World War II Enigma cipher machine up for auction

A rare, fully-operational Enigma cipher machine from World War II will go up for auction at Sothebys tomorrow as part of an amazing History of Science & Technology auction (also including Richard Feynman's Nobel Prize). The Enigma is expected to go for around $200,000.

From a 1999 article I wrote for Wired:

German soldiers issued an Enigma were to make no mistake about their orders if captured: Shoot it or throw it overboard. Based on electronic typewriters invented in the 1920s, the infamous Enigma encryption machines of World War II were controlled by wheels set with the code du jour. Each letter typed would illuminate the appropriate character to send in the coded message.

In 1940, building on work by Polish code breakers, Alan Turing and his colleagues at the famed UK cryptography center Bletchley Park devised the Bombe, a mechanical computer that deciphered Enigma-encoded messages. Even as the Nazis beefed up the Enigma architecture by adding more wheels, the codes could be cracked at the Naval Security Station in Washington, DC - giving the Allies the upper hand in the Battle of the Atlantic. The fact that the Allies had cracked the Enigma code was not officially confirmed until the 1970s.

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One day, a computer will fit on a desk

Arthur C. Clarke forecasts the future in 1974. We've come a long way. Kinda.

(via r/ObscureMedia) Read the rest

Fantastically far out poster for 1974 artificial intelligence lecture at UC Berkeley

Chris Veltri, proprietor of San Francisco's legendary Groove Merchant record shop, posted this astounding artifact to his Instagram wunderkammer of outré culture paper ephemera @collagedropoutsf! It's a poster for a lecture by artificial intelligence pioneer Herbert Simon that took place at UC Berkeley in 1974. The speech was titled "How Man and Computers Understand Language."

Far fucking out. Read the rest

Paul Allen, Microsoft co-founder, RIP

Paul Allen, billionaire co-founder of Microsoft, philanthropist, science fiction fan, and founder of Seattle's Museum of Pop Culture (formerly the Experience Museum Project), has died from complications of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He was 65.

"From technology to science to music to art, I’m inspired by those who’ve blurred the boundaries, who’ve looked at the possibilities, and said, “What if...? In my own work, I’ve tried to anticipate what’s coming over the horizon, to hasten its arrival, and to apply it to people’s lives in a meaningful way." -- Paul Allen

Allen's professional timeline is quite something:

1953: Paul Allen is born January 21, 1953 in Seattle, Washington 1968: While at Lakeside School, Paul meets Bill Gates. A friendship that would later produce one of the world’s most innovative companies, Microsoft. 1969: Attends first rock concert, where he sees Jimi Hendrix at Seattle Center Coliseum 1975: Founds Microsoft  1982: In September, Paul is diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Nearly eight months later, doctors said he had beaten the disease. 1983: Officially resigns from Microsoft in March 1986: Founds Vulcan Inc. in Seattle as an investment and project management firm with his sister, Jody Allen 1988: Establishes The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation 1988: Purchases the Portland Trail Blazers 1988: Rescues Seattle Cinerama from demolition by purchasing and restoring the theater 1990: The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation makes its first grant. 1990: Becomes a billionaire at age 37 1995: Makes his single biggest investment to date by purchasing a 18.5% stake in Dreamworks 1996: Purchases the St. Read the rest

The man who created Ctrl+Alt+Del

Meet David Bradley, chief engineer of the IBM PC, who created Ctrl+Alt+Del.

"I may have invented it, but Bill made it famous," Bradley once said.

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Sandsifter program finds bugs, secret instructions and other oddities in computer processors

Sandsifter throws random machine code instructions at microprocessors, just to see what happens.

The sandsifter audits x86 processors for hidden instructions and hardware bugs, by systematically generating machine code to search through a processor's instruction set, and monitoring execution for anomalies. Sandsifter has uncovered secret processor instructions from every major vendor; ubiquitous software bugs in disassemblers, assemblers, and emulators; flaws in enterprise hypervisors; and both benign and security-critical hardware bugs in x86 chips.

