> Meet the ZedRipper – a 16-core, 83 MHz Z80 powerhouse as portable as it is impractical. The ZedRipper is my latest attempt to build a fun ‘project’ machine, with a couple of goals in mind:
Teletext’s creative legacy lives on
> Like Walkmans and VHS recorders, teletext now seems impossibly quaint. But designer and writer Craig Oldham explains that not only was Teletext a revolutionary technology in its prime, its creative legacy lives on with a new generation of artists who love its creative limits.
Evolution of the Scrollbar
And the Verge review: https://www.theverge.com/2019/11/1/20943552/scroll-bar-visual-history-30-years
> Sébastien Matos has built a fantastic interactive trip through the history of one of the most important UI elements we encounter every day: the scroll bar. He’s recreated, as faithfully as possible, 30 years of scroll bars from some of the top desktop platforms of their day, from Xerox Star to Windows 10.
> Take a minute out of your busy day to enjoy the zen of playing with old UI design. Then come back here and read The Verge’s very serious review of scroll bars through history.
> As part two (see previous attempt) of my ongoing series in ‘computational necromancy,’ I’ve spent the last year and a half or so constructing my own 1/10-scale, binary-compatible, cycle-accurate Cray-1. This project falls purely into the “because I can!” category – I was poking around the internet one day looking for a Cray emulator and came up dry, so I decided to do something about it. Luckily, the Cray-1 hardware reference manual turned out to be useful enough that implementing most of this was pretty straightforward. The Cray-1 is one of those iconic machines that just makes you say “Now that‘s a super computer!” Sure, your iPhone is 10X faster, and it’s completely useless to own one, but admit it . . you really want one, don’t you?
DB-19: Resurrecting an Obsolete Connector
> This is a happy story about the power of global communication and manufacturing resources in today’s world. If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, then you’ve certainly heard me whine and moan about how impossible it is to find the obscure DB-19 disk connector used on vintage Macintosh and Apple II computers (and some NeXT and Atari computers too). Nobody has made these connectors for decades.
How "special register groups" invaded computer dictionaries for decades
> Half a century ago, the puzzling phrase “special register groups” started showing up in definitions of “CPU”, and it is still there. In this blog post, I uncover how special register groups went from an obscure feature in the Honeywell 800 mainframe to appearing in the Washington Post.
Celebrating 50 Years of Unix
> A lot of this folklore (including the gremlin) is going to be on display at the Unix 50 event. The archivists at Bell Labs have outdone themselves by pulling together a massive collection of artifacts taken from the labs where Unix was developed for over 30 years. I was able to photograph a few of these artifacts last year, but so much more will be exhibited at this event — including several items from the personal archives of some attendees.
Plus quite a few more links at https://www.bell-labs.com/unix50/
Coffee is Hard
> Quest games started with a premise like “escape the wizard” or “escape the aliens” then forced you to do a series of banal and random tasks to avoid the many, many ways to die. Once you know the way, most of the games can be completed in under an hour. On the first go, it took my whole family weeks. Not the least of the horror was often having to do things several scenes before there’s any reason for having done them: in Space Quest I, the hero-janitor Roger has to refuse the first offer for his bike, so the guy will come back a little later and throw in a jetpack. Of course there’s no indication that he’ll come back with a jetpack, and no reason to think there’s a need for a jetpack until three days later when Roger exits his spaceship and floats into the void because he doesn’t have a jetpack. This leads to replaying most of the game a dozen times just looking for a jetpack, which is hidden not in a spaceship closet or a bar or a cavern, but behind a tough-but-not-too-tough bargaining strategy. It also took about ninety seconds to switch between screens, so exploration was grueling on a good day.
> After playing the first two, I realized I’d been programming for 17 years and could probably make my own, especially when all the art is 320 pixels wide and that’s about how many pixels I can work with before people give me a sideways look and ask if I really have a liberal arts degree. I decided to base the story loosely on my novel, for two reasons: first, if the game happens to get the kind of notoriety my novel has not, I might be able to boost sales by claiming the novel can serve as a hint book. Second, I spent nineteen years writing that stupid book, and this seemed like a good a way to manage the withdrawal symptoms. Three weeks later I’d built a rendering engine I’m quite proud of, a simple command and scene logic processor, and accidentally reinvented GIF compression.
A visit to the Large Scale Systems Museum
> I didn’t expect to find two floors filled with vintage computers in a sleepy town outside Pittsburgh. But that’s the location of the Large Scale System Museum, housed in an abandoned department store. The ground floor of this private collection concentrates on mainframes and minicomputers from the 1970s to 1990s featuring IBM, Cray, and DEC systems, along with less common computers. Amazingly, most of these vintage systems are working. Upstairs, the museum is filled with vintage home computers from the pre-PC era.
The PDP-7 Where Unix Began
> In preparation for a talk on Seventh Edition Unix this fall, I stumbled upon a service list from DEC for all known PDP-7 machines. From that list, and other sources, I believe that PDP-7 serial number 34 was the original Unix machine.
Fixing up KA9Q-unix, or "neck deep in 30 year old codebases.."
