Literary Clock Made From E-reader




About: I am a freelance journalist and maker. I love to make my ideas become reality, and show others how easy it is to make things. Tech savvy only means someone has tried a few things! Among techniques I still wa...

My girlfriend is a *very* avid reader. As a teacher and scholar of English literature, she reads eighty books per year on average.

On her wishlist was a clock for our living room. I could have bought a wall clock from the store, but where is the fun in that? Instead, I made her a clock that tells the time by quoting time indications from literary works, using an e-reader as display, because it's so incredibly appropriate :-)

It updates every minute, so for instance at 9.23 in the evening, the Kindle will read

My father met me at the station, the dog jumped up to meet me, missed, and nearly fell in front of the 9.23pm Birmingham express.

The way I made this, the Kindle can still be used as a normal e-reader. If the clock is turned on though, as an added bonus, it doubles as a literary quiz. The clock shows the quotation without the title and author of the book, so you can guess. If you want to know the answers, pressing the buttons on the side (normally used to advance pages of e-books) will reveal them.


Update August 5:

Thank you all very much for all the nice compliments! Also, the feedback has been very useful. If you have any trouble making your own Kindle clock, please see the comments.

This Instructable has been featured on Hackaday, Gizmodo, The Verge and Hacker News. I am one very proud and happy maker :-)

Meanwhile, Johannes Enevoldsen made a web version of my clock, as did Davide. I am excited that my project inspired theirs.

Step 1: Tools and Materials

Really the only thing needed is an e-reader (and a USB cable to connect to it). For this project, a Kindle was donated to me by a friend. It is a Kindle 3 WiFi (nicknamed K3, or K3W). You will find many second-hand earlier models like that on eBay for instance.

You'll need a computer (any operating system), with an SSH client like vSSH and an sFTP client like Filezilla installed (both are free). It helps to have a bit of experience with Linux, because that is what the Kindle runs on.

To have the Kindle stand upright in our cupboard, I made a stand from concrete. If you want to do the same, you'll need a food container in a shape you like, cling film, styrofoam, cement, hot glue or double sided tape, and a bucket (to mix the cement).

Step 2: Jailbreaking the Kindle

In order to change the Kindle into a clock, we need to get into the system files. In order to do that, we need to open it up through a process called 'jailbreaking' (don't worry, it's not illegal if it's your property). An explanation to jailbreak the Kindle and a zip file with the necessary files can be found here. Also see this overview of all available software custom software. Find out which Kindle model you have on this page.

For this project, you only need to install the jailbreak hack and the usbnet hack, not the screen saver hack. USBNetwork will grant you remote shell access to your Kindle, either over USB or WiFi. What you will need, if you want to use the keyboard's keys, is the Launchpad hack.

Warning: I read this can potentially ruin your Kindle. Follow the instructions. Jailbreak at your own risk.

If you connect the Kindle to your computer, it will show up as an USB drive.

Basically, all you need to do is put Update_jailbreak_0.13.N_***_install.bin (where *** is your Kindle version, in my case 'k3w') in the root folder of the Kindle when it is connected to your computer.

From the README file in the zip file: "Now, eject & unplug your Kindle, and go to *[HOME] -> [MENU] > Settings -> [MENU] > Update Your Kindle*. It should be quick.” (note: that's two times clicking the menu button).

Then do the same for the USBNet and Launchpad files. You should now be able to log in to the device using SSH. On the Kindle, connect to the WiFi network. One way to find out its IP address is by logging into your WiFi router and looking it up there. Username is 'root', and the default root password for your model can be calculated.

Then install Python on the Kindle, again using the files on the excellent forum (thanks VoltaX2 in the comments below).

Step 3: Making an Image for Every Single Minute of the Day

There are 1,440 minutes in a day. Compiling a list with quotes for each and every one of them from different literary works is a massive undertaking. Big relief: others already did that for us.

