Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 25th Jul 2016 14:43 UTC
Games

As another installment in a somewhat ongoing series on obscure console history, let's talk about the expansion port on the Nintendo Entertainment System or NES. In case you've never turned over your NES: there's a little door underneath your NES, which covers up a small raised piece of plastic that's (relatively) easily removable. Underneath the raised piece of plastic sits an expansion port on the NES' motherboard. That's my NES, and since I've already taken it apart to look at what's under the raised cover, I had no need to remove it.

Common wisdom is that the NES expansion port was never actually used for anything, but that's not actually true. Modeled after the Family Computer Network System for the Japanese version of the NES (the Famicom), through which the NES could display weather, stock information, partake in gambling, and so on, the Minnesota State Lottery and Nintendo tried to bring a similar device to the United States:

The three parties planned to sign up 10,000 homes for the trial, and while Nintendo handed out free modems, in an even sweeter deal, Minnesota also handed out free NES consoles to those involved who didn't already have one.

For a monthly subscription fee of $10 (remember, that's 1991 money), users would also get a special cartridge for the NES that let them access the lottery, after which they could play every game that month, right up to and including the big jackpots.

The program ultimately flopped and never made it to the official production or availability stages, and since Nintendo never tried to do anything with the expansion port after this initial test, it would remain unused for the entirety of the NES' lifespan. Today, though, you can buy a homebrew expansion board that taps into the port.

I've been reading up a lot on these kinds of stories, so if you have anything interesting - feel free to submit it. Since I grew up with Nintendo (and PC), that's where the focus has been so far, so I'd be quite interested in stories about competing companies such as Sega or Atari.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Sat 23rd Jul 2016 00:14 UTC
Android

We're hearing from multiple sources that Cyanogen Inc. is in the midst of laying off a significant portion of its workforce around the world today. The layoffs most heavily impact the open source arm of the Android ROM-gone-startup, which may be eliminated entirely (not CyanogenMod itself, just the people at Cyanogen Inc. who work on the open source side).

[...]

We have been told by several sources [ed. note: confirmed by Re/code] that the company plans to undergo some sort of major strategic shift, with one claiming that this involves a "pivot" to "apps."

Quoting myself, early this year: "Don't buy into Cyanogen. Just don't."

Cyanogen, Inc. has been misleading, grandiose, megalomaniac. I wish the people who got laid off all the best in the troubling weeks and months ahead, but I shed no tear for the megalomaniac, misleading, and arrogant way this company conducted its business.

 



Linked by Thom Holwerda on Fri 22nd Jul 2016 23:30 UTC
Games

Back in the early '90s, a number of game consoles of the time got CD-ROM based add-ons, such as the the Mega-CD for the Mega Drive (or Sega CD and Genesis, respectively, in North-America). Nintendo wanted in on this trend as well, and in cooperation with Sony - which already made several of the SNES' chips - Nintendo explored the idea of a CD-ROM based add-on for the SNES. The plan was for the device to be connected to the SNES using the 28-pin expansion port located underneath the SNES.

The device - called the SNES-CD or Nintendo Play Station - eventually morphed into a single unit capable of playing both SNES games and new disc-based games, all in a single package. It never made it to market, though, and only 200 or so prototypes were ever made, which all seemingly were destroyed, or so the story goes. Sony took what it learned during its stint with Nintendo, and in 1994, unveiled the PlayStation.

Until in 2015, Terry and Dan Diebold by pure luck stumbled upon one of the presumed lost prototypes - probably the rarest console in existence. The SNES part of the device was in working condition (mostly), but the CD-ROM part was void of any signs of life. It seemed like the Nintendo Play Station would continue to hide its secrets.

That is, until now - Ben Heck has managed to fix the SNES-CD, and get it back into working order. The entire process is chronicled in two videos. In the first video, Heck takes the SNES-CD apart and analyses its insides, trying to figure out what each chip and component does. In the second video, the real magic begins - fixing the device.

I'm not going to spoil why, exactly, the device didn't work - it's too good of a story and too much of a fun surprise to spoil upfront. Grab something to drink, and enjoy an hour of delicately poking at the insides of one of the rarest pieces of technology.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Fri 22nd Jul 2016 23:02 UTC
IBM

It is the widest superscalar processor on the market, one that can issue up to 10 instructions and sustain 8 per clock: IBM's POWER8. IBM's POWER CPUs have always captured the imagination of the hardware enthusiast; it is the Tyrannosaurus Rex, the M1 Abrams of the processor world. Still, despite a flood of benchmarks and reports, it is very hard to pinpoint how it compares to the best Intel CPUs in performance wise. We admit that our own first attempt did not fully demystify the POWER8 either, due to the fact that some immature LE Linux software components (OpenJDK, MySQL...) did not allow us to run our enterprise workloads.

