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Exploring the Future of Computing



Last Build Date: Thu, 17 Aug 2017 10:12:01 GMT

Copyright: Copyright 2001-2017, David Adams
 



Build your own Linux

Wed, 16 Aug 2017 22:09:00 GMT

This course walks through the creation of a 64-bit system based on the Linux kernel. Our goal is to produce a small, sleek system well-suited for hosting containers or being employed as a virtual machine. Because we don't need every piece of functionality under the sun, we're not going to include every piece of software you might find in a typical distro. This distribution is intended to be minimal. Building my own Linux installation from scratch has always been one of those things I've wanted to do, but never got around to. Is this still something many people do? If so, why?



HyperCard now available on the The Archive

Wed, 16 Aug 2017 22:01:53 GMT

On August 11, 1987, Bill Atkinson announced a new product from Apple for the Macintosh; a multimedia, easily programmed system called HyperCard. HyperCard brought into one sharp package the ability for a Macintosh to do interactive documents with calculation, sound, music and graphics. It was a popular package, and thousands of HyperCard “stacks” were created using the software. Additionally, commercial products with HyperCard at their heart came to great prominence, including the original Myst program. Flourishing for the next roughly ten years, HyperCard slowly fell by the wayside to the growing World Wide Web, and was officially discontinued as a product by Apple in 2004. It left behind a massive but quickly disappearing legacy of creative works that became harder and harder to experience. To celebrate the 30th anniversary of Hypercard, we’re bringing it back. HyperCard is a lot of fun to play around with - I have an iBook G3 with OS9 and HyperCard installed, to play with - and this makes it far more accessible. Good work!



Review: System76's Galago Pro

Wed, 16 Aug 2017 21:54:14 GMT

Ars Technica: The Galago Pro was my daily machine for about a month. While I had some issues as noted above (I don't like the trackpad or the keyboard), by and large it's the best stock Linux machine. The only place where the Dell XPS 13 blows it out of the water is in battery life. As someone who lives full time in an RV and relies on a very limited amount of solar power (300w) for all my energy needs, that battery life is a deal breaker. But in nearly every other regard, this is by far my favorite laptop, and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it. There is something that comes up in the comments of nearly every review of System76 hardware, and that's how the company doesn't build its own hardware. System76 orders everything from upstream hardware vendors, and, in the case of the Galago Pro, that would be the Clevo N130BU (or N131BU). I've never quite understood what the issue is, but it certainly seems to rub some people the wrong way. Could you save a couple bucks by ordering the Clevo directly? Sure, but you'd have no support, no custom PPA to fix hardware issues, and no community to get involved in. If you just want a dirt-cheap Linux rig, try eBay. What System76 offers is great Linux experience with a piece of hardware that's maybe not the absolute cheapest hardware. However, that is going to change. In addition to launching its own don't-call-it-a-distro OS, the company has announced that will soon begin what it calls "phase three" - moving its product design and manufacturing in-house. There, it hopes to "build the Model S of computers." It's a bold move, starting up hardware manufacturing and an operating system at the same time. It's the kind of plan that might well lead to overextending oneself (after all, even Canonical has backed away from making its own desktop OS). I'm genuinely curious what System76's in-house Linux laptop will be like.



An introduction to quantum computing, without the physics

Tue, 15 Aug 2017 23:21:30 GMT

This paper is a gentle but rigorous introduction to quantum computing intended for computer scientists. Starting from a small set of assumptions on the behavior of quantum computing devices, we analyze their main characteristics, stressing the differences with classical computers, and finally describe two well-known algorithms (Simon's algorithm and Grover's algorithm) using the formalism developed in previous sections. This paper does not touch on the physics of the devices, and therefore does not require any notion of quantum mechanics. Some light reading before bedtime.



Smart lock vendor accidentally bricks customers' locks

Tue, 15 Aug 2017 23:15:34 GMT

A perk of connected devices, or at least what gadget manufacturers will tell you, is they can receive over-the-air updates to keep your device current. Those updates don't always go as planned, however. In fact, they can go horribly wrong. Take a company called Lockstate, for example, which attempted to issue new software to its LS6i smart locks last week and ended up bricking devices. That isn't great. I don't know what these people were expecting.



