ZX Spectrum Next is an advanced version of the original 8-bit monster machine

ZX Spectrum Next is more than just a cute retro-looking box or a glorified emulator. It is a new 8-bit computer, backwards-compatible with the 1980s' original, yet enhanced to provide a wealth of advanced features such as better graphics, SD card storage, and manufacturing quality control. It's made with the permission of IP owner Amstrad and has already blown past its crowdfunding target.

It has a real goddamn Z80 in it, clocked to a blazing-fast 7Mhz! (And an optional 1Ghz co-processor for those times you want to strap your vintage snow sled to an intercontinental ballistic Raspberry Pi.)

We love the ZX Spectrum. Why wouldn’t we? It was much more than just a computer: it was a machine that sparked a gaming revolution, neatly housed within its iconic design powered by sheer simplicity. ... Meanwhile hardware hackers around the world have expanded the ZX Spectrum to support SD card storage, feature new and better video modes, pack more memory, faster processor... Problem is, these expansions can be difficult to get hold of, and without a standardised Spectrum, no one knows what to support or develop for. ...

The Spectrum Next is aimed at any Retrogamer out there and Speccy enthusiast who prefers their games, demos and apps running on hardware rather than software emulators, but wants a seamless and simple experience contained within an amazing design..

They even got the original industrial designer, Rick Dickinson, to do the new case--and they based it quite wisely on the second-gen Speccy rather than the iconic but infuriating-to-type-on rubber-keyed original. Read the rest

A Mind is Born: computer demo, with pumping soundtrack, in only 256 bytes of code

You've seen 64kb demoscene productions. Hell, even 4kb is enough to generate a stunning seemingly-impossible variety of scenes. But Linus Akesson's entry in the Oldskool 4K Intro competition at Revision 2017 is generated by a program only 256 bytes long. There's an in-depth technical explanation to read, and a 2,202,009-btye MP3 version to download. [via Metafilter]

The demo is driven by its soundtrack, so in order to understand what the program needs to do, it helps to have a schematic overview of the various parts of the song.

The three voices of the SID chip are used as follows: Voice 1 is responsible for the kick drum and bass, Voice 2 plays the melody and Voice 3 plays a drone that ducks on all beats, mimicking the genre-typical side-chain compression effect.

The artistry of it struck me:

When bar $40 is reached, the program turns off the display and jumps through the system reset vector. In this way, the final few moments of the demo are actually managed by the system boot sequence: First, the SID is silenced. Then, there is a delay while the system is setting up data structures. Finally, the display goes back on, and the C64 home screen is rendered. A mind is born.
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New documentary on the history of graphic design and technology

The long-awaited documentary Graphic Means just premiered at the ByDesign film festival, describing a half-century of world-changing analog-to-digital shifts in how graphic designers worked. Here's the trailer. Read the rest

Research principles from the legendary Xerox PARC

Founded in 1970 as Xerox's R&D division, PARC was a dream factory that brought the world laser printing, Ethernet, the graphical user interface that led to Windows and the Macintosh, ubiquitous computing, and many other technologies that we now take for granted. Why made the place so damn special? Alan Kay, who pioneered networked computing while at Parc, lays out a few of the principles of the research community of which Parc was a hub:

1. Visions not goals

2. Fund people not projects — the scientists find the problems not the funders. So, for many reasons, you have to have the best researchers.

3. Problem Finding — not just Problem Solving

4. Milestones not deadlines

5. It’s “baseball” not “golf” — batting .350 is very good in a high aspiration high risk area. Not getting a hit is not failure but the overhead for getting hits. (As in baseball, an “error” is failing to pull off something that is technically feasible.)

6. It’s about shaping “computer stuff” to human ends per the vision. Much of the time this required the researchers to design and build pretty much everything, including much of the hardware — including a variety of mainframes — and virtually all of the software needed (including OSs and programming languages, etc.). Many of the ARPA researchers were quite fluent in both HW and SW (though usually better at one than the other). This made for a pretty homogeneous computing culture and great synergy in most projects.

7. The above goes against the commonsense idea that “computer people should not try to make their own tools (because of the infinite Turing Tarpit that results)”.

