66% or better

UTF-8 – “The most elegant hack”

unicode

While it may not look like much, the image above is a piece of the original email where [Ken Thompson] described what would become the implementation of UTF-8. At the dawn of the computer age in America, when we were still using teletype machines, encoding the English language was all we worried about. Programmers standardized on the ASCII character set, but there was no room for all of the characters used in other languages. To enable real-time worldwide communication, we needed something better. There were many proposals, but the one submitted by [Ken Thompson] and [Rob 'Commander' Pike] was the one accepted, quite possibly because of what a beautiful hack it is.

[Tom Scott] did an excellent job of describing the UTF-8. Why he chose to explain it in the middle of a busy cafe is beyond us, but his enthusiasm was definitely up to the task. In the video (which is embedded after the break) he quickly shows the simplicity and genius of ASCII. He then explains the challenge of supporting so many character sets, and why UTF-8 made so much sense.

We considered making this a Retrotechtacular, but the consensus is that understanding how UTF-8 came about is useful for modern hackers and coders. If you’re interested in learning more, there are tons of links in this Reddit post, including a link to the original email.

[Read more...]

[Bob] shows us how to make DIY calendars for vintage computer geeks

nixie-tubes

[Bob Alexander] wrote in to share a hobby of his that we thought was pretty timely considering the new year is quickly approaching. For several years now he has put together a custom calendar for himself, including both dates he finds important along with sweet pictures of vintage computer equipment. Friends and family found his calendars so intriguing that they asked him to make some for them as well.

Each year his stack of calendar requests grew, and he found that no outlet – online or otherwise could produce exactly what he wanted. Instead of settling, he wrote a small application that lets him customize and print calendars to his heart’s content.

We think this is much cooler than buying one at your local bookstore, and we’re guessing that our readers likely agree. If you were creating your own custom calendar, what cool vintage computer hardware would you choose to display? What if you were designing a Hack-a-Day calendar? Let us know in the comments – we’re itching to find something interesting to look at while we count down to New Year’s Eve!

Welcome to the petacentre

[Cory Doctorow] obtained access to a few data centers that deal in petabyte storage. The demand for data storage and processing doesn’t show any sign of stopping. It’s especially relevant when people need the resources to manage not only things like Google searches, but also email, customer transactions, and in the case of CERN, physics calculations. [Doctorow] drew an interesting conclusion from his experiences with the data centers; any innovation that the petabyte centers work on will eventually drift on down to the ordinary user, in laptop or desktop innovation. The petabyte center is easily duplicated with materials that are available for purchase to the average computer user; the only obstacles are price and space.

[via Boing Boing]

Tongue drive system turns mouth into virtual keyboard


Researchers at Georgia Tech are working on a Tongue Drive System, which transforms the tongue into a tool that can manipulate computers and manage appliances and wheelchairs. This project has huge implications for the disabled, especially for those with few motor skills and limited movement. Many disabled Americans are paralyzed from the neck down, and this system could be a literal lifesaver, providing them with a method of communication and control over their own lives. Scientists have been attracted to the tongue’s potential for a long time. It provides several advantages over using other organs or appendages. It’s very sensitive, tactile, is not connected to the spinal cord, and does not usually end up being harmed in accidents. By placing a tiny magnet underneath the tongue, it’s transformed into a virtual keyboard. Sensors placed in the cheek track the magnet’s movement and processes the commands into directions for electronics, be it a wheelchair or a home appliance. We’re excited to see where this will go.