Hence we're undertaking another attempt to understand what the strengths and weaknesses are of Intel's most potent challenger. And we have good reasons besides curiosity and geekiness: IBM has just recently launched the IBM S812LC, the most affordable IBM POWER based server ever. IBM advertises the S812LC with "Starting at $4,820". That is pretty amazing if you consider that this is not some basic 1U server, but a high expandable 2U server with 32 (!) DIMM slots, 14 disk bays, 4 PCIe Gen 3 slots, and 2 redundant power supplies.

Classic AnandTech. This is only part 1 - more parts are to follow.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Fri 22nd Jul 2016 22:55 UTC
Windows

In this post, I m going to show you a few of the features of WSL that I personally find very interesting, as well as point you to some resources to help you learn more. First, I'll show the integration of staple commands like ssh for working with Linux servers and devices. Second, I'll demonstrate the ability to use Bash scripting to automate tasks in a very natural way. Third, I'll have a little fun with the great command-line compilers, other tools and the *nix compatibility offered, and play a little NetHack. Finally, I'll show you the ability to use existing Python and other scripts available on the web.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Thu 21st Jul 2016 22:37 UTC
Windows

France's data protection commission has ordered Microsoft to "stop collecting excessive user data" and to stop tracking the web browsing of Windows 10 users without their consent. In a notice published on Wednesday, the CNIL said that Microsoft must also take steps to guarantee "the security and confidentiality" of its users' personal information, after determining that the company was still transferring data to the US under the "Safe Harbor" agreement that an EU court invalidated in October. Microsoft has three months to comply with the orders, the CNIL said.

I was reminded of just how much stuff Microsoft tries to collect earlier today - I had to reinstall Windows on my workstation because my SSD had mysteriously died yesterday, and the number of things you have to turn off is just crazy.

 

Linked by dungsaga on Thu 21st Jul 2016 22:33 UTC
OS/2 and eComStation

In a discussion at TypeDrawers, Greg Hitchcock (from Microsoft) shares a bit of the history regarding OS/2 table's name in the TTF font format:

Because the design of fonts between OS/2 and Windows was very similar (the same folks at Microsoft did most of the graphics for both OS/2 and Windows - with some input from IBM based on their FOCA values) we decided to consolidate the OS/2 and WIN tables into just one table - OS/2. This is why the spec says "...a set of metrics that are required by OS/2 and Windows." The parting with IBM occurred later in 1990. Microsoft had already made enough fonts using the OS/2 table that we decided it would be too expensive to rename the table to the WIN table.

[...]

Ultimately the OS/2 table has become somewhat of a catch-all for additional bits of data, which is why we are now on the 6th version of the table.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Thu 21st Jul 2016 22:29 UTC
Legal

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) sued the U.S. government today on behalf of technology creators and researchers to overturn onerous provisions of copyright law that violate the First Amendment.

EFF's lawsuit, filed with co-counsel Brian Willen, Stephen Gikow, and Lauren Gallo White of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, challenges the anti-circumvention and anti-trafficking provisions of the 18-year-old Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). These provisions -contained in Section 1201 of the DMCA - make it unlawful for people to get around the software that restricts access to lawfully-purchased copyrighted material, such as films, songs, and the computer code that controls vehicles, devices, and appliances. This ban applies even where people want to make noninfringing fair uses of the materials they are accessing.

Great move.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Thu 21st Jul 2016 10:02 UTC
Windows

WinFsp is a set of software components for Windows computers that allows the creation of user mode file systems. In this sense it is similar to FUSE (Filesystem in Userspace), which provides the same functionality on UNIX-like computers.

Interesting project. They also provide details on how it works:

WinFsp consists of a kernel mode FSD (File System Driver) and a user mode DLL (Dynamic Link Library). The FSD interfaces with NTOS (the Windows kernel) and handles all interactions necessary to present itself as a file system driver to NTOS. The DLL interfaces with the FSD and presents an easy to use API for creating user mode file systems.

