Thom Holwerda Archive
This article is a year old, but I came across it and want to highlight it anyway. On 27 March 2017, Apple made one of its biggest corporate gambles. When it rolled out iOS 10.3 that day, the installer silently converted the storage in each iPhone and iPad to the first release of Apple’s new file system, APFS. Had a significant percentage of conversions gone wrong, Apple would have had a disaster on its hands, particularly as it didn’t admit to doing this until WWDC just over two months later, when it announced that APFS was coming to macOS 10.13 High Sierra that September. The conversion of god knows how many iPhones and iPads to APFS, entirely silently, is one of those moments where Apple really flexed its engineering muscle. Since file systems are a bit of an archaic topic these days, I find that Apple really isn’t getting the recognition it deserves for this silent migration to APFS.
For years, the traditional Linux operating system has been a top pick for its flexibility and ability to be customized. But as great as it is, there are use cases in which stricter security rules and higher reliability standards are needed. That’s where immutable Linux operating systems come in – offering a more secure and reliable option, especially in settings where security is paramount. In this post, we’ll be addressing some common questions to help you understand the principles behind immutable operating systems. We’ll also be exploring the various solutions available and the challenges faced in this field. So, get ready to dive in! I’m quite interested in this concept, as I feel it might be something the desktop Linux world is slowly moving towards. There’s considerable advantages, but also the risk of making the whole system far less flexible than desktop Linux is today.
Did you know that pigs eat humans “far more often than people expect?” If not, surely you must have heard the important, breaking news that a priest “died” in 2016, went to Hell briefly and returned to inform the rest of us that demons like to play Rhianna’s Umbrella song over and over again. If you aren’t aware of these important news stories then maybe you haven’t been spending enough time using Windows’ search box and widgets section, which at least for me, are filled to the brim with tabloid trash headlines. The stories come courtesy of Microsoft’s MSN content network, which syndicates content from hundreds of web publishers: some reputable, some less so. Full disclosure: Our parent company, Future Plc, has a syndication agreement with MSN and many of its sites, including Tom’s Hardware, occasionally have articles appear on the network. What’s problematic here, though, is not that MSN syndicates content but that it often pushes the equivalent of the Weekly World News table of contents right into the Windows operating system where it can be hard to avoid. Actions have consequences. If you choose to use Windows, you choose to get fed garbage all over your operating system in the form of ads and tabloid news.
Modders can change many things inside their favorite games, but dialogue from professionally voiced characters hasn’t been one of those things—at least until recently. AI voice generation could open up new modding avenues for some games, as it has already done with one Fallout 4 mod package. They’re not just new labels on existing dialogue, either. RED, created by NexusMods user ProfMajowski (and first seen by us at PCGamesN), says it used ElevenLabs voice AI to generate its more in-character lines. The results can sometimes “sound a little ’emotionless,'” the creator writes, but “otherwise they basically sound like the real thing.” Nothing your character can newly say now will change the game’s mechanics or reactions, but it should sound a bit more in character. I’m not down on “artificial intelligence” as a matter of principle – quite the opposite. This story right here is a great example of how AI can be used in productive, interesting ways that truly make something possible that either wasn’t possible before, or was simply entirely unrealistic. Spoken dialog is hard to record for a whole slew of reasons, from cost to finding enough quality voice actors to the time it takes, and it’s usually only the biggest studios that have the ability to add it to their games. Even then it’s often a struggle, from bad voice acting overall to large role-playing games where e.g. the main quest is beautifully voiced, but side quests are either entirely unvoiced or clearly rushed by some cheap interns. Thanks to technology like this, even small indie studios or mere mod developers can add something meaningful to their work that up until recently simply wasn’t realistic. It will make games meaningfully better – especially once technology improves a bit more and developers become proficient with it – without the need for hype.
Butler’s goal is to implement a virtual operating system with a strong focus on concurrency. Butler is not a computer hardware operating system. Instead, Butler is an application environment that runs on top of an existing system. Not exactly an operating system in the classical sense, but it still seems like an interesting project.
A federal judge has ruled against the Internet Archive in Hachette v. Internet Archive, a lawsuit brought against it by four book publishers, deciding that the website does not have the right to scan books and lend them out like a library. Judge John G. Koeltl decided that the Internet Archive had done nothing more than create “derivative works,” and so would have needed authorization from the books’ copyright holders — the publishers — before lending them out through its National Emergency Library program. As much as we all want the Internet Archive to be right – and morally, they are – copyright law, as outdated, dumb, and counterproductive as it is, was pretty clear in this case. Sadly.
