To My Readers



If this is the first time you're visiting my blog, thank you. Whether you're interested or just curious to find out about PCB reverse engineering (PCB-RE), I hope you'll find something useful here.

This blog contains many snippets of the content in my books to provide a more detailed overall sampling for my would-be readers to be better informed before making the purchase. Of course, the book contains more photos and nice illustrations, as evidence from its cover page. Hopefully, this online trailer version will whet your appetite enough to want to get a copy for yourself.

Care to Share?

As the owner of this blog, I'm determined not to clutter the space with ads or irrelevant information to ensure readers have the best reading experience. If you enjoy what I write here, please do me a great favor by recommending the blog, sharing the posts that you think is worth reading via social medias or emails.

Sharing is a good and healthy community spirit, and the very least we can do if we have benefited from the ideas and insights of fellow engineers. It is also an effective means to encourage authors like me to keep blogging and posting useful articles.

Thank you and have a wonderful day!

Friday, November 30, 2018

Chapter 5

Another contributor to my trilogy book has submitted his draft chapter for review. Though I will not mention his name at this time, I'll give my readers a clue: he's a PCB-RE engineer from ENA Electronics Inc, who also leads a team doing various RE projects. Here's a two-page sample of his work:


I'm still in the process of vetting and editing, and will be going through the finer details with the writer himself to ensure an accurate representation of what he intends to share in his work experience, while at the same time providing an overall consistent and pleasurable read for potential buyers of this (I hope) much anticipated book.

Once the content of this chapter is incorporated, the trilogy book will hit almost 300 pages. There's one more contributor to go and I shall be giving him a tinker after I'm done with this review task.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Twilight Zone

I'm not referring to the well-known TV series by Emmy Award-winner Rod Serling, who served as host and wrote more than 80 episodes of the original show's 150-plus episode run. But doing PCB-RE does has its strange mix of confusion, frustration, jubilation, and trepidation along the way. In fact, what's left of the unverified portion of a PCB, I called it the twilight zone.


Just as we enjoyed the suspense and surprise ending at each episode (if you're that old like I am, chuckle), there will always be the same feeling when you reach this portion of doing PCB-RE. Then again, where's the fun and challenge if PCB-RE is a piece of cake?


So take it from the man himself:
“You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension: a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. You’re moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. You’ve just crossed over into… the Twilight Zone.”

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

10,000

After one year and nine months, and 122 posts later, my blog has garnered over 10,000 views. This is cause for jubilation as another milestone is achieved.


The number of countries has also hit 85 though it slowed down quite a bit since. Of course, it would be nice if readers can help promote and recommend my blog if they have been helped or inspired by what I've written. I'm sure there are still many out there who're interested in the PCB-RE topic but not many are aware of the resources available here and in my books.

Christmas is just slightly over a month away and it's a season to share good tidings of great joy. I'm sure if my readers can help some to find what they need here, it will most certainly bring a smile of gratitude in return.

Would you do that favor?

Friday, November 16, 2018

PhreakNIC 21

Was watching a video presentation on YouTube by Jonathan Ryan at the PhreakNIC 21 annual hacker and technology convention, when near the 26-minute mark during the Q&A session someone posed a question and he whipped out my book, The Art of PCB Reverse Engineering, to answer.


That was some pleasant surprise indeed, considering the event was slightly over a year ago! Now that my sequel book, PCB-RE: Tools & Techniques, was out since the beginning of this year, wonder if he had also purchase it and showcase at the recent PhreakNIC 22 event last month...

Readers interested to watch this video, click here.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Chapter 6

One of the contributors to my trilogy book, PCB-RE: Real-World Examples, has submitted his draft chapter for my vetting and review. I will keep his name and the rest of the contributors in confidence for now. Here is a two-page sample of what you can expect:


PCB-RE involves multi-disciplinary skills and a good deal of engineering experience. Besides the manual method of doing PCB reverse engineering which I'll showcase in my own chapter, there will be other techniques shared by different engineers in their own fields of expertise. Chapter 6 focuses on firmware hacking and you'll learn some very useful lessons as the author takes you step by step through the process, illustrated with many photos and screenshots.

