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Exploring the Future of Computing
Updated: 1 hour 25 min ago

Interactive X Linux desktop rendered to TTY and streamed over SSH

Friday 5th of January 2018 11:45:15 PM
I'm travelling around the world and sometimes I don't have very good Internet. If all I have is a 3kbps connection tethered from my phone then it's good to SSH into my server and browse the web through elinks. That way my server downloads the web pages and uses the limited bandwidth of my SSH connection to display the result. But it lacks JS support and all that other modern HTML5 goodness. Texttop is simply a way to have the power of a remote server running a desktop, but interfaced through the simplicity of a terminal and very low bandwidth. Why not VNC? Well VNC is certainly one solution but it doesn't quite have the same ability to deal with extremely bad Internet. Texttop uses MoSH to further reduce the bandwidth and stability requirements of the connection. Mosh offers features like automatic reconnection of dropped connections and diff-only screen updates. Also, other than SSH or MoSH, Texttop doesn't require a client like VNC. But of course another big reason for Texttop is that it's just very cool geekery.

Xerox Alto zero-day

Thursday 4th of January 2018 09:54:13 PM
We've been archiving a bunch of old Xerox Alto disk packs from the 1970s. A few of them turned out to be password-protected, so I needed to figure out how to get around the password protection. I've developed a way to disable password protection, as well as a program to find the password instantly. Xerox has failed to respond to this severe security hole in their computer, and every day they refuse to patch this vulnerability is a day their customers run a massive risk. Irresponsible.

The T2 chip makes the iMac Pro the start of a Mac revolution

Thursday 4th of January 2018 09:51:44 PM
The T2 processor isn't doing the heavy lifting in the iMac Pro - that's the Intel Xeon processor with between 8 and 14 processor cores. The T2 is the brain behind that brain, running the subsystems of the iMac Pro from a single piece of Apple-built silicon. The result is a simplified internal design that doesn’t require multiple components from multiple manufacturers. On most Macs, there are discrete controllers for audio, system management and disk drives. But the T2 handles all these taks. The T2 is responsible for controlling the iMac Pro's stereo speakers, internal microphones, and dual cooling fans, all by itself. It's a fascinating chip that certainly puts Apple ahead of its competitors, but at the same time, it's going to make installing non-approved operating systems on Macs ever harder. Sure, they're allowing it for now, but for how long?

Intel claims other chips also affected by design flaw

Wednesday 3rd of January 2018 08:36:59 PM
Update: Google's Project Zero disclosed details about the vulnerability a week ahead of schedule due to growing concerns, and they indeed confirm AMD and ARM processors are also affected: The Project Zero researcher, Jann Horn, demonstrated that malicious actors could take advantage of speculative execution to read system memory that should have been inaccessible. For example, an unauthorized party may read sensitive information in the system’s memory such as passwords, encryption keys, or sensitive information open in applications. Testing also showed that an attack running on one virtual machine was able to access the physical memory of the host machine, and through that, gain read-access to the memory of a different virtual machine on the same host. These vulnerabilities affect many CPUs, including those from AMD, ARM, and Intel, as well as the devices and operating systems running them. Intel just published a PR statement about the processor flaw, and in it, it basically throws AMD and ARM under the bus. According to Intel, reports that only its own processors are affected are inaccurate, namedropping specifically AMD and ARM just to make it very clear who we're talking about here. From the statement: Recent reports that these exploits are caused by a "bug" or a "flaw" and are unique to Intel products are incorrect. Based on the analysis to date, many types of computing devices - with many different vendors' processors and operating systems - are susceptible to these exploits. Intel is committed to product and customer security and is working closely with many other technology companies, including AMD, ARM Holdings and several operating system vendors, to develop an industry-wide approach to resolve this issue promptly and constructively. Intel has begun providing software and firmware updates to mitigate these exploits. Contrary to some reports, any performance impacts are workload-dependent, and, for the average computer user, should not be significant and will be mitigated over time. More to surely come.

Intel processor design flaw forces Linux, Windows redesign

Wednesday 3rd of January 2018 12:42:51 AM
A fundamental design flaw in Intel's processor chips has forced a significant redesign of the Linux and Windows kernels to defang the chip-level security bug. Programmers are scrambling to overhaul the open-source Linux kernel's virtual memory system. Meanwhile, Microsoft is expected to publicly introduce the necessary changes to its Windows operating system in an upcoming Patch Tuesday: these changes were seeded to beta testers running fast-ring Windows Insider builds in November and December. Crucially, these updates to both Linux and Windows will incur a performance hit on Intel products. The effects are still being benchmarked, however we're looking at a ballpark figure of five to 30 per cent slow down, depending on the task and the processor model. More recent Intel chips have features - such as PCID - to reduce the performance hit. That's one hell of a bug.

