David Adams Archive

Maptwin: an 80s-era automotive navigation computer

A couple of years ago, I imported a Japanese-market 4×4 van into the US; a 1996 Mitsubishi Delica. Based on the maps I found in the seat pocket and other clues, it seems to have spent its life at some city dweller’s cabin in the mountains around Fukushima, and only driven occasionally. Despite being over 25 years old, it only had 77,000 km on the odometer. The van had some interesting old tech installed in it: what appears to be a radar detector labeled “Super Eagle ✔️30” and a Panasonic-brand electronic toll collection device that you can insert a smart card into. One particularly noteworthy accessory that was available in mid-90s Delicas was a built-in karaoke machine for the rear passengers. Sadly, mine didn’t have that feature. But the most interesting accessory installed in the van was the Avco Maptwin Inter, which I immediately identified as some kind of electronic navigation aid, about which there is very little information available on the English-language internet. When I first saw the Maptwin, I had thought it might be some kind of proto-GPS that displayed latitude/longitude coordinates that you could look up on a paper map. Alas, it’s not that cool. It was not connected to any kind of antenna, and the electronics inside seem inadequate for the reception of a GPS signal. The Maptwin was, however, wired into an RPM counter that was attached between the transmission and the speedometer cable, presumably to delivery extremely accurate and convenient display of how many kilometers have been traveled since the display was last reset. What I’ve been able to learn is that the Maptwin is computer that was mostly used for rally race navigation, precursor to devices still available from manufacturers like Terra Trip. Now, the Mitsubishi Delica is about the best 4×4 minivan you can get, but it’s extremely slow and unwieldy at speed, so it would be pretty terrible for rally racing. My best guess is that the owner used this device as a navigation aid for overland exploration, as the name “Maptwin” implies, to augment the utility of a paper map. On the other hand, I found an article that indicates that some kinds of rallies were not high speed affairs, but rather accuracy-based navigation puzzles of sorts, so who knows? The Maptwin wasn’t working when I got the van, and I don’t know if it’s actually broken or just needs to be wired up correctly. If any OSNews readers have any additional information about any of the devices I’ve mentioned, please enlighten us in the comments. If anyone would like to try to get the Maptwin working and report back, please let me know.

Addressing the “dark mode” weirdness on the site

As many of you have no doubt noticed, a recent bug in our CMS flipped everyone over to our experimental dark mode (along with some other quirks). We haven’t had the time to address the issue at its core yet, but for the time being, if you’re a registered user, you should be able to get light mode back now by clicking the “Revert to Light Mode” link in your right sidebar. We’ll get light mode working for non-logged-in users ASAP. I sincerely appreciate that so many people emailed us to tell us how much you hate the dark mode. Really! Let us know in the comments if you notice anything else.

Podcast: OSNews’ David Adams talks tech and politics with Flux’ Matthew Sheffield

Flux is an independent online news source that covers politics, religion, philosophy, and technology, and the way that they intersect. I sat down with its founder, and talked about the state of the operating system world in 1997 when I started OSNews, and what has changed since then, both in the computing realm and in the political milieu that pervades our lives. We talked about Microsoft and Apple, UNIX and Linux, the rise and fall of general purpose computing, and how the rise of platforms based on hardware/software/marketplace ecosystems has changed the landscape for what makes an OS platform viable and relevant. You can read a transcript, listen to the podcast, or watch a video of our conversation This discussion is aimed at the more-mainstream audience of Flux’s Theory of Change podcast, but as you can tell from the conversation, Sheffield is a huge nerd and is very interested in discussions of computing, and how it intersects with politics. On that topic, he and I are laying the groundwork to collaborate on a regular podcast, a partnership between OSNews and Flux. I’d love to hear your advice and feedback on topics that you’d be interested in having us cover, people that you’d like to have us interview, or if you’d be interested in participating in some way, let me know.