To date, the trilogy has attained 240 pages. I expect it to hit the same number of pages as my other two books when the works of the other contributors come in and take their places.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Black or White

This post has nothing to do with the late Michael Jackson, or even Mike Binder. Rather, it's about a book on doing manual PCB-RE which is in the works, alongside the trilogy book which I'm also working and coordinating with a few contributors.

I've come up with two versions of the cover, one in black and one in white:


Would like to hear from my readers which of these two cover designs is better.

Some readers may ask, "What is the reason for this book? Why work on another when you're already working on the current book?" Inspiration is a funny thing, really. While writing my chapter in the trilogy book, an idea just popped up in my mind to write a bare-bone PCB-RE book for those who simply want the essential know-how of the manual approach, but with enough depth to help them take on real-life projects: a no-frills guide to doing PCB reverse engineering by hand.

In a way, it will supplement my first book, The Art of PCB Reverse Engineering for what it lacks of a complex board example, but which is still full of useful information in documenting the PCB-RE process using Microsoft Visio. However, the book will also be a complete guide in its own right as far as manual PCB-RE is concerned, and with a lower price tag that should appeal to more engineers interested to learn this covert art.

Judging from the progress so far, the trilogy will probably be available sometime in early 2019. But I hope to get this book out by end of 2018 or earlier, depending on how well the contributors to my trilogy are doing.

So keep a look out for more news on these two books...

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Analog Zone

Analog ICs are generally simpler compared to their digital counterparts, yet their configurations and connectivity can be more complicated and illusive than we imagine. This is evident as I worked on the Analog Zone of the board, which to date I've covered about two-thirds of the content. Here's a two-page sample:


I'm actually running a little out of steam due to eye and mind fatigue. Writing is definitely hard work compared to hands on which, I suspected, might be the reason why many engineers prefer to work on projects rather than writing reports, or for that matter engineering documentation.

Time for a much needed break!

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

5-Star Review

It's been quite a while since my sequel book, PCB-RE: Tools & Techniques, received a review, so I was pleasantly surprised to see one, and a comprehensive one, from Sales Manager Mr Daniel Evans of Saelig Company, Inc.


If you're not an engineer, you may think of reverse engineering as a black art by which copycats steal technology or clone a product. Among engineers, the vast majority of reverse engineering is done to facilitate equipment maintenance. 
Regardless of industry, electronics repair shops are often asked to fix circuit boards from equipment that is no longer supported by the manufacturer. Perhaps the support period has expired, or the company is out of business. There may not be any source for a replacement board. The only way to keep the equipment running is to fix the board. In some cases the cost of replacing the equipment may be tens of thousands of dollars, even millions of dollars. So repairing the faulty board can be extremely cost effective, even if the repair costs thousands. 
In cases where a replacement board is available, the cost and/or the lead time to acquire a replacement board may be prohibitive. Repairing the board is a better option. 
Whether the equipment is old or new, a schematic may be helpful or essential for repairing a board. But schematics are often not available, especially for older unsupported boards and even for some newer boards. That's where reverse engineering comes into play. 
PCB-RE Tools & Techniques is a comprehensive resource for anyone or any organization that needs to make schematics for printed circuit boards (PCB). While the author has over 30 years experience in circuit board testing, reverse engineering and repair, the book is much more than one man's experience in reverse engineering. The author has leveraged the reverse engineering expertise of a dozen other engineers from around the world. The result is a compilation of information, techniques, and equipment that will help achieve better, faster solutions to the problems that reverse engineering can present.
Coming from someone with relevant experiences in test and repair equipment, especially the highly popular RevEng system from ABI Electronics, this is a strong endorsement on my book indeed. Thanks and much appreciated, Dan!