With the multitude of x86 processors in existence, the goal of the tool is to enable users to check their own systems for hidden instructions and bugs.

I demand to see this scene in technothrillers pronto. Read the rest

Play Bubble Bobble, Wolfenstein, and 13,000 other Commodore 64 disks free online

The Internet Archive now offers in-browser emulation of more than 13,000 Commodore 64 floppy disks. The Sentinel, Paradroid, Oregon Trail, Wasteland... they're all there, waiting for you.

Software Library: C64 (Internet Archive)

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Glorious collection of control panel photos

Control Panel is a fantastic visual blog "in praise of dials, toggles, buttons, and bulbs," a companion to the Control Panel group on Flickr.

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Review: CleanMyPC makes for lazy computer maintenance at a reasonable price

One of the nice things about owning a MacBook is that, more often than not, you don't have to give too much thought about what's going on behind the scenes. Mac OS is stable as all get out. Most users will never need to fart around with terminal commands or futz with file structures. As much of a cliché as it may be to say it, it just works.

Most of the time.

I discovered, over the years, that as stable as Apple's software experience typically is, there are a few ways to improve on things by tweaking and cleaning my SSD up. These are not tasks that I am good at. Admittedly, this is likely due to the fact that I've been too lazy to learn the ins and outs of making my computer do tricks outside of what my work requires. As such, I let apps do the behind-the-scenes heavy lifting for me. I've relied on MacPaws' CleanMyMac for years to clean junk files from my computer and maintain my drive's health. I can't remember how much I paid for it, back in the day, but I've very likely gotten my money's worth out of it.

The only thing that I likely know less about than what goes on behind the scenes of Mac OS is what in the name of Hell makes Windows 10 run. While I find the OS and the software I run on my Surface Go to be adequate for churning out words and a bit of photo editing, I haven't got the slightest idea of what to do in order to keep my new Windows 10 PC healthy. Read the rest

Review: Microsoft's Surface Go is almost everything I want in a travel computer

Every year, I wait for Apple to announce mouse support for the iPad. Every year, I am left unfulfilled. Apple's nailed the apps that I need to do my job on the go, but the lack of a mouse for interacting with text slows my workflow way the hell down. Tapping on my tablet's display and dragging words around is a poor substitute. As such, I'm constantly searching for a tablet that can give me what I need. Read the rest

The best of SIGGRAPH 2018

All of 2018's latest computer graphics techniques and toys in one eight-minute video. I hope you like ray tracing! More. Read the rest

Apple-1 up for auction

Of the 200 original Apple I computers ever made, only 60 or so are thought to have survived. One of them is now on the auction block. Expected to bring in $300,000, it includes an original Apple Cassette Interface and cables, Operation Manual, a period ASCII keyboard, a video monitor, and new power supply. Also, it works. From RR Auction:

This Apple-1 computer was restored to its original, operational state in June 2018 by Apple-1 expert Corey Cohen, and a video of it running and functioning is available upon request. A comprehensive, technical condition report prepared by Cohen is available to qualified bidders; he evaluates the current condition of the unit as 8.5/10. The most remarkable aspect of this Apple-1 computer is that it is documented to be fully operational: the system was operated without fault for approximately eight hours in a comprehensive test.

The later production ‘Byte Shop’-style of this Apple-1 is indicated by discrete component dates which match other known Apple-1 boards of similar vintage, assembled and sold by Apple in the fall of 1976 and early 1977. On the left side, the board is marked: “Apple Computer 1, Palo Alto, Ca. Copyright 1976.” Unlike many of the known Apple-1 boards, this unit has not had any modifications to the physical board, and the prototype area is clean and unused.

Image of the working Apple-1 using an iPod to load a program in lieu of a cassette:

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Review: Twelve South HiRise for MacBook laptop stand

Back in 2011, I bought a 27” Thunderbolt Display to use with my MacBook when I was at home, working at my desk. It was huge, heavy as hell and, with a full suite of ports baked into its butt, wicked useful. This year, after being shipped across the country four times and riding around North America in a motorhome for the past three years, it finally gave up the ghost. It sucked taking it to be recycled. But, in all honesty, I’ve been feeling it was out of place for the tiny amount of space in our RV that we’ve allocated to be my work space.

