The SuperH-3, part 1: introduction

Windows CE supported the Hitachi SuperH-3 and SuperH-4 processors. These were commonly abbreviated SH-3 and SH-4, or just SH3 and SH4, and the architecture series was known as SHx.

I’ll cover the SH-3 processor in this series, with some nods to the SH-4 as they arise. But the only binaries I have available for reverse-engineering are SH-3 binaries, so that’s where my focus will be.

Another architecture series by Raymond Chen, diving into some deep details about the SHx architecture.

Understanding modern UEFI-based platform boot

To many, the (UEFI-based) boot process is like voodoo; interesting in that it’s something that most of us use extensively but is – in a technical-understanding sense – generally avoided by all but those that work in this space.

In this article, I hope to present a technical overview of how modern PCs boot using UEFI (Unified Extensible Firmware Interface). I won’t be mentioning every detail – honestly my knowledge in this space isn’t fully comprehensive (and hence the impetus for this article-as-a-primer).

A rather detailed overview of the UEFI boot process.

Visible Lisp Computer

The Visible Lisp Computer is a Lisp interpreter that displays the contents of the Lisp workspace on an OLED display, so you can see program execution and garbage collection in real time.

It’s a special version of my uLisp interpreter for ARM boards, designed to run on an Adafruit ItsyBitsy M0, or an ATSAMD21E on a prototyping board, interfaced to an I2C OLED display.

If I knew what any of this meant, you’d find a few words about this here. Sadly, I don’t know what any of this means.

Apple explains why iPhones now show an ominous warning after ‘unauthorized’ battery replacements

Responding to criticism that it’s trying to steer consumers toward more expensive battery replacements, Apple today claimed that the “important battery message” added to iOS is there in the name of customer safety. It was recently discovered that when an iPhone’s battery is swapped out by a third-party repair shop that isn’t one of Apple’s authorized partners, the device’s battery health menu will show an ominous warning about being “unable to verify this iPhone has a genuine iPhone battery.”

This can happen even if a genuine Apple battery is used; the warning stems from a micro-controller that only authorized technicians can properly configure. If iOS doesn’t detect the right micro-controller, it hides the usual battery health stats and displays the warning.

Apple is fighting the right to repair movement and associated proposed laws tooth and nail, and this is just another salvo in the war the company is waging on its own customers.

Xfce 4.14 released

In this 4.14 cycle the main goal was to port all core components to Gtk3 (over Gtk2) and GDBus (over D-Bus GLib). Most components also received GObject Introspection support. Along the way we ended up polishing our user experience, introducing quite a few new features and improvements (read below) and fixings a boatload of bugs (read changelog).

A lot of focus seems to have been on HiDPI support, which, in 2019, is probably a good thing. Multimonitor support received quite a bit of love, too, as did other display-related things like colour profiles, display scaling, and so on.

That’s just a selection though, so be sure to read through all the changes.

Commodore’s forgotten UNIX workstation

Commodore built this prototype UNIX workstation/server computer in the same time frame as the Amiga and their PC-Clone and then decided that they only had production capacity for two out of three, and the CBM900 lost.

All the approx 300-500 prototypes were recalled for destruction, but due to some kind of “mistake” this particular machine, which was on loan to a favored customer in Denmark, never made it back.

The machine resurfaced when this company cleaned up their basement, and sent 3 euro-pallets of Commodore artifacts our way.

I never knew Commodore tried to build a UNIX workstation. I shouldn’t be surprised though; virtually everyone dabbled in UNIX workstations in the ’80s. This page has more information about the CBM900.

“Blast processing” in 2019: how an SNES emulator solved overclocking

Kyle Orland at Ars:

When it comes to emulator design, there’s something to be said for trying to capture the workings of the original system as accurately as possible, warts and all. But there’s also something to the idea that emulators can improve on the original hardware, smoothing problems like frame rate slowdown that plagued the underpowered processors of the day.

