PCIe 6.0 specification published

PCI Express technology has served as the de facto interconnect of choice for nearly two decades. The PCIe 6.0 specification doubles the bandwidth and power efficiency of the PCIe 5.0 specification (32 GT/s), while providing low latency and reduced bandwidth overhead.

We’re barely seeing the rollout of PCIe 5.0 begin, and we’re already moving ahead. Also, who knew the standards organisation for PCIe is headquartered in Beaverton, Oregon, of all places. Although, to be fair, any city that understands and caters to the beautiful, thrilling, and honest sport of curling is a great city. And I’m not joking here – curling is exquisite, and quite probably the noblest of sports.

Linux 5.16 released

Linux 5.16 has many new features including the FUTEX2 futex_waitv system call for helping Steam Play (and Wine), memory folios have been mainlined, AMD Ryzen 6000 mobile series support is getting into better shape, Intel Alder Lake S graphics are now considered stable, Intel AMX support for Sapphire Rapids has landed, big AMD Ryzen with Radeon graphics performance improvements, and a wealth of other hardware improvements.

And this new kernel release will find its way to your computer soon if you’re using either a bleeding edge distribution or manually added a kernel repository with up-to-date kernels (I tend go with xanmod).

A data black hole: Europol ordered to delete vast store of personal data

The EU’s police agency, Europol, will be forced to delete much of a vast store of personal data that it has been found to have amassed unlawfully by the bloc’s data protection watchdog. The unprecedented finding from the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) targets what privacy experts are calling a “big data ark” containing billions of points of information. Sensitive data in the ark has been drawn from crime reports, hacked from encrypted phone services and sampled from asylum seekers never involved in any crime.

Sometimes we need to be reminded that authorities illegally amassing huge troves of data on unsuspecting and innocent people is not something that only happens in the US. But it is also worth noticing how in EU we at least have institutions that are trying curb these blind mass surveillance tendencies. If that fight will have measurable effects in the long run is something that we can’t foresee.

Pluton is not (currently) a threat to software freedom

At CES this week, Lenovo announced that their new Z-series laptops would ship with AMD processors that incorporate Microsoft’s Pluton security chip. There’s a fair degree of cynicism around whether Microsoft have the interests of the industry as a whole at heart or not, so unsurprisingly people have voiced concerns about Pluton allowing for platform lock-in and future devices no longer booting non-Windows operating systems. Based on what we currently know, I think those concerns are understandable but misplaced.

As usual, Matthew Garrett does an excellent job explaining complex topics like this.

My first impressions of web3

Moxie Marlinspike takes a look at “web3”.

Despite considering myself a cryptographer, I have not found myself particularly drawn to “crypto.” I don’t think I’ve ever actually said the words “get off my lawn,” but I’m much more likely to click on Pepperidge Farm Remembers flavored memes about how “crypto” used to mean “cryptography” than I am the latest NFT drop.

Also – cards on the table here – I don’t share the same generational excitement for moving all aspects of life into an instrumented economy.

Even strictly on the technological level, though, I haven’t yet managed to become a believer. So given all of the recent attention into what is now being called web3, I decided to explore some of what has been happening in that space more thoroughly to see what I may be missing.

Cryptocurrencies are the MLMs and pyramid schemes for nerdbros. They are a complete waste of effort, hardware, and electricity, and literally do not serve any purpose other than drawing in more unfortunate suckers to broaden the base of the pyramid at the expense of the environment.

And NFTs are even worse.

There is definitely interesting technology behind these concepts, but for now, they’re being used for scams, pyramid schemes, and MLMs. Don get suckered into this dumpster fire.

Simplicity of IRC

During discussions with my friends and colleagues, whenever the topic of chat protocols comes up, I often remark how simple the Internet Relay Chat (IRC) protocol is and how this simplicity has fostered creativity in the lives of many young computer hobbyists growing up in the late 1990s and early 2000s. For many of us who were introduced to the Internet during that time, writing an IRC bot turned out to be one of our first few non-trivial hobby programming projects that involved network sockets, did something meaningful, and served actual users.

It’s a big loss we let IRC kind of fall by the wayside as the world moved to things like Slack, Discord, and Teams. It turns out people want features like audio and video chat, emoji, images, videos, and so on – all things a slow-moving, classic standard like IRC will never properly support.

Unidentified PC DOS 1.1 boot sector junk identified

Anyone trying to disassemble the PC DOS 1.1 boot sector soon notices that at offsets 1A3h through 1BEh there is a byte sequence that just does not belong. It appears to be a fragment of code, but it has no purpose in the boot sector and is never executed. So why is the sequence of junk bytes there, and where did it come from?

The immediate answer is “it came from FORMAT.COM”. The junk is copied verbatim from FORMAT.COM to the boot sector. But those junk bytes are not part of FORMAT.COM, either. So the question merely shifts to “why are the junk bytes in FORMAT.COM, and where did they come from?”