How Linux and open-source software took the computing world by storm

Interview with Miguel de Icaza about his own journey, GNU, Linux, GNOME, and how he ended up working at Microsoft. It’s an interview for a mainstream audience, but with plenty of fun stories that should entertain any OSNews reader. I found it particularly interesting how de Icaza recounts his decades-long obsession to make Linux a great desktop OS, only to see it achieve massive success on server, mobile, and embedded devices, and never really catch on as a mainstream desktop OS. Today, he uses a Mac for his everyday platform while working at Microsoft.

iPhone 12 dropped in canal, retrieved with magnet

I don’t know why I found this account so delightful. I guess it’s just the can-do spirit. I’ve had an iPhone 12 Pro for a while, and I’m a fan of the new MagSafe feature. I find it convenient for daily charging, and it eliminates the danger of failing to line up the phone just right on a Qi charger. I also have a handy 3rd party car mount that’s great for cars without CarPlay. The magnet on the iPhone is pretty strong, and now I know that if I ever drop my phone into a canal, I may be able to retrieve it by “magnet fishing.” When an unlucky Berliner dropped his phone into a mucky canal, his friend suggested using the MagSafe magnet to fish it out. After several hours of experimentation, they succeeded!

UnitySync: this week’s sponsor

We’re very grateful to this week’s sponsor: UnitySync®. For a unified GAL and more, UnitySync helps sync objects between LDAP and cloud directories with this highly scalable and customizable tool. Directory Wizards offers responsive technical support before and after your purchase, as well as other directory tools to simplify directory maintenance. A free evaluation available to test drive your solution. Please visit their website to learn more: https://www.dirwiz.com/unitysync .

Why terminals are 80×25 characters by default

A rollicking and surprisingly political blog post takes us through a fascinating history, connecting 1860-era US bank note presses to the 80×20 terminal standard, passing though the Civil War, the US census, mechanical computers, punch cards, IBM, early display technology, VT100, ANSI, CP/M, and DOS along the way.

CentOS Stream

The “stream” of development in the Red Hat Enterprise Linux ecosystem has been Fedora > RHEL > CentOS, but Red Hat is changing things up: The CentOS Stream project sits between the Fedora Project and RHEL in the RHEL Development process, providing a “rolling preview” of future RHEL kernels and features. This enables developers to stay one or two steps ahead of what’s coming in RHEL, which was not previously possible with traditional CentOS releases.

Apple announces iPadOS

The iPad’s device-specific features have been advancing for years, and Apple is finally making the divergence official. Though the first version seems to still be iOS with some iPad-specific components (not all that different from previous versions of iOS on the iPad), presumably this release signals that in the future the iPad and iPhone versions of the OS will diverge more radically. Personally, I hope to see it iPad become more Mac-like, rather than seeing the Mac become more iPad-like. I’d love to see iPadOS evolve to the point that Apple would release an iPad Pro keyboard with a trackpad. Crucially, the iPadOS will be compatible with devices going back to the five-year-old iPad Air 2.

Federal Trade Commission wins antitrust case against Qualcomm

One of the key points of this case is that “In numerous cases Qualcomm threatened with a disruption of chipset supplies unless OEMs accepted its patent licensing terms, and there were various agreements under which OEMs paid a higher patent royalty when using third-party modem chips than Qualcomm’s products.” The judge found that “Qualcomm’s licensing practices have strangled competition in the CDMA and premium LTE modem chip markets for years, and harmed rivals, OEMs, and end consumers in the process.” As a remedy, Qualcomm is ordered to take several steps which will reduce the amount of power it holds over its customers and will need to renegotiate new license terms without the threats that had accompanied previous negotiations.

