Category Archives: News

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House cleaners find two of the first desktop PCs in random boxes

Source: Hacker News

Article note: Those Q1 boxes are really historically interesting, and (AFIK) are so rare they are currently not currently emulated or even thoroughly documented and dumped. Hopefully a few more surfacing leads to something happening on that front.
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Forgetting the history of Unix is coding us into a corner

Source: The Register

Article note: The "Modern Linux" stack that is the defacto modern Unix is ...weird. It violates the "small simple parts composed easily via a small number of simple interfaces" idea _badly_, but we're all so culturally accustomed to Windows-y (...which is largely vms-y) things, it feels "normal" even to those of us who noticed it happening.

The lessons of yesteryear's OS are getting lost in translation

FOSDEM 2024  There are vital lessons to be learned from the history of Unix, but they're being forgotten. This is leading to truly vast amounts of wasted effort.…

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Scientists aghast at bizarre AI rat with huge genitals in peer-reviewed article

Source: Ars Technica

Article note: People long rewarded for shoveling shiny garbage as fast as they can find a new way to make more, shinier garbage faster, use it. News at 11.
An actual laboratory rat, who is intrigued.

Enlarge / An actual laboratory rat, who is intrigued. (credit: Getty | Photothek)

Appall and scorn ripped through scientists' social media networks Thursday as several egregiously bad AI-generated figures circulated from a peer-reviewed article recently published in a reputable journal. Those figures—which the authors acknowledge in the article's text were made by Midjourney—are all uninterpretable. They contain gibberish text and, most strikingly, one includes an image of a rat with grotesquely large and bizarre genitals, as well as a text label of "dck."

On Thursday, the publisher of the review article, Frontiers, posted an "expression of concern," noting that it is aware of concerns regarding the published piece. "An investigation is currently being conducted and this notice will be updated accordingly after the investigation concludes," the publisher wrote.

The article in question is titled "Cellular functions of spermatogonial stem cells in relation to JAK/STAT signaling pathway," which was authored by three researchers in China, including the corresponding author Dingjun Hao of Xi’an Honghui Hospital. It was published online Tuesday in the journal Frontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology.

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European Court of Human Rights bans weakening of secure end-to-end encryption

Source: OSNews

Article note: That is _extremely_ good news, and should settle down some ongoing policy threats to foundational socially important technology.

The European Court of Human Rights yesterday banned a general weakening of secure end-to-end encryption. The judgement argues that encryption helps citizens and companies to protect themselves against hacking, theft of identity and personal data, fraud and the unauthorised disclosure of confidential information. Backdoors could also be exploited by criminal networks and would seriously jeopardise the security of all users’ electronic communications. There are other solutions for monitoring encrypted communications without generally weakening the protection of all users, the Court held. The judgement cites using vulnerabilities in the target’s software or sending an implant to targeted devices as examples.

↫ EU Reporter

Excellent ruling, and it throws up another roadblock to weakening end-to-end encryption in the EU, after the European Parliament also took a stance against such weakening.

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Renesas Buys Altium

Source: Hacker News

Article note: That's a shakeup at the high end for PCB design. I'm sure it won't make a difference to all the Chinese players using old pirated copies, and they were already moving toward saas rentseeking, but maybe it'll shake things up in midsize 1st world companies a bit.
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Freenginx: Core Nginx developer announces fork

Source: Hacker News

Article note: Uh-oh. I like and make pretty extensive use of nginix (...because it isn't as unpleasant as Apache), it's development is mostly accomplished by 3 people, and the most prominent of them just had a major spat with the long-term parent company over something apparently security-related that caused them to fork. We'll see how ugly this gets.
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Inputs of Interest: the Svalboard Could Be Your Salvation

Source: Hack a Day

Article note: Ooh. DataHand style keyboards are one of the most unusual ever to see anything resembling broad use, and because they're defunct and nifty to nerds, used DataHand units are rare and ridiculously expensive. _Very_ cool to see there is an essentially practical open source implementation (with a very cool magneto-optical switch mechanism) now.

You know, sometimes dreams really do come true. When I told you about the DataHand keyboard almost four years ago, I never imagined I’d ever get to lay my hands on anything even remotely like it, between the original price point and the fact that they really, really hold their value. But thanks to [Morgan Venable], creator of the Svalboard, I can finally tell you what it’s like to type with your digits directionalized.

If you don’t recall, the DataHand was touted to be a total revolution in typing for RSI sufferers. It debuted in 1993 for a hefty price tag of about $1,500 — pretty far out of reach of the average consumer, but well within the budgets of the IT departments of companies who really wanted to keep their workers working. You want minimum finger travel? It doesn’t get more minimal than this concept of a d-pad plus the regular down action for each finger.

The Svalboard aims to be the new and improved solution for something that barely exists anymore, but still has a devoted following. Although the DataHand was built on a gantry and adjustable using knobs, the smallest fit possible on the thing is still rather big. Conversely, the Svalboard is fully customizable to suit any size hand and fingertip.

