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Exploring the Future of Computing
Updated: 53 min 9 sec ago

The Amazing $1 Microcontroller

Monday 6th of November 2017 10:23:02 AM
As an embedded design consultant, the diverse collection of projects on my desk need an equally-diverse collection of microcontroller architectures that have the performance, peripheral selection, and power numbers to be the backbone of successful projects. At the same time, we all have our go-to chips - those parts that linger in our toolkit after being picked up in school, through forum posts, or from previous projects. 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. An amazingly detailed and well-organised resource.

ARM GCC cross compilation in Visual Studio

Friday 3rd of November 2017 02:34:05 PM
In Visual Studio 2017 15.5 Preview 2 we are introducing support for cross compilation targeting ARM microcontrollers. To enable this in the installation choose the Linux development with C++ workload and select the option for Embedded and IoT Development. This adds the ARM GCC cross compilation tools and Make to your installation. Our cross compilation support uses our Open Folder capabilities so there is no project system involved. We are using the same JSON configuration files from other Open Folder scenarios and have added additional options to support the toolchains introduced here. We hope that this provides flexibility for many styles of embedded development. The best way to get started with this and understand the capabilities is with a project exported from the ARM mbed online compiler. We'll cover the basics here, to learn more about the online compiler see ARM’s tutorials, and you can sign up for an account here.

Here are the Russia-linked Facebook ads released by Congress

Thursday 2nd of November 2017 09:35:49 AM
As part of this week's hearings into how Russia has used social media to influence American opinion, House lawmakers released several Facebook and Instagram ads linked to Kremlin meddling online. Although lawmakers have not yet released the full cache of ads, which includes about 3,000 examples provided to Congress by Facebook, the so-far disclosed ads offer one of the closest looks yet at the Russian operation. Some of these ads and fake accounts are quite fascinating - they're clearly designed not just to promote Trump, but also to rile up different groups - from the LGBT community to proponents of the US 2nd amendment - against each other. Oh, and also to pitch a fight between Clinton and Jesus.

The Improbable Origins of PowerPoint

Thursday 2nd of November 2017 08:47:19 AM
PowerPoint is so ingrained in modern life that the notion of it having a history at all may seem odd. But it does have a very definite lifetime as a commercial product that came onto the scene 30 years ago, in 1987. Remarkably, the founders of the Silicon Valley firm that created PowerPoint did not set out to make presentation software, let alone build a tool that would transform group communication throughout the world. Rather, PowerPoint was a recovery from dashed hopes that pulled a struggling startup back from the brink of failure - and succeeded beyond anything its creators could have imagined. Fascinating story. I despise PowerPoint because PowerPoint presentations are difficult to translate (my actual job), but there's no denying it's used in meeting rooms all over the world - for better or worse.

Russia's meddling could spell the end of online anonymity

Wednesday 1st of November 2017 11:33:18 PM
This week, representatives from Google, Facebook, and Twitter are appearing before House and Senate subcommittees to answer for their role in Russian manipulation during the 2016 election, and so far, the questioning has been brutal. Facebook has taken the bulk of the heat, being publicly called out by members of Congress for missing a wave of Russian activity until months after the election. But one of the most interesting parts of yesterday's proceedings actually came after the big companies had left the room, and a national security researcher named Clint Watts took the floor. Watts is one of the most respected figures in the nascent field of social media manipulation - and when it came time to diagnose root of Russia's platform meddling, he put much of the blame on the decision to allow anonymous accounts. As long as Russian operatives can get on Twitter and Facebook without identifying themselves, Watts diagnosed, foreign actors will be able to quietly influence our politics. I decided to keep this particular part of the hearings currently underway out of the previous item I posted because I feel it's too important not to be discussed on its own merit. The concept of anonymity online is a complex issue, and instinctively, I want to say it's one of the greatest things about the internet. What part of it are we willing to give up - assuming we still have it or parts of it to begin with - to prevent dictators like Putin from meddling with our elections?

Facebook, Google, Twitter spread Russian-backed propaganda

Wednesday 1st of November 2017 11:31:10 PM
Top officials from Facebook, Google, and Twitter told a congressional panel Tuesday that their platforms hosted a disinformation campaign carried out over their networks by Russian state actors. The propaganda centered on the presidential election, immigration, gun rights, gay rights, and racial issues, the companies said. None of the three organizations said they supported proposed legislation requiring them to disclose who is buying political advertisements on their platforms, although these Web companies promised more public transparency about who is buying ads on their networks. All political spending must be disclosed in some form or another in most countries, so I see no reason why ad spending on Facebook or Twitter should be any different. I also like the idea to make it illegal - or impossible - for foreign entities to buy ad space for political content; as in, a French entity would not be able to buy political ads in The Netherlands. It's already illegal in, say, the US for foreign entities to donate or spend money on candidates, so there's definitely precedent. The real issue, however, is that it might be hard, though, to define what is a political ad, and what isn't.

