Retro PowerBook Gets A Mac Mini Transplant

Around these parts, seeing a classic laptop or desktop computer get revived with the Raspberry Pi is fairly common. While we’re not ones to turn down a well-executed Pi infusion, we know they can be controversial at times. There’s an impression that such projects are low-effort, and that the combination of old and new tech gains little in the way of usability due to the usability quirks of the Pi itself.

But we think even the most critical in the audience will agree that this build by [Tylinol], which sees the internals of a circa 1993 PowerBook 165c get replaced with that of a 2014 Mac Mini, is something else entirely. For one thing, there’s no question that packing a modern (relatively) desktop computer motherboard into a laptop’s body takes a lot more planning and effort than hot gluing the comparatively tiny Pi into the same space. Plus as an added bonus, anyone who counts themselves among the Cult of Mac will be happy to see the vintage machine retain its Cupertino pedigree.

So how do you get a Mac Mini inside of a PowerBook? Very carefully. As explained by [Tylinol], the inside of the PowerBook’s case was coated in graphite and conductive enough to be a problem. So after the original hardware was removed, a layer of tape was added to insulate it; though we imagine a suitably thick spray-on coating could be used as well if you don’t have that kind of patience.

Once the case was gutted and insulated, [Tylinol] added new stand-offs to mount the Mac Mini motherboard and hard drive. For anyone wondering, the 2014 model was used because the shape of the board almost perfectly fits around the trackball PCB. A board from a newer Mac could be used, but it would likely mean using an external mouse.

Which would have been a problem for [Tylinol], because one of the main goals of this build was to get the original input working. That meant adapting the Apple Desktop Bus (ADB) devices to USB, which turns out to be something of a Dark Art. But with the help of some contemporary information about the long-forgotten protocol and a Teensy 3.5, both devices are now picked up as standard USB HID.

But of course, that’s just scratching the surface. [Tylinol] also had to figure out how to swap the original display out for a modern panel, and then get the whole thing running on internal battery power. Even if you’re not particularly interested in retro Apple hardware, this is really a phenomenal build that deserves a thorough read-through.

For those of you who don’t mind getting a Pi in a PowerBook, we recently saw a recreation of Lord Nikon’s laptop from Hackers that went that route.

BeOS: The Alternate Universe’s Mac OS X

You’re likely familiar with the old tale about how Steve Jobs was ousted from Apple and started his own company, NeXT. Apple then bought NeXT and their technologies and brought Jobs back as CEO once again. However, Jobs’ path wasn’t unique, and the history of computing since then could’ve gone a whole lot different.

In 1990, Jean-Louis Gassée, who replaced Jobs in Apple as the head of Macintosh development, was also fired from the company. He then also formed his own computer company with the help of another ex-Apple employee, Steve Sakoman. They called it Be Inc, and their goal was to create a more modern operating system from scratch based on the object-oriented design of C++, using proprietary hardware that could allow for greater media capabilities unseen in personal computers at the time.

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Apple HomeKit Accessory Development Kit Gets More Accessible

Every tech monopoly has their own proprietary smart home standard; how better to lock in your customers than to literally build a particular solution into their homes? Among the these players Apple is traditionally regarded as the most secretive, a title it has earned with decades of closed standards and proprietary solutions. This reputation is becoming progressively less deserved when it comes to HomeKit, their smart home gadget connectivity solution. In 2017 they took a big step forward and removed the need for a separate authentication chip in order to interact with HomeKit. Last week they took another and released a big chunk of their HomeKit Accessory Development Kit (ADK) as well. If you’re surprised not to have heard sooner, that might be because it was combined the the even bigger news about Apple, Amazon, the Zigbee Alliance, and more working together on more open, interoperable home IoT standards. Check back in 2030 to see how that is shaping up.

“The HomeKit ADK implements key components of the HomeKit Accessory Protocol (HAP), which embodies the core principles Apple brings to smart home technology: security, privacy, and reliability.”
– A descriptive gem from the README

Apple’s previous loosening-of-restrictions allowed people to begin building devices which could interact natively with their iOS devices without requiring a specific Apple-sold “auth chip” to authenticate them. This meant existing commercial devices could become HomeKit enabled with an OTA, and hobbyists could interact in sanctioned, non-hacky ways. Part of this was a release of the (non-commercial) HomeKit specification itself, which is available here (with Apple developer sign in, and license agreement).

