April 20, 2021
[tools] Open source, experimental, and tiny tools roundup … Great list of tech tools. ‘This is a list of small, free, or experimental tools that might be useful in building your game / website / interactive project. Although I’ve included ‘standards’, this list has a focus on artful tools and toys that are as fun to use as they are functional.’
April 7, 2021
[tech] Booting an IBM PC from a Vinyl Record … Watch and listen to the PC boot here. ‘There is a small ROM boot loader that operates the built-in “cassette interface” of the PC (that was hardly ever used), invoked by the BIOS if all the other boot options fail, i.e. floppy disk and the hard drive. The turntable spins an analog recording of a small bootable read-only RAM drive, which is 64K in size. This contains a FreeDOS kernel, modified by me to cram it into the memory constraint, a micro variant of COMMAND.COM and a patched version of INTERLNK, that allows file transfer through a printer cable, modified to be runnable on FreeDOS. The bootloader reads the disk image from the audio recording through the cassette modem, loads it to memory and boots the system on it. Simple huh?’
April 6, 2021
[tech] Why Computers Won’t Make Themselves Smarter … A look at why the singularity is unlikely. ‘This ability of humans to build on one another’s work is precisely why I don’t believe that running a human-equivalent A.I. program for a hundred years in isolation is a good way to produce major breakthroughs. An individual working in complete isolation can come up with a breakthrough but is unlikely to do so repeatedly; you’re better off having a lot of people drawing inspiration from one another. They don’t have to be directly collaborating; any field of research will simply do better when it has many people working in it.’
October 2, 2020
[tech] Boeing 747s still get critical updates via floppy disks‘While it might sound surprising that 3.5-inch floppy disks are still in use on airplanes today, many of Boeing’s 737s have also been using floppy disks to load avionics software for years. The databases housed on these floppy discs are increasingly getting bigger, according to a 2015 report from Aviation Today. Some airlines have been moving away from the use of floppy discs, but others are stuck with engineers visiting each month to sit and load eight floppies with updates to airports, flight paths, runways, and more.’
September 9, 2020
[computers] The 20 greatest home computers – ranked! … Ancient 1980s schoolyard arguments revived for 2020. ‘The people’s choice, the gaming platform of the everyman, Sinclair’s 48K Spectrum, with its rubber keys, strange clashing visuals and tinny sound was absolutely pivotal in the development of the British games industry. From Jet Set Willy and Horace Goes Skiing to Knight Lore and Lords of Midnight it drew the absolute best from coders, many of whom would go on to found the country’s biggest studios.’
September 4, 2020
[winamp] Winamp Skin Museum … Huge, lovingly put-together archive of Winamp skins.

Speccy Winamp Skin

August 17, 2020
[tech] The Quest to Liberate $300,000 of Bitcoin From an Old Zip File‘Stay at least knew which zip program had encrypted the file and what version it ran. He also had the time stamp of when the file was created, which the Info-ZIP software uses to inform its cryptography scheme. From a massive pool of passwords and encryption keys, Stay was able to narrow it down to something on the order of quintillions.’
August 10, 2020
[mp3] ‘You’ve been smoking too much!’: the chaos of Tony Wilson’s digital music revolution … How Tony Wilson foresaw the digital music business in 1998. ‘Arriving in summer 2000, music33 developed a barmy way of protecting clients’ tracks. Songs purchased came in a PDF; users tapped in a password to play the music. “I’m still trying to understand it even now,” Clarke chuckles. Pre-broadband dial-up internet was so slow that “you’d plug in a modem to download one track, which could take 15 minutes,” says Clarke. Music33 featured a little robot avatar named Howie, who explained how to use the site. Wilson’s plan to get Keith Allen to do its voice never came off.’
July 22, 2020
[apollo] Bitcoin mining on an Apollo Guidance Computer … Using Apollo-era tech for bitcoins. ‘The Apollo Guidance Computer took 5.15 seconds for one SHA-256 hash. Since Bitcoin uses a double-hash, this results in a hash rate of 10.3 seconds per Bitcoin hash. Currently, the Bitcoin network is performing about 65 EH/s (65 quintillion hashes per second). At this difficulty, it would take the AGC 4×10^23 seconds on average to find a block. Since the universe is only 4.3×10^17 seconds old, it would take the AGC about a million times the age of the universe to successfully mine a block.’
July 10, 2020
[fun] This Meme Does Not Exist… Memes generated by A.I. almost work. Almost.