A Labor of Love, Born of Necessity

Creator [Morgan Venable]’s career was saved by the DataHand over 20 years ago, and when one of his beloved DataHand rigs was damaged during travel in the summer of 2022, he knew he had to get serious about replacing them with something more robust that could go another 20 years, at least. According to [Morgan] in this informative interview with Keyboard Builders’ Digest, it only took about eight months to develop the design for the Svalboard. (When you badly need something, it’s easier to put your nose to the grindstone, isn’t it?)

Sval-what now? The name is a double homage to both the Svalbard Global Seed Vault and the lalboard, a DataHand-like creation by [Ben Gruver] that is the basis for this keyboard. Per [Morgan], he hopes that the Svalboard both preserves and evolves the lineage of the DataHand for future generations.

[Ben Gruver]’s design uses the ESP32, mostly because it was mid-pandemic and not much was available. As a result, [Ben] had to build a wrapper to be able to use QMK. [Morgan] rebuilt the controller around the RP2040, mostly because he wanted a clean bootloader and to have the device show up as a flash drive. At the moment, Morgan is working on shrinking the PCB to accommodate more and more pointing devices, particularly large trackballs.

Adjustable, You Say?

Let’s be clear, this keyboard is probably not for the average computer user. But if you have a repetitive stress injury or are rapidly developing one, it could just as quickly change your life. Why? Three major reasons, really — the minimalist key travel, the layout possibilities, and the fact that you can dial in pretty much every little thing about the geometry, physically speaking.

Although there is kind of a lot to look at here, you may have noticed all the L-brackets. These of course allow for each of the key clusters to move toward and away from the palm rest, allowing for many different finger lengths. They also allow for adjustability in the Z-direction for shorter or longer finger lengths, and for adjusting the yaw.

The palm rests are made from PLA, so they can be thermo-formed for the perfect fit. Not only are they adjustable in the X/Y/yaw directions, they also go up and down. I thought I needed to lower the palm rests to suit my hands, but on second thought, what I really needed to do was raise the thumb clusters. Easy.

[Morgan] says the there is 6-15° tenting adjustment inherent to the design. It also supports M5 legs, 3D-printed fixed tenting systems, and even 1/4-20 camera hardware. You want to go full ergo and attach these to the arms of your chair? Go for it.

So, What’s It Like To Type On?

Well, there’s actuation feel, and then there’s trying to form words and sentences on the thing. In a word, the actuation feel is awesome. The minimal travel and tiny magnets make sure of that with crisp tactility.

The typing, though — the typing is a bit difficult. But that feels unfair, because really, it’s nuanced. For starters, this keyboard has the easiest action in the world, but that means it is quite sensitive. This isn’t a keyboard you quickly return your hands to at first — at least not the fingertips, lest you accidentally actuate a switch. I have practiced the best way to settle quickly and comfortably into this keyboard, and it seems to work best by laying the hands down palms first.

And maybe it’s just my neuroses, but I feel like there’s a real sweet spot as far as how relaxed your hands are. Not relaxed enough? You might hit a stray key. Too relaxed? Same deal. The grand idea is that you don’t have to move your fingers/hands much to reach any of the keys, and at first, it feels like too much of a good thing. I am sure that it’s something one gets used to after a while. But typing itself is really, really easy. As others have said about the Svalboard, you almost just think the letter and it’s there on the screen. The switch actuation force is around 20g. So what does typing look like? Check out this video of [Morgan] doing 104 WPM on Monkeytype.

Switches and Keys

The switches themselves are magneto-optical, and use those tiny magnets you see below as the springs. Because of the magnets, all the force is up front and immediately drops off to nothingness. It really is like nothing I’ve ever experienced. Here’s a typing sample:

Not only do the petals click into place (of course), the force of the tiny but powerful magnet sort of sucks them smartly into the cavity. That little retention bracket keeps them from flying out.

It’s never been easier to change “keycaps”, and they even come in different sizes — 14 mm, 16 mm, and 18 mm widths. And all of these petals just drop right into place, so it’s really easy to clean.

In fact, [Morgan] removes the tallest thumb levers to ship, so as part of the setup, I got to drop those in. Boy, was that satisfying. But don’t take my word for it — [Morgan] offers a sample key cluster so you can try them out.

Layouts and Layers

Image by [Morgan Venable]

The Svalboard ships with QWERTY-, Dvorak- and Colemak-ish layouts. I am using the QWERTY-ish, shown here. The only things that tripped me up at first were b, t, n, and y, but everything else is pretty natural and where your brain expects it to be, finger-flick-wise. As you might expect, the layout is completely tweak-able in the software (QMK/Vial). Of course, since it’s not really possible for this keyboard to have key labels, the user needs to memorize the keymap or keep a chart nearby.

I was typing pretty quickly, to my surprise. And by that, I mean I topped out around 9 WPM on day one. The estimated time to get up to speed is just a couple of weeks, and I can see how that’s possible. Of course, you have to consider that I am already used to thumb clusters and true home-row typing, so that shortens the expected time to adapt. One thing I would have to get used to is using layers in addition to Shift, so that would personally add some extra time.

