Unpicking The Hype Around Web 3, What’s The Tech?

The buzzword of the moment in the frothier portions of the technology press is inescapable: “Web 3”. This is a collective word for a new generation of decentralised online applications using blockchain technologies, and it follows on from a similar excitement in the mid-2000s surrounding so-called “Web 2” websites that broke away from the static pages of the early Internet.

It’s very evident reading up on Web 3, that there is a huge quantity of hype involved in talking about this Next Big Thing. If this were April 1st it would be tempting to pen a lengthy piece sending up the coverage, but here in January that just won’t do. Instead it’s time to peer under the hype and attempt to discern what Web 3 really is from a technology standpoint. Sure, a Web 3 application uses blockchain technology, often reported breathlessly as “the Blockchain” as though there were only one, but how? What is the real technology beneath it all?

Where Did All This Web 3 Stuff Come From Anyway?

"This machine is a server. DO NOT POWER IT DOWN!!" Tim Berners-Lee's famous sticker on the front of his NeXTcube, the first web server.
“This machine is a server. DO NOT POWER IT DOWN!!” Tim Berners-Lee’s famous sticker on the front of his NeXTcube, the first web server. Binary Koala CC BY-SA 2.0.

In its earliest days, the web could be found only in academia, from Tim Berners-Lee at CERN, and then from others such as the National Center For Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois. In the mid-1990s the vast majority of web sites were served by the NCSA’s HTTPD server software, which served as the basis for the later hugely popular Apache project. Sites from this era were later dubbed Web 1.0, and operated as static HTML pages which could be refreshed only by reloading a page.

The millennium brought us Web 2.0. This is generally taken to refer to a much slicker generation of sites that made use of user-generated content. Behind every such generational shift lies a fresh technology, and if it was the HTTP server for Web 1.0, it was the use of Javascript in the browser to refresh page content on the fly for Web 2.0. This was dubbed AJAX, for Asynchronous Javascript And XML, and though the data transfer is now much more likely to be JSON than XML it remains the way that today’s web sites blur the line between a web page and an app. Continue reading “Unpicking The Hype Around Web 3, What’s The Tech?”

The 3x0 in it's glory

Printing Your Own Exoskeleton

While not quite in a cave, the idea of making your own exoskeleton with limited tools does have a Tony Stark esque vibe. [Andrew Piccinno] is a mechanical engineer pursuing the dream of 3D printing a full-body exoskeleton called 3X0. It’s a project he’s been ruminating on since college, but the work really began in earnest about five months ago. Unfortunately, there are too many pictures to include here, but check out his Instagram or makeprojects for more photos.

To make sure parts fit, [Andrew] started with creating a mesh of his body. After running fifty pictures of himself holding relatively still through some photogrammetry software, he had a decent mesh. While measurements weren’t millimeter-accurate, the relative sizes of everything were reasonably accurate. While the design is modeled with his measurements in mind, all the different pieces are parametric, which in theory would allow someone to tweak the designs to fit their own body.

So far, all the parts have been entirely 3D printed, except for steel balls bearings, gas pistons, and tension bands. The non-3D printed parts are picked to be easy to obtain as the gas piston is just 100 N furniture pistons. The design process includes quite a bit of math, motion study, and simulation to make sure the part that he’s printing will not only fit but move correctly. Many parts, such as the shoulder, are built around a large custom bearing that allows the piece to move correctly with the user’s joints.

While still in the middle of development, [Andrew] has made some serious progress, and we’re looking forward to seeing it completed. The current design is primarily passive with just a few springs and pistons, but he is already looking forward to making it active to the degree that it can augment a user’s motions rather than just taking the load off. It’s clear that [Andrew] believes that exoskeletons are a look into a potential future, and we couldn’t agree more. In a similar vein, perhaps the techniques used in this powered exoskeleton arm on a budget could be used to power the 3X0?

When A Single Bit Was Enough, Into The Sound Of The ZX Spectrum

It’s normal for a computer in 2022 to come with a fully-featured sound card containing a complete synthesizer as well as high-quality PCM sound recording and playback. It’s referred to as a sound card after the way the hardware first appeared in the world of PCs, but in fact it’s now considered so essential as to be a built-in part of most mainboards. There was a time when computers boasted considerably less impressive sound hardware, and among the chorus of SIDs and AY chips of the perhaps the least well-featured was the original Sinclair ZX Spectrum. Its one-bit sound, a single line on an I/O port, is the subject of a thorough investigation from [Forgotten Computer]. It’s a long video which we’ve placed below the break, but for those with an interest in 8-bit music it should make a for a fascinating watch.

For Sir Clive Sinclair the 1-bit audio must have been welcome as it removed the need for an expensive sound chip and kept the Spectrum to its low price point, but on the face of it there was little more it could do than create simple beeps using Sinclair BASIC’s built-in BEEP command. The video gives us an in-depth look at how interleaving and PWM could be used to create much more complex sounds such as the illusion of multiple voices and even sampled sounds. In particular his technique of comparing the audio output with its corresponding pin on the Sinclair ULA shows the effect of the machine’s simple low-pass filter, though the music was often so close to the edge of what the interface could do that aliasing sounds are often very obvious.

As he demonstrates the various ingenious techniques that game and demo developers used to extract performance from such limited hardware that could even try to compete with the more sophisticated machines even at the same time as their code was running whatever was on the screen, it’s difficult not to come away with immense respect for their skills. If you’ve ever experimented with computer audio then you should try hardware this simple for yourself.

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