Apple Sucks Now, Here’s A ThinkPad Buyer’s Guide

For the last decade, Macs have been running a UNIX-ish operating system on x86 processors. They’ve been fantastic developer’s machines, and the MacBook Pro is the de facto standard laptop issued to all developers, all hackathon attendees, and arguably, anyone who does real work with a computer.

This week, Apple unveiled the latest MacBook Pro and provided more evidence Steve Jobs actually knew what he was doing. Fifteen hundred bones will get you a MacBook Pro with a last-gen processor, an Escape key, a headphone jack, and two Thunderbolt 3 ports (with one port required for charging). The next model up costs $1800, ditches the Escape key for a dedicated emoji bar, and includes four Thunderbolt 3 ports.

In the past, I have defended people who choose MacBooks as their laptop of choice. A MacBook is a business-class laptop, and of course carries a higher price tag. However, Apple’s latest hardware release was underwhelming and overpriced. If you’re looking for a new laptop, you would do well to consider other brands. To that end, here’s a buyer’s guide to ThinkPads, currently the second most popular laptop I’ve seen with the dev/hacker/code cracker crowd.

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Death To The 3.5mm Audio Jack, Long Live Wireless

There’s been a lot of fuss over Apple’s move to ditch the traditional audio jack. As for me, I hope I never have to plug in another headphone cable. This may come off as gleeful dancing on the gravesite of my enemy before the hole has even been dug; it kind of is. The jack has always been a pain point in my devices. Maybe I’ve just been unlucky. Money was tight growing up. I would save up for a nice set of headphones or an mp3 player only to have the jack go out. It was a clear betrayal and ever since I’ve regarded them with suspicion. Is this the best we could do?

I can’t think of a single good reason not to immediately start dumping the headphone jack. Sure it’s one of the few global standards. Sure it’s simple, but I’m willing to take bets that very few people will miss the era of the 3.5mm audio jack once it’s over. It’s a global episode of the sunk cost fallacy.

In the usual way hindsight is 20/20, the 3.5mm audio jack can be looked at as a workaround, a stop over until we didn’t need it.  It appears to be an historic kludge of hack upon hack until something better comes along. When was the last time it was common to hook an Ethernet cable into a laptop? Who would do this when we can get all the bandwidth we want reliably over a wireless connection. Plus, it’s not like most Ethernet cables even meet a spec well enough to meet the speeds they promise. How could anyone reasonably expect the infinitely more subjective and variable headphone and amplifier set to do better?

But rather than just idly trash it, I’d like to make a case against it and paint a possible painless and aurally better future.

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Smart Watch Hack Lets You Use Your 3.5mm Headphones With An iPhone 7

As you may have heard, the iPhone 7 is ditching the 3.5 mm headphone jack in the name of progress and courage. Whatever your take on that, it leaves the end user out in the cold if — for instance — their preferred headphones still use the old format. Here to save you from an untimely upgrade is YouTuber [Kedar Nimbalkar], who has modified a Bluetooth Smartwatch to incorporate a 3.5 mm jack to allow continued use your current headphones.

After opening up the smartwatch [Nimbalkar] removes the speaker, solders in a 3.5 mm headphone jack and clips out an opening in the watch’s case that maintains the watch’s sleek exterior.

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A New OS For Apple II Computers

Although this sort of work is usually reserved for KansasFest and other forums for highly technical and very skilled Apple enthusiasts, [John Brooks]’s release of a new version of the ProDOS operating system is no less important. It is, without a doubt, the greatest release the Apple II platform will see for the next few years. This swan song of the Apple II platform is simply ProDOS 2.4, an update to the last version of Apple’s ProDOS, last released in 1993.

For a bit of historical context, ProDOS was not the operating system that shipped with the Apple ][ in 1977. That OS was simply called DOS. ProDOS, released in 1983, included support for the new 3.5″ floppy drives, allowed for hierarchical directories, supported hardware interrupts, and kept the Apple ][ line going well into the 90s. Despite these improvements, not all Apple ][ systems were supported. The original ][ and ][+ were out in the cold. Now, with the ability to add Compact Flash and USB devices to an Apple ][, even the latest version of ProDOS is horribly out of date.

[John]’s release of ProDOS 2.4 fixes all of this. This release is the most important development in the Apple ][ ecosystem in recent memory, and will remain so for at least a decade. The only person who still uses an Apple ][ as a daily driver agrees, and ProDOS 2.4 is now enshrined in The Archive for all eternity.

prodos-2-4-bitsy-bye-768x543New features abound, although most of them are geared toward the now thirty-year-old Apple IIGS. These features include enhanced utility in GS/OS – the Apple equivalent of the Commodore GEOS – slot remapping, and an OS that is both smaller and loads faster. Older machines aren’t left out, and ProDOS includes the usual features and improvements found in ProDOS 2.x that weren’t available in the Apple ][, Apple ][+ and un-enhanced Apple //e.

