My son is growing up with computers. He’s in first grade, and had to list all of the things that he knows how to do with them. The list included things like mousing around, drawing ghosts with the paint program, and — sign of the times — muting and unmuting the microphone when he’s in teleconferences. Oh yeah, and type emojis. He loves emojis.
When I was just about his age, I was also getting into computers. But home computers back then were in their early years as well. And if I look back, I’ve been getting more sophisticated about computers at just about the same pace that they’ve been getting more sophisticated themselves. I was grade school during the prime of the BASIC computers — the age of the Apple II and the C64. I was in high school for the dawn of the first Macs and the Amiga. By college, the Pentiums’ insane computational abilities just started to match my needs for them to solve numerical differential equations. And in grad school, the rise of the overclockable multi-cores and GPUs powered me right on through a simulation-heavy dissertation.
When I was a kid, they were playthings, and as a grownup, they’re powerful tools. Because of this, computers have never been intimidating. I grew up with computers.
But back to my son. I don’t know if it’s desirable, or even possible, to pretend that computers aren’t immensely complex for the sake of a first grader — he’d see right through the lie anyway. But when is the right age to teach kids about voice recognition and artificial neural networks? It’s a given that we’ll have to teach him some kind of “social media competence” but that’s not really about computers any more than learning how to use Word was about computers back in my day. Consuming versus creating, tweeting versus hacking. Y’know?
Of course every generation has its own path. Hackers older than me were already in high-school or college when it became possible to build your own computer, and they did. Younger hackers grew up with the Internet, which obviously has its advantages. Those older than me made the computers, and those younger have always lived in a world where the computer is mature and taken for granted. But folks about my age, we grew up with computers.
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If we were to think of a retrocomputer, the chances are we might have something from the classic 8-bit days or maybe a game console spring to mind. It’s almost a shock to see mundane desktop PCs of the DOS and Pentium era join them, but those machines now form an important way to play DOS and Windows 95 games which are unsuited to more modern operating systems. For those who wish to play the games on appropriate hardware without a grubby beige mini-tower and a huge CRT monitor, there’s even the option to buy one of these machines new: in the form of a much more svelte Pentium-based PC104 industrial PC.
We’ve seen many inventive enclosures for single board computers over the years: some are decorative, others utilitarian, and yet more tailored to an application. This one from [Daniel Hepper] manages to be all three: a practical enclosure for an OrangePi Zero LTS running the PiHole web spam filter, enclosed in a seemingly unopened Spam tin.
The inspiration came from an out-of-date tin of Spam, a souvenir that had lain around for a decade. It had a paper label that could be carefully removed, after which a Dremel was used to cut an aperture in the reverse of the tin. The tasty-but-expired luncheon meat could then be scooped out, and a 3D-printed carrier for the OrangePi slid in. The label reattached, it looks for all the world like an unopened tin of Spam with a PoE cable emerging from its behind.
With laptops having become a commodity item and single-board computers having conquered the lower end for our community, building a PC for yourself is no longer the rite of passage that it once was; except perhaps if you are a gamer. But there is still plenty of fun to be had in selecting and assembling PC hardware, especially if as [makerunit] did, you design and 3D-print your own case.
This is no motherboard in an old pizza box, but instead a highly compact and well-designed receptacle for a reasonable-performance gaming machine with an ITX motherboard. The chassis holding all the parts sits inside a slide-on textured sleeve, and particular attention has been paid to air flow and cooling. The GPU card is a little limited by the size of the case and there’s no room at all for a conventional hard drive, so a PCIe SSD board takes that role.
We’d hazard the opinion that were this case cranked out by the likes of Apple it would be hailed as some kind of design masterpiece, such is its quality. It certainly shows that there’s so much more to building your own PC than the normal rectangular tower case.
The venerable ATX standard was developed in 1995 by Intel, as an attempt to standardize what had until then been a PC ecosystem formed around the IBM AT PC’s legacy. The preceding AT form factor was not so much a standard as it was the copying of the IBM AT’s approximate mainboard and with it all of its flaws.
With the ATX standard also came the ATX power supply (PSU), the standard for which defines the standard voltage rails and the function of each additional feature, such as soft power on (PS_ON). As with all electrical appliances and gadgets during the 1990s and beyond, the ATX PSUs became the subject of power efficiency regulations, which would also lead to the 80+ certification program in 2004.
Writing a command line program that needs a little more pizzaz? Ncurses just not colorful or high res enough? Or maybe you want to bring the demo scene to the command line. Notcurses has your back. The demo is great, and looks like it can push out enough detail to pull off silliness like pushing an SNES game’s output straight to the console. What might be the most impressive element of the library is that while it can blit high res graphics through a terminal emulator with graphical support, it will also work on the basic Linux console, with no graphical system installed, by using some very old tricks. I know what you’re wondering: That’s all well and good, but can it run Doom? Yep. Come back after the break for a demo. Continue reading “Terminal Magic With Notcurses”→
How long has it been since a computer could boast about the fact that it contained 2,500 transistors? Probably close to half a century now, at a guess. So in a world with a couple of billion transistors per chip, is a 2,500-transistor computer really something to brag about? Yes. Yes, it is.
The CPU-less computer, called the TraNOR by its creator [Dennis Kuschel], is an elaboration on his previous MyNOR, another CPU-less machine that used a single NOR-gate made of discrete transistors as the core of its arithmetic-logic unit (ALU). Despite its architectural simplicity, MyNOR was capable of some pretty respectable performance, and even managed to play a decent game of Tetris. TraNOR, on the other hand, is much more complicated, mainly due to the fact that instead of relying on 74HC-series chips, [Dennis] built every single gate on the machine from discrete MOSFETs. The only chips on the four stacked PCBs are a trio of memory chips; we don’t fault him at all for the decision not to build the memory — he may be dedicated, but even art has its limits. And TraNOR is indeed a work of art — the video below shows the beautiful board layouts, with seemingly endless arrays of SMD transistors all neatly arranged and carefully soldered. And extra points for using Wintergatan’s marble machine melody as the soundtrack, too.
As much as we loved the original, TraNOR is really something special. Not only is it beautiful, but it’s functional — it’s even backward-compatible with MyNOR’s custom software. Hats off to [Dennis] for pulling off another wonderful build, and for sharing it with us.