In 2011, newspaper The Guardian asked its readers to submit quotes from books which mention times. They wanted to build an installation for a literary festival. So they have two versions of a list on their website (1, 2).

I combined the two lists, cleaned them up, added a few times I found myself, and turned them into one CSV file.

Unfortunately the list does not cover all minutes of the day. I worked around this by using some quotes more than once, for instance if it can be used both in the AM and PM. More vague time indications can be used around a certain time, so this quote from Catcher in the Rye is used at 9.58AM: "I didn't sleep too long, because I think it was only around ten o'clock when I woke up ... "

Even with this pleasant list, two things took me an unreasonable amount of time. I needed to turn every single quotation from the list into an image. I wanted to make them fit nicely to the screen, so the font would be as large as possible for each quotation.

While scaling a text box to a certain height and width is easy to do manually in most photo editing software, it would have been an immense amount of work to create them one by one. Creating a script to do it for me however proved to be quite the task as well. In PHP (I used that programming language because it has nice functions to deal with text) I wrote a recursive function to find the best fit for each quotation, long or short. For each line, the script creates two PNG images, one with and one without metadata.

It uses the Libertine font, which I like because of its stylish look, because it is very complete (numbers, punctuation, diacritics) and because it's open source.

The other thing that took me a long time is identifying all time mentions in the quotations, because I wanted to write them in bold text. That makes the clock easier to use, especially when a quote is quite long. The problem is that in books, an impressive variation of time descriptions is used. It can be anything from '6.00 p.m.' or '18:11:00' to '0600h', 'around six o'clock', just 'at six', or 'twenty-eight minutes past eleven'. I made a script to try and find most of these variations, did the ones it couldn't find myself, and added them to the csv file.

If you want to make your own Kindle clock, you may use my scripts (find them attached below), but you can also just download all the resulting images.

Step 4: Starting and Stopping the Clock

I wanted to be able to start my literary clock by pressing the shortcut Shift+C on the small keyboard of the e-reader. Pressing it again stops the clock and turns the clock into a normal e-reader again.

First, create this folder: /mnt/us/timelit and then put the scripts I attached below in there.

The images (see previous step) go into /mnt/us/timelit/images and /mnt/us/timelit/images/metadata/

When you install the Launchpad hack, the folder /mnt/us/launchpad is created. Create a new file there called startClock.ini and put this text in there:

C = !sh /mnt/us/timelit/ &

That creates the shortcut Shift+C. If we press that, the bash-script starts. It stops the Kindle framework (the normal user interface), prevents the Kindle from going into power save mode and creates a small file (/mnt/us/timelit/clockisticking) to indicate the clock has started.

If the user presses Shift+C again and the clockisticking file is already there, will remove it and restart the Kindle. also executes another script,, to enable the keystrokes that will show the metadata (using the command /usr/bin/waitforkey). If the user pushes the 'next page' button on the sides of the Kindle, it will check if the clock is ticking and if it is, will show the same image as currently is shown (which file that is, is saved in the clockisticking file) but then with title and author at the bottom.

Changing the time on the display every minute is done by adding this line to /etc/crontab/root:

* * * * * sh /mnt/us/timelit/

and then restart crontab like this: /etc/init.d/cron restart

Every time it is run, checks if the 'clockisticking' file is created. If it is, proceeds to show the image for the current minute.

Note: you'll probably want to change the timezone in where it says 'TZ=CEST'.

Step 5: Making a Stand

I was inspired by other Instructables to make a concrete stand for my Kindle clock. I could also have made something out of wood (or even a book), but I liked to try cement because I never did before and also because I thought the grey color would go nicely with the e-reader.

I cut a piece of styrofoam the size of the e-reader, plus a little extra for the USB cable to go in. I wrapped it in cling film and a bit of clear tape, so the cement would come off easily afterwards. I taped it to the bottom of the food container using double-sided tape.