AI Generated Meme

February 20, 2020
[web] How to Deal with Running Out of iCloud, Google, and Dropbox Space … Useful guide to saving space and money with Cloud apps.
February 12, 2020
[apollo] Apollo 11 vs USB-C Chargers … Comparing the CPU of the Apollo 11 Guidance Computer vs. USB-C wall chargers. ‘I claim that we would only need the compute power of 4 Anker PowerPort Atom PD 2 USB-C chargers to get to the moon…’
January 22, 2020
[web] Tiny Helpers … Huge collection of useful single-purpose websites handling tasks from web designers.
January 7, 2020
[tech] How the Death of iTunes Explains the 2010s … Some thoughts on how tech trends in the 2010s turned us all into digital hoarders. ‘A friend compared looking at a smartphone home screen to looking at the messiest closet in someone’s house. “I would never ask to see either of them,” she said. But trying to organize your phone (or computer) is like trying to organize a closet that can always get larger. Now there’s essentially no hard limit on what you can store on a personal device, be it phone or computer—since 2010, the cost of a gigabyte of hard-drive space has fallen from 10 cents to 1 cent. Why spend your one wild and precious life organizing app icons on a home screen? Why throw out books when you can always buy a new bookshelf?’
December 6, 2019
[politics] Uncovered: reality of how smartphones turned election news into chaos … Interesting attempt to study how Social Media influences election news. ‘Several participants were observed sharing articles on Facebook without clicking the links, and excitedly diving into comment sections for an argument before looking at the articles. Most showed a tendency to read news that confirmed their existing views. Some behaviours were more surprising, hinting we may be becoming a nation of trolls. One 22-year-old Conservative-voting woman was observed going out of her way to read reputable mainstream news sources so she had a balanced understanding of Labour policies. But she would then seek out provocative far-right blog posts to share on Facebook because their headlines would anger her leftwing friends and create online drama.’
November 22, 2019
[funny] Ballad of a WiFi Hero… Animated adaption of the Mike Lacher’s McSweeney’s article. ‘And at last the warrior arrived at the Router. It was a dusty black box with an array of shimmering green lights, blinking on and off, as if to taunt him to come any further. The warrior swiftly maneuvered to the rear of the router and verified what he had feared, what he had heard whispered in his ear from spirits beyond: all the cords were securely in place. The warrior closed his eyes, summoning the power of his ancestors, long departed but watchful still. And then with the echoing beep of his digital watch, he moved with deadly speed, wrapping his battle-hardened hands around the power cord at the back of the Router.’

October 24, 2019
[email] Was E-mail a Mistake? … A good look at synchronous Vs. asynchronous communications. ‘The dream of replacing the quick phone call with an even quicker e-mail message didn’t come to fruition; instead, what once could have been resolved in a few minutes on the phone now takes a dozen back-and-forth messages to sort out. With larger groups of people, this increased complexity becomes even more notable. Is an unresponsive colleague just delayed, or is she completely checked out? When has consensus been reached in a group e-mail exchange? Are you, the e-mail recipient, required to respond, or can you stay silent without holding up the decision-making process? Was your point properly understood, or do you now need to clarify with a follow-up message? Office workers pondering these puzzles—the real-life analogues of the theory of distributed systems—now dedicate an increasing amount of time to managing a growing number of never-ending interactions.’
October 18, 2019
[code] The lines of code that changed everything … A list of software that changed the world. ‘The Apollo 11 Lunar Module’s BAILOUT Code – The [Apollo Guidance Computer] software team knew there were eventualities they couldn’t plan for. So they created BAILOUT. When the computer was at risk of running out of space (or “overflow”), the AGC triggered BAILOUT to schedule less important data and operations so it could keep the vital ones up and running. As the Eagle lander descended toward the moon’s surface, at 30,000 feet the AGC flashed a “1202” alarm, which neither Neil Armstrong nor the flight controller in Houston immediately recognized. But in less than 30 seconds, the computer experts in Mission Control relayed that the AGC software was doing just what it was supposed to: drop lower-priority work and restart the important jobs (so quickly that it was imperceptible to the crew).’
October 11, 2019
[unix] Ken Thompson’s Unix password … Cracking passwords from late 1970s. ‘However, kens password eluded my cracking endeavor. Even an exhaustive search over all lower-case letters and digits took several days (back in 2014) and yielded no result. Since the algorithm was developed by Ken Thompson and Robert Morris, I wondered what’s up there. I also realized, that, compared to other password hashing schemes (such as NTLM), crypt(3) turns out to be quite a bit slower to crack (and perhaps was also less optimized).Did he really use uppercase letters or even special chars? (A 7-bit exhaustive search would still take over 2 years on a modern GPU.)’
October 8, 2019
[mac] Thoughts on (and pics of) the original Macintosh User Manual … I never realised that the target market for the original Macintosh was Patrick Bateman. ‘Perhaps the strangest sentence: “The Finder is like a central hallway in the Macintosh house.”And the disk is a… guest? Someone looking for the bathroom?’

