Tips for ‘Researching Unknown Hardware’

Blackroomsec have a quick write-up on ‘researching unknown hardware,’ in this case investigating a generic 16×2 LCD display module. We’ve all gone down this rabbit hole, or acquired an unknown piece of hardware from a fellow maker or hacker (or just found on the street) and had to figure it out. These are some good tips for doing exactly that:

As a computer repair person first and now hacker, I am constantly given pieces of hardware and even software that other people have lost interest in, don’t know how to use or because they think it will be useful to me. Or they want me to fix them. Because of this overwhelming generosity I’ve had to buy dollar plastic tubs to keep all this stuff in and then do an inventory every six months because who can remember it all! It comes in handy, don’t get me wrong, but I’m not a computer warehouse!

This also doesn’t always mean I immediately or even instinctively know how to use these things I’m given. I have a general idea of what I SHOULD do with it based on previous experience but as a hacker I want to learn what else I can do with it that the original designer or manufacturer didn’t think of at first. Hacking is all about exploration and discovery. I’m going to use a recent Arduino example for this piece of advice because it illustrates my point beautifully.

If Joe is searching for this just from the part number and hits upon that site and reads it he’s going to learn what he’s going to need (wiring, Arduino board, and software) and if he doesn’t have these things will then have to research how to get them.

I like to buy ready-made kits like Elegoo and Sunfounder because they contain lots of little parts to play around with. Even if you’re NEVER going to use these things, like motors? If you’re learning about Arduino or any other physical computing device you should really familiarize yourself with as many of its capabilities as possible.

Having done this I was able to help fix a motor that was controlled by an Arduino board at work recently. If I didn’t play around previously, I wouldn’t have known what to do with it, is my point.

Lots more info appears. If I click on images I can see the exact wiring scheme I need with real photos of how others hooked it up.

I also can supply the word “adafruit” or “pighixxx” at the end to see if their versions of pinouts appear.


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