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Transition Zone

The next step in doing PCB-RE on a mixed-signal board is identifying and tracing the connectivity of the 'transition zone'. This is where 'digital' meets 'analog' in the form of ADCs and DACs:


Readers of my book, PCB-RE: Tools & Techniques, would have been quite well acquainted with the various strategies mentioned in my approach in doing manual PCB-RE. In this trilogy book, readers will be able to see how theory is put into practice, not just by me alone, but by a collective group of other engineers with their own methodologies as well.

Moving on to the next zone...

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Digital Zone

Been working on Chapter 3 of my trilogy book, and today I've just finished the 'digital zone' of the real-world PCB example. Here's a two-page sample:


The 'digital zone' covers address, data and control buses, common signals, communication drivers and receivers, jumpers, etc. Next, I'll be covering the 'transition zone'. As to what that is, I'll leave my readers to guess until I'm done with that section.

There's still a lot of grounds to cover so let's get going...

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Re-engineering Our Minds

Just received a complimentary copy of the book 'Think to Thrive' from the author Dr. Henry Toi himself, a personal friend of mine:


The subtitle 'Re-engineering your mind for growth' is interesting and insightful, coming from the pen of one who is a thinker as well as an educator. Somehow it struck me that just like reverse engineering PCBs, our minds too need to re-engineer not only to stay relevant and useful, but to attain the next level of excellence.

And that is something for us to THINK about, isn't it?

Interested readers can order a copy at the following online stores:

Kinokuniya
Times Bookstore

Monday, September 17, 2018

Trilogy - Chapter 3

Had started working on Chapter 3 of my trilogy book, PCB-RE: Real-World Examples. I'm into 21 pages and still counting. Here's a two-page sample of the partial schematic on the Control Logic card I'm using for my manual approach in PCB reverse engineering:


Hope to complete the chapter by end of this month. Then I will start to collate the works of the other contributors...

Saturday, August 25, 2018

80 Countries and Counting...

Four and a half months after hitting 70 countries and 6,066 page views, my blog has finally reached out to readers in a total of 80 countries and 8,448 page views.


While it is no mean feat of an achievement, I believe more can be done to create awareness of its existence if readers would simply recommend my blog and work to friends and post it in electronics forums or discussion groups.

If you have benefited from what I shared, or even enjoyed what is posted, then please do me a kind favor by sharing the link (visio-for-engineers.blogspot.com). Better still, drop me a line (comment) so I know what my readers are thinking or would like to see in the blog.

Thanks again for visiting and making it happened.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Artosyn Drones

Received a query from a blog reader:
I just started a job this month which requires to RE some functions on a RC controller which has an Artosyn AR8001 and AR8003 chip on them but I am unable to find the datasheet on the internet. Any idea to approach this?
My reply:
The AR8001/AR8003 are a complimentary pair of image transmission modules customed parts by the Chinese company Artosyn Microelectronics. It is therefore unlikely you'll find any datasheet online for these two chips, especially if the company only sells their drone products and not the standalone ICs. 
If you're doing PCB-RE just to understand the design, or to produce similar products, the only workable way is backward signal annotations: 
1. Treat the AR8001/AR8003 as black boxes
2. Locate pin 1 as reference
3. Find out the power and ground pins
4. Trace out the address, data and control pins using known ICs or onboard CPU
5. Since these are image transmission chips, look out for video amplifiers and trace their pins back to these ICs. 
Hope the above pointers will give you something to work on.

An example of a RC controlled drone with imaging capability:

Partial list of main component parts (Chinese descriptions):



Thursday, August 2, 2018

From Sketches to Streamlined

After some deliberation, I've decided to include the Rigol DS1052E into the Case Studies chapter of my trilogy book. As mentioned, someone by the name Hellene had done a superb job in reverse engineering this piece of equipment and placed the schematic diagrams online. Though he did not complete the whole unit, it does provide a good picture of a commercial digital oscilloscope, except for one problem: it's done in rough pencil sketches.