Today, we’re introducing a major set of upgrades to the Framework Laptop spanning two new models – the Framework Laptop 13 (13th Gen Intel® Core™) and the Framework Laptop 13 (AMD Ryzen™ 7040 Series). We’ve not only scaled up performance and enabled an AMD-powered version for the first time, but we’ve also delivered refinements to the day-to-day user experience with a higher capacity battery, matte display, louder speakers, and more ridgid hinges. And Framework kept their promise: these new mainboards can be ordered separately and fit into the existing Framework 13″ laptop. The company also showed off their next product – a 16″ laptop that not only comes with an upgradeable GPU, but also a completely configurable input deck, so you can configure the keyboard and trackpad area in any configuration you like. I’m so happy Framework is doing well, as it shows that glued shut, non-repeairable, and non-upgradeable laptops are not some sort of universal inevitable truth.
Google Bard is out—sort of. Google says you can now join the waitlist to try the company’s generative AI chatbot at the newly launched bard.google.com site. The company is going with “Bard” and not the “Google Assistant” chatbot branding it was previously using. Other than a sign-up link and an FAQ, there isn’t much there right now. Google’s blog post calls Bard “an early experiment,” and the project is covered in warning labels. The Bard site has a bright blue “Experiment” label right on the logo, and the blog post warns, “Large language models will not always get it right. Feedback from a wide range of experts and users will help Bard improve.” A disclaimer below the demo input box warns, “Bard may display inaccurate or offensive information that doesn’t represent Google’s views.” Google’s Android keyboard and spell checker still can’t get “it’s” vs. “its” right 80% of the time, so I’m not holding my breath.
This release brings a grid view in the file chooser, improved settings panels forDevice Security, Accessibility, etc, and refined quick settings in the shell. The Softwareand Files apps have seen improvements, and a whole slew of new apps has joinedthe GNOME Circle. The release notes have all the details. The grid view in the file chooser alone would be worth a major version bump, considering how long it took them to implement it.
Car companies have been increasingly using digital screens and soft-touch buttons in modern cars to save costs while looking ‘hi-tech’ – but Hyundai has committed to fight this trend for as long as possible. Speaking at the launch of the new-generation Hyundai Kona, Sang Yup Lee, Head of Hyundai Design, said the new model deliberately uses physical buttons and dials for many of the controls, specifically air-conditioning and the sound system. Lee said this is because the move to digital screens is often more dangerous, as it often requires multiple steps and means drivers have to take their eyes off the road to see where they need to press. Slowly but surely, it seems car makers are starting to see the light. A clean, button-less dashboard means nothing once it’s folded around your crushed skull because you couldn’t find the seat heating button without taking your eyes off the road and wrapped yourself around a tree in the process. Just another reason to get an Ioniq 5 if we had the funds.
In fact, the broken bar barely even exists anymore. In the days of DOS, the character used for the pipe symbol (on the DOS command line) or for logical OR (in C/C++, for example) used ASCII code 7Ch (124 decimal), which was rendered as a broken vertical bar by the fonts used at least by the IBM MDA, CGA, EGA, and VGA cards. But nowadays that is no longer the case. The same ASCII codepoint is rendered as a solid vertical bar in Windows 10 or Linux, and also shown as a solid vertical bar on contemporary keyboards. What happened? Who doesn’t love some great character and ASCII archeology?
Microsoft laid off its entire ethics and society team within the artificial intelligence organization as part of recent layoffs that affected 10,000 employees across the company, Platformer has learned. The move leaves Microsoft without a dedicated team to ensure its AI principles are closely tied to product design at a time when the company is leading the charge to make AI tools available to the mainstream, current and former employees said. Oh so that’s totally not worrying at all or anything.
We’ve created GPT-4, the latest milestone in OpenAI’s effort in scaling up deep learning. GPT-4 is a large multimodal model (accepting image and text inputs, emitting text outputs) that, while less capable than humans in many real-world scenarios, exhibits human-level performance on various professional and academic benchmarks. For example, it passes a simulated bar exam with a score around the top 10% of test takers; in contrast, GPT-3.5’s score was around the bottom 10%. We’ve spent 6 months iteratively aligning GPT-4 using lessons from our adversarial testing program as well as ChatGPT, resulting in our best-ever results (though far from perfect) on factuality, steerability, and refusing to go outside of guardrails. “Artificial intelligence” companies are iterating quickly now. I’m definitely looking forward to the new memes based on GPT-4.
Coming up with a title that explains the full story here was difficult, so I’m going to try to explain quickly. Yesterday, Docker sent an email to all Docker Hub users explaining that anyone who has created an “organisation” will have their account deleted including all images, if they do not upgrade to a paid team plan. The email contained a link to a tersely written PDF (since, silently edited) which was missing many important details which caused significant anxiety and additional work for open source maintainers. What a shitshow. We really have to start worrying about the future of Github, too, since I find it highly unlikely Microsoft isn’t planning similar moves in the future. If you’re hosting code at Github, I’d suggest looking at alternatives sooner rather than later, so you don’t end up like the people affected by something like this.