It is not known if anyone answered the question in the past, but the answer has been found now, almost 40 years later—twice independently.

This kind of digital archeology is deeply fascinating.

AmigaOS 3.2.1 released

AmigaOS 3.2.1 fixes several bugs and additionally comes with new features. The team of developers and testers have worked ever since the release of AmigaOS 3.2 fixing bugs and implementing new features. They have read social platforms for user anecdotes, videos and reviews, and are excited by the positive reception and feedback.

The Amiga will never die.

Filling in some gaps in the story of Space Cadet Pinball on 64-bit Windows

Space Cadet Pinball has a special place in the hearts of many Windows enthusiasts. A customer used their support contract to ask how to change among the three levels of play in Space Cadet Pinball. My proudest achievement of Windows XP was fixing the game so it didn’t consume 100% CPU. People keep asking if it can be brought back.

One point of contention is over my claim that I removed Pinball from Windows because I couldn’t get the 64-bit version to work. Retrocomputing enthusiast NCommander even undertook a Zapruder-level analysis of all of the 64-bit versions of Windows he could find to prove or disprove my story.

I was amazed at the level of thoroughness (and the fortitude it required to get those Itanium systems up and running, much less debug them), but there’s one version of 64-bit Windows that NCommander didn’t try out, and that’s the one that’s relevant to the story.

This story and investigation into Space Cadet Pinball is wild. At this point we seem to have a pretty complete picture of its entire history, but it too some serious digging to get there.

Windows 11 Sun Valley 2 to be finalized by summer

Windows 11 is going to be a year old in July 2022 and Microsoft will be giving users an anniversary present – a new feature update with a long list of much-needed improvements. The update is apparently codenamed “Sun Valley 2” internally and it is going to be similar to the anniversary update for Windows 10.

Sun Valley 2 or version 22H2 would be a version of Windows 11 with some important improvements to make it faster, smoother and more modern, and to integrate WinUI more closely with the rest of the operating system. For example, a new Windows Run with dark mode could show up in this release. We’re also expecting new native apps.

Considering Windows 11’s modern desktop context menu has its own classic Win32 context menu, I think they still got some work to do.

Intel, AMD, Nvidia announce tons of new products

So, AMD, Intel, and Nvidis all decided to announce their latest products all on the same day yesterday. Let’s start with Intel, who announced the laptop version of their latest generation of processors, and if the performance claims hold up, they’re some damn good chips – but as always, we’ll have to await proper benchmarks.

These laptop chips use Intel’s new hybrid processor architecture, which combines larger, faster performance cores with smaller, more efficient cores (P-cores and E-cores, respectively). How many P-cores and E-cores you get depends on the processor you’re buying, and you’ll need an operating system that supports Intel’s “Thread Director” technology to get the most performance out of the chips. Windows 11 supports it now, Linux support is in the works, and Windows 10 doesn’t have it and won’t be getting it.

AMD, not wanting to be outdone, introduced its Ryzen 6000 series of mobile processors, which finally move their integrated graphics to RDNA 2m, and are the first to include Microsoft’s Pluton security chip.

Yesterday AMD disclosed that they would be launching the new Ryzen 6000 Mobile series today – updated cores, better graphics, more features, all in a single monolithic package a little over 200 mm2. There will be 10 new processors, ranging from the traditional portable 15 W and 28 W hardware, up to 35 W and 45 W plus for the high-end gaming machines. AMD is expecting 200+ premium systems in the market with Ryzen Mobile in 2022.

Finally, we have NVIDIA, with the smallest announcement of new high and low-end mobile GPUs.

Wine gets ported to Haiku

Haiku continues to be on its roll, this time making tons of progress porting Wine to run on Haiku. Rockstar Haiku developer X512 has managed to not just start porting Wine to Haiku, but also to get so far as to run actual Windows applications on the platform. The screenshots in the Haiku forum thread speak for themselves. This is amazing work, and I can’t even begin to imagine how so much progress can be made in such short time.

That being said – and the reason I’m late with this story – I’m not entirely sure porting things like Qt, X.org, and Wine are the best way forward for Haiku. As an old BeOS nerd, what I want are fully native, platform-optimised Haiku applications that make use of all the unique features the operating system has to offer. I’m not interested in yet another platform to run Qt applications, LibreOffice, and a small handful of Windows applications.

I really don’t like being a grumpy old man when it comes to relatively small, alternative projects whose members code for free, but none of the recent amazing news coming out of Haiku has made me more interested in Haiku – in fact, it has only made me less interested, and less enthusiastic. Haiku and BeOS occupy a special place in my heart, and the focus shift from focusing on Haiku as an API-compatible clone of BeOS to yet another platform that runs Qt, X, and a few Windows applications worse than Linux or BSD do is not something I’m particularly thrilled with.