Below is a sample of the Channel 1's front-end:


I'd figure if I want to include his work, I'll need to clean up the schematics and do an overhaul using Visio. It's definitely much easier if I just copy and paste from Hellene's work but my sense of being a professional writer got the better of me. Here is the Visio rendition:


The rest are still in the works but readers will be pleased to know that they are getting a better deal with these pretty schematics when they buy my book. It will not be anytime soon, but I'm hoping that it will be released before the end of this year.

Meantime, do go to Amazon or the icon or menu links above to take a look at my other PCB-RE books, and consider supporting my hard work through honest purchase so I can continue writing and drawing these beautiful electronic artworks. Thanks!

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Internet of Things

Recently picked up writing Chapter 2 - Some déjà vu Stuff, of my trilogy book again, after laying it off because of some pressing matters. There are a number of interesting topics that I cover in this prologue section of the book, one of which is the internet of things (IoT). Here's two sample pages for preview:


The main section of the book will probably contain seven chapters featuring works by various PCB-RE practitioners, followed by another section with additional case studies and essential tools for the trade. I'm not giving myself too much pressure to fix a deadline, but I'd figure when things are more firmed, I will brief the contributors on the guidelines for their chapters to begin work.

Will update my readers again on the progress, so stay tuned...

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

안녕하세요

If you're wondering, the post title means "Hello!" in the Korean language. After posting my findings on a Korean PCB-RE engineer and reader's blog sometime in early May, I finally received a comment - in fact, two - the same one in each of the two posts:


I am impressed with his level of English expression, considering that many Koreans are not very apt with this international language. Believe me, I've been to South Korea in 2012; it's challenging to converse with the locals there if you do not have a modest amount of Korean vocabulary. That said, I'm sure many are seeing the importance of picking up English, especially after the recent de-nuclearization summit between Trump and Kim Jong Un in Singapore early June this year.

My third book (trilogy) is still in the works though, and I got the nagging feeling it will take much longer than the sequel to complete. Given the technical nature of such a niche topic, I'm not sure how well it will go with non-English speaking readers. Perhaps this Korean gentleman might consider translating my books for the benefit of his own people, since he has the desire to propagate the PCB-RE technology in his country.

Just a thought for now but who knows, it may become a reality (if he reads this post)...

Friday, July 6, 2018

SkillsFuture

This morning while doing my usual routine walk to begin the day, I stumbled upon two cards lying outside the gate of a secondary school:


On the flip side, two fields of industry are highlighted:


With the SkillsFuture Festival gaining momentum island-wide, the probability of coming across their publicity materials is significantly higher than striking the lottery...

Saturday, June 30, 2018

iRobot

Was at the Lifelong Learning Institute this afternoon for the SkillsFuture Festival 2018, a month-long event organized by SkillsFuture Singapore, aimed at inspiring citizens to develop a passion for learning and pursue skills mastery. There were plenty of activities going on there but what caught my eyes was this particular SG social robot at one of the booths:


Meet Edgar version 2, a robot with the ability to ad-lib, i.e. come up with his own responses to questions posed at him. Its maker, Dr Wong Choon Yue, is a research fellow at the Nanyang Technological University's (NTU) School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. Edgar is more than just a robot avatar; with his in-built sensors to detect human facial expressions and gestures, voice recognition and knowledge database, he is able to engage living people for autonomous and intelligent interactions.

What he lacks now is realistic facial feedback but it probably should not be long before he gets one in the next model. That's kind of exciting and scary at the same time!


Monday, June 4, 2018

0x90 - Riding the NOP sled since 1998

There was this guy who bought my first full-colored PCB-RE book and left a book review on his blog, with the name as title above. Here is a small snapshot:


Those interested to read the whole article, please click here.

