. Place pan onto your stove, and heat. (Make sure the pan is stove safe.) As the water starts to boil, place your dye part into the bath. (If you’re dyeing the display bezel, keep the flame as low as possible to avoid warping the bezel.) Add water as necessary, it will boil away quite quickly.

It took about 45 minutes for the lid and bottom case to become saturated with the orange. For darker colors (Navy Blue, Scarlet, Black, Pine Green) more time may be required. The display bezel took 10 minutes to become saturated, as did the clutch cover and display spacers. Check your parts as you go, and flip as necessary. The larger parts require a hotter and longer bath.

Adding too much dye to the bath will cause spotting, and inconsistent color distribution, so try to keep “free floating dye” to a minimum. Don’t forget to keep stirring your bath throughout the process.

Remove part from bath, clean excess dye with paper towel and cold water!

Check for even distribution of color. If it looks good, reassemble! If not, go ahead and throw it back in the bath. The small parts can warp, as I’ve said, but the large parts can take a lot of heat/beating/abuse. They’re like the Hercules of plastic or something.

YOU’RE DONE! (Well, okay, you still have put your computer back together. Don’t celebrate just yet.)

Is your computer back together? Does it look awesome? It’s time for those cookies I was talking about earlier.

Okay, with all that out of the way: Photos!

Finished Photos:

So, originally I had a white MacBook. (I used the white pieces for the lid and bottom case.) I decided that I like the way the black accented the orange, instead of doing full orange. The inside top case is also very difficult to dye, as the keyboard cannot be easily removed. I took a poor old liquid-spilled black Macbook I had and swapped some parts.

(I apologize for this atrociously annoying to use gallery. (Sorry, WordPress.))