It's open source, using the AGPLv3 license.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Wed 20th Jul 2016 23:03 UTC
Internet & Networking

Twitter has banned one of its most notoriously contentious voices. On Tuesday evening, the microblogging service permanently suspended the account of [a notorious troll], a day after he incited his followers to bombard Ghostbusters star Leslie Jones with racist and demeaning tweets.

"People should be able to express diverse opinions and beliefs on Twitter," a company spokesperson said in a statement provided to BuzzFeed News. "But no one deserves to be subjected to targeted abuse online, and our rules prohibit inciting or engaging in the targeted abuse or harassment of others."

With platforms like Twitter and Facebook having become the de-facto space where people come to voice their opinion and a central axis in world events - think the attack in Nice, the failed coup in Turkey, which effectively took place on Twitter and Facebook - a lot of people lose sight of what these platforms really are: glorified, very large and very popular online forums.

There's no difference between that forum you run for the community of frog statuette collectors you're a part of on the one side, and Twitter on the other. If people on your forum post insulting messages, harass your fellow frog statue collectors, or send in waves of trolls to post racist, hateful, and abusive messages at them, you'd ban them, remove their comments, delete their accounts.

Twitter is no different. Twitter, like your frog statuette collector forum, is a private enterprise, a personal space, where you set the rules regarding what's allowed and what isn't. I do the same here on OSNews. Banning people from your forum, from OSNews, or, indeed, from Twitter, is not a freedom of speech issue. The right to free speech protects you from the government, not from Twitter, forum moderators, or me deleting your hateful comment from OSNews. Or, for that matter, from deleting your perfectly valid and well-argumented comment (which I don't do, but you get the point). Platforms like Twitter may have become a popular forum for expression, but it has no more obligation to "protect" the "right to free speech" than you have the obligation to accept people walking into your house and saying hateful comments to you or your loved ones.

Twitter and Facebook face huge problems with systematic abuse from trolls, and banning this particularly nasty troll is nothing more than lip service to a famous actress and comedian, and it does nothing to address the core problem the platform faces. Twitter might consider spending less time screwing over third party developers and creating nonsense nobody wants, and focus on the real problems many of their real users have to face every single day.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Wed 20th Jul 2016 22:42 UTC
Apple

If you regularly browse the App Store's Top Charts most of these results would likely serve to confirm what you had already assumed. Most obviously, if you were to randomly pick an app from the Top 200 Grossing charts, chances are extremely high that you would pick a free app with IAPs and it would most likely be a game. But what is particularly suprising is the degree to which free apps with IAP dominate the charts with essentially no paid apps or no apps without IAPs.

I guess the hollowing out and complete destruction of the indie development world was totally worth it.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Wed 20th Jul 2016 19:48 UTC, submitted by FlyingJester
Opera Software

A $1.2 billion takeover of Opera Software by a group of Chinese internet firms fell through on Monday after failing to get regulatory approval in time, sending the Norwegian browser firm's shares to a seven-month low.

The deal needed a green light from the United States and China, and one firm in the Chinese consortium said U.S. privacy concerns would have led to an investigation into some of Opera's products that risked delaying the acquisition for up to a year.

I wonder what Opera really has to offer at this point - and I don't mean that as in, what does it have to offer as a browser to us as consumers, but what does it have to offer as a takeover target. I'm assuming the days of Opera Mini - which did well on things like the Wii - are over, so what's the package, here?

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Wed 20th Jul 2016 19:05 UTC, submitted by Nth_Man
Linux

You probably don't think of car companies as Linux and open-source supporters. You'd be wrong. Toyota, the world's largest car manufacturer, just joined the Open Invention Network (OIN), the largest patent non-aggression community in history.

OIN was formed by IBM, Sony, Phillips, Red Hat, and Novell in 1995 to defend Linux against intellectual property attacks. OIN's plan, then and now, is to acquire Linux-related patents. It then shares them royalty-free to any organization that agrees not to assert its patents against Linux or its applications.

It's worked.

OIN now has more than 2,000 members. In the last 18 months, with the rise of open source and Linux in all technology businesses, OIN has doubled in size.

The more companies join, the better. I had no idea OIN had been growing this quickly.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 18th Jul 2016 21:46 UTC
Internet & Networking

In 1992 Tim Berners-Lee created three things, giving birth to what we consider the Internet. The HTTP protocol, HTML, and the URL. His goal was to bring 'Hypertext' to life. Hypertext at its simplest is the ability to create documents which link to one another. At the time it was viewed more as a science fiction panacea, to be complimented by Hypermedia, and any other word you could add 'Hyper' in front of.

[...]