GoDaddy, Google blacklist Nazi website Daily Stormer

Mon, 14 Aug 2017 23:08:57 GMT

For years, the website Daily Stormer has promoted hatred against Jews, black people, LGBT people, and other minorities, making it one of the Internet's most infamous destinations. But on Sunday, editor Andrew Anglin outdid himself by publishing a vulgar, slut-shaming article about Heather Heyer, a woman who was killed when someone rammed a car into a crowd of anti-racism protestors in Charlottesville. The article prompted a response from the site's domain registrar, GoDaddy. "We informed The Daily Stormer that they have 24 hours to move the domain to another provider, as they have violated our terms of service," GoDaddy wrote in a tweet late Sunday night. On Monday, the Daily Stormer switched its registration to Google's domain service. Within hours, Google announced a cancellation of its own. "We are cancelling Daily Stormer’s registration with Google Domains for violating our terms of service," the company wrote in an statement emailed to Ars. No company should do business with nazis and white supremacists - ever. Still waiting on the darling of the podcasting industry, SquareSpace, to stop doing business with nazis. We can't remove these sites - and its creators and their philosophy - from existence, but at least we can make life as difficult as possible for them. And, since far too many people in the west do not understand free speech - kicking nazis out of your (virtual) store or house is free speech.



What Microsoft is saying internally about Surface reliability

Mon, 14 Aug 2017 22:47:28 GMT

Multiple senior Microsoft officials told me at the time that the issues were all Intel's fault, and that the microprocessor giant had delivered its buggiest-ever product in the "Skylake" generation chipsets. Microsoft, first out of the gate with Skylake chips, thus got caught up by this unreliability, leading to a falling out with Intel. Microsoft’s recent ARM push with Windows 10 is a result of that falling out; the software giant believes that Intel needs a counter to its dominance and that, as of late 2016, AMD simply wasn't up to the task. Since then, however, another trusted source at Microsoft has provided with a different take on this story. Microsoft, I'm told, fabricated the story about Intel being at fault. The real problem was Surface-specific custom drivers and settings that the Microsoft hardware team cooked up. What a train wreck for Microsoft. Incredible.



The AMD Radeon RX Vega 64, RX Vega 56 review

Mon, 14 Aug 2017 21:27:53 GMT

AMD isn't only getting back in the game on processors - they also just finally truly unveiled Vega, the new line of Radeon graphics cards. AnandTech benchmarked the two cards, and concludes: Unfortunately for AMD, their GTX 1080-like performance doesn't come cheap from a power perspective. The Vega 64 has a board power rating of 295W, and it lives up to that rating. Relative to the GeForce GTX 1080, we've seen power measurements at the wall anywhere between 110W and 150W higher than the GeForce GTX 1080, all for the same performance. Thankfully for AMD, buyers are focused on price and performance first and foremost (and in that order), so if all you’re looking for is a fast AMD card at a reasonable price, the Vega 64 delivers where it needs to: it is a solid AMD counterpart to the GeForce GTX 1080. However if you care about the power consumption and the heat generated by your GPU, the Vega 64 is in a very rough spot. On the other hand, the Radeon RX Vega 56 looks better for AMD, so it's easy to see why in recent days they have shifted their promotional efforts to the cheaper member of the RX Vega family. Though a step down from the RX Vega 64, the Vega 56 delivers around 90% of Vega 64’s performance for 80% of the price. Furthermore, when compared head-to-head with the GeForce GTX 1070, its closest competition, the Vega 56 enjoys a small but none the less significant 8% performance advantage over its NVIDIA counterpart. Whereas the Vega 64 could only draw to a tie, the Vega 56 can win in its market segment. Vega 56's power consumption also looks better than Vega 64's, thanks to binning and its lower clockspeeds. Its power consumption is still notably worse than the GTX 1070's by anywhere between 45W and 75W at the wall, but on both a relative basis and an absolute basis, it's at least closer. Consequently, just how well the Vega 56 fares depends on your views on power consumption. It's faster than the GTX 1070, and even if retail prices are just similar to the GTX 1070 rather than cheaper, then for some buyers looking to maximize performance for their dollar, that will be enough. But it's certainly not a very well rounded card if power consumption and noise are factored in. So, equal performance to Nvidia's competing cards at slightly lower prices (we hope), but at a big cost: far higher power consumption (and thus, I assume, heat?). For gaming, Nvidia is probably still the best choice on virtually every metric, but the interesting thing about Vega is that there's every indication it will do better on other, non-gaming tasks. It's still early days for Vega.



Xerox Alto video demonstration

Sun, 13 Aug 2017 14:35:35 GMT

We take you through a demo of our restored Xerox Alto. We go through the Neptune file browser, the Bravo text editor, the Draw and SIL programs, network booting, ftp, telnet, Smalltalk, some games and new programs we have made for the Alto. A great video showing off how the Alto - the precursor to the Star, the mother of all graphical user interfaces we still use today on our desktops and phones - works.