Then I mixed enough cement to fill the food container to about 5 centimeters (2") deep. I'm not sure, but I may not have used enough water, because the cement was less pourable than I had expected. I definitely should follow the concrete class before my next try :-)

I put the cement in the container using a garden shovel, tamped it a bit, and then let it dry for two days.

The next time I will try for a smoother surface by first sifting the cement to get rid of the small rocks, adding a bit more water and spend more time sanding the result. Then I will also make a small recess in the base so the USB cable goes to the back of the stand. This can be done using a straw.

Step 6: Further Ideas

The literary clock looks really nice, and the quiz part works well. My girlfriend now and then checks to see from which book a quotation is from (she usually guesses correctly :). The stand did not come out quite how I hoped, but I'm looking forward to trying making a better one.

I will probably also add a lamp, either clamped on the device or incorporated into the new base. When the clock sits in the cupboard, sometimes it is a little too dark to be able to tell the time.

Instead of getting power for a lamp separately, one could power a lamp using power from the hinge slot in the Kindle. Two slots are there for Kindle cases that have a lamp built in. You'd have to open the Kindle and do some soldering, or make your own metal clamps, but that would be sweet. One could even connect a light sensor, so the lamp will only switch on when it's getting dark.

Extra features I hope to get round to are

  • having the clock stop between 1am and 6am, to save power
  • turn of wifi for the same reason, but turning it on daily for a couple of minutes to synchronise the system clock
  • showing the percentage of the current minute that has passed as small blocks at the bottom, just like the Kindle indicates the progress the reader is making in a book
  • show a warning when the Kindle's battery is running out

(these last two could be done by overlaying small images on the larger image using the Kindle's eips command, see my scripts for examples).

Other possible ideas are

  • using keys on the Kindle to set the time
  • show a default image when the clock starts and/or when no image is found
  • using a shortcut (shift-Q for instance) to toggle quiz mode
  • have the Big Ben sound chime at the top of the hour (only during the day), as the Kindle has a nice speaker built in. Other sounds could be the sound of slamming a book shut or turning pages or even reading out a quote.

I hope you like the idea and this Instructable. Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions!

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    196 Discussions


    4 months ago


    Thank you for the great tutorial and concept! I'd really like to surprise my wife with this.

    I'm trying to get this to work on my Kindle WiFi 3G (B006) version. I've restored my unit to factory default 3 times and followed the instructions very closely including watching the YouTube video. But when I press Shift and then C, the only thing that happens on the screen is an indication on the bottom left that shows (^[C]) followed by the word, "Success!," however nothing else happens. The display continues to show the normal Kindle page, (dictionaries and archived items).

    What could I possibly be missing? Thank you again for the awesome idea and any help you could provide!

    Edited: I forgot to mention that everything including the jailbreak that I used were the k3g based on the Kindle I have. Maybe I'll try using the k3w versions and see if that works.

    6 replies

    Reply 6 weeks ago

    I am also in the exact same boat! Did you manage to find a way to fix it?


    Reply 4 weeks ago

    Did you have any luck with this?


    Reply 2 days ago

    Hey, my K3 was also booting to a blank screen. I figured out it was because I did not place the "litclock_annotated.csv" under the /mnt/us/timlit folder.

    As soon as I place that in it booted up.


    Reply 4 weeks ago

    We're you able to figure out what was wrong with it?


    Reply 2 months ago

    Did you ever find a solution to this? I'm also getting "Success!" then nothing.


    Reply 4 weeks ago

    Did you have any luck with this?


    4 months ago

    This is such a great project. Thank you for sharing! I surprised myself in being able to get it running. I just have a couple issues:

    1. It doesn’t necessarily update every minute. Sometimes it takes a couple of minutes off, then switches to a new image.

    2. After about 10 minutes the Kindle lock screen comes up. I read above that this shouldn’t be happening.

    Thoughts? Thanks again.

    1 reply

    Reply 15 days ago

    Not every time around the clock has an associated quote. If there is no quote, then there is no update.