Pages from the Original Mac User Manual

September 26, 2019
[tech] Moore’s Law graphed vs real CPUs & GPUs 1965 – 2019 … Nicely done visualisation. [via jwz]
September 19, 2019
[emoji] 📙 Emojipedia — 😃 … for all your Emoji needs. ‘😱 Face Screaming in Fear 😱’
September 5, 2019
[sealand] A Visit to Sealand, the World’s Tiniest Nation … The bizarre creation story of the micronation of Sealand along with more recent history. ‘As we finished one last cup of tea in the kitchen, Michael grinned. He seemed as proud of the convoluted story behind his family’s bizarre creation as he was of Sealand’s resilience. Taking advantage of a gap in international law, Sealand had grown old while other attempts at seasteads never made it far beyond what-if imaginings. The Bates family was certainly daring, but the secret to Sealand’s survival was its limited aspirations. It had no territorial ambitions; it wasn’t seeking to create a grand caliphate. In the view of its powerful neighbors, Sealand was merely a rusty kingdom, easier to ignore than to eradicate.’
September 3, 2019
[internet] Go Look: Usage Share of Internet Browsers 1996 – 2019 … A fascinating infoviz – mainly because it neatly illustrates Internet Explorer’s total domination of browser share for much of the early 2000s and later the rise of Chrome.
August 6, 2019
[tech] Future Historians Probably Won’t Understand Our Internet … A look at the difficulty of archiving Social Media. ‘If you want to understand how WordPerfect, an old word processor, functioned, then you just need that software and some way of running it. But if you want to document the experience of using Facebook five years ago or even two weeks ago … how do you do it? The truth is, right now, you can’t. No one (outside Facebook, at least) has preserved the functioning of the application. And worse, there is no thing that can be squirreled away for future historians to figure out.’
July 19, 2019
[apollo] The Underappreciated Power of the Apollo Computer … Alexis Madrigal on the Apollo Guidance Computer. ‘To maximize the built-in architecture, Hamilton and her colleagues came up with what they named “The Interpreter”—we’d now call it a virtualization scheme. It allowed them to run five to seven virtual machines simultaneously in two kilobytes of memory. It was terribly slow, but “now you have all the capabilities you ever dreamed of, in software,” O’Brien said.’
July 15, 2019
[windows] Why did moving the mouse cursor cause Windows 95 to run more quickly? … Or, How to make programs install faster on Windows 95 – This isn’t very useful these days! ‘For reasons that are not entirely clear, but probably due to performance problems on low end machines, Windows 95 tends to bundle up the messages about I/O completion and doesn’t immediately wake up the application to service them. However, it does wake the application for user input, presumably to keep it feeling responsive, and when the application is awake it will handle any pending I/O messages too. Thus wiggling the mouse causes the application to process I/O messages faster, and install quicker.’
July 5, 2019
[tech] How to speak Silicon Valley: 53 essential tech-bro terms explained‘Revolutionize (v) – To change something that does not need to be changed in order to charge money for its replacement.’
June 14, 2019
[tech] What It’s Like to Work on a 30-Year-Old Macintosh … Ian Bogost on the joy of using old Tech. ‘On my modern MacBook Pro, a million things are happening at once. Mail retrieves email, sounding regular dings as it arrives. Dispatches fire off, too, in Messages, in Skype, in Slack. Attention-seeking ads flash in the background of web pages, while nagging reminders of Microsoft Office updates bounce in the dock. News notifications spurt out from the screen’s edge, along with every other manner of notices about what’s happening on and off the machine. Computing is a Times Square of urge and stimulus. By contrast, the Macintosh SE just can’t do much. It boots to a simple file manager, where I face but a few windows and menu options. I can manage files, configure the interface, or run programs. It feels quiet here, despite the whirring noise.’
June 4, 2019
[tech] Science less than a decade away from fully operational printer‘Professor Henry Brubaker, of the Institute for Studies, said: “If printer design continues to advance at the current rate, it’s likely we’ll see a machine that isn’t fundamentally incompatible with plain white A4 paper by the year 2029. “Then we’re just a few years away from something that isn’t a shit-sucking bastard fucker with the sheer brass balls to describe itself as a printer.”’
May 30, 2019
[tech] What I Learned Trying To Secure Congressional Campaigns … Maciej Cegłowski looks at how to improve tech security on high-risk political campaigns. ‘We told people to use Signal, iPhones/iPads, Google docs, and to buy the blue Yubikey. If any of that posed a problem, we found other products to recommend. The goal was not to score those sweet affilliate sales, but to remove decision points and cognitive overhead by standardizing on a known good set of products.’
May 24, 2019
[internet] Why People Fake Cancer Online … A look at why people fake illness on the Internet. ‘This condition of faking illness online has a name: “Munchausen by internet,” or MBI. It’s a form of factitious disorder, the mental disorder formerly known as Munchausen syndrome, in which people feign illness or actually make themselves sick for sympathy and attention. According to Marc Feldman, the psychiatrist at the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa who coined the term MBI back in 2000, people with the condition are often motivated to lie by a need to control the reactions of others, particularly if they feel out of control in their own lives. He believes that the veil of the internet makes MBI much more common among Americans than the 1 percent in hospitals who are estimated to have factitious disorder.’
April 30, 2019
[tech] Death by PowerPoint: the slide that killed seven people … How Microsoft PowerPoint contributed to the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster. ‘Typing text on a screen and reading it out loud does not count as teaching. An audience reading text off the screen does not count as learning. Imagine if the engineers had put up a slide with just: “foam strike more than 600 times bigger than test data.” Maybe NASA would have listened. Maybe they wouldn’t have attempted re-entry. ‘
April 26, 2019
[tech] Illustrations of Imaginary Cyberpunk Gadgets … by E Wo Kaku Peter. Below is a portable anti-vampire kit.