Apple and its manufacturing partner Foxconn were among the companies behind a landmark liberalization of labor laws in the Indian state of Karnataka last month, according to three people familiar with the matter. Their successful lobbying for new legislation means two-shift production can take place in India, akin to the two companies’ practices in China, their primary manufacturing base. The law gives the southern state one of the most flexible working regimes in India as the country aims to become an alternative manufacturing base to China. “We do the right thing, even when it’s not easy.”
If you’re new to the Arm ecosystem, consider this a quick primer on terms you likely have seen before but might have questions about. Well, exactly what it says.
If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you might remember back in 2012 when I changed the startup sound on my Power Mac G3 (Blue and White). That was a fun introduction to the Forth programming language. I had to reverse-engineer just enough of Apple’s firmware update script to understand what was going on. Recently, Aidan Halpin, a reader of this site, asked me if I could do the same kind of startup sound customization on his iMac. This particular iMac is officially known as the “iMac (Slot Loading)” and has a model identifier of PowerMac2,1. As you can guess from the name, it has a slot-loading CD-ROM drive unlike the original iMac that had a laptop-style tray-loading drive. By the way, Aidan’s iMac is special because it has a PowerPC G4 processor soldered onto the logic board instead of the original G3. He sent me Apple’s last firmware update for this model: iMac Firmware Update 4.1.9. I went to work looking at the update contents to see if I could figure out how to modify the chime the same way I did with my Power Mac G3. I thought it would be fun to take everyone along for a ride and show exactly what was involved in changing the sound. And of course, this post wouldn’t be complete without also sharing the code for the utility I created to inject the new chime into the firmware update file. This is an insane amount of work for something that doesn’t really matter in the end. I love it.
Here’s an interesting bit of news out of Mobile World Congress: Qualcomm says the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 has been certified as the “world’s first commercially deployable iSIM (Integrated SIM)”. What the heck is an iSIM? Didn’t we just go through a SIM card transition with eSIM? We did, but iSIM is better than eSIM. We’ll explain, but the short answer is that iSIM is the next step in the continual march to reduce the size of SIM cards. eSIMs are still a chip taking up space on your motherboard, and that’s not ideal if you want to squeeze every square millimeter of space out of a phone. The next shrinking step is iSIM—an Integrated Subscriber Identity Module. Rather than a chip on the motherboard, iSIMs are integrated directly onto the SoC. SoC (system on a chip) integration is the technology that makes smartphones possible. Instead of a thousand little chips for things like the CPU, GPU, RAM, modem, and a bunch of other things, everything gets packed into one single do-everything piece of silicon. Individual chips require more space and power thanks to having to make motherboard traces to connect everything and having to deal with chip packages. I’m still using an old-fashioned traditional SIM card, and while I’m sure going with eSIM and now iSIM is great from a simplification and power usage point of view, I feel like they’re both also about taking control away from the user and shifting it towards the carrier. It was a long fight to get rid of locked phones (mostly), but with eSIM/iSIM it seems locking devices down in more fine-grained ways only becomes easier. I might be overreacting, but little red flags go up when I read about eSIM and now iSIM.
Hyperion Entertainment has released another update for AmigaOS 3.2 for classic Amigas, coming with a number of improvements and bug fixes. I’m not entirely sure what to make of all this, though, since the drama around the ownership of the Amiga operating system, the trademarks, and more, as well as continuous accusations of Hyperion not paying any of its developers, have reached a fever pitch, as documented in this elaborate piece. As much as I would want to dive into all this and properly vet every single source in that article, for the sake of my sanity, I am just not going to. The soap opera around the Amiga has been going on for so long, and has jumped the shark so many times, I just don’t know where to start. I’ll leave you all with the detailed piece and its sources, and let you decide for yourself what to make of it all. I ain’t got the patience for this.
Cobalt Networks were one of the early pioneers in network appliance hardware and produced some of the first turn-key webserver boxes you could buy, founded in 1996 as Cobalt Microserver. Cobalt boxes are immediately identifiable from their distinctive deep blue plastic bezels starting with the 1998 Cobalt Qube 2700. The Qube used a 150MHz QED RM5230; these CPUs are part of QED’s R5000 family and we’ll talk about their architecture a bit later. They came with 2.1GB hard disks with later larger options, 10Mbit Ethernet, 16MB of RAM standard with up to 256MB supported, and a “console” consisting of a backlit rear-mounted 2-line LCD and control buttons (on later machines, but not the original 2700, a serial port provided an actual console if you held down a button during startup). A fair number of typical configuration tasks such as setting its IP address could be done directly from the panel and the rest were intended to be done through its Perl-based web console. They were designed to run Linux from the ground up and shipped with Red Hat using a 2.0.x kernel. Cobalt’s network appliances were so exotic back in the day, and once they started hitting the used market, I almost pulled the trigger quite a few times. These days, they’re harder to come by, and their use is, of course, inherently limited now, but that doesn’t make them any less eye-catching.