The killer feature and one more thing of this release is the BitsyBye utility, a small ($300!) system program that allows you to boot various Apple II devices and programs. Think of this as the Norton Commander of the Apple II ecosystem, allowing slots to be selected, booting the most recently used ProDOS device, and basic file system exploration. BitsyBye also includes an easter egg. A few utilities are also included on the ProDOS 2.4 disk image including ADTPro, Shrinkit archive expander, and disk utilities.

A 140k ProDOS 2.4 disk image is available on [John]’s site and on Archive.org. Since you’re probably not downloading directly to an Apple II disk, grab ADTPro and load it over audio.

Top Ten Reasons Not To Buy A Fake MacBook Charger. Number Eight Will Shock You.

Yesterday, Apple showed the world how courageous they are by abandoning their entire PC market. It’s not time for a eulogy quite yet, but needless to say, Apple hardware was great, and the charger was even better. It had Magsafe, and didn’t start fires. What more could you ask for?

When it comes to fake MacBook chargers, you can ask for a lot more. [Ken Shirriff] has torn apart a number of these chargers, and his investigations allowed for an obvious pun in this post. The fake ones will make sparks thanks to the cost-saving design, and shouldn’t be used by anyone.

A genuine Apple MacBook charger is a phenomenal piece of engineering, but the fake one is not. In fact, it’s almost the simplest possible AC to DC converter. The mains power comes in, it’s chopped up into pulses, and these pulses are turned into a high-current, low-voltage output in a flyback transformer. This output is converted into DC with a few diodes, filtered, and wired into a MagSafe adapter.

The genuine MacBook charger is much more complicated. Like the cheap copy, it’s a switching power supply, but has a few features that make it much better. The genuine charger does power factor correction, uses quality caps, has real isolation on the PCB, and uses a microcontroller that’s almost as powerful (and a direct architectural descendant) as the CPU in the original Macintosh. It’s this microcontroller that kept you safe that one time you decided to lick a Magsafe connector not allowing the full 20 Volts to go through until the connector has connected. Until then, the Magsafe connector only outputs 0.6 Volts. The fake charger doesn’t do this, and when you poke the connector with a paper clip, sparks fly.

This isn’t [Ken]’s first teardown of genuine and not Apple products. He’s done iPad chargers, iPhone chargers, and other small, square, white switching power supplies. The takeaway from these teardowns is that cheap chargers are a false economy, and you probably should pony up the cash for the real version.

An Apple II Joystick Fix For Enjoyable Gameplay

We all remember the video games of our youth fondly, and many of us want to relive those memories and play those games again. When we get this urge, we usually turn first to emulators and ROMs. But, old console and computer games relied heavily on the system’s hardware to control the actual gameplay. Most retro consoles, like the SNES for example, rely on the hardware clock speed to control gameplay speed. This is why you’ll often experience games played on emulators as if someone is holding down the fast forward button.

The solution, of course, is to play the games on their original systems when you want a 100% accurate experience. This is what led [Chris Osborn] back to gameplay on an Apple II. However, he quickly discovered that approach had challenges of its own – specifically when it came to the joystick.

The Apple II joystick used a somewhat odd analog potentiometer design – the idea being that when you pushed the joystick far enough, it’d register as a move (probably with an eye towards smooth position-sensitive gameplay in the future). This joystick was tricky, the potentiometers needed to be adjusted, and sometimes your gameplay would be ruined when you randomly turned and ran into a pit in Lode Runner.

The solution [Chris] came up with was to connect a modern USB gamepad to a Raspberry Pi, and then set it to output the necessary signals to the Apple II. This allowed him to tune the output until the Apple II was responding to gameplay inputs consistently. With erratic nature of the original joystick eliminated, he could play games all day without risk of sudden unrequested jumps into pits.

The Apple II joystick is a weird beast, and unlike anything else of the era. This means there’s no Apple II equivalent of plugging a Sega controller into an Atari, or vice versa. If you want to play games on an Apple II the right way, you either need to find an (expensive) original Apple joystick, or build your own from scratch. [Chris] is still working on finalizing his design, but you can follow the gits for the most recent version.

Ever Buy Music From Apple? Use Linux? You Need This Tool

Sure, you’re a hardcore superuser, but that doesn’t mean you don’t enjoy the finer things in life — like shiny squircles and getting every new app first. But, what’s an OS-indiscriminate person like yourself going to do when it comes time to purchase music? That’s where the recover_itunes tool shines, and if you’re a Linux user with an iPhone, it might just be your new best friend.

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