Apple let a few YouTubers post the first iPhone X reviews

Tuesday 31st of October 2017 09:45:36 AM
Update (original story below): the real review embargo has been lifted, and it turns out Apple gave reviewers only 24 hours between handing over the phone and lifting the embargo. This raised another red flag for me, and my red flags may have merit: it turns out Face ID is not exactly without issues. Nilay Patel details that while Face ID works quite well inside, it has issues outside in the sun or under fluorescent lighting. It regularly just wouldn't recognise his face in these environments. The other problem is actually much more interesting: almost all of the early questions about FaceID centered around how it would work in the dark, but it turns out that was exactly backwards. FaceID works great in the dark, because the IR projector is basically a flashlight, and flashlights are easy to see in the dark. But go outside in bright sunlight, which contains a lot of infrared light, or under crappy florescent lights, which interfere with IR, and FaceID starts to get a little inconsistent. I took a walk outside our NYC office in bright sunlight, and FaceID definitely had issues recognizing my face consistently while I was moving until I went into shade or brought the phone much closer to my face than usual. I also went to the deli across the street, which has a wide variety of lights inside, including a bunch of overhead florescent strips, and FaceID also got significantly more inconsistent. I'm not spending a lot more time on iPhone X reviews today, because it's impossible to review a phone in 24 hours. Beware of the reviews you're reading online today, and to Patel's credit, they clearly label their "review" as a work-in-progress draft that they'll be updating based on questions from users. As such, it doesn't carry any advice or grades or anything like that, which is commendable. I haven't had time to dive into other 24-hour "reviews" just yet (it's the middle of a workday here, after all). All in all, this is a very strange launch and review situation, and while it's too early to tell if Apple is truly insecure, the early signs of Face ID issues definitely don't help to alleviate my red flags. Apple's iPhone X - its most anticipated new phone in a very long time - goes on sale this Friday, Nov. 3. So sometime this week, as usual, you'll be able to read and watch a bunch of serious-sounding reviews, as Professional Gadget Reviewers critique everything from bezels to battery life. But Apple did something different this year. It invited a handful of YouTubers you probably haven't heard of to its fancy penthouse in New York, gave them some early hands-on time with the iPhone X, and let them publish their videos a day or more in advance of the official reviews. (It also let Wired/Backchannel's Steven Levy write a "first first impression of the iPhone X" post because Steven Levy. It also gave one to Axios co-founder Mike Allen, who had his nephew play with it. And Mindy Kaling for Glamour. And The Ellen Show.) This is quite remarkable. Why would Apple invite a number of relatively unknown YouTubers to a fancy event, hand them a few restrictive talking points and an hour or so of hands-on-time, and allow them to call their videos "reviews", well before the real review embargo is lifted? This is basically just a repeat of the hands-on time journalists, bloggers, and YouTubers got after the launch event a few weeks ago. This is a carefully orchestrated "control the message" type of thing, and all the videos are practically identical, with the same limited number of talking points, all shot in the same fancy nondescript loft-like Apple Store (?) somewhere in New York City. Apple clearly wanted this to be the first thing people saw of the iPhone X. No critical reviews by detail-oriented people like MKBHD, Dieter Bohn or heck, even John Gruber (who is not happy with this). No, Apple invited small-time YouTubers who are easily impressed to make the video of their lifetimes to ensure they'd get nothing but shallow, fuzzy good press. It reeks of insecurity, and if I didn't know any better, I'd be very worried about just what the heck is wrong with this phone.

When man meets metal: rise of the transhumans

Tuesday 31st of October 2017 12:55:38 AM
Earlier this year I went to an event in Austin, Texas, billed as a sneak preview of the evolution of our species. The #Bdyhax Conference, which took place in a downtown exhibition complex, promised a front-row insight into the coming "singularity" - that nirvana foretold by science fiction in which biology and technology would fuse and revolutionise human capability and experience. The headline acts of the conference were mostly bodyhackers - DIY experimenters who, in their basements and garages, seek to enhance their own flesh and blood with biometric implants and cognitive enablers. These brave pioneers were extending their senses, overcoming physical limitation, Dan-Daring themselves and the rest of us into the future. This will only get more advanced as the years go by. For now, actual technological augmentations and implants are mostly reserved for people who actually need them - things like prosthetic legs or a pacemaker - but eventually, we'll start to develop augmentations to enhance the senses or abilities of the human body for people who are otherwise healthy. Your body, your rules, but scary nonetheless.