Haiku switches system allocator to rpmalloc

As of hrev53136, we’ve finally replaced the aging hoard2 with a shiny new mmap-based allocator – mjansson’s rpmalloc. Thanks to @pulkomandy and @mmlr for helping out with that work! The main benefit here will be on 64-bit Haiku, as applications will now (finally) be able to use more than 1.5GB of RAM each, a limitation of the old allocator. But there are some pretty nice (10-15%) performance benefits over the old allocator, too. More of the technical details can be found in the commit message 5, but essentially the only thing to be concerned about is if things start suddenly crashing more often. It’s already known to exacerbate a few pre-existing WebKit crashes (mostly around Google Maps or the like, which were already so unstable as to be unusable anyway).

Why Linux on Desktop ‘Failed’: A discussion with Mark Shuttleworth

In an interesting video interview, Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth shares his thoughts on desktop Linux. Some of his most prominent statements include: “I think the bigger challenge has been that we haven’t invented anything in the Linux that was like deeply, powerfully ahead of its time” and, “if in the free software community we only allow ourselves to talk about things that look like something that already exists, then we’re sort of defining ourselves as a series of forks and fragmentations.”

An alternative to garbage collection

An IEEE Spectrum article outlines some interesting new OS-related research. Martin Maas, a University of California, Berkeley, PhD student who is now at Google, designed “a new type of device that relieves the CPU from its garbage collection duties.” Maas notes that CPUs, which have traditionally been assigned garbage collection, were never specifically designed for the task. “CPUs are built to be flexible and run a wide range of applications. As a result, they are relatively large and can take up a significant amount of power,” he explains.Instead, Maas and his colleagues created a compact accelerator unit that requires a small amount of chip area and power. It can be added to the CPU, similar to how many modern processor chips are integrated into graphics processing units.“While the software application is running on the CPU, this unit sits on the side and performs garbage collection for the application,” says Maas. “In principle, this means that you could build a system where the software does not have to worry about garbage collection at all and just keeps using the available memory.”

All Chromebooks will also be Linux laptops going forward

At Google I/O, Google quietly announced that “all devices launched this year will be Linux-ready right out of the box.” A ZDNet article has more details. Earlier, you could run Debian, Ubuntu and Kali Linux on Chrome OS using the open-source Crouton program in a chroot container. Or, you could run Gallium OS, a third-party, Xubuntu Chromebook-specific Linux variant. But it wasn’t easy. Now? It’s as simple as simple can be. Just open the Chrome OS app switcher by pressing the Search/Launcher key and then type “Terminal”. This launches the Termina VM, which will start running a Debian 9.0 Stretch Linux container.

Comparing 21 sub-$1 microcontrollers

In 2017, we saw several new MCUs hit the market, as well as general trends continuing in the industry: the migration to open-source, cross-platform development environments and toolchains; new code-generator tools that integrate seamlessly (or not so seamlessly…) into IDEs; and, most notably, the continued invasion of ARM Cortex-M0+ parts into the 8-bit space. I wanted to take a quick pulse of the industry to see where everything is — and what I’ve been missing while backed into my corner of DigiKey’s web site. It’s time for a good ol’ microcontroller shoot-out.

GrapheneOS: an Android-based, security-hardened, open source OS

There’s a new(ish) smartphone operating system aimed at folks who want to be able to run Android apps, but want additional security and privacy features. It’s called GrapheneOS, and it comes from Daniel Micay, the former lead developer of another security-based Android fork called CopperheadOS. After the founders of Copperhead had a falling out last year, Micay turned his attention to the Android Hardening Project, which he recently renamed GrapheneOS to better reflect what the project has become. Official images are currently available for Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 3, but source code is available if you’re interested in installing it on another device with an unlocked bootloader.

Remembering Heartbleed

Colm MacCárthaigh, who was Principal Engineer for Amazon Web Services Elastic Load Balancer five years ago, posted an interesting recollection of his experience the day the Heartbleed bug went public. OpenSSL was in use widely across AWS, and the team there basically dropped everything to hot patch millions of deployments, then over the next hours and days took many other steps to mitigate the damage. It’s a fascinating story if you’re familiar with information security, or even just minimally familiar with the infrastructure that keeps the internet going.