Category Archives: Computers

Onn Surf 8 (100003561) Hacking

I have an Onn Surf 8 (One of the surprisingly-not-that-shitty ultra-cheap Walmart tablets) that my research group bought a couple of to use as Android dev testbeds. I’ve been occasionally using it as a normal tablet since I have it around, and have been consistently irritated by the collection of bloatware it comes with…. so I decided to hack it. To tl;dr this whole thing, ignore the collection of typically scammy Android dev forum and blogspam crud, and use the open-source mtkclient for your MediaTek Android device hackin’ needs.

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TI Silent 700 745 Hard Copy Terminal

Top view of an open Texas Instruments Silent 700 Mod. 745 portable hard-copy TTY

I’ve wanted a hard-copy terminal for a while – both to play with and to use for explaining why serial works the way it does, but they tend to be expensive. Most of the common hard-copy terminals also aren’t really convenient objects to own: loud desk-sized machines (Teletype 33 family, most DECWriters), additionally clockwork nightmares (IBM 2741, earlier Teletype devices), which speak ridiculous protocols (…ditto).
This only leaves a handful of reasonable options, the most common of which are portables like TI Silent 700s and DEC LA12s, or one of the dasiywheel-printer based terminals (which are often non-period-correct things like a WheelWriter with a modern serial interface card in it).

So, of course, I’ve been idly keeping an eye out for a deal on one on the auction sites, and mid-October last year I got lucky: I scored a TI Silent 700 Mod. 745 for $34.00+S&H (about $47 all in) from a Shopgoodwill auction, and got it working.

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HP Apollo 9000/735: Restoration Begins

An old friend of mine was moving cross-country and got in touch about taking “Some of his old computers” a while ago. I of course agreed, and it turned out to be quite a growth event for my hoard. There will be several posts about machines that arrived in this process as I get to them.

The list of things to be re-homed included “an Apollo” which I was hoping was a pre-acquision DN-something or a HP 300/400 series because I’ve had a long fascination with Domain/OS. What showed up is… not that. This is a later HP Apollo 9000/735 PA-RISC workstation, ca. 1992, which is easily the most exotic piece of hardware that transaction made me steward of. The OS options are HP-UX 7-10.20, a few BSDs, or a second-class NextStep 3.3 port; I’ll probably go with HP-UX10.2.
It came with the requisite HP-HIL keyboard and mouse (thank goodness) and a DEC branded 5xBNC to VGA cable.

Processor board with 12x16MB Memory modules

This thing was serious rarefied-air hardware when it was new: PA-7100 99 MHz processor, 208 MB of RAM in 12 obscene proprietary 16MB RAM modules + 16 soldered to the processor board, a HP CRX-24Z video board, a full-height SCSI HDD, and an AUI Ethernet daughter card. Probably in the ballpark of $60,000 new. It is also built like a piece of high-end industrial equipment, with big sheet-metal frames with handles that pull out of the back of the system for every major component.

My first attempt to power it resulted in …a feeble blink of the power light.
That suggested to me that the PSU was bad, probably due to defunct electrolytic capacitors. So, in standard “old electronics troubleshooting” fashion, I pulled the PSU, tore it down, read labels off the most suspicious capacitors, and ordered replacements.
The HP Museum folk also suggest the AC line filter module is a time bomb on all of these, so since it’s still made, I grabbed one of those too.

List with Mouser links, since they were the vendor with everything I needed in-stock:
8x 2200uF 25V, 12.5mmD 40mmH, 5mm lead spacing , Nichicon UPJ1E222MHD 8@1.09
1x 220uF 35v, 10mmD, 20mmH, 7mm lead spacing, Nichicon UPM1V221MPD1TA 1@$0.72
1x 1x 22uF, 25V, 5mmD, 12mmH: Nichicon UPS1E220MDD1TA 1@0.30
1x 12uF, 35v, 5mmD, 10mmH, Panasonic EEA-FC1V120B 1@$0.39
1x AC Power Entry Module, Schaffner FN9222R-10-06, 1@$6.50
I also ordered a couple 470uF 25V, 10mmD, 20mmH, 5mm lead spacing caps, but ended up not installing them because there was no sign of damage and they were hard to get a good angle on.