Replacing exploit-ridden firmware with a Linux kernel

Sunday 29th of October 2017 05:44:11 PM
Two weeks ago, security researchers managed to disable the Intel Management Engine, and last week, Google held a talk at the Open Source Summit (née LinuxCon) in which they unveiled their plans to completely (well, almost completely) replace every bit of code between the operating system you know about (Windows, Linux, BSD, whatever) and the bare metal x86 processor (Intel-only, for now). With the WikiLeaks release of the vault7 material, the security of the UEFI (Unified Extensible Firmware Interface) firmware used in most PCs and laptops is once again a concern. UEFI is a proprietary and closed-source operating system, with a codebase almost as large as the Linux kernel, that runs when the system is powered on and continues to run after it boots the OS (hence its designation as a "Ring -2 hypervisor"). It is a great place to hide exploits since it never stops running, and these exploits are undetectable by kernels and programs. Our answer to this is NERF (Non-Extensible Reduced Firmware), an open source software system developed at Google to replace almost all of UEFI firmware with a tiny Linux kernel and initramfs. The initramfs file system contains an init and command line utilities from the u-root project (, which are written in the Go language. Both the slides from the talk and the video are available.

The iPad Pro as main computer for programming

Thursday 26th of October 2017 04:42:14 PM
In the summer of 2017, I wanted to know what it would be like to use an iPad Pro as my main computer. I found out that it can actually work, thanks to an iOS app called Blink, an SSH replacement called Mosh, iOS 11 and running stuff on a server. You could argue the title is a tad bit misleading - there's a lot of thin client DNA in his setup - but it's an interesting look at how to achieve this, nonetheless.

Google Pixelbook review: emperor of Chrome

Thursday 26th of October 2017 04:38:02 PM
Dieter Bohn: When I think about whether the Pixelbook could reasonably replace a MacBook or a Windows laptop, my gut says that, for most people, the answer is "no." To solve the "last 10 percent" on a Pixelbook, you really have to be very savvy about how to navigate the different computing paradigms of Chrome and Android to make the whole thing work - and even then, it's not easy. Unless you're an expert in the ways of both the web and Android, it shouldn't be your only computer. If I were Apple or Microsoft, I would be thinking a lot about the generation of students who are savvy with Chromebooks and Android apps, and who might just want the same thing they're used to from their classroom, just in a much nicer package. I don't know that it'll happen this year, though. Honestly, I think the iPad Pro is a better comparison. On both devices, you can get quite a lot more done than you'd expect, but you have to deeply understand how the platform works to get there. And if you're debating between them, here's the TL;DR: the iPad Pro has better apps, is a tablet-first device, and has a worse web browser. The Pixelbook has worse apps, is a laptop-first device, and has a better web browser. Dieter Bohn hits the nail on the head here - devices like the iPad Pro or the Pixelbook aren't so much about converting traditional longtime desktop/laptop users - they're about making sure that kids currently growing up with iOS and Android/Chrome OS devices in their pocket or at school have a powerful, all-purpose computing device they already know how to work with and that they already like for the future. It's similar to how people wanted to have the same computer at home as they were using at work - IBM-compatible PCs with DOS and later Windows. The fact that the iPad Pro and Pixelbook are already as good as they are should really worry Microsoft, most of all.

AMD's Ryzen CPU with Vega graphics threatens Kaby Lake

Thursday 26th of October 2017 04:32:39 PM
AMD's Ryzen and Threadripper processors re-established AMD's chips as competitive with Intel's. While the AMD parts gave up a bit of performance to their Intel rivals, especially in single-threaded tasks - a result of the combination of slightly lower clock speeds and slightly inferior instructions-per-cycle (IPC) - they shine in multithreaded tasks, with AMD often offering many more cores and threads than Intel for the same or less money. In the mainstream desktop space, Intel's Coffee Lake chips have reasserted that company's dominance; Skylake-X does the same in the high-end desktop space, too, albeit at a high price. But things are looking like they're going to be different in the mobile space. That's because the two new chips, the Ryzen 7 2700U and Ryzen 5 2500U, show signs of being faster in both processor and graphics tasks than Intel's latest comparable chips. These chips also bode well for supposed upcoming AMD APUs, which I'm looking forward to as a way to build a relatively cheap but still powerful secondary machine.