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Russian computer animated cat from 1968

In 1968, Russian computer scientist Nikolai Nikolaevich Konstantinov and his colleagues at Moscow University created this computer animation of a cat using their Big Electronic Counting Machine (BESM). Their research, published in the scientific journal "Problems of Cybernetics, was pioneering in its use of mathematics to model complex motion. More about the research here, in Russian: Кошечка (etudes.ru via r/ObscureMedia)

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Computer in a Harley gas tank

For $500, you can become the proud owner of a computer in a Harley Davidson Sportster gas tank.

You have never seen a computer like this before.

This custom Harley Davidson themed computer was built for a youtube video on Shawn's Test Bench.

Check out the build videos from start to finish. ( Shawn's Test Bench on YouTube )

This PC was hand crafted from a sportster gas tank.

Specs are basic, but hell, it's a computer in a motorcycle gas tank.

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Pink Trombone is an online voice synthesizer with a difference

Neil Thapen's Pink Trombone is a voice simulator: instead of telling it what to say, you individually move the soft and fleshy parts of the mouth, tongue and throat. There's a lot of fun to be had moving around the circular purple tongue control and the bottom lip and hearing the machine sing.

Spotted via Bennett Foddy, which made me think there should be a version controlled with the Q W O P letters, named "Qwopera."

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Windows 10 now "infested with annoying ads"

Microsoft gives away (ie forces) upgrades to Windows 10, and the price (ie reason) is that it is now "infested" with advertising, writes Tom Warren. Ads in the file explorer. Ads in core apps. Ads for Microsoft's browser that pop up as system notifications when he uses Chrome.

Microsoft added a notification center to Windows 10 for a reason. If it feels the need to blast its loyal users with irritating prompts then these should be channeled into that notification center, not wedged into the File Explorer or on top of the task bar. You shouldn't have to dig deep into a settings panel to disable these; they shouldn't be there in your File Explorer in the first place. Microsoft already had to walk back its aggressive Windows 10 upgrade prompts last year, so hopefully the company will come to its senses and rethink these annoying ads and bloatware in Windows 10.

Also, Mac nerds angrily switching to Windows was the computing equivalent of voting for Trump. The sick, sweet schadenfreude of watching the results gives me no pleasure. None at all! Read the rest

AI learns to write code the old-fashioned way: stealing!

We've all seen the uncanny, not-quite-there art produced by new AIs. Why Matt Reynolds reports on an area computers might be expected to excel at creatively: programming themselves. And this one's doing it the same way humans do, by stealing and remixing.

DeepCoder uses a technique called program synthesis: creating new programs by piecing together lines of code taken from existing software – just like a programmer might. Given a list of inputs and outputs for each code fragment, DeepCoder learned which pieces of code were needed to achieve the desired result overall.

“It could allow non-coders to simply describe an idea for a program and let the system build it”

One advantage of letting an AI loose in this way is that it can search more thoroughly and widely than a human coder, so could piece together source code in a way humans may not have thought of. What’s more, DeepCoder uses machine learning to scour databases of source code and sort the fragments according to its view of their probable usefulness.

DeepCoder, make me a point-and-click adventure game featuring Rosicrucians, billionaire perverts and the complete dissolving of all culture by internet-mediated telepathy. Read the rest

Amazon Fire tablet on sale for $40

The Amazon Fire tablet that I use every day to watch videos, check twitter, learn kanji, and read ebooks, is on sale for $40. This is a great deal for a tablet, especially you install Google Play on it so you can download Android apps. Read the rest

Marble based general purpose computer

Jim Lewis made a beautiful marble machine Turing complete computer. He says, "For several years I've been thinking about building a mechanical computer that demonstrates the Rule 110 principle. In this video I'll show my marble machine which I call the Rule 110 Marble Computer." Read the rest

Remembering the Amstrad CPC, a superior 8-bit computer

Commodore's C64 and Sinclair's ZX Spectrum were the most successful 8-bit computers in Europe, but Amstrad's CPC ran a close third. Ellie Gibson writes on how it—especially the magazine Amstrad Action—changed her life.

I adored its knowledgeable yet jocular tone. I loved the way the writers' passion for the machine shone from each page, reflecting my own. Best of all, I liked the free demo tape.