There was a fervent belief in 1993 that the URL would die, in favor of the ‘URN’. The Uniform Resource Name is a permanent reference to a given piece of content which, unlike a URL, will never change or break. Tim Berners-Lee first described the "urgent need" for them as early as 1991.

Interesting history of the URL.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 18th Jul 2016 05:04 UTC
Hardware, Embedded Systems

SoftBank is nearing a deal to acquire ARM Holdings, the British semiconductor company, said two people briefed on the matter who asked not to be named discussing private information.

The deal would be the first large-scale, cross-border transaction in Britain since it voted to exit the European Union last month. ARM had been seen as a safe haven from the volatility surrounding “Brexit” because its chip technology is used in mobile phones all over the world, with limited revenue derived from Britain.

Remarkable news on such an early Monday morning. One of the larger purchases in the technology world, and of a core and extremely crucial company at that. I'm wondering if the major technology companies are okay with this deal, since many of them rely heavily on ARM's technology.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Sun 17th Jul 2016 22:24 UTC
Hardware, Embedded Systems

I worked for Lexra, a scrappy CPU company, now out of business. The Lexra story is filled with lessons about the business of selling microprocessors and semiconductor intellectual property. I have found many incorrect statements published about Lexra. I hope to set the record straight.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Fri 15th Jul 2016 18:40 UTC
Apple

The latest numbers from market research firm IDC reveal that Mac sales experienced a slight year-over-year decline in the second quarter, dropping to 4.4 million from 4.8 million during the year-ago period.

Given the past 5-7 years, it's very unusual to see Apple's PC sales doing far worse than the overall PC market.

Then again, considering how Appple has been neglecting OS X for years now and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future, as well as the complete neglect all across the Apple PC product lineup - this really shouldn't come as a surprise.

If Apple doesn't care about its PC business, why should anyone else?

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Thu 14th Jul 2016 14:50 UTC
Games

Relive the 80s when the Nintendo Classic Mini: Nintendo Entertainment System launches in stores on 11th November. The classic NES is back in a familiar-yet-new form as a mini replica of Nintendo's original home console. Plugging directly into a high-definition TV using the included HDMI cable, the console comes complete with 30 NES games built-in, including beloved classics like Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Donkey Kong, PAC-MAN and Kirby's Adventure.

The Nintendo Classic Mini: Nintendo Entertainment System comes packaged with an HDMI cable, a USB cable for powering the system*, and one Nintendo Classic Mini: NES Controller. And whether it's rediscovering an old favourite or experiencing the joy of NES for the first time, the fantastic collection of NES classics included with each and every system should have something for all players.

It's a tiny little NES! A tiny little NES! With games built-in! Yes, I know there are tons of clones and emulators out there, but nothing beats a trustworthy product from the actual manufacturer. There's still a ton of things we don't know - is it an ARM chip with an emulator? An actual NES miniaturised? Does it have the ability to load new games? Is it hackable? - but this is a 100% instabuy for me.

This thing is just too much of an adorable steal not to buy.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Wed 13th Jul 2016 23:23 UTC, submitted by Rohan Pearce
OSNews, Generic OSes

From a great interview with JImm Hall, founder of FreeDOS:

Hall said there are three key categories of people who use FreeDOS: People looking to run classic DOS games, businesses that need to support legacy applications and developers building embedded systems.

FreeDOS is a great project. DOS is still in use all over the place, and having it still actively developed means it'll be around for years to come.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Wed 13th Jul 2016 23:17 UTC
Apple

Sure enough, 45 minutes into the 2016 WWDC keynote, Tim Cook - not an SVP, but Tim himself! - unveiled Swift Playgrounds for iPad, "a new way to learn to code." Because I'd been thinking about it, I had my tweet ready: "I personally think a way to learn Swift is not what the iPad needs - it needs a 21st Century HyperCard. But let’s see."

Later, John Gruber (whose Daring Fireball blog is to Apple what BBC Radio 4's Today show is to British politics) provided a glimmer of hope: "Swift Playgrounds = the new HyperCard?"

Well, no, it turns out. It's not.

I have an iBook G3 specifically for OS9, and one of the things I have installed on it and occasionally play with is HyperCard - an absolutely amazing and fascinating piece of technology that Apple should release as-is for iOS just for curiosity's sake.

In any event, just like the full-blown IDE for iOS we talked about earlier, it's stuff like Swift Playgrounds that operating systems like iOS and Android really need if anyone ever wants to take them seriously as the future of computing.