Despite many breathless mentions in the press release it’s hard to tell what the ADK actually is. The README and documentation directory are devoid of answers, but spelunking through the rest of the GitHub repo gives us an idea. It consists of two primary parts, the HomeKit Accessory Protocol itself and the Platform Abstraction Layer. Together the HAP implements HomeKit itself, and the PAL is the wrapper that lets you plug it into a new system. It’s quite a meaty piece of software; the HAP’s main header is a grueling 4500 lines long, and it doesn’t take much searching to find some fear-inspiring 50 line preprocessor macros. This is a great start, but frankly we think it will take significantly more documentation to make the ADK accessible to all.

If it wasn’t obvious, most of the tools above are carefully licensed by Apple and intended for non-commercial use. While we absolutely appreciate the chance to get our hands on interfaces like this, we’re sure many will quibble over if this really counts as “open source” or not (it’s licensed as Apache 2.0). We’ll leave that for you in the comments.

Honoring Chuck Peddle; Father Of The 6502 And The Chips That Went With It

Chuck Peddle, the patriarch of the 6502 microprocessor, died recently. Most people don’t know the effect that he and his team of engineers had on their lives. We often take the world of microprocessor for granted as a commonplace component in computation device, yet there was a time when there were just processors, and they were the size of whole printed circuit boards.

Chuck had the wild idea while working at Motorola that they could shrink the expensive processor board down to an integrated circuit, a chip, and that it would cost much less, tens of dollars instead of ten thousand plus. To hear Chuck talk about it, he got a cease-and-desist letter from the part of Motorola that made their living selling $14,000 processor boards and to knock off all of the noise about a $25 alternative.

In Chuck’s mind this was permission to take his idea, and the engineering team, elsewhere. Chuck and his team started MOS Technologies in the 1970’s in Norristown PA, and re-purposed their work on the Motorola 6800 to become the MOS 6502. Lawsuits followed.

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Just In Time For Christmas: Apple Macintosh Prototype For Sale

We do love a bit of retrotechnology around our workspace. But we have to admit, we really want to find this prototype Apple Mac under the tree this year. There’s only one problem. There’s only one for sale and only two like it known to exist, for that matter. The auction house thinks it will fetch up to $180,000. We will guess that number is low, but we will find out on December 4th.

The 1983 computer has a pre-production plastic housing and a 5.25 inch “twiggy” drive. Apple provided this machine, apparently, to Encore Systems so they could develop MacWrite ahead of the machine’s release date.

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Google Creates Debuggable IPhone

Apple is known for a lot of things, but opening up their platforms to the world isn’t one of those things. According to a recent Google post by [Brandon Azad], there do exist special iPhones that are made for development with JTAG ports and other magic capabilities. The port is in all iPhones (though unpopulated), but is locked down by default. We don’t know what it takes to get a magic iPhone, but we are guessing Google can’t send in the box tops to three Macbook Pros to get on the waiting list. But what is locked can be unlocked, and [Brandon] set out to build a debuggable iPhone.

Exploiting some debug registers, it is possible to debug the A11 CPU at any point in its execution. [Brandon’s] tool single steps the system reset and makes some modifications to the CPU after key instructions to prevent the lockdown of kernel memory. After that, the world’s your oyster. KTRW is a tool built using this technique that can debug an iPhone with a standard cable.

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Cheese Grater Now Grates Cheese

If you’ve been using Apple products since before they were cool, you might remember the Power Mac G5. This was a time before Apple was using Intel processors, so compatibility issues were high and Apple’s number of users was pretty low. They were still popular in some areas but didn’t have the wide appeal they have now. The high quality of the drilled aluminum design lived on into the Intel era and gained more popularity, but the case was still colloquially known as the “Cheese Grater”. Despite not originally being able to grate cheese though, this Power Mac actually does grate cheese.

Ungrated cheese is placed in the CD drive slot where it passes through a series of 3D printed gears which grate the cheese into small chunks. The cheese grating drive is automatically started when it detects cheese via a Raspberry Pi. The Pi 4 also functions as a working desktop computer within the old G5 case, complete with custom-built I/O ports for HDMI that integrate with the case to make it look like original hardware.

Funnily enough, the Pi 4 has more computing power and memory than Apple’s flagship Mac at the time, and consumes about 100 times less power. It’s a functional build that elaborates on an in-joke in the hardware community, which we can all appreciate. Perhaps the next build should be something that uses the blue smoke for a productive purpose. Meanwhile, regular readers will remember that this isn’t the first Apple related cheese grating episode we’ve shown you.

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