April 25, 2019
[favicon] Tiny Mirror … a webpage that uses your webcam to create a tiny image within it’s favicon.
April 3, 2019
[movies] The ultimate guide to analog control panels in sci-fi movies … A look at of the retro-tech in classic science-fiction movies. ‘Of all our control panel selections, Alien might have the most functional looking one. That’s because the production designer, Ron Cobb, constantly worked from the idea that everything should have a legitimate purpose. Cobb went as far as making legitimate real world safety signs for fixtures and airlocks.’
February 6, 2019
[tech] The curious case of the Raspberry Pi in the network closet‘The data directory didn’t have any data stored (as in: collected data) but there was a nodejs app which was heavily obfuscated and to this day I can’t tell exactly what it was doing. It seems to talk via a serial connection to the dongle but I can’t extract what data is actually collected. I can only assume that it collected movement profiles of bluetooth and wifi devices in the area (around the Managers office) and maybe raw wifi packets.’
January 30, 2019
[tv] Smart TVs Are Dumb … Alex looks at the business model around Smart TVs. ‘Earlier this month, Vizio’s chief technology officer, Bill Baxter, told The Verge that the reason his company can sell TVs so cheaply now is that it makes up the money by selling bits of data and access to your TV after you purchase it. Baxter called this “post-purchase monetization.” “This is a cutthroat industry,” he said. “It’s a 6-percent-margin industry, right? … The greater strategy is I really don’t need to make money off of the TV.” This is why your TV was so cheap.’
October 22, 2018
[tech] It’s Impossible to Prove Your Laptop Hasn’t Been Hacked. I Spent Two Years Finding Out … a deep technical dive into the difficulties around proving if a computer has tampered been with. ‘There is a sneaky class of attack, called “evil maid” attacks, that disk encryption alone cannot protect against. Evil maid attacks work like this: An attacker (such as a malicious hotel housekeeper, for example) gains temporary access to your encrypted laptop. Although they can’t decrypt your data, they can spend a few minutes tampering with your laptop and then leave it exactly where they found it. When you come back and type in your credentials, now you have been hacked. Exactly how an evil maid attack would work against your laptop depends on many factors: the type of computer you use, what operating system you use, which disk encryption software you use, and the configuration of firmware used to boot your computer, firmware which I’ll call “BIOS,” although it can also go by acronyms like EFI and UEFI. Some computers have considerably better technology to prevent evil maid attacks than others – for example, attackers have to do more advanced tampering to hack a Windows laptop encrypted with BitLocker than they do to hack a Mac laptop encrypted with FileVault (as of now, anyway) or a Linux laptop encrypted with LUKS.’
October 11, 2018
[tech] Reboot Your Dreamliner Every 248 Days To Avoid Integer Overflow … Why Boeing 787s need to be rebooted regularly to avoid integer overflows. ‘Basically it says that all Boeing 787 Dreamliners have to be switched off every 248 days. If they are not reset then the generator control units GCUs will go into failsafe mode and the plane will lose all electrical power. Why exactly? To quote the FAA directive: This condition is caused by a software counter internal to the GCUs that will overflow after 248 days of continuous power. We are issuing this AD to prevent loss of all AC electrical power, which could result in loss of control of the airplane.’
September 28, 2018
[time] Your calendrical fallacy is… Everything you know about Calendars, Dates and Times is Wrong. ‘Days are 24 hours long – False. Many places around the world observe Daylight Saving Time, which means that people living in these locations will sometimes experience 23 hour days (when they “leap forward”) and 25 hour days (when they “leap back”).’
June 27, 2018
[tech] Confessions of a Disk Cracker: the secrets of 4am. … Interview with 4am – a modern software cracker cracking old programs. ‘Nobody got kudos for cracking “Irregular Spanish Verbs in the Future Tense,” no BBS would waste the hard drive space to host it, and no user would sacrifice their phone line to download it. So it never got preserved in any form. And even the things that did get cracked weren’t fully preserved. Those same technical constraints led to a culture where the smallest version of a game always won. That meant stripping out the animated boot sequence, the title screen, the multi-page introduction, the cut scenes, anything deemed “non-essential” to the pirates. The holy grail was cutting away so much that you could distribute the game (or what was left of it) as a single file that could be combined with other unrelated games on a single floppy disk.’
June 15, 2018
[phones] Why Doesn’t Anyone Answer the Phone Anymore? … Alexis Madrigal wonders about the death of analog phone culture. ‘If someone called you, if you were there, you would pick up, you would say hello. That was just how phones worked. The expectation of pickup was what made phones a synchronous medium. I attach no special value to it. There’s no need to return to the pure state of 1980s telephonic culture. It’s just something that happened, like lichen growing on rocks in the tundra, or bacteria breaking down a fallen peach. Life did its thing, on and in the inanimate substrate. But I want to dwell on the existence of this cultural layer, because it is disappearing…’
June 13, 2018
[music] Go Look: 3D Print Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures Cover.
June 7, 2018
[tech] Y Combinator’s Xerox Alto: restoring the legendary 1970s GUI computer … Fascinating look into the complexities of restoring the first computer with a GUI and major inspiration for the Apple Macintosh. Here’s a page collecting information, blogposts and videos from YouTube on the project: Restoring a Xerox Alto II Extended.