> Anyhoo, I’ve finally been mucking around with AX.25 packet radio. I’ve been wanting to do this since I was a teenager and found out about its existence, but back in high school and .. well, until a few years ago really .. I didn’t have my amateur radio licence. But, now I do, and I’ve done a bunch of other stuff with a bunch of other radios. The main stumbling block? All my devices are either Apple products or run FreeBSD - and none of them have useful AX.25 stacks. The main stacks of choice these days run on Linux, Windows or are a full hardware TNC.
All Penn, No Teller
> Why Penn Jillette kind of makes sense as a tech magazine’s back-page columnist
> But Jillette was something different. He was already famous—certainly more famous than Pournelle, an established science-fiction author, thanks to being a regular fixture on television during much of his career and starring in a legendary Run-DMC music video—and he likely did not need a nationally distributed computer magazine column to make a living. Jillette simply liked computers and knew a lot about them, which meant that he could rant about the details of an Autoexec.bat file just as easily as he can about politics. He gave the tech writing form something of an edge, while maintaining the freewheeling nature established by fellow pre-blogging voices like Pournelle.
Some good quotes and links here.
And it was Uphill Both Ways
> In fact, shortly after I made my own personal home page, full of <marquee> tags, creative abuse of the <font> tag, and a color scheme which was hot pink and neon green, I showed it to a friend, who condescendingly said, “What, you didn’t even use frames?” He made me mad enough that I almost deleted my Geocities account.
Nice look back at how we used to do things.
> In this era, we’d call stuff like this “DHTML” (the D is for “dynamic”), and we traversed the DOM as a chain of properties, doing things like document.forms.inputs to access fields on the form.
How did MS-DOS decide that two seconds was the amount of time to keep the floppy disk cache valid?
A Eulogy for Objective-C
> With the birth of Swift, we face the passing of Objective-C. To mark this historic moment, long-time Objective-C developer and trainer Aaron Hillegass delivers an impassioned eulogy for a language he knew well.
This is a nice recap of the development and early days.
Reverse-engineering precision op amps from a 1969 analog computer
> We are restoring a vintage1 computer that CuriousMarc recently obtained. Analog computers were formerly popular for fast scientific computation, but pretty much died out in the 1970s. They are interesting, though, as a completely different computing paradigm from digital computers. In this blog post, I’m going to focus on the op amps used in Marc’s analog computer, a Simulators Inc. model 240.
> An analog computer performs computations using physical, continuously changeable values such as voltages. This is in contrast to a digital computer that uses discrete binary values. Analog computers have a long history including gear mechanisms, slide rules, wheel-and-disk integrators, tide computers, and mechanical gun targeting systems. The “classic” analog computers of the 1950s and 1960s, however, used op amps and integrators to solve differential equations. They were typically programmed by plugging cables into a patch panel, yielding a spaghetti-like tangle of wires.
Plus some good references to more about analog computers.
Ken Thompson did some of his early programming on an early analog computer, although I’m unsure of which model.
What Remains Technical Breakdown
> What Remains is a narrative adventure game for the 8-bit NES video game console, and was released in March 2019 as a free ROM, playable in emulator. It was created by a small team, Iodine Dynamics, over the course of two years of on and off development. It’s currently in the hardware phase as a limited batch of cartridges are being created from all recycled parts.
> The game plays out over 6 stages, wherein the player walks around multiple scenes with 4-way scrolling maps, speaking to NPCs, collecting clues, learning about their world, playing mini-games, and solving simple puzzles. As the primary engineer on this project, I faced a lot of challenges in bringing the team’s vision to reality. Given the significant restrains of the NES hardware, making any game is difficult enough, let alone one with as much content as What Remains. Only by creating useful subsystems to hide and manage this complexity were we able to work as a team to complete the game.
> Herein is a technical breakdown of some of the pieces that make up our game’s engine, in the hopes that others find it useful or at least interesting to read about.
> Nearly all retro game systems generate colors in some variant of RGB encoding. But the raw pixel colors are often designed for very different screens than those that emulators typically run on. In this article, I’ll walk through the importance of color emulation, and provide some example code and screenshots.
The Enigma Machine
> The Enigma Machine was one of the centerpoints of World War II, and its cryptanalysis was one of the stepping stones from breaking codes as an art to cryptography as a science. The machine encrypted messages sent between parts of the German army – operators would type a key on its keyboard, the machine would scramble that, and a letter would light up on the top.
> This notebook simulates an Enigma Machine and visualizes how it works. The Enigma Machine is an especially neat thing to visualize because it was electromechanical. As you used it, it moved. Instead of circuit traces, it had beautiful real wires connecting its pieces.
Planned Obsolescence: Innovation Versus Preservation
> We keep making old stuff significantly less useful in the modern day, sometimes by force. We cite problems things such as security, maintenance, and a devotion to constant evolution as reasons for allowing this to happen. But the net effect is that we are making it impossible to continue using otherwise useful things after even a medium amount of time. I’m not even exclusively talking about things that are decades old. Sometimes, just a few years does the trick. Today’s Tedium ponders planned obsolescence and how it theatens preservation.