Article note: My desire for a Quadra 700/900/950 as an A/UX box is growing almost as fast as the average prices for the hardware. One day I'll get lucky...
The crop of personal computers available in the last decade of the 20th century were markedly faster, more capable, and more connected than their primitive ancestors. Clock speeds and transistor counts were rapidly increasing, and the decreasing cost of memory and storage was opening up new avenues for the personal computer to evolve from an expensive desk accessory into a tool for multimedia and professional graphics design.
In 1991, the Intel i486DX was one of the hottest processors on the market—literally. It was one of the first that all but required a heatsink, and a cooling fan was a good option for processors with higher clockspeeds. But for Apple, the PowerPC architecture was still below the horizon, leaving just one choice for high-performance Macintosh computers in the early 90s: the Motorola 68040 microprocessor.
What a beast. The '040 was a substantial upgrade over the '030 that had previously been used by Apple. It featured 1.2 million transistors, over four times as many as its predecessor. This processor increased the L1 cache size by a factor of eight to 4096 bytes, and it was the first 68k processor to have an on-board floating-point unit (FPU). While not without its drawbacks, the '040 processor was an obvious candidate for Apple's next line of premium workstations at time. And this line would become known as “Quadra,” starting with the Quadra 700 and 900 models in late 1991.
Article note: Aaand I just impulse bought one for $18 from Aliexpress.
I've wanted to play with a Zynq for a while, but not $100+ wanted, this even looks like a really nice BoB.
One of the exciting trends in hardware availability is the inexorable move of FPGA boards and modules towards affordability. What was once an eye-watering price is now merely an expensive one, and no doubt in years to come will become a commodity. There’s still an affordability gap at the bottom of the market though, so spotting sub-$20 Xilinx Zynq boards on AliExpress that combine a Linux-capable ARM core and an FPGA on the same silicon is definitely something of great interest. A hackerspace community friend of mine ordered one, and yesterday it arrived in the usual anonymous package from China.
There’s a Catch, But It’s Only A Small One
There are two boards to be found for sale, one featuring the Zynq 7000 and the other the 7010, which the Xilinx product selector tells us both have the same ARM Cortex A9 cores and Artix-7 FPGA tech on board. The 7000 includes a single core with 23k logic cells, and there’s a dual-core with 28k on the 7010. It was the latter that my friend had ordered.
So there’s the good news, but there has to be a catch, right? True, but it’s not an insurmountable one. These aren’t new products, instead they’re the controller boards for an older generation of AntMiner cryptocurrency mining rigs. The components have 2017 date codes, so they’ve spent the last three years hooked up to a brace of ASIC or GPU boards in a mining data centre somewhere. The ever-changing pace of cryptocurrency tech means that they’re now redundant, and we’re the lucky beneficiaries via the surplus market.
Getting To The Linux Shell Is This Easy!
On the PCB is the Zynq chip in a hefty BGA with its I/O lines brought out to a row of sockets for the miner boards, Ethernet, an SD card slot, a few LEDs and buttons, and an ATX 12V power socket. The serial and JTAG ports are easily identifiable and readily accessible, and connecting a USB-to-serial adapter to the former brought us to a Linux login prompt. A little bootloader shell wizardry allowed the password to be reset, and there we were with a usable shell on the thing. Changing a jumper allows booting from the SD card, so it would be extremely straightforward to bring your own ARM Linux build onto the device to replace the AntMiner one, and since the Zynq can load its FPGA code from within Linux this makes for an extremely accessible FPGA dev board for the price.
These boards seem to be offered by multiple vendors, which indicates that there must be quite a few in the supply chain. Stocks will inevitably run out though so don’t despair if you fail to snag one. Instead they are indicative of a growing trend of application specific FPGA boards being reimagined as general purpose dev boards by our community (for example the Lattice FPGA in a hackable LED driver board we featured back in January). It’s a fair certainty that they’ll be joined by others as their generation of FPGA tech starts to be replaced.
Article note: Isn't this like the 3rd in a row to go down on something like that? What is it about machining bands that attracts that particular flavor of sociopath?
Dana Biggs, the former director of the University of Kentucky’s marching band, resigned amid a sexual harassment investigation earlier this fall, documents obtained from the university show. Biggs engaged in … Click to Continue »
Article note: A compact telling with the things not documented until recently included. Nice.
In one form or another, C has influenced the shape of almost every programming language developed since the 1980s. Some languages like C++, C#, and objective C are intended to be direct successors to the language, while other languages have merely adopted and adapted C’s syntax. A programmer conversant in Java, PHP, Ruby, Python or Perl will have little difficulty understanding simple C programs, and in that sense, C may be thought of almost as a lingua franca among programmers.
But C did not emerge fully formed out of thin air as some programming monolith. The story of C begins in England, with a colleague of Alan Turing and a program that played checkers.
God Save the King
Christopher Strachey was known as the “person who wrote perfect programs,” as noted in a long profile from the journal, Annals of the History of Computing. It was a reputation he acquired at the Manchester University Computing Center in 1951. Strachey ended up there, working on the school’s Ferranti Mark I computer through an old King’s College, Cambridge, connection, Alan Turing.
Article note: And there it is. Greg (Greg Kurtzer, of CAOS, Warewulf, Perceus, Singularity fame. Greg is very good people.) has already registered rockylinux.org and pointed it at a comment he posted to on the "CentOS is being turned into RHEL's beta channel" announcement that he'd spin up a new community RHEL compatible.
Article note: Huh. Not sure how I feel about this for the use-cases I have for CentOS.
Mostly CentOS is great for long-term stability and dealing with crusty software that only supports RHEL and its quirks without paying a subscription for software we'll have to support ourselves anyway, but having something a little more modern and less prone to weird legacy behavior should also be nice, as long as rough compatibility is maintained.
It's also basically converging to the Debian model with Corporate support (Fedora = Unstable, CentOS = Testing, RHEL = Stable).
Article note: They bribed whole automation research groups out of academia with VC money they grifted on the hype cycle. They used self-driving hype as an advertised avenue to profitability that didn't require they own up to "mass exploitation of workers in unstable below minimum wage jobs."
And they're out.
Aurora, one of the nation's leading self-driving startups, will become the new owner of Uber's self-driving division, Aurora announced on Monday. In addition to turning over Uber's self-driving division, known as the Uber Advanced Technology Group (ATG), Uber will also pump $400 million into Aurora.
In exchange, Uber will get a minority stake in Aurora and Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi will get a seat on Aurora's board.
The deal allows Uber to unload a self-driving division that has struggled to regain its footing ever since an Uber ATG vehicle struck and killed a pedestrian in March 2018. Uber shut down its on-road testing for several months after that incident, and the program has faced lingering public skepticism ever since. It's not clear if the deal will lead to layoffs at Uber ATG.
Article note: Every now and then the PA folks make a comic we'll be referring to for ages.
I expect this one, reminding us that the dying remains of movie theaters were always horrible, will be one such.
Article note: I'm getting a little "I told you so" out of this one. Docker's prominence always confused me because it was a bulky veneer over relatively straightforward OS features (possibly owing largely to Linux's slow-to-mature isolation features?).
I'm still a little less than enthused about the level of adoption that containers have, because containers mostly only make sense if we've utterly failed at software, but...we have.