The default layers on the Svalboard are Alphabet, Numbers and Symbols, and Navigation, and they are accessed via thumb key. Accidentally entering other layers is my number one rookie mistake, but it is easy to return to the Alphabet layer by hitting Left Thumb Up. You can learn a ton more in the Svalboard Fitment Guide.

Thumbs Up

So yes, the thumbs do a lot of work, but as a Kinesis Advantage user, I am fairly used to that. I’m even already used to having Shift under my left thumb, which is a happy coincidence. At this point, I am used to having Shift, Space, Backspace, Enter, and Control (and a few others) under my thumbs, so I am ahead of the game a bit.

But there is no real finesse necessary with the way I strike the thumb keys on my daily driver keyboards. With the Svalboard, each part of the digit does something different — the nail, the knuckle, the pad, and the bottom side.

So not only will you have to get used to having some common actions under your thumbs like Space, Backspace, and Enter, you’ll have the modifiers there as well. Your pinkies will thank you in short order.

And, Oh Yeah, It’s Mostly Open-Source

On the off-chance that I have failed to impress this upon you, the Svalboard is pretty much completely customizable. It’s also mostly open-source, which arguably makes it infinitely customizable. According to [Morgan], STLs and solid models are both available for download and should be reproducible on a hobbyist printer, all the pinouts are open, and the software is completely open-source.

Big thanks to [Morgan] for allowing me to try the Svalboard, because it truly is like no other keyboard I’ve ever used or will likely ever use again. If you have any questions or wish to support the project, be sure to check out the Svalboard Discord and look for @claussen.

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Broadcom-owned VMware kills the free version of ESXi virtualization software

Source: Ars Technica

Article note: Are... are they trying to speedrun killing their acquired company? To out-Oracle Oracle? They've fucked with the very large customers. They've fucked with the small customers. They've fucked with the hobbyists. Hopefully the Xen and KVM tooling will benefit from the exodus.
Broadcom-owned VMware kills the free version of ESXi virtualization software

Enlarge (credit: VMware)

Since Broadcom's $61 billion acquisition of VMware closed in November 2023, Broadcom has been charging ahead with major changes to the company's personnel and products. In December, Broadcom began laying off thousands of employees and stopped selling perpetually licensed versions of VMware products, pushing its customers toward more stable and lucrative software subscriptions instead. In January, it ended its partner programs, potentially disrupting sales and service for many users of its products.

This week, Broadcom is making a change that is smaller in scale but possibly more relevant for home users of its products: The free version of VMware's vSphere Hypervisor, also known as ESXi, is being discontinued.

ESXi is what is known as a "bare-metal hypervisor," lightweight software that runs directly on hardware without requiring a separate operating system layer in between. ESXi allows you to split a PC's physical resources (CPUs and CPU cores, RAM, storage, networking components, and so on) among multiple virtual machines. ESXi also supports passthrough for PCI, SATA, and USB accessories, allowing guest operating systems direct access to components like graphics cards and hard drives.

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Compiling History: A brief tour of C compilers

Source: Hacker News

Article note: It's a great premise for an article but this one is ...bad. Unix was apparently "developed on the PDP-10/11" - The PDP-10 was an unrelated 36-bit mainframe, most of early Unix happened on a PDP-11 - a 16-bit minicomputer, and the very beginnings of Unix were on an extra shitty 18-bit PDP-7 minicomputer. That was apparently the beginning of writing OSes in high level languages - Burroughs says Hi with MCP written in ESPOL and later NEWP a decade earlier. It kind of skips all the interesting C porting stuff - which influenced architectures in fascinating ways - and especially all the early microcomputer C implementations.
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AMD Funded a Drop-In CUDA Implementation Built on ROCm: It’s Now Open-Source

Source: Hacker News

Article note: Interesting. Intel and AMD have each pumped at least a year of funding into this thing, and both backed out after their initial commitment, but there is now a vaguely-complete open source CUDA runtime for other targets. The HN thread seems to have a hard time understanding that Nvidia has (1) been co-evolving CUDA and their chips, so executing CUDA code on non-Nvidia-architecture parts will always be at a disadvantage. (2) Nvidia embedded a bunch of blackbox runtime behavior into CUDA that is necessary for the execution semantics but not exposed in the APIs, because it was convenient and/or to throw off competing implementations. (3) Nvidia has shown a great deal of willingness to spend resources preventing competing implementations (like when they bought PGI from ST) (4) Nvidia has been treadmilling the CUDA APIs for years, to iteratively improve user experience and/or to throw off competing implementations. No reason to think they'll stop. (5) The way _most_ of the user base works, CUDA looks more like a high-level assembly, not the language they work in, so there isn't actually that much CUDA code in the world. For the big money example, most of the AI boom has been built on higher level abstractions (...and reusing other people's code), so you only need to write a eg. torch backend for a different target, not for every user to rewrite a bunch of their own code. Rolling with that example, there are _already_ Intel/oneAPI and AMD/ROCm backends in torch that Intel and AMD should prefer to perpetually playing catch-up with CUDA.
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