I passed on dealing with a couple smaller electrolytics with no signs of damage, and also two gigantic 2x 1200uF, 250v, 35mmD, 47mmH, 10mm lead spacing input caps that cost $7.50 a piece, since they looked both fine and like a fight to get out without damaging the PCB.
One of these days I really need to invest in a proper pump-driven desoldering gun to make this kind of task safer and easier.

I of course picked up an extra 1-2 of each since it was noise over paying for shipping, and it’s a good thing because I dropped one of the new 220uF/35V parts and it instantly disappeared forever, presumably to wherever my cat has been hiding toys recently.
The new input filter is slightly longer than the original and required a bit of creative terminal bending to fit around the caps, but it made it back into the case.
After the recap, it powered right up, and on a second try after giving the hard disc a gentle thump to unstick the heads from park, everything spun right up.

Full Status LEDs. 8,6,3,1 = “Autoselection Failure to Find Boot Device”

It booted to status LEDs at that point, and shows “8,6,3,1” which according to the service manual indicates “Autoselection Failure to Find Boot Device” – probably meaning the HDD is dead and/or wiped. The appropriate HP/UX media is easy enough to find.
Unfortunately, the monitor on my basement bench doesn’t seem to want to sync with the presumed 1280×1024@72Hz Sync-on-Green coming out of the video card, so I’m stuck for now until I can find a workaround. There is a 4th BNC labeled “Stereo” that might somehow be useful for sync? Or I need a scan converter/sync stripper gadget? … further research required.

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Floppinux Fixed for i486 and Up

I got nerdsniped bad.

floppinux, a one-floppy busybox filled initrd based Linux “distribution” that Krzysztof Krystian Jankowski made from modern parts did the rounds the other day, and I was excited to try it on real old hardware.

Yesterday I pulled my ThinkPad 560E out, dd’d a floppinux on to a real floppy, booted it up and… it traps on an invalid opcode as soon as it tries to load init.

A little thinking made me realize that the way they were building their busybox binary was contaminating it with libraries from the system they were building on (which was apparently i686), so despite all their “will work on a 486 or later” option selections, the images they produced only work on i686 or later boxes.

I opened an issue then got obsessed and decided to fix it myself, and … you can read the details in my followup to the issue.

The magic lazy out for this kind of thing now is the pre-built musl based cross toolchains provided by

I made a couple other suggestions (about using musl, about configuring the kernel for xz and using it for the initrd, etc.) while I was hacking, because putting together little cross-compiled Linuxes is something I used to know what I was doing with. It did take a couple hours to spin back up, there are always picky cross-environment things to remember, and things have changed, mostly for the easier.

I’ve posted a copy of my generated i486-clean image. (Subsequently swapped out for a rebuild with slightly more useful busybox and kernel options, but only about 450k free)

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Not that I’m a frequent IRC user for the last several years, but since the freenode implosion seems to have settled out as a real thing, I’ve gone ahead and registered myself as pappp on oftc and where the … Continue reading

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Toys for my Escape Velocity Itch

Printed and painted Kestrel and Lightning models on a PowerBook 5,4

I had my regularly-scheduled itch to play Escape Velocity or one of its successors and/or clones the other week, and decided to play the real thing this time since I did a lap on Endless Sky not too long ago, and NAEV still doesn’t quite grab me.