    15 days ago

    This fantastic idea inspired me to try it out with my old Kindle (non-touch version 4).
    I hit a couple of road-bumps on the way, but nothing major - a good learning experience!
    But, I hit one major roadblock. I could not get the Python installation to succeed. I thought all was lost until I realised that the python was only used to generate a random number to select between several quotes.
    I know a little bit of shell scripting and thought there should be a way to generate a random integer without using python. As the Kindle uses a busybox shell which has some features removed (for instance there is no $RANDOM variable), this is a little tricky.
    In the script you can replace this line:
    ThisMinuteImage=$( find /mnt/us/timelit/images/quote_$MinuteOTheDay* 2>/dev/null | python -c "import sys; import random; print(''.join(random.sample(sys.stdin.readlines(), int(sys.argv[1]))).rstrip())" 1)

    with these several lines.
    #generate random number (compatible with busybox)
    while [ $n -ge 65536 ]; do
    n=1$(</dev/urandom tr -dc 0-9 | dd bs=5 count=1 2>/dev/null)
    let "IMAGE_NUMBER %= $lines"
    ThisMinuteImage=$( find /mnt/us/timelit/images/quote_${MinuteOTheDay}_${IMAGE_NUMBER}.png)

    Now, there is no need for the python installation.


    Reply 8 weeks ago

    Hi thanks for the video! As best I can tell, I followed it to a T, and everything seemed to work the way it did for you. Yet, when all is said and done, when I try to run the clock on my kindle 3g by pressing Shift+C, all I get is a capitalized 'C' in the search box. Any ideas as to what might be wrong? I'm happy to provide further information at your request. Thanks :)


    Reply 3 months ago

    Excellent video. I couldn't have succeeded without it. Great help to 'newbies' Thank you.


    Question 3 months ago on Step 6

    where should 'quote_to_image.php' be copied? My kindle works except that the source quote doesn't appear


    Question 3 months ago

    So I have everything going smoothly until I need to create the folder and add in the lines of code. Where would I do that at? I'm not a programmer by nature so this is stretching me a bit.


    Question 3 months ago on Introduction

    I'm so impressed with what you have achieved here - and I've got mine working just fine. Finally sussed out the local time problem I was having. Either Filezilla lied to me or I didn't know what I was doing! Now working perfectly. Thanks guys. Great project.


    5 months ago

    It took some elbow grease to get this working on an old Kindle Paperwhite I had laying around but the result is really cool! Thanks for the inspiration and code! For anyone with a Paperwhite/Touch these are my high-level changes.

    I couldn't get the script to control power, so I ran the ~ds command in the search bar to disable the screensaver.

    You'll need a different javascript package too. The one that worked best for me was from this thread at MobileRead (showthread.php?t=277687).

    I couldn't edit the cron root file to get this script to run at startup but I found a cool package called eventHandler on the MobileRead forums (showthread.php?t=198484) which lets you easily run a script at boot by putting in /mnt/us/scripts/startup.

    Because I couldn't edit the cron root file I also couldn't get the timelit script to run every minute. My answer was to add some code to it (a while : style loop with a 60 second rest) so it updates once per minute.

    Finally, I had the most frustrating time trying to get the timezone in this script working for me here in Denver instead of the default UTC. Turns out there's a bunch of great time zone data on the Kindle in /usr/share/zoneinfo which you can use to get the exact verbiage it's looking for.

    For looks I went with a cheap wooden stand and a wood grain skin for the Kindle, I think it turned out quite nice! There are a few things left on the to-do list like using the PHP script to make pictures for the resolution of this device.

    2 replies

    Reply 3 months ago

    Thanks for these tips! I'm really close to having it working on a Kindle Touch 1.

    Since the script power commands didn't work, I'm guessing you also disabled the '/etc/init.d/framework stop' command. How did you handle stopping the framework from refreshing? Does the eventHandler take care of that?



    Reply 4 months ago

    How did you get it to display the author and the book title at the bottom? Thanks!