Google releases Android 8.1 preview, Android Studio 3.0

Wednesday 25th of October 2017 09:58:39 PM
Today we're giving you an early look at Android 8.1. This update to Android Oreo includes a set of targeted enhancements including optimizations for Android Go (for devices with 1GB or less of memory) and a new Neural Networks API to accelerate on-device machine intelligence. We've also included a few smaller enhancements to Oreo in response to user and developer feedback. Android 8.1 while literally nobody is even using Android 8.0 yet. OK Google, OK. Coinciding with the Android 8.1 developer preview, Google also released Android Studio 3.0. This release of Android Studio is packed with many new updates, but there are three major feature areas you do not want to miss, including: a new suite of app profiling tools to quickly diagnose performance issues, support for the Kotlin programming language, and a new set of tools and wizards to accelerate your development on the latest Android Oreo APIs.

Office Mobile is much more than a simple set of mobile apps

Wednesday 25th of October 2017 09:55:02 PM
Microsoft's set of Office Mobile apps are great. I prefer them over the full Office suite. I realize that a lot of people find the Office Mobile apps to be subpar. But there are people out there for whom the Office Mobile apps are more than fine. Why isn't Microsoft doing anything with them? I posed this same question not too long ago. The Metro Office applications are the best Metro applications out there, and they prove it's definitely possible to build good, useable, fast, and useful Metro applications. I find it entirely baffling that Microsoft is doing whatever it takes to push users to the slower, more cumbersome, overloaded, and entirely overkill Win32 Office applications. If Microsoft implemented the ability to open multiple instances of each app, most people would get by just fine with the Metro ones.

Purism Librem laptops disable Intel's Management Engine

Tuesday 24th of October 2017 07:00:58 PM
Only a few weeks after the news that security researchers had managed to completely disable the Intel Management Engine, Purism has announced it's disabling the IME on all of its available Librem laptops. Purism's Librem Laptops, running coreboot, are now available with the Intel Management Engine completely and verifiably disabled. The Management Engine (ME), part of Intel AMT, is a separate CPU that can run and control a computer even when powered off. The ME has been the bane of the security market since 2008 on all Intel based CPUs, with publicly released exploits against it, is now disabled by default on all Purism Librem laptops. Disabling the Management Engine is no easy task, and it has taken security researchers years to find a way to properly and verifiably disable it. Purism, because it runs coreboot and maintains its own BIOS firmware update process has been able to release and ship coreboot that disables the Management Engine from running, directly halting the ME CPU without the ability of recovery. Great move.

Another year: the iPhone is still the best choice for most people

Monday 23rd of October 2017 10:42:33 AM
Over the weekend, people with review units of the Pixel 2 XL began noticing a problem. No, not the already-known issues of muddy color and grainy textures when viewed in low-light, but one that's potentially more worrisome: screen burn-in. First reported on Twitter by Android Central's Alex Dobie, multiple people have noticed that when you look at the screen with a gray background, you can see faint outlines of the phone's navigation buttons on the bottom. You can see it below, and I can confirm I'm seeing something similar on my own review unit. The display problems of the Pixel 2 XL - due to its LG-made panel - are baffling. Google claims it's getting serious about hardware, but putting a panel in your flagship phone that isn't only sub-par when it's working, but is also showing burn-in after mere days of use, is wholly and utterly inexcusable. This is not a budget, €150 phone - this is a flagship phone with a flagship price, and consumers deserve better than this clearly garbage display. Another year, another round of flagships, another year of the iPhone simply being the best all-round option for most, normal people. For most average, normal people, the iPhone will give them an easy-to-use, secure, and updated phone with a decent resale value two to three years down the line. Additionally, Apple Stores or official Apple retailers are widespread, so you often have easy access to in-person customer service. Samsung/HTC/LG phones don't get updates - or only six months after the fact - but carry the same flagship price, often leaving their users with insecure and out of date software. The Nexus program no longer exists, and Google's Pixel phones are only available in like 2 countries, and on top of that, its flagship model has a display worse than my Palm T|X. The Android market is in a terrible state right now. Anybody who doesn't care about software and hardware the way most of us do is, years and years in, still best served by an iPhone. Depending on budget, get an iPhone 6S, 7, or 8 (forget the ridiculously overpriced iPhone X); the Android world simply doesn't have a phone that can compete with any of those three - and that's a sad state of affairs. Google has been wholly unable to address the biggest problems Android suffers from - most notably, updates - and we're way past the point where this can be excused without really scraping the bottom of the barrel of excuses. Suggesting non-nerdy, regular people get an Android phone at this point in time is simply irresponsible.