The Alto was introduced in 1973. To understand this time in computer hardware, the primitive 4004 microprocessor had been introduced a couple years earlier. Practical microprocessors such as the 6502 and Z-80 were still a couple years in the future and the Apple II wouldn’t be released until 1977. At the time, minicomputers such as the Data General Nova and PDP-11 built processors out of hundreds of simple but fast TTL integrated circuits, rather than using slow, unreliable MOS chips. The Alto was built similarly, and is a minicomputer, not a microcomputer. The Alto has 13 circuit boards, crammed full of chips. Each board is a bit smaller than a page of paper, about 7-5/16″ by 10″, and holds roughly 100 chips (depending on the board).

June 4, 2018
[amazon] Jeff Bezos Announces Customers Can Delete All Of Alexa’s Stored Audio By Rappelling Into Amazon HQ, Navigating Laser Field, Uploading Nanovirus To Servers … Amazon’s new Privacy Policy seems reasonable. We take privacy concerns seriously, and I want our valued customers to know they can erase all the information their Amazon Echo has gathered just by being dropped from a helicopter over one of our towers, using a diamond-tipped glass cutter to carve out a hole in a 32nd-story window, and then employing advanced cyberwarfare techniques to compromise our data centers…’
May 11, 2018
[tech] Notepad gets a major upgrade, now does Unix line endings … It’s only taken since 1985 to get this feature into Windows! ‘But in the next update to Windows (likely to arrive in October or thereabouts), Notepad will handle Unix and classic MacOS line endings in addition to the Windows kind. This will make the editor much more useful than it currently is. And if you don’t like the idea, there’s a registry setting to make it stick with its traditional behavior.’
May 10, 2018
[tech] Go Watch The First Pizza Ordered by Computer in 1974‘The first call went to Dominos, which hung up. They were apparently too busy becoming a behemoth. Mercifully, a humane pizzeria — Mr. Mike’s — took the call, and history was made.’

April 25, 2018
[tech] People Who Tried to Take Panorama Shots and Ended Up Opening the Gates of Hell

March 27, 2018
[fun] Play Speak and Spell Online … the education toy emulated at the Internet Archive with many other handheld game consoles.