That brings us to the latest update for storied, accuracy-obsessed SNES emulator bsnes, which adds the ability to overclock the virtual SNES processor. While bsnes is far from the first SNES emulator to allow for simulated overclocking, it does seem to be the first that does so “without any framerate or pitch distortion, and without harming compatibility in 99% of games,” as bsnes programmer byuu puts it.

The alert hammer

Apple started adding user consent alerts way back in High Sierra. The first time an app would try to access your location, contacts, calendar, reminders or photos a system alert would prompt the user for consent. Mojave expanded these prompts to automation, camera and microphone. And now Catalina adds screen recording, keyboard input monitoring, access to folders such as Desktop, Documents and Downloads, user notifications and Safari downloads…

These alerts are just another step on a long path Apple has been taking to protect user’s data. Previous steps include code signing, sandbox, gatekeeper, the “curated” Mac App Store and notarization.

But security features are most useful when they’re invisible. All previous steps were mostly invisible. This last one… Not so much.

There’s a lot of complaining going around in Apple circles regarding the latest Catalina betas and the excessive amount of permission alerts and associated user access problems. On his latest podcast, for instance, John Gruber detailed how it took him ages to figure out why the Terminal wouldn’t show him any directory listings, until he realised the Terminal needed disk access permission, but didn’t ask for it.

This is, of course, all quite reminiscent of Windows Vista, and the goal here seems to be to turn macOS into iOS, with similarly harsh restrictions on what users can do on their computers.

Huawei unveils HarmonyOS

In the city of Dongguan, China, Huawei finally took the wraps off its long-rumored, first-party operating system. The OS, called Harmony OS, has been in development for several years, but it’s recently taken on a role as a key player in Huawei’s contingency plan since the U.S. enacted a trade ban on the Chinese technology company. At the Huawei Developer Conference, Huawei finally shared the first details about its in-house OS, but the company wasn’t ready to show off Harmony on smartphones just yet. Tomorrow, the company will show off Harmony OS on the Honor Vision TV. For now, Android remains the go-to mobile OS for Huawei and Honor smartphones and tablets.

The operating system runs on a custom microkernel architecture that’s been developed in-house, which makes sense considering Huawei has been holding talks about microkernels at FOSDEM for a few years now (2018, 2019). They claim it’s faster than the competition, more secure, and more flexible – so much so that they say they can switch over from Android in a matter of days.

Other details about HarmonyOS include no root access, because Huawei considers it a security risk. Huawei will be supplying an IDE for the operating system, capable of building applications for various device types. Huawei also intends to release HarmonyOS as open source.

There’s a lot of skepticism about Huawei’s ability to build an operating system out there, but I do not share that at all. Huawei is one of the largest, most successful technology companies in the world, for both enterprise networking technology as well as consumer technology, and there’s no doubt in my mind that they are more than capable of developing a good, solid operating system.

That being said, the real issue is of course that between iOS and Android, there isn’t really much room left for a viable third option. HarmonyOS could certainly work in China – especially since it boasts Android compatibility and Chinese Android phones are Google-free anyway – but in the rest of the world people expect their smartphones to be either iOS or Google Android. I highly doubt any non-Android smartphone, with or without Android application compatibility, has any serious chance in the market.

Which is obviously sad, but that’s the way it is.

AMD Rome second generation EPYC review: 2x 64-core benchmarked

So has AMD done the unthinkable? Beaten Intel by such a large margin that there is no contest? For now, based on our preliminary testing, that is the case. The launch of AMD’s second generation EPYC processors is nothing short of historic, beating the competition by a large margin in almost every metric: performance, performance per watt and performance per dollar.

Analysts in the industry have stated that AMD expects to double their share in the server market by Q2 2020, and there is every reason to believe that AMD will succeed. The AMD EPYC is an extremely attractive server platform with an unbeatable performance per dollar ratio.

This is one stunning processor family.

Apple reveals special new iPhones for security researchers

Apple’s iOS Security Research Device program will be available to researchers with a track record of high-quality security research on any platform, so not every regular developer will be able to access these devices. The handsets will come with ssh, a root shell, and advanced debug capabilities, all designed to make it easier for security researchers to spot bugs.