Google Fuchsia for Pixelbook

Wednesday 3rd of January 2018 12:37:38 AM
We've been talking about Google's mysterious Fuchsia operating system for a while now, and today, we have a new piece of the puzzle. It's a small piece, for sure, but with Google being so incredibly secretive about the whole thing, we take what we can get. As it turns out, Google has added support for its Pixelbook to Fuchsia, and added a page on how to prepare the Pixelbook for Fuchsia installation, and you can check the how-to commit for information about the installation itself. Still a far cry from anything even remotely tangible about where Fuchsia is going, but even a slow drip can eventually fill a bucket.

Arcan 0.5.4, Durden 0.4 released

Wednesday 3rd of January 2018 12:24:31 AM
Ending the year a new release of the "desktop engine" Arcan and its reference desktop environment, Durden. Arcan is a different take on how to glue the user-experience side of operating systems together. It has been in development for well over a decade, with the modest goals of providing a more secure, faster, safer and flexible alternative to both Xorg and terminal emulators, as well as encouraging research. The latest release improves on areas such as crash resilience, wayland client support, VR devices, OpenBSD support and visual goodies. You can read through the full release post, with some of the more technical bits in the related articles about crash-resilient Wayland compositing and "AWK" for multimedia.

Amiga 1000 Phoenix motherboard replacement project

Tuesday 2nd of January 2018 05:20:18 PM
First post of the new year - I hope y'all had a good one - and we're talking Amiga. In October of 2017 I found a really nice accelerator card on Ebay for my stock Amiga 1000 - the Blizzard Turbo Memory Board. My original thought was I would install it into my 1000 and lose the side-car RAM expansions to regain some valuable desk space. Plus - 8MB? That’s gobs for the work I personally do on my Amigas. It was originally designed for the Amiga 500 or 2000 and additionally gave a modest speed boost of 14 Mhz. From my personal experience, 7 Mhz is plenty for the vast majority of Amiga games and software. However in some rare cases 14, 25 or even 40 Mhz can greatly improve the user experience with some math-intensive games and software. This little board seemed the perfect fit for my 1000’s needs. I then got to talking to the seller on Ebay who was based in Australia. After a short amount of time I came to learn that he had in his possession an ultra-rare Phoenix board, too. Within a few days, money was exchanged and the Phoenix began its long journey from Australia to Seattle, Washington. This is one of those stories where you just sit back, grab a warm drink, and just enjoy.

Android Parallel Tasks incoming with Chrome OS 64

Thursday 28th of December 2017 11:36:32 PM
Android applications, running on either Android itself or on Chrome OS, pause whenever they're not in focus. While this makes sense on a phone, this doesn't make a whole lot of sense on desktop machines such as Chromebooks. As such, Google is addressing this shortcoming with Parallel Tasks. With that in mind, the expected behavior of an open app is that it would remain active and running even when the user clicks to another window. Coming from Windows, Linux, or Mac OS, this is what users expect and it is a bit confusing unless you understand what is happening. Parallel tasks on Android allow the OS to keep everything running and open until you pause the activity or close the app down. Again, with Chrome OS, this is much easier to manage. Just click the "X" on the app and it is closed. Simple. Nothing groundbreaking in and of itself, obviously, but a hugely important 'feature' to have on a laptop or desktop.

How the iPhone X home button works

Thursday 28th of December 2017 11:28:25 PM
As soon as I saw iPhone X home indicator replacing the physical button, I got interested in its behavior: it has to be visible both on the lock screen with an arbitrary wallpaper as a background and in any 3rd-party app showing arbitrary content, which in case of videos or games can also change quite quickly. Obviously, UIKit doesn't expose anything remotely similar, so let's figure out how it is built! Cool look at how the home indicator on the iPhone X works.

Apple to open source the Lisa operating system and applications

Sunday 24th of December 2017 11:56:47 PM
Apple will be releasing the code of the operating system and applications of the Apple Lisa. Just wanted to let everyone know the sources to the OS and applications were recovered, I converted them to Unix end of line conventions and space for Pascal tabs after the files using Disk Image Chef, and they are with Apple for review. After that's done, the Computer History Museum will do a CHM blog post about the historical significance of the software and the code that is cleared for release by Apple will be made available in 2018. The only thing I saw that probably won't be able to be released is the American Heritage dictionary for the spell checker in LisaWrite. Merry Christmas everybody.

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