The Xerox Alto, Smalltalk, and rewriting a running GUI

Monday 23rd of October 2017 09:55:30 AM
We succeeded in running the Smalltalk-76 language on our vintage Xerox Alto; this blog post gives a quick overview of the Smalltalk environment. One unusual feature of Smalltalk is you can view and modify the system's code while the system is running. I demonstrate this by modifying the scrollbar code on a running system. Smalltalk is a highly-influential programming language and environment that introduced the term "object-oriented programming" and was the ancestor of modern object-oriented languages. The Alto's Smalltalk environment is also notable for its creation of the graphical user interface with the desktop metaphor, icons, scrollbars, overlapping windows, popup menus and so forth. When Steve Jobs famously visited Xerox PARC, the Smalltalk GUI inspired him on how the Lisa and Macintosh should work. Be sure to read the comments after the article itself, since it includes comments and clarifications from none other than Alan Kay himself.

Puerto Rican iPhone users given access to Loon balloons

Sunday 22nd of October 2017 05:04:46 PM
Apple, AT&T, the FCC and Alphabet's X division have all put into motion efforts to give residents of Puerto Rico more cellular connectivity. Apple has been working with AT&T to extend and activate cell service for users in Puerto Rico. To improve what is a terrible connectivity situation there, it’s going to enable a provisional band of LTE that has been recently approved, but not activated in the US and Puerto Rico, where it has not been licensed. This will allow iPhones to connect to Alphabet X's Project Loon balloons in the region, which were activated today. This should allow users to send text messages and access some critical online services. It's always a welcome change of pace to see companies like this working together to help people in need. Good work, Alphabet/Google, Apple, and AT&T. Now there's a sentence you won't hear very often.

PC-MOS released under GPL

Saturday 21st of October 2017 09:51:13 PM
The old PC-MOS was released under the GNU GPL this Summer. From Wikipedia: PC-MOS/386 was a multi-user, computer multitasking operating system produced by The Software Link (TSL), announced at COMDEX in November 1986 for February 1987 release.[1] PC-MOS/386, a successor to PC-MOS, can run many MS-DOS software titles on the host machine or a terminal connected to it. Unlike MS-DOS, PC-MOS/386 is optimized for the Intel 80386 processor; however early versions will run on any x86 computer. The GitHub project includes a 1.44MB disk image for the latest version that will work under VirtualBox, but does not include older versions of the operating system from before it required an 80386+. The system won't work properly if you set a modern date at the boot up prompt.

More in Tux Machines

Graphics: AMDGPU, Radeon, Intel DRM

  • AMDGPU DC Code Lands For Linux 4.15 Kernel
    Linus Torvalds has accepted the AMDGPU DC display code pull request for the Linux 4.15 kernel. AMD Linux users can now rejoice! Overnight David Airlie sent in the AMDGPU DC pull request for Linux 4.15 and since then Linus Torvalds was active on the kernel mailing list ranting about AMD header files and other unrelated to DC code. He was also pulling in other PRs... It was getting a bit worrisome, given the DC code not being in pristine shape, but it was exciting as heck to see this evening that he did go ahead and pull in the 132 thousand lines of new kernel code to land this AMDGPU DC. Linus hasn't provided any commentary about DC on the kernel mailing list as of writing.
  • Radeon VCN Encode Support Lands In Mesa 17.4 Git
    It's an exciting day for open-source Radeon Linux users today as besides the AMDGPU DC pull request (albeit still unmerged as of writing), Radeon VCN encoding support has landed in Mesa Git.
  • The - Hopefully - Final Stab At Intel Fastboot Support
    Intel's Maarten Lankhorst has sent out what could be the final patches for enabling "fastboot" support by default within their DRM graphics driver.

Raspberry Digital Signage 10

It shows web pages from Internet, LAN or internal sources (a WordPress installation comes already installed by default on the SD card); there is no way to escape this view but rebooting the machine. Marco Buratto has released Raspberry Digital Signage 10.0 today, which comes with the latest and greatest Chromium build (featuring advanced HTML5 capabilities, Adobe Flash support and H264/AVC video acceleration), so you can display more attractive resources, more easily. Read more

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