After a few days of working in front of my laptop at my desk, I found that, from an ergonomic standpoint, life sucked without having a massive display to stare into while I typed. I have a neck injury that is very easily tweaked. Looking down for too long? That tweaks it. I decided that I needed to invest in a laptop stand.

I chose Twelve South’s HiRise for MacBook, for a number of reasons. First, I’ve used their gear in the past. It’s rock solid. The Compass iPad stand that I bought from them back in 2012 still gets a lot of regular use around the house and when I travel. Their BackPack shelf for my Thunderbolt Display was great too… although it’s not really all that useful since I trashed the monitor. Second, the stand is adjustable. I don’t like buying accessories that will only serve me in one situation. Read the rest

Video explainer on universal quantum computers

Universal quantum computers have the potential for exponentially faster processing speeds. Seeker looks at where things stand in the race to build the first one. Read the rest

Microsoft gives classic Skype a stay of execution after user complaints

For years, I maintained a Skype number that’d forward to whatever phone number I happened to be using at the time. It was the only way to make myself reachable on the phone, despite my switching to a new mobile number every time I moved to a different region. It worked well enough—until last year when Microsoft redesigned the iOS version of their app to make it damn near unusable as a phone forwarding service. I hated Skype’s mobile makeover so much that I decided not to renew my annual plan with the service. If you want to find me, these days, it has to happen via Twitter or email. It seems that users of Microsoft’s desktop version of the app have all sorts of loathing for its recent redesign as well. According to The Verge, the backlash against version 8.0 of the app has been so widespread that it’s put Microsoft back on its heels.

From The Verge:

Last month, Microsoft announced it would be shutting down the desktop version of Skype 7.0, otherwise known as classic Skype, in September and transitioning users and businesses to the redesigned Skype 8.0. Following what the company describes as “customer feedback,” classic Skype will be sticking around for “some time” to “bring all the features you’ve asked for into Skype 8,” per Windows blog Thurrott. Skype 8 was first unveiled as a mobile redesign last year, inspired by trends set by Facebook and Snapchat, and it was widely disliked at the time as well.

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Apple releases firmware fix for heat-related throttling issue with newest MacBook Pros

As reported here earlier this week, Apple's newest MacBook Pro laptops had been reported to be having issues with heat throttling with the highest end i9 processors installed. Read the rest

Apple's fastest new MacBook Pro is slowed down by heat

I'm writing this on a 2015 MacBook Pro. It's an i5 with 8GB of RAM. It's adequate for most of what I do, but, as I've mentioned in the past, it's been kind of a lemon since I picked it up. It's out of Apple Care now, and that's a concern. I am not made of money. Sooner or later, I'll wind up buying a new laptop.

For the past year, I've been considering moving entirely over to Windows as Apple's been doing some weird stuff: keyboards that break down if you get dust in them, processors that are antiques even when the Macs they're in are brand new. Oh, and dongles, so many dongles.

When I saw that they were doing something about the keyboards baked into their MacBooks and have begun to spring hardware with the latest chip sets in them, I was hopeful: I've used Macs for close to two decades. I have so much cash sunk into software, I don't want to switch platforms if I can help it. Then I saw that the high end iterations of this year's MacBooks are being throttled--slowed down--because they can't handle the heat generated by their gloriously speedy internals.

Sigh.

From Apple Insider:

Technology-centric YouTuber Dave Lee claims the thermal design of Apple's latest 15-inch MacBook Pro does not provide sufficient cooling for Intel's Core i9 processor, causing the chip to throttle down performance to prevent serious damage.

Intel's 2.9GHz six-core Core i9 processor with Turbo Boost speeds up to 4.8GHz is offered as a premium $300 option on Apple's 2018 15-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar, but according to Lee, the chip is unable to reach its full potential due to the laptop's design.

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