"We need to document macOS"

Sun, 13 Aug 2017 13:26:24 GMT

I spend an inordinate amount of time searching for information about macOS. Whether I am researching the answers for my section in MacFormat magazine, or trying to solve my own problems here, I am also daily reminded of Apple's wholesale failure to provide consistent and complete documentation of its flagship product. The idea you would donate an inordinate amount of time and effort for free to the richest company in the world to perform work they ought to be doing is wholly and completely baffling to me.



Microsoft announces Windows 10 Pro for Workstations

Fri, 11 Aug 2017 19:52:23 GMT

Windows 10 Pro for Workstations is a high-end edition of Windows 10 Pro, comes with unique support for server grade PC hardware and is designed to meet demanding needs of mission critical and compute intensive workloads. Windows 10 Pro for Workstations - a glorious throwback to classic Microsoft naming schemes - provides users with ReFS, persistent memory, and more, and allows up to four processors (instead of two) and a maximum of 6 TB of memory (currently 2 TB).



AMD Threadripper reviews and benchmarks

Fri, 11 Aug 2017 19:46:32 GMT

In this review we've covered several important topics surrounding CPUs with large numbers of cores: power, frequency, and the need to feed the beast. Running a CPU is like the inverse of a diet - you need to put all the data in to get any data out. The more pi that can be fed in, the better the utilization of what you have under the hood. AMD and Intel take different approaches to this. We have a multi-die solution compared to a monolithic solution. We have core complexes and Infinity Fabric compared to a MoDe-X based mesh. We have unified memory access compared to non-uniform memory access. Both are going hard against frequency and both are battling against power consumption. AMD supports ECC and more PCIe lanes, while Intel provides a more complete chipset and specialist AVX-512 instructions. Both are competing in the high-end prosumer and workstation markets, promoting high-throughput multi-tasking scenarios as the key to unlocking the potential of their processors. As always, AnandTech's the only review you'll need, but there's also the Ars review and the Tom's Hardware review. I really want to build a Threadripper machine, even though I just built a very expensive (custom watercooling is pricey) new machine a few months ago, and honestly, I have no need for a processor like this - but the little kid in me loves the idea of two dies molten together, providing all this power. Let's hope this renewed emphasis on high core and thread counts pushes operating system engineers and application developers to make more and better use of all the threads they're given.



The case of double characters when printing man pages

Wed, 09 Aug 2017 21:50:10 GMT

In what's never going to be a regular occurance, I'm linking to a Twitter thread. Chris Espinosa tweets: Just as I was wrapping up an email and getting ready to leave work, a co-worker rolled his chair over to show me an "interesting" thing. Go ahead, read it. UNIX, man. Not even once.



Amazon invests in Andy Rubin's Essential

Wed, 09 Aug 2017 21:41:45 GMT

It's being reported by the Wall Street Journal that Amazon is among the companies which contributed to Essentials $300 million coffers. They also reveal that Best Buy and Amazon will be retail partners for the upcoming phone launch. The best bit of news, though, comes in the form of a set of dates. Although we still have no idea when the phone will launch (Essential has now very much overshot its 'end of the month' June prediction), Essential president Niccolo de Masi says, "I will give you an exact date in a week." Those are some serious investors for Andy Rubin's new devices company.



"The best phone you can buy right now"

Mon, 07 Aug 2017 20:29:35 GMT

The Verge does this thing where they list what they consider to be the best laptop or phone or whatever, and they state the Samsung Galaxy S8 is the best phone for most people. Samsung's Galaxy S8/S8 Plus is the best phone for most people. It's available across all four US carriers and unlocked. It has the best display on any smartphone right now, a head-turning, premium design, a top-of-the-line camera, reliable battery life, and fast performance. Thanks to Samsung's popularity and the support of all four carriers, the S8 also has plenty of accessories, from cases to battery packs to wireless chargers, available to it. You can definitely make a case for the S8 being the best phone for most people, but personally, I still consider the iPhone to be the best, safest choice for most non-geeky people. Personally, I prefer Android, and for my personal use, iOS on the iPhone is an exercise in frustration - but iOS provides a more consistent, all-around phone experience that remains fairly static from phone to phone, it's a little simpler to grasp than Android, and Apple has an excellent support system in many countries that's far better than Samsung's hands-off let-the-reseller-handle-it approach. I wonder - what do any of you consider the best phone for most people? If one of your non-geeky family members seeks your advice, which phone do you suggest they get? The Verge named the Surface Laptop the best laptop, which I find a baffling choice. It's new and unproven, so we have no idea how it'll hold up over the next few years. An odd choice for sure.