Life After IRC – Your Move, Mozilla!

Last year marked the 30th anniversary of the Internet Relay Chat protocol (IRC) and it is hard to imagine that [Jarkko Oikarinen] could have foreseen the impact his invention would one day have on the world as we know it. How it would turn from a simple, decentralized real-time communication system for university-internal use into a global phenomenon, connecting millions of users all over the world, forming its own subculture, eventually reaching mainstream status in some parts of the world — including a Eurodance song about a bot topping European music charts.

Those days of glory, however, have long been gone, and with it the version of an internet where IRC was the ideal choice. What was once a refuge to escape the real world has since become the fundamental centerpiece of that same real world, and our ways of communicating with each other has moved on with it. Nevertheless, despite a shift in mainstream and everyday communication behavior, IRC is still relevant enough today, and going especially strong in the open source community, with freenode, as one of the oldest networks, being the most frequently used one, along some smaller ones like OFTC and Mozilla’s own dedicated network. But that is about to change.

Last month, Mozilla’s envoy [Mike Hoye] announced the decommissioning of irc.mozilla.org within “the next small number of months, and moving all communication to a new, or at least different system. And while this only affects Mozilla’s own, standalone IRC network and projects, and not the entire open source community, it is a rather substantial move, considering Mozilla’s overall reach and impact on the internet itself — past, present, and now even more the future. Let’s face it, IRC has been dying for years, but there is also no genuine alternative available yet that could truly replace it. With Mozilla as driving force, there is an actual chance that they will come up with a worthy replacement that transforms IRC’s spirit into the modern era.

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Zork And The Z-Machine: Bringing The Mainframe To 8-bit Home Computers

Computer games have been around about as long as computers have. And though it may be hard to believe, Zork, a text-based adventure game, was the Fortnite of its time. But Zork is more than that. For portability and size reasons, Zork itself is written in Zork Implementation Language (ZIL), makes heavy use of the brand-new concept of object-oriented programming, and runs on a virtual machine. All this back in 1979. They used every trick in the book to pack as much of the Underground Empire into computers that had only 32 kB of RAM. But more even more than a technological tour de force, Zork is an unmissable milestone in the history of computer gaming. But it didn’t spring up out of nowhere.

DEC PDP-10 Flip Chip module
DEC PDP-10 Flip Chip module

The computer revolution had just taken a fierce hold during the second World War, and showed no sign of subsiding during the 1950s and 1960s. More affordable computer systems were becoming available for purchase by businesses as well as universities. MIT’s Laboratory for Computer Science (LCS) was fortunate to have ties to ARPA, which gave MIT’s LCS and AI labs (formerly part of Project MAC) access to considerable computing resources, mostly in the form of DEC PDP systems.

The result: students at the MIT Dynamic Modeling Group (part of LCS) having access to a PDP-10 KA10 mainframe — heavy iron at the time. Though this PDP-10 was the original 1968 model with discrete transistor Flip Chip modules and wire-wrapping, it had been heavily modified, adding virtual memory and paging support to expand the original 1,152 kB of core memory. Running the MIT-developed Incompatible Timesharing System (ITS) OS, it was a highly capable multi-user system.

Naturally, it got mostly used for playing games.
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That Super Mario Bros. C64 Port Was Too Good For This World

It was foolish to think that the adventure of the Mario Bros. would ever exist outside of the castle walls of the Nintendo Entertainment System. Except for that one time it did. The Hudson Soft company was a close collaborator with Nintendo, and parlayed that favor into being tasked with bringing Super Mario Bros. to platforms beyond the NES. The result of that collaboration would be 1986’s Super Mario Special, a port for the NEC PC-88 line of desktop computers. What ended up on that 5.25″ floppy sounded reminiscent of the Famicom original, but with a grand total of four colors (including black) and not a single scrolling screen in sight; Super Mario Special felt decidedly less than spectacular to play. Those eternally flickering sprites mixed with jarring blank screen transitions would never make it outside of Japan, so for a large swath of the world Mario would remain constrained to a gray plastic cartridge for years to come.

There are no shortage of ways to play Super Mario Bros. these days. Emulation in all of its various official and unofficial forms has taken care of that. Virtually everything with a processor more capable than the NES’s 6502 can play host to the Mushroom Kingdom, however, machines more contemporary with the NES still lacked access to the iconic title.