Nice initiative, I guess, but obviously anybody should be able to turn their iPhone into a device like this.

The last working Olivetti mainframe sits in a Tuscan high school

Then they heard about a working model of the ELEA 9003, Olivetti’s first commercial mainframe, introduced in 1959. They lost no time tracking it down.

This 9003 had originally belonged to a bank in Siena, where it was used for payroll, managing accounts, calculating interest rates, and the like. In 1972, the bank donated the computer to a high school in the Tuscan hill town of Bibbiena. And there it’s been ever since. Today, former Olivetti employees periodically travel to the ISIS High School Enrico Fermi to tend to the machine.

A unique piece of computing history that must be saved at all costs.

Haiku activity report: performance edition

Now that Haiku has entered the beta phase, and after the work over the past year or so spent fixing the majority of known kernel crashes and other general instabilities, it is high time we start paying more attention to the whole system’s performance.

Despite how “snappy” Haiku seems, most of its internals are really not so well optimized. This shows when running operations of any real intensity (disk, memory, or CPU.) While the new thread scheduler a few years ago removed some of the thread-related bottlenecks, in practice this just shifted the load to other bottlenecks.

So, let’s take an overview of this past month’s (and some earlier month’s) changes, to see how one optimizes an operating system.

Haiku always feels very fast and snappy, but in reality, many of us have that perception because we tend to not really use Haiku as much as we use Windows or Linux. I’m really glad the Haiku team acknowledges this, and is looking to address low-level performance issues that may not look sexy in a changelog, but that are oh so crucial for the overall feel of the operating system.

Google Chrome hides WWW and HTTPS:// in the address bar again

With Chrome 76, Google has once again started to strip the “www” subdomain and “https://” identifier from URLs shown in the address bar.

In a Chrome bug post regarding this issue, product manager Emily Schechter stated that after testing for several months in the Canary, Dev, and Beta channels, they are going to start hiding “https” and “www” in the Chrome omnibox starting in version 76 on desktop and Android.

Surely we can all agree that URLs aren’t exactly as userfriendly as they once were – the kinds of garbage strings you often get these days are entirely pointless to users – but just flat-out removing parts of the URL for simplicity’s sake seems rather pointless.

Japan’s FTC investigating Apple over pressure on parts makers

Japan’s Fair Trade Commission is investigating Apple Inc over its pressure on Japanese parts makers and whether it abused its power in violation of antimonopoly rules, the Mainichi newspaper reported on Tuesday.

The investigation is the latest by the country’s regulators against the tech giant after they found last year that the company may have breached antitrust rules on the way it sold its iPhones in Japan.

Apple illegally pressuring smaller companies into doing its bidding? Surely such is preposterous.

FileMaker renames itself back to Claris

Not the most exciting or noteworthy piece of news, but still a fun little bit of nostalgia.

Today at their 24th annual DevCon, FileMaker, Inc., maker of the world’s leading Workplace Innovation Platform, unveiled the start of a new chapter in the company’s history as Claris International Inc.

Claris was created a spin-off from Apple in 1987, set up to own and developed MacPaint and MacWrite, which Apple had allowed to wither. The company eventually acquired FileMaker, and in 1990 Apple decided to keep Claris as a wholly-owned subsidiary. It’s been that way ever since, with the company renaming itself to FileMaker in 1998, after divesting everything else from the company.

Since it has acquired a company called Stamplay, it’s no longer just shipping FileMaker, hence the rename back to Claris.

Reviving an HP 660LX in 2019

I had spent some time several years ago trying to get Linux running on this machine via the (defunct) JLime project, so I had some of the pieces available to actually get this little “pocket computer” going again – mainly compatible CompactFlash cards and an external card reader. But I was mostly joking.

Then I starting thinking how funny it would be to actually sit in a talk and take notes at DEF CON on an ancient “laptop”…

These things are a thing of beauty.