Reducing it beyond the point of reason: in the UK, the Commodore C64 came to attract a nerdier culture defined by deep interest in technology; the ZX Spectrum attracted a working-class culture of kids who wanted to fool around with computer games; and the Amstrad appealed to the middle-class. It was for people who wanted to use computers as tools without necessarily understanding the nuts and bolts, but who couldn't afford Macs.

In reality everything was much more complex and blurred (because 90% of everyone were just playing the same crudely-ported, cross-platform games), but one of the results of the Amstrad "culture" was the higher standard of cocky bullshit in its magazines.

A few years later, Commodore's Amiga blew away the 8-bits, then Windows PCs blew Commodore away, and then everything was smooth and homogenous for all computing eternity, Amen. [Thanks, Daneel!]

Previously: How Lord Sugar taught me to hack stuff Read the rest

Yugoslavian computer magazine cover girls of the 1980s-90s

From Flashbak:

Računari was a computer magazine of the former Yugoslavia which lasted from 1984 until the late 1990s – surviving the economic turbulence and wars of the 1980s-90s, and even outlasting the country itself. The title simply means “computers” – and its content was just that: very bland, very technical, nothing flashy… but its covers were another matter entirely.

Despite the very low-key tech content, the guys at Računari decided to put some spice on just about every cover. Nearly every issue featured a ravishing Eastern Bloc Beauty straddling computer hardware. Let’s have a look at some of these covers spanning the late 1980s and into the early 1990s. Enjoy.

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$100 for a tablet and foldable wireless keyboard

I bought a Kindle Fire tablet ($49) and (per Jason’s instructions) installed Google Play on it. It’s not a speedy tablet, but it’s great for watching Amazon Video and Netflix, as well as web browsing, monitoring my Nest outdoor camera, and reading ebooks. I paired it with the Plugable full-size folding keyboard (also $49, a compact version is $39) and now I have a decent miniature laptop replacement. The keyboard is the same size as the wireless Apple keyboard I use, but it folds into a shape that fits in my jacket pocket. It feels good to type on the keys. The keyboard’s case can be refolded into a tablet of phone stand. The total weight for the tablet, keyboard, and case is a bit under 1.7 lbs.

Here's a video about the features of the Keyboard: Read the rest

Arnold Spielberg (Steven’s dad) developed the first computer to run BASIC in 1964

Arnold Spielberg (Steven’s father) developed the computer that first ran the BASIC programming language on May 1, 1964. Here's an interview with 99-year-old Arnold on the exciting early days of computers.

Long before GE started connecting machines to the Industrial Internet, one Arnold Spielberg helped revolutionize computing when he designed the GE-225 mainframe computer in the late 1950s. The machine allowed a team of Dartmouth University students and researchers to develop the BASIC programming language, an easy-to-use coding tool that quickly spread and ushered in the era of personal computers. Bill Gates, Paul Allen, Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs all used the language when they started building their digital empires. Arnold Spielberg will be 100 years old in February 2017.

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Watch "Terminal Madness," 1980 TV special about personal computers

In 1980, WMTV in Madison, Wisconsin produced this feature about early personal computers and the geeks who loved them. I enjoyed the discussion of The Source, which was the first online experience I ever had.

George Martin, who posted the video to YouTube, writes: "About halfway through the video there is a segment filmed at my home showing how I had programmed a Cromemco Z-2 computer to control lights and appliances."

(Thanks, UPSO!)

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HP's Z2 Mini is a tiny workstation

I thought it was crazy that Dell dethroned Apple as the maker of America's most spectacular laptops, but look at this from HP, putting the Mac Mini on notice: the HP Z2 Mini Workstation.

HP's little desktop isn't quite as small, at 8.5" wide, and prices start at $690. With Xeon and Nvidia Quadra video card options on offer, it'll soar much higher if you load it. No detailed specs were announced, though Engadget reports you can get up to a 1.5TB SSD and Intel Core CPUs will also be on offer. It lacks Thunderbolt and more game-friendly video card options.

Is it weird that the natural point of comparison, the Mac Pro, doesn't even come to mind? The Z2 Mini may well overpower it in pricier configurations. What happened to that, anyway? Read the rest

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