Enter the 2019 port of Super Mario Bros. for the Commodore 64 by [ZeroPaige]. A culmination of seven years work to port the game onto one of the most prolific computers of the eighties was a clear feat of brilliance and an amazing bit of programming that would have taken 1986 by storm. No pale imitation, this was Mario on the C64. Despite all of the nuance in recreating the jump-and-run model of the original paired with enveloping all eight sound channels of a dual SID chip setup, Nintendo saw fit to stifle the proliferation of this incredible 170 kB of software because they claim it infringes on their copyright.

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The $50 Ham: Dummy Loads, Part 2

In the last installment of “The $50 Ham” I built a common tool used by amateur radio operators who are doing any kind of tuning or testing of transmitters: a dummy load. That build resulted in “L’il Dummy”, a small dummy load intended for testing typical VHF-UHF handy talkie (HT) transceivers, screwing directly into the antenna jack on the radio.

As mentioned in the comments by some readers, L’il Dummy has little real utility. There’s actually not much call for a dummy load that screws right into an HT, and it was pointed out that a proper dummy load is commercially available on the cheap. I think the latter observation is missing the point of homebrewing specifically and the Hackaday ethos in general, but I will concede the former point. That’s why at the same time I was building L’il Dummy, I was building the bigger, somewhat more capable version described here: Big Dummy.

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Fun With Negative Resistance II: Unobtanium Russian Tunnel Diodes

In the first part of this series, we took a look at a “toy” negative-differential-resistance circuit made from two ordinary transistors. Although this circuit allows experimentation with negative-resistance devices without the need to source rare parts, its performance is severely limited. This is not the case for actual tunnel diodes, which exploit quantum tunneling effects to create a negative differential resistance characteristic. While these two-terminal devices once ruled the fastest electronic designs, their use has fallen off dramatically with the rise of other technologies. As a result, the average electronics hacker probably has never encountered one. That ends today.

Due to the efficiencies of the modern on-line marketplace, these rare beasts of the diode world are not completely unobtainable. Although new-production diodes are difficult for individuals to get their hands on, a wide range of surplus tunnel diodes can still be found on eBay for as little as $1 each in lots of ten. While you’d be better off with any number of modern technologies for new designs, exploring the properties of these odd devices can be an interesting learning experience.

For this installment, I dug deep into my collection of semiconductor exotica for some Russian 3И306M gallium arsenide tunnel diodes that I purchased a few years ago. Let’s have a look at what you can do with just a diode — if it’s the right kind, that is.

[Note: the images are all small in the article; click them to get a full-sized version]

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This Saturday: Meetup with Hackaday, Tindie, and Kickstarter

If you’re near San Francisco this weekend, this is what you should be doing. It’s The 6th Annual Hackaday x Tindie MFBA Meetup w/ Kickstarter.

Come hang out with the hardware hackers and bring along a project of your own to get the conversation going. We’re excited to move to a new, larger venue this year. All the good of the past five years will come along with us, plus many benefits of exclusively booking out an entire venue. You can catch up with people who have been on their feet all day running booths — and usually see the stuff they can’t show you at the Faire. The crew from Hackaday, Tindie, and Kickstarter will be on hand. And you’ll get a glimpse of a lot of the cool people and projects you’ve admired on the pages of Hackaday over the years. It’s fun, you should go!

First beer is on us if you RSVP using the link at the top of this article. But we’re mainly publishing this today to show off the poster art. Deposit your adoration for this exquisite illustration in the comments below.

Amazing Art by Joe Kim

We love all of the original art that Joe Kim creates for Hackaday articles. It’s impossible to look at his poster for this event and be anything but overjoyed. Here’s a link to the full size image, but be warned that the file is 14.4 MB

The Great Ohio Key Fob Mystery, or “Honey, I Jammed the Neighborhood!”

Hack long enough and hard enough, and it’s a pretty safe bet that you’ll eventually cause unintentional RF emissions. Most of us will likely have our regulatory transgression go unnoticed. But for one unlucky hacker in Ohio, a simple project ended up with a knock at the door by local authorities and pointed questions to determine why key fobs and garage door remotes in his neighborhood and beyond had suddenly been rendered useless, and why his house seemed to be at the center of the disturbance.

Few of us want this level of scrutiny for our projects, so let’s take a more in-depth look at the Great Ohio Key Fob Mystery, along with a look at the Federal Communications Commission regulations that govern what you can and cannot do on the airwaves. As it turns out, it’s easy to break the law, and it’s easy to get caught.

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