But here’s the cool thing – what I think is, and should be, entirely irrelevant, and these developers need to keep doing what they want to do, whether randos like me want them to or not. That’s the nature of open source.

Libadwaita 1.0 released

Libadwaita 1.0 has been released, just at the end of the year.

Libadwaita is a GTK 4 library implementing the GNOME HIG, complementing GTK. For GTK 3 this role has increasingly been played by Libhandy, and so Libadwaita is a direct Libhandy successor.

Libadwaita is quite controversial, as aside from dark mode and a (promised) colour API, applications that use Libadwaita cannot be themed. It’s all the result of developers being unhappy us pesky users get to decide what our computers look like, so they decided to prevent users from theming their systems at all. GNOME’s own applications will surely transition to it, and it remains to be seen if the wider Gtk developer community will opt for it as well.

Libadwaita hjas already led to two major departures from GNOME, and other Gtk-based desktop environments, such as Cinnamon and Mate, may follow.

Unicode normalization forms: when ö != ö

Some time ago, a very weird issue was reported to me about a Nextcloud system. The user uploaded a file with an “ö” on a SMB share that was configured as an external storage in the Nextcloud server. But when accessing the folder containing the file over WebDAV, it did not appear (no matter which WebDAV client was used). After ruling out the usual causes (wrong permissions, etc…), I analyzed the network traffic between the WebDAV client and the server and saw that the file name is indeed not returned after issuing a PROPFIND. So I set some breakpoints in the Nextcloud source code to analyze if it is also not returned by the SMB server. It was returned by the SMB server, but when the Nextcloud system requested more metadata for the file (with the path in the request), the SMB server returned a “file not found” error, which lead Nextcloud to discard the file. How can it happen that the file is first returned by the SMB server when listing files but then the server suddenly reports an error when requesting more metadata?

Special characters must be second only to time, dates, and timezones when it comes to weird behaviour in code.

BlackBerry will die on January 4th – for real this time

Dear friends, we’re gathered here today to mourn the death of that once-beloved monarch of the mobile world: BlackBerry. And, yes, I realize that this is not the first time we’ve announced the death of the company or its devices (and, for reasons I’ll explain below, it likely won’t be the last) but this is a very definite ending for legacy BlackBerry hardware.

As of January 4th, any phones or tablets running BlackBerry’s own software — that’s BlackBerry 7.1 or earlier, BlackBerry 10, or its tablet operating system BlackBerry PlayBook — will “no longer reliably function,” says the company. Whether on Wi-Fi or cellular, there’ll be no guarantee you can make phone calls, send text messages, use data, establish an SMS connection, or even call 9-1-1. That sounds pretty darned dead to us.

This seems ripe for a community of dedicated fans to build custom servers to keep things going – much like exist for many older games.

You must never press the original Razr’s forbidden internet button

The first phone I ever owned was a Motorola Razr. The Razr’s buttons are some of the finest ever to grace a mobile device. The keypad is laser-etched out of a sheet of shimmering aluminum, and when pressed, ignites in a lambent blue glow that looked like the sci-fi future.

But there was one button that I was terrified to press. In all my years of owning a Razr, I can’t say I tapped it more than once or twice, and never on purpose: the internet button.

A lot of much younger people will never understand the dread that these internet buttons filled us with in the early 2000s. Whether true or not, I didn’t know anyone who was not terrified of accidentally pressing one of these buttons on their phones and racking up a massive bill, or rushing through your prepaid card.

Times certainly have changed.

Women force change at Indian iPhone plant, sick from bad food, crowded dorms

For women who assembled iPhones at a Foxconn plant in southern India, crowded dorms without flush toilets and food sometimes crawling with worms were problems to be endured for the paycheck.

But when tainted food sickened over 250 of the workers their anger boiled over, culminating in a rare protest that shut down a plant where 17,000 had been working.

Just in case you thought Apple (and other companies, of course) wouldn’t exploit poor people of colour in countries other than China. Good on these women for standing up for their rights, which is at least something they can do that their counterparts in totalitarian China cannot.

Windows 2000 modernization guide

So, you want to use Windows 2000 in 2021? Well, you’ve come to the right place, although we’re not the only place you’ll want to keep handy. You’ll find some great tips, software advice, and know-how at the MSFN Windows 2000 Forums. Special thanks to @win32, who provided many of the pointers and suggestions used in this guide.

This place is a message… and part of a system of messages… pay attention to it!

Sending this message was important to us. We considered ourselves to be a powerful culture.

This place is not a place of honor… no highly esteemed deed is commemorated here… nothing valued is here.

What is here was dangerous and repulsive to us. This message is a warning about danger.

The danger is in a particular location… it increases towards a center… the center of danger is here… of a particular size and shape, and below us.

The danger is still present, in your time, as it was in ours.

The danger is to the body, and it can kill.

The form of the danger is an emanation of energy.

The danger is unleashed only if you substantially disturb this place physically. This place is best shunned and left uninhabited.