I’m now most of the way through a game of EV (under emulation in Basilisk II), and …impulse bought a cheap 2004 15″ Aluminum PowerBook G4 (a 5,4) off the internet after a crash ate a save file. I have good coverage of Apple 1984-1994 in my collection (in the form of bulky desktops with CRTs), and x86 OS X is pretty easy to run in a VM, but I have a hole in the late PPC era. That machine will hopefully eventually also get its own post as I finish fixing it up, it’s not in perfect condition but it auctioned below prevailing when I was looking, and seems to be acceptable.

While I was looking into the player communities (…because it’s become very hard to set up a working install of EV Nova recently, and I can’t find a backup of my registered copy) I discovered that a couple months ago some wonderful person (slurked on thingiverse/quarmus on reddit) made and shared 3D models of the Kestrel and Lightning ships from the original EV.

…So the little Mac-user child of the 90s in me promptly headed down to the basement to print a Kestrel and a pair of Lightnings.

I gave them a quick sand to take the worst print artifacts off and sprayed them down with a couple coats of gray Krylon Fusion, which gave a decent base coat. I needed to do a little (bad) detail painting on the Lightnings, and the acrylics I have around didn’t stick well to the spraypaint, so I dug out my decades-old Testor model enamel set. Eventually they were shaken and stirred enough to get the job done; in another post post, an absurd over-engineered shaker that didn’t really solve the problem.

EV is still one of my favorite games, though I think Endless Sky’s implementation of the formula is actually significantly better for a modern player without the memories, especially now that Ambrosia is defunct and the hacks around registering Nova seem to not be working.

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While giving a student some hints about an ARM assembly assignment I just noticed that google services (eg. gmail) want to auto-complete “R0” to “R0lGODlhAQABAIAAAP”… which, upon inspection, is the base64 encoding of a 1px transparent gif, something spammy over-formatted … Continue reading

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3C589 PCMCIA Network Cards and OpenStep

Google being displayed in OmniWeb 3.1 on OpenStep 4.2.  In 2021.

After my last post about OpenStep 4.2 on my ThinkPad 560E, one of the dangling TODO items was figuring out why the network setup that was made of all known-working parts didn’t work. I’ve now figured it out.

[TL:DR: The OpenStep 4.2 Etherlink III driver does a bad job with PnP and Media Autodetect on 3C589 cards. To make one work you will probably need to use 3Com’s DOS configuration utility to configure the EEPROM in the card.]

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ThinkPad 560E + OpenStep 4.2

Photo of Thinkpad 560E System, running OpenStep 4.2
One Fancy Commercial Unix Portable Battlestation, ca. 1997

I’ve now tried out a few of the things I bought the Thinkpad 506E I posted about a while ago to try, and there are some interesting notes to share before the semester gets underway and I run out of energy again.

I decided amid some resultant discussions (Hi HN!) from my last post on this machine to give myself a conduct of not physically opening the hardware while I play with it, unless the HDD dies or the like. Doing so is making me exercise some long-dormant skills, which has been extremely fun.

So far I’ve amassed a pile of compatible accessories, booted into NetBSD and imaged off the original HDD contents, installed OpenStep 4.2, fixed the drivers, updated to Patch4, and very briefly taken it online before an irritating networking problem arose. I’ve also run into a problem getting RhapsodyDR2 on, which will likely be the next time-sink.

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Router Replacement: Asus RT-ACRH13

RT-ACRH13 being flashed.

I’ve been running a TP-Link Archer C7 flashed with OpenWRT at home since early 2016 (and a TP-Link 1043ND with OpenWRT for years before that), but since I moved into my current place over the summer it has been falling over every couple weeks. It hasn’t been logging anything (I have a flash drive mounted that it persistent logs to) but goes down until hard reset, most likely just because of the load of two heavy stream/video-conference/file-sync users (…and probably not because of my kitten chewing on the antennas. Probably.) Rather than updating/diagnosing I decided that was a good excuse for a new faster router.

TL;DR: The Asus RT-ACRH13 is an excellent current-production OpenWRT host for ~$65 with only minor install challenges, and represents a significant upgrade over the Archer C7.

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