After reading his review, I wrote him an email expressing my appreciation and informed him that I was in the works of coming out with a sequel that would address his concerns. That got him excited and wrote another post, New Book Cooking. You can read it here.

Recently, I was surprise to receive an email from him out of the blue. Evidently, he had bought my second book PCB-RE: Tools & Techniques, and was totally happy with the topics covered that he decided to write a good review on it.

Well, I'm keeping my fingers crossed... ;)

Thursday, May 31, 2018

ScanCAD Facebook

Just received a Facebook notification this morning that ScanCAD mentioned my name in their page, so decided to check out what's up. Turns out:


In appreciation, I left the following comment:
Thanks to Bill and Jeff for contributing the longest chapter in the book, with useful insights and comparison of different methodologies in PCB-RE.
Hope to catch up with you guys again...

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Surprise from the Kingpin

This morning I received a surprise email from Joe Grand (aka Kingpin) giving me a brief update of his encounters at the recent Teardown 2018 event in Portland, Oregon his hometown. He ran into his friend John McMaster and decided to pose for a selfie with my book, PCB-RE: Tools & Techniques which, incidentally they're both contributors too:


Now that's totally awesome!

Joe also gave away copies of the book to Bunnie Huang who has a long history of hacking and reverse engineering products, as well as Sean Cross 'xobs' of Studio Ko-Usagi. And both of them 'happen' to reside in the same island-state as me too!

Things are really heating up in the PCB-RE community, just like the weather in Singapore...

Monday, May 14, 2018

Teardown: Portland 2018

The annual Teardown Convention was held in Portland, Oregon this year and had just ended. It is an event where hackers, hobbyists and designers converged and share their ideas, discoveries and inventions through talks conducted in various rooms equipped with the necessary AV equipment:


Portland, Oregon is the hometown of Joe Grand the kingpin so it's no surprise he graced the event with his presence and presentation. What aroused my interest, however, was a talk given by Jeremy Hong, a cool young dude from Wright State University who runs his own business. In his first talk at the convention, he actually recommended my book PCB-RE: Tools & Techniques to the audience:


How cool can that be? In appreciation, I tweeted him:
Thanks, Jeremy, for recommending my book at your Crowd Supply Teardown talk. I owe you a big one! ;)
to which he replied:
No problem! It’s an excellent book and it really needs to get out there.
Since he's also into PCB reverse engineering, I asked if he's interested to write a chapter for my third book, and I got more than what I bargained for:
Definitely! It is an honor. I think I may have a few people in mind (that may be able to contribute to the book as well...)
Well, looks like there is hope for the trilogy book after all...

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Trilogy On Hold...

To update my readers: I've completed chapter one of the third book titled How It All Started. Below is a two-page sample:


However, I will not be putting any more time into this book because of the disappointing response to my invitations. In other words, work on this book is now put on hold indefinitely, until I can find the desired number of contributors to share their PCB-RE experiences.

There are other non-engineering books I had in mind which I've been putting off for quite a while. I think it's about time I focus on them instead.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Korean Extravaganza!

Well, not exactly spectacular but the thought of having my book being listed in a Korean blog as a textbook for the PCB-RE subject is reason enough to dance with joy. Here's the follow-up to my previous post:


Seems that my Korean reader has also bought the sequel book, PCB-RE: Tools & Techniques, and given his review on his blog (translated by Google and paraphrased for readability):
There is a lot of content related to the practical work that can be used as teaching material this time. I have not gone through the book, but it's similar to what I'm currently teaching. It is a fact that information related to this field is rare. I am really grateful to the authors for publishing this book on the PCB-RE subject. We will do our best to promote the practice of this niche skillset in Korea.

The reader is even kind enough to provide a link to my blog, and advised his readers to read the book if ever they buy it. As they'll say in Korea, "Kamsahamnida!" That's 'thank you' if you're wondering...